Bhullar to maintain momentum

  • By: David John
  • Last Updated: March 20 2013, 14:58 GMT

In-form Gaganjeet Bhullar can follow-up last week's excellent display in India at the Maybank Malaysian Open.

Bhullar: Feels he is very close to another victory
Bhullar: Feels he is very close to another victory

Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel add a touch of star quality in Kuala Lumpur this week at the Maybank Malaysian Open with the pair of them on offer at single-figure odds.

World number three Donald will have been pleased with his peformance last week in Tampa Bay as he landed a first top-five of the year to give him some momentum as we move ever closer to the Masters at Augusta in three weeks.

The Englishman has been working on a slight swing change which may well explain a rather indifferent start to 2013 but no bogeys on the weekend in Florida is a stat he can start to build on.

This will be Donald's debut in the event and although he has played in Malaysia once in the past and finished third, I am not going to pay to find out at the price how he copes with the intense climate and notoriously trappy greens.

Schwartzel was my fancy at Doral the other week where he never really threatened the protagonists - and that was before his closing 75.

The last time he was in this part of the world he was lapping his rivals in Thailand prior to Christmas and is no stranger to the course with back-to-back top-11 finishes.

The fact he took last week off to recharge is a plus but he has come up short here before when well fancied and fails to make much appeal at the odds.

This is one of the most physically demanding stops for players all year. Even Thongchai Jaidee admits the heat and humidity are oppressive - and he comes from neighbouring Thailand!

Perhaps that explains why two teenagers have taken the title in the last three years with Matteo Manassero and Seung-yul Noh both showing that young legs can be an advantage.

So the impressive Gaganjeet Bhullar fits the bill quite nicely at 24-years-old and 50/1 looks a tempting enough price for him to follow-up last week's sterling effort in the Avantha Masters.

He had the benefit of home advantage at Jaypee Greens but also coped well with the expectation as his fantastic closing 64 would have taken advantage of any slip-ups from eventual winner Thomas Aiken.

"There were plenty of positives from the week," he said.

"I was hitting it straight throughout the tournament and my iron-striking also improved. I have a strong feeling that with my current form, another tournament win is just around the corner."

Could it be this week? His course form is two missed cuts from two but he has played well in Malaysia and really stood out last autumn at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur at The Mines where he tied for 10th in a strong field of players from the PGA Tour.

He rose to that challenge and hopefully his improved play plus the momentum from last week can see him launch another strong challenge for glory.

I am going to put up Felipe Aguilar again as I don't think his missed cut in the Avantha Masters makes him a bad player overnight.

A second-round 73 saw him eliminated from the weekend but as mentioned last week, he has really caught the eye at the start of 2013 so a repeat of his efforts in quality events like Qatar and Dubai will put him right in the mix.

He finished sixth here two years ago behind Manassero and I don't think he should have too many problems regaining the thread of his early-season form.

This week's lively outsider is American Berry Henson at 200/1.

He is not a name that is very familiar but he has established himself on the Asian Tour over the last couple of years and could be a bit of a surprise package.

Henson secured his rookie win in Manilla back in 2011 which came shortly after a title on the Asian Development Tour - in Malaysia.

In fact he has yet to miss a cut in the country and also boasts some course experience in this tournament to build on with a respectable T33 12 months ago.

Throw in that he has made a nice start to 2013 with his best effort of the year coming in the Avantha (T17) and you can build a reasonable argument to suggest he is actually running into a bit of form.

There have been a few instances in this event where unheralded Americans have done extremely well - Bob May, Craig Hainline and Gerry Norquist - I reckon Henson fits that mould and is worth a shot at big odds.

I shall complete this week's staking plan with an old favourite in France's Raphael Jacquelin.

Jacquelin has enjoyed a fantastically consistent career on the European Tour and has not finished worse than 72nd on the Race To Dubai in the past dozen seasons.

Just three victories during that time is not exactly a prolific return - the last coming at the this time of year in Sicily in 2011 - but he has consistently produced a string of high finishes with a number of them coming in Asia.

Jacquelin revealed in an interview back in 2008: "Yeah, I don't know why, I like to play in Asia.

"We play a lot of good courses and I like to travel, so, I don't know,

"I should be confident on the grainy greens maybe. I'm getting used to them now. No, I don't know why, but maybe I'm going to think to move to Asia."

The last statement was particularly revealing - he obviously went on to stay loyal to his roots on the European Tour but it does highlight how much he believed his games was suited to playing in this part of the world.

He has recorded excellent finishes in Indonesia, China, Hong Kong and importantly on this course as well back in 2006 where his closing 62 in a curtailed event was not quite enough to reel in winner Charlie Wi.

He said: "I just ran out of holes really. I played good, that's for sure. It's the kind of golf course where if you read the greens well, there are lots of chances."

Although that was seven years ago, I still feel it has some relevance in the context of this week's event and although Jacquelin seems to have been around for eons, he turns just 39 in May and there looks to be plenty of mileage left in him.

He has had four solid efforts so far in 2013 and warmed up nicely for this in India with four sub-par rounds on the way to a tie for 34th place following a short break since the end of the Gulf Swing.

That should have got his eye in nicely to spearhead the European challenge.