Ben Coley has bagged a 150/1 winner and some 250/1 place money since the European Tour returned, and he has five selections for this week's British Masters.
After a fortnight of testing protocols and procedures away from the glare of the Sky Sports television cameras, the European Tour makes what many will consider to be its proper return to action with the rearranged Betfred British Masters, hosted for a second time by Lee Westwood.
Unlike most events which have been moved following the enforced hiatus, both here and on the PGA Tour, this one is actually brought forward a week in the calendar and it now marks the start of a six-week tour of the UK as Keith Pelley and co set up shop or, in 2020 parlance, inflate their bio-secure bubble.
With Westwood installed as a 10/1 favourite to make course knowledge count at Close House, where he's played more golf than anyone here, the field is clearly not as strong as we'd all perhaps have liked. That's because many of Europe's best are gearing up for the PGA Championship in California, an event Westwood is happy to skip as he takes a pragmatic approach to the global coronavirus crisis.
The former world number one enjoyed a fine start to 2020, winning in Abu Dhabi to spark dreams of a Ryder Cup swan song, and he's grown accustomed to lengthy breaks between tournaments - albeit not quite so dramatic nor restrictive as this one. Either way, he's among the form picks and while playing host might be a distraction, with limited media on site and no spectators, there really aren't any excuses on that front.
Westwood played well for 15th in 2017, when Paul Dunne got the better of Rory McIlroy to win his first and so far only European Tour title. Unfortunately I'm not sure the Irishman's performance, brilliant as it was, tells us all that much about what it will take to win at this relatively short but physically challenging course, which is severely undulating in parts and involves a series of blind or at least uncertain tee-shots.
Dunne was electric around the greens, neatly summed up by the chip-in birdie with which he completed a three-shot win, and somehow led in strokes-gained tee-to-green despite losing ground off the tee. In other words, he hit a lot of approach shots close, but it was those 18 successful scrambles from 21 missed greens and a very strong putting week which underpinned his success. He made three bogeys all week, the best in the field, and McIlroy only made four.
As is so often the case, we were told pre-tournament that these greens would be really difficult, but they really weren't. Scrambling was easy enough - Dunne's 18/21 was only good enough for fourth in the field - and while the putting surfaces themselves were bumpy and not to everyone's taste, they were not sufficiently tricky to prevent some seriously low scoring. Only some bad weather during the second round kept things sensible, but there were still six rounds of 63 or better during the week.
Ultimately, the leaderboard hints that fairly accurate, steady players who scramble well might be the way to go, and with the par-fives reachable for everyone perhaps that's true. But with McIlroy second and strong drivers David Lingmerth, Shane Lowry and Lucas Bjerregaard close behind, don't be surprised if driver proves much more of a weapon this time. It's been a fairly wet summer, further rain before and during the tournament likely to soften things up a little bit, and there are now three of those short par-fives to go at.
Finding a course-fit angle isn't easy, but I do think there's another way into this and it's to lean towards those who've played in Austria over the last fortnight. There's just nothing like competing for prize money and while these have not been strong events, they've still come with European Tour playing privileges at stake, and a winner's cheque to make the UK minor tour scene look like a bit of fun in comparison.
Towards the top of the betting, this puts THOMAS DETRY and ADRI ARNAUS at a potentially big advantage, and as they also happen to be the two most talented players here other than Westwood himself, they are considered excellent bets.
Detry may not do for everyone, as he's in his fourth year on the European Tour and still seeks that breakthrough title, and players with such records tend to be talked about dismissively. I get that, and there's nothing wrong with being cautious, but I see a player who has taken huge steps towards his first win over the last 12 months and could now be ready to really make his mark.
This young Belgian has won the World Cup alongside Thomas Pieters, don't forget, and it was here in England that he blitzed a strong Challenge Tour field to win by 12 shots in 2016. And to be frank he's just not had that many chances to convert on the European Tour: so often, a flaw somewhere in his game has kept him on the fringes of contention, rather than in the thick of it, and some backdoor top-10s have helped build an unfair reputation.
In his first year, he did very much contend in Germany, and birdied two of the last five holes only for Andres Romero to birdie three of them. His two near-misses in 2018 came courtesy of closing rounds of 65 and 66, and then he never really had a chance until the 2019 Nedbank, where a closing 74 seems to have confirmed that he's not good on Sundays.
I think it's a line of thinking built on very little, especially when you consider the Nedbank was for a record winner's cheque of $2.5million, and the only real criticism I have is that he probably should've been in the play-off in Mauritius a few weeks later.
That's the excuses dealt with. The case for him here really is about his sharpness, which includes victory in a good pro-am arranged by Andy Sullivan a few weeks ago. Detry was playing in that because he's based himself in Cornwall throughout the last four months, and his caddie Mike Burrow is actually a Geordie who I would think has plenty of experience here at Close House.
He then went to Austria, finishing eighth after a strong start and a brilliant finish, and all of this will have been with the full resumption in mind. He's been consistent for months now and the break doesn't appear to have stopped him; indeed on that score he could be compared with Daniel Berger, who picked up where he'd left off with victory when the PGA Tour returned last month.
At the place terms on offer, Detry has been in the money in six of his last 13 starts, dating back to when his game turned a corner last summer. He's close to the top of the tree in bogey avoidance among this lot, he's fourth in strokes-gained approach, and if he takes to this course and putts to a decent level I think his class and competitive edge will make him very hard to keep out of the top 10.
Arnaus is fifth among this field in bogey avoidance, two places ahead of Detry, and from tee to green he's one of the best players on the European Tour already - he's in fact second in this field for the season so far, and was 22nd of 181 players measured in his rookie campaign.
Like Detry, he's kept sharp lately, first by playing in a couple of Korn Ferry Tour qualifiers and then by heading to Austria, where he stepped up massively on a so-so effort at Diamond with 11th place last week, bogeys on the final two holes costing his backers the place money.
Arnaus was pleased with his work there and it suggested he's ready to get back to the sort of level which saw him finish third in the Dubai Desert Classic, his sixth top-five finish in fewer than 40 starts as a European Tour member. In time, he's going to establish himself as one of the best around, likely following his childhood friend Jon Rahm to the PGA Tour, and that road could really begin here.
Seeing Rahm ascend to the top of the world rankings will be hugely inspiring for Arnaus - this is a significant moment in Spanish golf - and it's another small factor which puts him towards the top of my shortlist here. I can't stress enough that for my money he's already a better player than most of those ahead of him in the market, his potential is huge, and he should be cherry-ripe.
While the top of the market didn't take long to work through, the rest of the field did - that's because for so many of these, recent form comes in the shape of shootouts on various UK feeder tours, events in Denmark, Italy, France, Sweden, and even the Czech Republic. It's hard enough to collate, let alone begin to contextualise, and to be honest there doesn't look to be a right answer.
I thought Oliver Wilson's victory over Jordan Smith at Walton Heath might be worth latching onto, especially as Wilson is 350/1 and Smith is 33/1, but it serves as a reminder that these events are to be used with caution. When last these two played on the European Tour, Smith was flushing his way to big cheques; Wilson hasn't yet collected one this year, largely because he's been driving it off the planet.
Still, it's undeniably encouraging to see that a player has done something good against fellow touring professionals, and readers over these last two weeks will by now be aware of a 'training' event organised by the French Golf Federation, won by Antoine Rozner.
That nugget backfired when Rozner played poorly in the Austrian Open, but last week it paid off - 250/1 selection Julien Brun had been fourth behind Rozner, he'd also won an event in Prague, and it now appears clear that this combined with a strong book of form on the Pro Golf Tour is meaningful evidence that this formerly top-class amateur is getting his act together.
Back in fourth in that French event was ALEXANDER LEVY, and in the hope he can build on it this five-time European Tour winner is worth chancing.
Levy was a regular feature towards the top of markets like this one for a long time, and when he won the Trophee Hassan in 2018, there was justifiable talk of a Ryder Cup bid with Paris on the horizon.
When that didn't work out - he wasn't close in the end - Levy decided he needed to improve, and since last year has been working with Sean Foley, former coach of Tiger Woods and the man who helped take Justin Rose to a US Open and the very top of the sport.
Levy finally saw results this time last year, playing well in Sweden and Prague, but subsequent results confirmed he still had a little to do. My hope is these months away may well have helped, although it should be noted that his ball-striking came alive in the Middle East back in February and that's potentially significant.
The progress he made then, and his golf in France a few weeks ago, earned Levy a closer look - but the reason he's getting the benefit of the doubt here is that he might just have shown us, with wins in Germany and Morocco, that this golf course near Newcastle will be right up his street.
I say that because when he won at Bad Griesbach in the European Open, Robert Karlsson and Florian Fritsch were close behind. Both placed, at huge prices I might add, in the British Masters here, and where Fritsch is concerned they're very much among his best efforts on the European Tour.
Graeme Storm has also been second at Bad Griesbach, and he was fourth in the event won by Dunne, who himself opened 66-68 in Levy's European Open to sit 12th with a round to go, the tournament having been reduced to a 54-hole shootout.
Morocco doesn't have quite the same substance in terms of ties between leaderboards, but Dunne has been second there and first here, and Nacho Elvira is another who lost a play-off in the Trophee Hassan and played well in the British Masters at Close House. Alone it wouldn't be much to go on, but combined with that Germany link and his hints of promise, it earns Levy the vote.
If you're still following me on this trans-continental tour, the other event I should mention is the 2018 Open de Espana, where Dunne chased home Rahm, and Elvira was third. Look a little further down the leaderboard and you'll see Marc Warren and George Coetzee both went well, and they tied for 15th here. And while less undulating than Close House, there are some severe elevation changes in Madrid, too.
Next is something just a little more tangible, however, with RICHIE RAMSAY fourth into the staking plan.
Although Ramsay has won the Trophee Hassan, I should stress that it was at a different course, and the case is instead to do with his performance here in 2017 and how that ties in with a strong record in the UK.
The Scot was eighth here in 2017, and that's despite playing the two par-fives in level par. To reiterate, they were very much the two easiest holes on the course, and everyone else in contention took advantage. In fact, if we look at scoring across the other 64 holes of the tournament, Ramsay tied with Dunne and beat everyone else pretty comfortably.
In other words, he finished eighth and probably ought to have done better still, so it was a very encouraging debut at Close House which of course isn't too far from his Scottish home.
Ramsay has always done well when playing in the UK, finishing fifth in this again last year at Hillside, placing in the Scottish Open, the BMW PGA, the Dunhill Links, the Irish Open, the Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles, and finishing 10th in the last Wales Open he featured in.
More so than most, he'll be licking his lips at this new schedule conjured up by the European Tour, and when last we saw him there were some decent signs in the Middle East, where he made four cuts in five on courses which never have brought out his best.
Much more at home playing this type of event, Ramsay can go really well if sharp enough, and he's bound to have been egged on a little by former GolfSixes partner Warren, who ended a similar drought when winning a fortnight ago.
Finally, find room for a small bet on RICHARD BLAND, who has been playing really well lately.
An 11-under 61 alongside Eddie Pepperell and Laurie Canter was our first real hint of that, before Bland lost a play-off to Andy Sullivan at Stoneham, his home course, just last week.
To an extent it's perhaps not surprising that this longstanding maiden can do that sort of thing in practice and he clearly has questions to answer at this level, but we're compensated by a huge price and I really like the fact he has two top-10 finishes in as many stroke play starts at the aforementioned Bad Griesbach.
Others to mention include Steven Brown, a shot behind Detry in the pro-am he won and a winner last year in Portugal, Romain Langasque, who is a big price on ability alone, and the formerly classy Jamie Donaldson, who has been popping up with some nice rounds and is a magician around the greens when at his best.
Posted at 1800 BST on 20/07/20
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