Whilst the PGA Tour continues its journey through those well-known courses – Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Scottsdale, Riviera and now PGA National – their counterparts on the DPWT take in the third of a trio of tournaments held at rarely used tracks, finishing with the Hero Indian Open at the DLF Golf and Country Club.
Despite the gaps in hosting, Amata Spring’s Thailand Classic went to plan, giving some confidence that the puzzle in New Delhi can be equally as comfortable.
Hopefully, we don’t have a similar situation to 2017, when the tour advised us of the might of the 7600+ yard course, leading all to believe it was out of the range of the short-hitting defending champion, SSP (now Shiv) Chawrasia. You know how the story goes.
Golf has moved on plenty in six years, though, and this year’s combatants will face a grind on a tight course with wind swirling all around. Sure, they may do a ‘ MacIntyre’ and hole their tee-shot on the 243-yard par-3 16th hole, but given the last European Tour winner, Stephen Gallacher, won after a quad on his final round card, this is going to be a test that the likes of Green Eagle and co. can only dream of.
Best bet – Pablo Larrazabal
Danger – Thorbjorn Olesen
It would be simple to put last week’s winner as a one-and-done, and whilst he is the outstanding candidate on form, it is also easy to see him caught on the wrong side of the draw or face a strong gust at the wrong time.
However, on form, whether current or correlative, Olesen remains the one to beat, even at half the price he was seven days ago.
The three winners here from 2017 to 2019 have distinct links between them, and that has to be the starting point for any analysis.
2019 champion Gallacher, who gives hope to the rags here having won after six missed-cuts from seven starts, revels at the Dunhill Links, is even better at the Dubai Desert Classic and takes in Malaysia, Portugal and Scotland on his CV.
2018 finds Matt Wallace trending throughout the desert swing before winning here, his best form coming in Dubai (at both the Desert Classic and DP World) Denmark, Portugal and Scotland, whilst when SSP won he backed up his two best-ever sole European Tour efforts at Wentworth and Valderrama.
The Dane probably doesn’t fit in here after a run of 1/4/16/20/30 but is hard to leave out completely after a resume that sees a gold and silver at the Dunhill Links, a win in Sicily, and high finishes in Qatar, Germany, France and Open championships. He has to be a saver at worst.
Instead of making him the main wager, opt for Pablo Larrazabal in the hope a return to a course he likes can entice just enough improvement out of his game to challenge strongly.
At 39-years-old there may not be much improvement in him, but Pablo can still play the game, winning twice last season when grinding out a play-off win in South Africa and beating compatriot Adrian Otaegui to the one-off ISPS Handa in his home country.
Those victories, however admirable, can’t be knocked even if they may not have relevance to this week’s test. However, the mercurial Spaniard (is there a Spanish golfer that isn’t so?) has some very relevant back-form, winning at tough Le Golf National, Munich, Abu Dhabi and, of course, the Links. Add those to top efforts at Wentworth, Malaysia, Celtic manor and Dubai and the profile is clear.
2023 has started well, making the cut in all four events. Always around the top-20 at his favoured Abu Dhabi, he was inside the top-20 going into payday in Dubai, was 11th after the opening round at Ras, and ninth at the end of day one in Thailand last week.
Pablo can burst into life at any point. His record over the past couple of seasons shows T12 in Tenerife after a pair of missed cuts, 8th in Italy after a mc and withdrawal, and a pair of fifth placings after a couple of weekends off.
Pablo’s two outings around this course have resulted in a fourth place on debut and a top-40 in 2019 when he was in third place after round one.
Consistency, an ability to grind, and maybe a touch of short-game brilliance may be needed this week, and the Spaniard convinces on all of those.
It might also pay to look for Larrazabal to make a fast start.
In his last seven outings, Pablo has finished the opening day inside the top 11, whilst since 2021 he has also led in Qatar and Denmark, been fourth at the Dubai Desert Classic and 7th at Wentworth.
Others – Shubhankar Sharma
There is a danger that Sharma is this week’s Aphibarnrat – that is, to say, a local that seems obvious but ultimatley bombs out.
However, for a six-time winner on his home tour, and a champion at Joburg and at the Maybank, he is more than just the Indian factor, and his form bears the closest scrutiny.
His win in Malaysia saw him beat Qatar stalwart Jorge Campillo (also with form in all the right places) and Larrazabal, whilst he has also recorded top finishes at Wentworth, Denmark and Dubai.
The 26-year-old tends to go in-and-out of form, but in recent months has finished third to Tommy Fleetwood and Ryan Fox at the Nedbank, designed by this week’s architect, Gary Player, recorded a top-10 at Abu Dhabi and a 12th in Saudi.
This is a drop in class from those three events and he arrives having played all three previous tournaments held here, finishing 40th on debut, then 7th and 27th in 2018 and 2019.
In a field that lacks depth, the local player stands out from much of the dead wood.
Others – Jeff Winther
34-year-old Winther took his time winning on the main stage, but after an eight-year gap, finally got over the line when beating Jorge Campillo (hello) and others to the Mallorca Golf Open in 2021.
A win will settle any player, and guaranteed his card for a while, backed that up with 2022 top-10s in Abu Dhabi, in France and when defending his title, whilst a tied-15 in his home country can also be looked at favourably for this week.
The Dane has made two cuts from four outings this year, the 17th in Abu coming after an opening 73/68, which left him outside the top-40 at halfway, whilst he was a lot more consistent, always around about his finishing position of 23rd.
I’m taken that his first three wins on the Nordic Tour were in tough conditions, and whilst two of those were three-round events (won in 8-under and 19-under) his victory at the four-round Tournament of Champions was won in 4-under the card.
The tougher this is, the more the patient player will thrive, and any of his best form over the past 18 months will do just fine.
Others – Jeon Weon Ko
Frenchman Jeon Weon Ko is in the ‘could be anything’ category for this week, but he’ll do for me after progressing through the leagues over the last couple of seasons.
After a handful of amateur victories, the now 24-year-old shown enough on the Alps Tour as an amateur before progressing to the main Challenge Tour events in 2021, a start that included back-to-back top-15 finishes in Cape Town and at the Di-Data.
An opening 4th and a 12th in Finland were the sole highlights for the rest of the year but 2022 was much improved, making 12 of his last 13 starts, including a run of 18/21/5/6/31/22/4/8/2, the last event finding him lead the Swiss Challenge field for three rounds, succumbing only to Daniel Hillier’s final round 64.
Ko’s card was confirmed after a top-five finish at the Grand Final, and he again started his season in South Africa, where a 30th at that country’s Open proved the highlight of three outings.
Better was expected after ending last year with a top five in Mauritius, but we often expect too much and there is nothing much wrong with making two of the three cuts in 2023.
At Ras, Ko finished a never-nearer 28th after hovering around 60th for the first three days, whilst he stayed around the top-50 for his first look at the Thailand Classic.
A look at the weekends off the track finds promise, though.
Opening rounds of 72/73 at the Dunhill Links are more than acceptable, whilst a second-round 68 saw him miss the Singapore cut on the number.
Certainly nowhere near the finished article, if he takes a lead from his career one level down, he’ll hit form at some point, and this course may well suit him judged on the latest stats.
Take the figures with a touch of care but, in the last six recorded outings, the youngster has an average of 9th for off-the-tee stats and top-25 for tee-to-green, something that will work somewhere very soon.
Whetever happens this week, make a note of his name.
- Thorbjorn Olesen – WIN
- Pablo Larrazabal – WIN AND TOP-5
- Shubhankar Sharma – WIN AND TOP-5
- Jeff Winther – WIN AND TOP-5
- JW Ko – WIN AND TOP-10
- Pablo Larrazabal – 35/1 FIRST ROUND LEADER