Volvo Golf Champions 2014

Before this weeks preview, we would like to apologise for a slow month or two in our write-ups, it has been a crazy time for a whole host of reasons.  We will slowly get back to normal now though, beginning with a quick look at week 1 in Durban…

Here we go again.  The 2014 European Tour season gets underway in South Africa with the Volvo Golf Champions tournament.  Many of the 2013 winners assemble to take on the Durban Country Club course in the hope that this will be their big year.

Everyone will hope they can emulate even half of the success that Henrik Stenson had for so long last year and whilst he is taking a well-earned break at the moment, he will be defending his Race To Dubai crown over the coming months.

The very tight Durban Country Club.

The very tight Durban Country Club.

The Durban Country Club runs alongside the Indian Ocean that means it has a links feel to it and measuring at just 6,732 yards, the short nature of the track gives a unique and interesting challenge for the players.

It is an iron players paradise, with tight fairways and very small greens to attack.  Technical gurus and shot-making thinkers will come out on top come Sunday and we have 3 names that simply jumped out at us when we looked at the odds and field.

Bring on the 2014 season.

Matteo Manassero (30/1 StanJames)

Awww ain't he cute?! Well remarkably, this picture was not that long ago...

Awww ain’t he cute?! Well remarkably, this picture was not that long ago…

The young Italian had an up and down 2013, at times showing his superb talent, whilst also showing some really ordinary golf throughout the year – 3 top 10s is simply not good enough for someone of his calibre.  When he got the chance on courses of his liking though, his game shines through and this is a track that will suit Manassero perfectly.

With everything so tight and short, he will not have to exert every inch of power off the tee as he usually does and can just concentrate on his remarkable tee-to-green abilities.

He came T9 here last year, which proves his liking for the course, and with a big year expected, it is the best place for him to kick on.

He has changed clubs this year though, signing for Phil and Ernie’s Callaway, which could provide some troubles but he said that he has been practising with the irons for a while now, in order to get used to them.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t do a McIlroy.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (33/1 various)

Not just a big guy, but a big smoker as well.  Lad

Not just a big guy, but a big smoker as well. Lad

Dubbed the ‘Thai John Daly’, Kiradech started last year like a train before inevitably, slowing down as 2013 ended.  When he was playing well he is very solid tee to green and doesn’t thrive off a huge amount of power, which is bizarre considering the size of the bloke.  He is a confidence player without doubt and there is no reason he can’t start this season like he did last year.

Another major plus for Kiradech is the fact he won’t have to walk too far throughout the four days – a major bonus.  His win at the Avantha Masters was cut to 3 rounds and that does say something to us…

Richard Sterne (40/1 various)

Sterne with the Joburg Trophy, he will want to get his paws on another

Sterne with the Joburg Trophy, he will want to get his paws on another

Richard Sterne was one of DownThe18ths stalwarts last year and he certainly helped begin our journey when he won the Joburg Open in February, bringing us our first win.

10 top 20s and 3 top 3s is a very good return and finishing T14 at the end of season Tour Championship with 4 very consistent rounds summed up the South Africans year – reliable and steady.

That is the sort of golfer Sterne is, a very good tee to green player, who like our other 2 bets, lacks a lot of power off the tee.  He will thrive in the windy conditions and if he is up there (preferably without Schwartzel and Oosthuizen) there will be plenty of vocal support from the locals.

It would simply be great symmetry if he kicks off this new season with our first win, just like last year.

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European Tour Week 16

Open De Espana

It has been almost been 3 weeks now since we have spoken about the European Tour, back on Moroccan soil where Marcel Siem convincingly won his 3rd European title. After we’ve all been engrossed in gripping Masters action over the past few days, it is time to focus our attentions on the this week’s event and the European Tour’s oldest. The Open De Espana (The Spanish Open to us English speakers) has been official on the tour since 1972 and has always attracted big names. This week sees Sergio Garcia, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Matteo Mannasero and Francesco Molinari all fresh off appearances at Augusta make the trip over to Valencia on the Parador de El Saler Golf Course. This also is a special week for the tour, as we finally have a European Tour event on European soil! Not since early October last year have we had the privilege.  But make the most of it, we’re off to Asia for another couple of weeks straight after this.

It is the first time this tournament has been played on this course, so be wary of previous form in this event. And one thing we can’t ignore this week is how well Spaniards do in their native country. Garcia, Larrazabal, Quiros and Jimenez have all either won or finished runner-up in this event previously. You would be wise to have at least a couple of Spaniards in your picks this week. The course itself is situated right next to the Mediterranean Sea with holes 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 17 and 18 having a links feel to them. And as with any links course, wind will always play a factor. The course is playing 6,945 yards this which is pretty short these days, and there are 4 very reachable par 5’s out there. From what we can gather from the limited tournaments that have been played on this course, length off the tee is crucial to take advantage of those par 5’s, whilst GIR and scrambling will all be important. As with any week, someone who can’t hole many putts will struggle around here and don’t forget someone who can deal with the wind this week!

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (18/1 Coral)

Gonzalo enjoying his 4 days round Augusta

Gonzalo enjoying his 4 days round Augusta

We could not keep our eyes off Fernandez-Castano this week, he has been playing some superb golf over in America and will be brimming with confidence coming to his native Spain. If you were watching the Masters last week you would have noticed him paired with Tiger Woods in round 3 and was playing superb, eventually finishing T20 in only his 2nd Masters.   3 weeks before that, he had a T3 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, so he’s certainly been mixing it with the big boys. Due to his exploits in America, Castano has not been on the tour now since the Qatar Masters in late January, where he picked up a T16. He was also T9 the week before at the HSBC. For this reason alone, Castano will want to take advantage of the times he does play over here. Statistics-wise there is not much to say, he turns up in pretty much every department. His putter is very hot right now we will say, 19th in strokes gained-putting and 1st in putts from 10-15’. Not bad statistics considering that is probably the one department he has previously lacked in. We’re hoping for a big week from him.

Pablo Larrazabal (22/1 Paddy Power)

We have liked this young Spaniard for a few weeks now, not just since we backed him last time out for his T4 in the Trophee Hassan. Maybe a bit strong, but a few people have labelled him a “young Seve” which is the highest compliment. But the similarities come from the vast array of shots he has at his disposal and ability to get it close from pretty much anywhere. Even if he does not win this week, he is always a great watch. Before his T4, he was T6 and then T17, so he’s definitely in form and due a win too. This course being links is what really convinced us though; Pablo definitely has all the tools to play well in strong winds. We saw it for ourselves on day 1 of the Trophee Hassan where the weather was not kind to him but he still managed to grind out a level par round. This can all be backed up by his 19th place in GIR on the European Tour. His last win was at the BMW Invitational and interestingly beat Sergio Garcia to the title, could it happen again this week?

Matteo Manassero (28/1 Stan James)

Birthday boy Manassero loves it in Spain

Birthday boy Manassero loves it in Spain

Now would you believe that the Italian is only just leaving his teens this week! On day 2 he will turn 20 years of age. It is quite incredible for someone who seems to have been around for ages. But Mannasero has a thing for Spain. He won his 1st ever title in Spain, The Castello Masters Costa Azahar whilst he was T7 in this last year. He was also 2nd at the Open de Andalucia Costa del Sol in 2012. Safe to say he enjoys conditions that are very similar to his native Italy. Again there is not much to really talk about, he is sensational with his irons and certainly knows how to hole a putt or two. On the tour he is 33rd in stroke average, 28th driving accuracy, 18th sand saves and 46th GIR. This is a tournament that he will turn up in and definitely want to add to his collection.

Alvaro Quiros (80/1 Coral)

We have chosen our 3rd Spaniard for one reason and one reason only, length off the tee. If he can hit the ball like we  all know he can, some of these par 5’s he will be using barely a high iron with his 2nd shot. And in his native Spain, we don’t see why not. One doubt of course has to be his recovery from injury a few months back, but he’s been playing a good few weeks now and has shot a few rounds in the 60’s since his return. But you only have to look at his driving distance to realise he is back. 315 yards for 2013, which is longer than any year he has been a pro. 312 yards for the past 2 years still is not bad though. Other areas of his game we admit have gone off the boil, but this is why he finds himself at such high odds. After all in his prime he was tipped as a future major winner, and he’s only 30 now. If he does regain his form this week, he could be a force to reckon with. Quiros also did win this in 2010, albeit on a different course.

Lee Slattery (100/1 Coral)

Affectionately known as ‘Slatts’ at DownThe18th, the 34 year old Englishman is one to keep an eye on this week. We have seen him briefly the last few weeks, and we have liked what we have seen. His only ever European Tour title came at the Madrid Masters in 2011, a tournament won by Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel in previous years. Lee has not missed a cut in his last 7 tournaments and has always been there abouts this year. T24 at the Trophee Hassan and T17 at the Maybank Malaysian Open. So his current form for someone with these odds is not bad. His putting and sand saves in particular are great facets to his game, while he is averaging 285 yards off the tee in 2013. He’s at those odds for a reason, but could be a wildcard this week.