The Ballantine’s Championship
Blackstone Golf Club, Icheon, Seoul, South Korea
HAVING had just two renewals at this venue, finding a way in isn’t easy, especially as the first winner here was an experienced pro and the second a rookie.
Both winners, Lee Westwood and Bernd Wiesberger, came here in good form – Westwood had won the Indonesian Masters seven days earlier and Wiesberger, having spent time with his coach, had found improvement in all aspects of his game to finish 7th in Indonesia.
The stats don’t provide too many clues. Westwood ranked 6th for driving distance and 4th for greens hit, while Wiesberger ranked 6th for putting and tied 12th for greens hit. Neither men were especially accurate off the tee but both scored heavily on the par fives.
The top-10s from each renewal are littered with quality players and quality players that play well in the wind.
Wind will almost certainly be a factor this week and an ability to handle breezy conditions is essential.
I could be barking up the wrong tree entirely but visually Blackstone reminds me of Bro Hof Slott, home of the Nordea Masters. Lee Westwood has won at both venues and Alex Noren has won the Nordea Masters and played well here so there could be something in it.
You can dissect the course roughly into thirds, with holes 1-6 providing a relatively gentle start and holes 14-18 a reasonable finish. Holes 7-13 are all tough with the possible exception of the 12th, which last year ranked the 10th hardest.
With the wind forecast to blow on each of the first two afternoons it’s going to be tough to tee off on the 10th in the afternoon.
Both winners here started fairly slowly. Westwood was way down in 36th and six of the pace after day one and Wiesberger was four back. The former didn’t hit the front until late on – on Sunday but the latter led from halfway.
World No.7 Louis Oosthuizen is by some distance the highest ranked player in the field and he has a habit of winning European Tour events in far-flung places but hasn’t been in the tip-top form of late and I’m happy to dismiss him on his course debut.
Second favourite Noren has shown a liking for the venue having finished tied 5th in 2011 and tied 7th last year. He should have fared much better two years ago, having traded at just a shade over 2.0 when he went a couple clear early on in round four before making five bogeys on his way to the clubhouse.
That woeful finish might just have left its mark as he opened up with a round of 75 a year ago before firing rounds of 66-69-69 over the last three days. Nobody’s played the long holes better than the Swede over the last two years and he won’t mind one jot if it gets windy but his obvious chance is reflected by his price and I’m happy to leave him out of my calculations.
The first three home last year more or less occupy the next three spots in the market but again if there’s value there I can’t see it. Backing Wiesberger at 130.0 last year was one the highlights of 2012 for me but even sentiment won’t allow me to take almost 100 points less this time around.
And Richie Ramsay and Victor Dubuisson (2nd and 3rd 12 months ago) both look plenty short enough to me.
Having turned my nose up at the front few in the market, a number of players a little further down the list were of interest, including Ryder Cupper Paul Lawrie, recent winner Kiradech Aphibarnrat and former Ballantine’s champ Marcus Fraser but in the end, I’ve decided to take it very easy from the off and play just two rank outsiders.
Having just switched coaches, Frenchman Gregory Havret is bullish about his form and he looks worth chancing this week despite missing the cut in Spain, courtesy of a three-putt on his final hole on Friday.
He’s tweeted how Raphael Jacquelin’s win there will inspire him and watching Graeme McDowell winning stateside might spur him on too – Havret finished second to G-Mac in the US Open there just years ago.
Havret’s been in the doldrums for some time and managed just one top-10 finish in 2012 but as it came at Bro Hof Slott, if I’m right about the possible course correlation this could be a good week to see him get back to form.
With an impressive five-under 67, Gareth Maybin shot the round of the day on Sunday at the Open de Espana where he ranked no worse than 25th for any aspect of his game.
He finished runner-up to Fraser in this event three years ago and his course form isn’t bad either. He was 13th in 2011 and 38th 12 months ago.
His sudden upturn in form caught my eye and reminded me of last year’s winner Wiesberger. He won’t mind any windy weather and I thought he was worth a small play at 160.0.
Gregory Havret @ 160.0
Gareth Maybin @ 160.0
**Andreas Harto @ 230.00
**I’ve just added a small wager on Andreas Harto, who was a late invite. He was a selection last week when he ruined his chance with a bizarre 81 on Saturday. I rate the young Dane highly and I’m prepared to forgive that one bad round and keep him onside at such a big price.