Ben Coley previews the Hero Indian Open, where last week’s winner Thorbjorn Olesen is out for a quick-fire double at a very different course.
Golf betting tips: Hero Indian Open
2pts e.w. Edoardo Molinari at 28/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Mikko Korhonen at 33/1 (bet365, BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Pablo Larrazabal at 40/1 (Unibet, BetUK 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Masahiro Kawamura at 50/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
0.5pt e.w. Soren Kjeldsen at 225/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
In 2015, the US Open was held at Chambers Bay, a complete departure from what we’d come to expect for the sport’s brutalist major. Chambers Bay’s greens in particular were problematic for many, but Gary Player felt the entire experiment had failed miserably.
“This has been the most unpleasant golf tournament I’ve seen in my life,” he said. “It’s actually a tragedy.” Player went on to bemoan the sheer length of the course, its playability, and its cost. He felt that being open to the public meant it should be easier and more affordable. Most of all, he thought it unfit to host a national championship.
In October that same year, the Gary Player Course opened at DLF Golf and Country Club. It boasted of big lakes and unique bunkering; the former man-made, the latter made unique by having foam faces and often seeming to point in the wrong direction. Within a year, it had been selected to do as Chambers Bay had done and host a national championship – the Indian Open.
The first day’s competition saw 18 players fail to break 80. The second featured a round of 90 by someone ranked inside the world’s top 400, one that started with a bogey and quickly got worse with the player in question 13-over at the turn. Future PGA Tour winner Dylan Frittelli shot 80 on Saturday and come Sunday there were as many rounds in the eighties as there were in the sixties.
Bad weather can make this sport virtually impossible, but this was all to do with a bad golf course. That is a matter of opinion – just as Mr Player’s view on Chambers Bay had been – and I was soon told by Player’s design company that many players disagreed with mine. That’s undoubtedly true. Also true is that Eddie Pepperell said the course was designed by Satan himself.
My view is that making professional golfers look stupid is self-defeating, and that this game takes long enough without virtually every player in the field having to at some stage take a drop and swallow a double-bogey or worse. When he won in 2019, Stephen Gallacher overcame a final-round eight, a score the eventual runner-up had made the previous day. Slow and silly should be the sort of golfing myth you hear from fans of rugby union; here it was made reality.
But we are back. Of course we are. Professional golf tournaments, particularly those held on tours fighting for their very existence, have to make logistical sense. Perhaps the sport has outgrown Delhi, the quaint, old-world course which offered a more sensible version of difficult. Indisputably, the DP World Tour needs sponsors like Hero, and if this is where we have to be, then this is where we have to be.
Can Dodo survive toughest test yet?
That might also be the view of some of the favourites in what’s the thinnest field of the season so far. I doubt any of them will learn a great deal about themselves, except perhaps just how far their patience will stretch, but then again they pay the same dollars and award the same points regardless. Someone has to win, and in a field like this it will surely be someone we know.
Top of my list is EDOARDO MOLINARI, who will be looking to become the third veteran winner in four renewals held here after SSP Chawrasia and Gallacher.
Both those two putted the lights out, Chawrasia in particular, but their willingness to accept what comes their way was also beneficial and that’s a quality Molinari has. It’s partly why he’s such a strong advocate of Valderrama.
That course is unalike this one in almost every way except how difficult it is. And, along with Celtic Manor, it seems to provide some really strong DLF pointers through players like Chawrasia himself, Julian Suri, Andrew Johnston, Sihwan Kim, and plenty more.
Celtic Manor is an even better study. The Wales Open has only been going to the 2010 Course since, well, around 2010, and there have only been three Indian Opens here, yet there are a dozen or more players with form at both. Gallacher and Johnston are among them along with Nacho Elvira and Callum Shinkwin, the last two winners in Wales.
Whereas Valderrama poses short-game questions, Celtic Manor demands strong driving and the avoidance of hazards, both of which are also necessary here. Molinari then should be at home, as he ranked among the top-20 drivers on the DP World Tour last year thanks to his relentless accuracy, he hits greens for fun, and he scrambles well.
Putting would be the problem but he’s adamant it’s improving all the time and there’s truth to that now. Five of his last eight appearances have yielded positive performances on the greens. What he needs is to produce another at the right kind of course, which Amata Spring simply was not, but DLF just might be.
As well as showing promise at Valderrama, Molinari senior has been fourth at Celtic Manor twice now, and contended there on four of seven starts. His last win came at the demanding Dar Es Salaam, where only one of his three rounds was sub-70 and where Carlos Pigem, Suri, Elvira and others help suggest we can also find form clues.
Here at DLF, Molinari finished 11th on debut, sat prominently on his second try before one of those nightmare rounds that can happen to anyone, and did the same in 2019, lying seventh after round one but missing the cut. He’s improved since, has two top-20s in four starts this year, and now heads to a venue where experience both of the course and of the sport in general could be massive.
That’s what earns him the vote ahead of some flashier types, the first five in the betting all making their first starts here. Jeunghun Wang would appeal more and has some course experience too but he’s been in the heat of battle in Singapore and Thailand, and I worry he could empty at a course where absolute focus is a must.
Experience points to Pablo
Chawrasia’s runaway victory in 2017 might also reveal that a few looks round are bound to be beneficial given how quirky and daunting DLF can be. He’d played the course more than most in the field and clearly knew where to miss and where not to, which meant he could avoid those ruinous numbers most players suffered.
Gallacher was a shock winner who arrived on a run of missed cuts, but he’d been 29th and seventh in the previous two editions so although it’s been four years, those safe in the knowledge that they’ve coped with this stern test before are generally preferred. It could be a tough week for the lower-ranked youngsters, that’s for sure.
PABLO LARRAZABAL was fourth on debut and, in one subsequent visit, made a bright start before finishing 39th.
A proven winner including at difficult courses like Leopard Creek and Le Golf National, it’s a little surprising he’s not been given more respect by the layers especially as he arrives in good form having made all four cuts to begin the year and been ticking over nicely before Christmas.
Larrazabal also boasts a Chawrasia-like short-game which is bound to come in handy, just as it did for 2018 champion Matt Wallace, and I thought he was a serious eye-catcher when selected on these pages for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship just a month ago.
Hitting the ball really well there, Larrazabal missed a host of chances which is seldom the case, and he went on to produce one of the better displays of approach play in a high-class Dubai Desert Classic. Either of these efforts would put him in with a huge chance and a good start on his Amata Spring debut suggested he remains in similar touch.
Conditions here will suit him better, a comment which simply doesn’t apply to many players in this field who would generally prefer the point-and-shoot exercise we saw in Thailand, and with his 40th birthday looming there are more big days to come for the fiery Spaniard.
He has the Celtic Manor, Dar Es Salaam and Valderrama form ties I really like and I don’t think Green Eagle is a bad guide either given how difficult that course plays. Larrazabal has been seventh there and in this kind of company, I’ll be surprised if he’s not in contention come the weekend.
Finn has the required class
Kalle Samooja won at Green Eagle last year having earlier contended under very demanding conditions in Qatar. There are a couple of other performances on his record which also appeal and he led the field in scrambling on his way to a top-20 finish here during his rookie season in 2019.
He’s respected after some improved displays of late, but compatriot MIKKO KORHONEN is marginally preferred.
Third at Valderrama and Celtic Manor, it’s no wonder Korhonen took to DLF when 10th on his debut here and it could have been a good deal better, as he was the best driver in the field and hit a stack of greens only to suffer a poor week with the putter.
That can be the way with Korhonen and helps explain what to many will be an off-putting set of form figures, which read 11-MC-MC-MC-8-MC-MC-MC-MC since the Italian Open last September. Korhonen has putted poorly seven times and missed the cut seven times. He’s putted decently twice, and finished 11th and eighth in much better fields.
As and when he gets the flat stick fired up we should expect him to go really well and while there’s little to suggest whether it’ll be this week or next, I like the way he’s hitting the ball and the fact that a difficult test like this one would appear ideal for another veteran of the field.
He missed the cut by a shot last week and in Singapore so will feel his game is closer than it looks, just as he’ll know that this is a much more suitable test. His second-round 68 in Thailand was his best since signing off with a 64 in Portugal and he’s fancied to emerge from another apparent slump just as he has in each of the last two seasons.
MASAHIRO KAWAMURA is another player whose form doesn’t necessarily suggest he’s ready to win, but not all missed cuts are equal and he’s been close to the weekend in all three starts since some seriously strong form either side of Christmas.
Kawamura contended for the Australian PGA Championship where he unsurprisingly proved no match for Cam Smith, and then returned with 34th place in Abu Dhabi, lying fifth after round one and inside the top 10 at halfway only to suffer a quiet weekend.
One of the low-key most capable maidens around at this level, he went close when fifth at Green Eagle last year and is another with all the form I’m looking for: a blemish-free record at Valderrama with a best of eighth, second here, fifth at Celtic Manor, sixth on one visit to Dar Es Salaam, and other tough-course form such as third at Galgorm Castle.
I even looked at Cyprus as a decent guide and the course they visited there in 2020 was visually similar to this one. Kawamura finished second, matching his performance in the 2019 Indian Open when unfortunate to lose given that Gallacher finished like a train to beat him by a single shot.
Kawamura is similar to Molinari in terms of gaining strokes off the tee through his accuracy and he’s really sharp around the green, which is a fantastic combination for this course. He wasn’t playing especially well before that performance here three years ago and I’d argue his form coming in this time is far stronger than it looks.
Like Kawamura, Jazz Janewattananond has plenty of form across Asia including a couple of top-10 finishes in India plus a win in neighbouring Bangladesh.
He returns here on the back of a weekend off in Qatar, where conditions were seriously tough, and it might actually be to his benefit that he wasn’t blown off course there. Jazz missed the cut by a single shot so there was nothing to worry about, especially the way he’d played to climb the leaderboard on both previous starts.
Prior to this run on the Asian Tour, the Thai finished 50th and 20th in two Rolex Series events, and that makes it three top-20 finishes in his last five DP World Tour starts having been 14th at Valderrama and sixth in Mallorca last October.
This represents a drop in grade from all of those, as it does 13th at Le Golf National in September, and he’s another with a Celtic Manor top-10 – one that came a week after he’d missed the cut narrowly.
Jazz once spent some downtime as a practising monk in a Buddhist temple back home in Bangkok, so patience shouldn’t be a problem and as you can tell I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt at a course where he’s not yet put everything together.
However, his long-game tends to come and go and I do worry he’ll pay the price for it at some stage. That’s certainly been the case so far and as he’s playing for the sixth week in a row, any let-up mentally will also see him find more than his share of trouble spots.
There’s plenty to like about the Thai and you could argue that those who arrive from difficult tournaments in Qatar and Oman might have prepared well for this, but at a no more than fair price I’m going to have to leave him out.
More Danish delight?
Christoffer Bring is of some interest at 200/1 or so, as he’s been in the mix twice already during his rookie season at this level and clearly has potential. However, experience is the word I keep coming back to and his compatriot SOREN KJELSEN is preferred.
I imagine Kjeldsen enjoyed seeing Thorbjorn Olesen win last week as most of the Danish contingent will have, and I’m in no doubt whatsoever that this short-hitting veteran will be glad to get away from a run of tournaments on long, soft courses.
DLF can stretch beyond 7,500 yards but there are at least five tee boxes per hole and with conditions so difficult during each of the three previous editions, it seems likely tournament organisers are again forced to reduce the yardage simply to ensure that the field can get around the course during daylight hours.
That will help Kjeldsen, who has strong form at Le Golf National, Celtic Manor and in particular at Valderrama, and there were times last year when he looked capable of winning again at this level.
Fifth place at Wentworth was the best demonstration of that but he also held the first-round lead at Valderrama and finished seventh in Scotland to show that when granted favourable conditions, he can remain competitive.
With his approach play seemingly still firing (21st last season) and having done precious little wrong at Amata Spring, where he dropped just three shots in 36 holes and carded a three-under 69 in round two, he could improve massively for a return to India even if he didn’t pull up any trees when finishing towards the back of field on his first start here in 2019.
Back then, Kjeldsen had been shooting some big numbers following a good start to the campaign, whereas this time he has something to work with. At a course which will force many into submission, his accuracy and short-game skills can see him outperform odds of 250/1.
Thomas Bjorn, like Kjeldsen, has the wedge game and experience to go well and his last top-10 finish at this level came at Valderrama. However, that was back in 2019 and while he’d played some good stuff when 34th here a year earlier and has been doing so again lately, his compatriot is the one who has proven he can still compete over 72 holes.
Posted at 1710 GMT on 20/02/23
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