After a profitable week in the US Open, golf expert Ben Coley is siding with some of Europe's best young talents in the BMW International Open.
2pts e.w. Rasmus Hojgaard at 28/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Robert MacIntyre at 40/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Matti Schmid at 80/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Masahiro Kawamura at 80/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Antoine Rozner at 80/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Julien Brun at 80/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
The week after a major is usually a good excuse for the world of golf to collectively breathe out, with those wishing to play given nice environments in which to do so as others take stock. That unfortunately is not the case in the men's game right now and, once again, the LIV Golf project threatens to overshadow events on the DP World Tour. Rather than exhale, we're all holding our breath.
Two weeks ago, Linn Grant showed that great golf can always win those headlines back, but it's difficult to imagine a realistic scenario in which that happens on Thursday. As players begin their bids to succeed the absent Viktor Hovland as the BMW International Open champion, the DP World Tour is due to update us on how it plans to deal with those LIV rebels, several of whom are in the field, and we could hear more on who will play the next event in the Saudi-funded series which takes place later this month.
Perhaps that will help provide an opportunity for someone whose focus is very much on this circuit, and it's certainly a note of caution when it comes to the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Bernd Wiesberger and Martin Kaymer, the four biggest names who are all now banned from the PGA Tour. Any of them teeing off on Thursday afternoon may do so having just received news which impacts their future, and it's very difficult to know how each they might respond.
For my money it makes sense to avoid all these players. Kaymer would've been interesting back on home soil in Germany, where he's been boom-or-bust and was very much boom when runner-up to Hovland 12 months ago. Kaymer has an ideal game for Eichenried, a parkland par 72 which is probably more about precision than power, and where it's possible to mask inadequacies around the green. There are few courses which suit him better and he's twice the price he was last year, but he's one of those who will be under real scrutiny all week.
To what extent you consider such attention to blame for the performances of the LIV group at the US Open is open to debate. The fact is they are for now a bit of a rabble, made up of players who for the most part have struggled in far less competitive fields, so I'm not sure we should rush to the idea that this whole venture weighs heavy. Then again, Phil Mickelson has plainly not enjoyed having to front up and it must be hard to balance professional golf and paid-for PR. It's a big ask for any of them to let their golf do the talking.
There are plenty of capable alternatives and Billy Horschel understandably heads the betting, with fellow US Open competitors Ryan Fox, Thomas Pieters and Victor Perez all boasting strong form claims. Four of the last five winners of the BMW International Open had flown in from a major championship and it would be all five had man-of-the-moment Matt Fitzpatrick won the title in the summer of 2019, which he really ought to have done.
Accordingly, all four earned a second glance along with the progressive Richard Mansell, but I'm drawn towards those who have freshened up for a busy summer and am keen to give RASMUS HOJGAARD another go.
It would be fair to say I've been on the wrong side of the young Dane so far, as it would his twin brother Nicolai in fact. Rasmus denied 100/1 selection Antoine Rozner in a play-off for the Mauritius Open, then Kaymer at the Belfry, while Nicolai has won twice in infuriating circumstances: first as a late alternate in Italy, then in dominant fashion in the Middle East. On both occasions he beat one of my selections, having been among them himself a week earlier.
Not that I hold such things against these two brilliant youngsters and nor do I the performance of Rasmus when selected for the Dutch Open recently. In that event, he made a fabulous start with an opening 66 to lie second after round one, traded at around the 11/4 mark, but was out of things following a second-round 75.
Such frustrations are of course part and parcel of the game and the message here is that Hojgaard is playing really well at the moment, without stringing four rounds together. He was eighth at halfway in the European Open for instance, fourth through 54 holes at the Belfry, fourth at halfway in Spain, second after round one in Texas, and ninth after three rounds of the Corales Puntacana Championship.
In more simple terms, prior to a pair of 72s for a missed cut in the high-class Canadian Open last time out, he'd been in the mix at some point in each and every start since February, yet sixth place in the Dominican Republic remains his best result. He looks like a player who is bubbling under and ready at some stage soon to make if four DP World Tour wins, so the task is to find the right opportunity for him to justify such faith.
This could be it. Hojgaard arrived here a year ago with form figures of MC-MC-MC-79-MC-55, his game in disarray, and finished 17th. He got better as the week went on, reserving his best round for Sunday, and ranked sixth in strokes-gained approach to demonstrate that he can do the thing he does best at Eichenried.
Four reachable par-fives and a short par-four make this a risk-reward course where a little extra off the tee helps but isn't everything. More important is to hit quality approach shots and at his best, that's where Rasmus edges his brother, who has an extra gear off the tee. This is a Rasmus course, at least I think it is, and at the price he's well worth a bet.
Another factor potentially in Hojgaard's favour is that win at the Belfry, as these two courses share plenty in common. Eichenried is a little easier, with winning scores between 15- and 19-under over the last six renewals played here, but it asks similar questions and before his famous win in the Midlands, Richard Bland had come closest when runner-up to Andres Romero in this event.
For that reason I'd been hoping to see Adrian Meronk here but in his absence I'll give ROBERT MACINTYRE another chance at a price which feels on the generous side.
MacIntyre was my headline selection at the Belfry where he was sent off a 20/1 shot, and having shown only flashes there and in two subsequent starts, he was always going to drift a little. That said, he has to be of interest in winnable DP World Tour events when touching 40/1 and there's every chance a return home to Oban and a couple of games of shinty has reignited the flame as it has done in the past.
When last we saw him, MacIntyre played poorly from a difficult set of tee-times in the Porsche European Open, but that event is never likely to be a particularly reliable form guide in the long-term. Green Eagle is brutally long and by far the most penal course on the circuit, with virtually every player in the field hitting at least one ball in the water and every small mistake at risk of extreme magnification.
Set that aside, and MacIntyre was not far off being right in contention at halfway in the PGA Championship when extending his flawless streak of cuts made in majors, before which he simply putted horrendously when 36th in the aforementioned British Masters. His approach play was very good there, as good as it had been in over a year in fact, so it was a bit of an opportunity missed.
Prior to all this he'd enjoyed a promising spring, finishing 23rd in the Masters, 35th in Texas before that and 15th at Riviera. This is form way beyond the levels most players here have achieved and while he's been a little frustrating to follow if you're a punter, I do think it's easy to underestimate performances like those he was putting together in the early months of the year.
Refreshed ahead of an important run which includes the Scottish Open and an Open Championship on home soil, and having made his thoughts on the distraction very clear, he is worth a go at 30/1 and upwards. MacIntyre hit the ball really nicely at Eichenried on his sole visit, which came during his rookie season, and with all that's going on I've a feeling he's exactly the type to rise above everything else that's going on this week.
Kaymer remains the first and so far only German to win this event but we are at last seeing a wave of youngsters emerge, no doubt inspired by his exploits and those of Sophia Popov.
Among them, Yannik Paul could bounce back from an understandably difficult week at Brookline, something the more experienced Marcel Schneider will also be seeking to do, but my preference is for MATTI SCHMID.
Rewind a year, and Schmid arrived here as an amateur who had shot 76-76 in the US Open, 82-81 in the European Open before that, and 76-76 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Those were his only tour appearances (though he had come through US Open qualifying in style) and little was expected of him.
Finishing 14th, having been sixth through 54 holes, was not just an enormous effort in isolation, but likely played a part in what followed: winning the Silver Medal for leading amateur in the Open, and then becoming the European Tour Rookie of the Year thanks to a string of excellent displays while relying on invites. Come the end of 2021, he had emulated Kaymer in winning that coveted prize, and had a card in his pocket too.
The BMW International Open was the first time he'd delivered in a top-level event so returning to Eichenried, having since been runner-up in the Netherlands and third in South Africa, ought to provide this massive talent with a real opportunity to win his first professional title – that's if he can keep putting well, and overcome some serious issues around the green.
Long off the tee and already one of the best drivers on the circuit, Schmid's approach play is also very good but it's become clear to anyone watching that, like Meronk, he doesn't much like chipping. That's the one thing holding him back as while his season-long putting stats aren't good, he does produce on the greens on occasion including last time out when playing well at Green Eagle.
It's very possible that he can't get away with duffed chips and poor bunker shots but remember Hovland beat Kaymer here last year, and the wider leaderboard featured plenty of others who struggle in this department. Essentially, what players did when they missed greens was almost irrelevant, and if that's true again, Schmid can flourish.
In terms of recent form he was the halfway leader at the Soudal Open and since his performance here last summer, he's had six genuine chances to win, five of them on this circuit and another, in Germany, on the Challenge Tour. Volatility is a given as he finds his way in the game and we'll have to get away with the odd mistake greenside, but the rest of his game is good enough to win and Schmid can delight the home crowds in Munich, not far from where he grew up as the son of a club pro.
There have been one or two signs this year that Fabrizio Zanotti's putter might behave itself for long enough to him to win again, and while his victory in this event came at Gut Larchenhof, he's carded some eye-catching rounds here, too. The Paraguayan looks a rock-solid match bet if you can find one, while Brandon Stone and Justin Walters could form a very nice attack on any top South African markets that may appear subsequent to publication.
Back to what we have and I just prefer MASAHIRO KAWAMURA to all three in the outright market.
Kawamura was 27th here last year having started with a seven-under 65 and added a second-round 70 to share second at halfway. He'd also played well on his debut and with two good efforts at Green Eagle to his name, all four visits to Germany have been successful.
A quality ball-striker despite what isn't the prettiest swing, Kawamura arrives with his long-game really starting to purr, having led the field in strokes-gained tee-to-green in Belgium, ranked 23rd in the Netherlands, and then fifth last time out at Green Eagle.
Throughout these three starts his putting has got better and better and he's generally been at his most effective upon courses which demand strong driving. Eichenried did that more than any other on the DP World Tour last year and, unlike say Al Hamra or Marco Simone, strong driving here requires finding your share of fairways. At ninth in driving accuracy so far this season, that's good news for the Japanese.
With back-to-back top-five finishes to his name last summer and the right game for this test, Kawamura looks worth sticking with.
Niklas Norgaard Moller, Kristoffer Broberg, Thomas Detry and rank outsider Maverick Antcliff all made what was a long shortlist, but I'll finish off with an assessment of some French challengers who all made appeal to varying degrees – even Victor Dubuisson.
The most enigmatic golfer on the planet and seen only three times all year, Dubuisson is only left out on the grounds that he's odds-on to withdraw (this is neither a joke nor an exaggeration), and anyone interested in backing him is surely better off leaving it late and taking what should be fancy prices on the exchanges.
Fourth here last year and placed in one of his three appearances in 2022, Dubuisson's appeal is largely in the fact he's a horses-for-courses player with plenty of form on similar ones to this. His record at Eichenried shows five cuts made in six, the other missed by a single shot, and if he turns up and puts it all in he might emphasise his fondness for the layout.
Matthieu Pavon is the other I left out despite some appeal. He was 10th here in 2019, his best result of a pretty miserable year, and ranked second in strokes-gained tee-to-green in Sweden a fortnight ago. His cross-handed chipping method might become the new thing in golf after Fitzpatrick's heroics and, more seriously, he's shown before that when everything clicks he tends to run with it.
But at the prices, the classier ANTOINE ROZNER is preferred along with a player I remain very keen on, JULIEN BRUN.
Rozner will need to drive it better but that wasn't a problem last year as he defied an opening 76 on his Eichenried debut to shoot 66 and 67 and climb more than 100 places on the leaderboard.
It was a hint that the course suits him nicely and while his form this year isn't quite so robust, he did land us the each-way money at a similar price when fifth in Spain. That came after an improved run with his irons, one or two hints his driving was getting there, and some bullish talk on social media.
After a quiet spell thereafter, he finished 21st in the Dutch Open and then 51st last time out in the European Open, where he threw away shots around the green. That's not something to dwell on (he'd ranked fifth a week earlier) and undermines what was statistically his best approach play since last autumn.
"Game is trending in the right direction, lots of birdies which is a good sign," was his takeaway and with both DP World Tour wins having come after a period where all aspects of his game had fired but never at the same time, it seems possible that things are about to fall into place again.
Brun meanwhile reminds me a little of 2019 champion Andrea Pavan, in that he's dynamite providing he can get away with things off the tee. That didn't work out when selected at the Dutch Open recently, but he was soon back on track at Green Eagle where he was in the mix all week until a poor final round, before missing the cut by one shot in Sweden.
One of the standout Challenge Tour graduates, Brun's path to this level can be traced back to his 2020 campaign on the Germany-based Pro Golf Tour so perhaps it's not surprising that he stepped up a gear returned to this part of the world, for all that a closing 80 in the European Open will have stung.
As Fitzpatrick demonstrated last week, professional sportspeople are often very good at turning negatives into positives and learning quickly, and Brun did that last year when winning his first Challenge Tour title soon after the heartache of a play-off defeat in the Czech Republic – his adopted home, having based himself in Prague for a few years now.
He might just be able to brush off events at Green Eagle in similarly swift fashion, and there's much to like about the fact he's the only player in this field inside the top 20 in approach play and putting, and that he was eighth at the Belfry. If he finds Eichenried similarly suitable then another big week awaits.
Posted at 1855 BST on 20/06/22
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