Ben Coley bagged another 50/1 winner at the Open and now has a selection of fancies for the Cazoo-backed equivalent in Wales.
3pts win Sam Horsfield at 16/1 (Sky Bet, Betfred)
2pts win Laurie Canter at 22/1 (General)
1.5pts e.w. Connor Syme at 40/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1.5pts e.w. Daniel van Tonder at 40/1 (BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Richard Mansell at 70/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Zander Lombard at 110/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
0.5pt e.w. Krisfotter Broberg at 200/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
When you're steering a golf tour through a pandemic and scheduling the event which takes place immediately after the Open Championship, you do what you have to. As such, we must accept that the Wales Open, which is what this tournament is, must be called the Cazoo Open, and thank the online car retailer for their support.
Perhaps by threatening to make him listen to an actual kazoo and in the absence of a high-profile golfer to play host, the sponsors have managed to add Gareth Bale to the billing. Bale, recently returned from international duty at the Euros, 'likes nothing more than to work on his golf handicap' according to the internet, and will presumably take part in the pro-am and what have you before the serious business begins.
All of this is good news for golf in Wales, and a continuation of the smaller-than-the-naked-eye-can-see positives which have come out of a terrible 18 months. From a golfing point of view, tournaments in the UK have multiplied, this one returning after several years away, and that's why we've a packed schedule to take us from post-major malaise to the buzz of the Ryder Cup.
Unfortunately, while the headline football act is here, the golfing equivalent is not. Robert MacIntyre's top-10 finish at the Open earned him a start in the Big Pharma equivalent on the PGA Tour, where he's a good week away from special temporary membership. It's an opportunity nobody could refuse and while the Ryder Cup implications are complex, the immediate prize is simple, and MacIntyre is ambitious enough and good enough to see his future in the United States.
Without him, Matt Wallace is favourite, and he is undoubtedly the class act if your measure is the world rankings. That said the fact he's not in the Ryder Cup conversation tells you that while there's been progress since last summer, including a near-miss up in Scotland, he's not been at his absolute best. Winless in three years, 9/1 is skinny.
There is no escaping the fact that the price of the favourite is better explained by lack of the depth in this field, and it leads me to splitting stakes on to two players who've been both frustrating yet profitable on a personal level since the return of golf: SAM HORSFIELD and LAURIE CANTER.
Horsfield withdrew after a shocking start when put up for the Irish Open, but prior to that he'd been selected three times on these pages and landed the place money on each occasion. Two of those felt like opportunities missed, his nightmare second round especially frustrating in Germany and a final-hole shank potentially costing him the title in Kenya.
Still, on the right course he's been reliable and I rate him the clear second-best player in this field in the here and now, for all that Justin Harding and Aaron Rai fared better in the Open. Horsfield made the weekend there and played nicely until the final round, which was at least a step up on a missed cut in Scotland which followed that early exit at Mount Juliet.
Crucially, the last fortnight has been on links terrain, and that's the prism through which form has to be viewed. OK, neither the Scottish Open nor the Open Championship were played on baked-out turf, but Royal St George's in particular was subtly challenging and a world away from the brazen modernity of Celtic Manor's 2010 Course, so-named having been built to host that year's Ryder Cup.
Here, everything is different, from flat fairways, graduated rough, water hazards and greens whose only complications are the steps from one tier to the next. It is a totally different style of golf, and it's one Horsfield took to as he recorded his second victory in the space of three weeks late last summer.
With June and early July having been fairly miserable, I doubt even the searing heat of the last few days will have turned the 2010 into the sort of firm, fiddly test of accuracy which Rai prefers, and Harding's short-game is unlikely to be decisive here. Of the top four in the betting, it's the Celtic Classic champion who looks best served by the challenge ahead.
Big, long driving is a really good starting point, as evidenced by Thomas Pieters' effort last summer, that of compatriot Thomas Detry, two top-15s for Sebastian Heisele, and some out-of-the-blue improvements from Callum Shinkwin. It makes absolute sense that Horsfield thrived here under the sort of calm conditions which are forecast, whereas some more difficult weather held him back in the Wales Open a week later.
The only real concern is around the state of his game, but three rounds of par or better at Royal St George's is a huge plus for one who is all-out aggression and for now lacks the subtlety and indeed maturity required to win an Open, attributes 24-year-old Collin Morikawa has in spades.
Horsfield, who shot a closing 65 in the Wales Open to ensure he departed Newport on a high, is by far the biggest threat to Wallace. In a field where an in-form Challenge Tour player like Paul Peterson is as short as 40/1, and where recent 1000/1 poke Matthias Schmid is 66s, the 16/1 quoted about him looks big.
Canter meanwhile has tested patience in a rather different way lately, failing to capitalise on what have become the expected, high-class long-game numbers which have underpinned his surge up the rankings.
He might just be the best or at least most consistent ball-striker on the European Tour at the moment, having gained strokes off the tee in 11 of his last 12 starts and with his approaches on each of his last six.
Certainly, he rates among the standout drivers, ranking eighth here last September en route to fifth place, but he managed that without hitting his approaches as well as he can, instead putting well. There's a large element of chance as to whether he will again, but everything else about his game remains in the shape required to contend.
Last time out he ranked third off the tee and 15th in approaches in the Scottish Open, ball-striking which put him close behind Detry and Jon Rahm. While that pair had chances to win, Canter languished in 59th, his long-game undermined by an absolute shocker on the greens.
He will need to bounce back but like Horsfield will find this a far more suitable test and I'm prepared to give him another go, having twice hit the crossbar for us in Portugal and Italy.
Relying on course form is always risky but CONNOR SYME's preparation has been quite similar to last year, when he led through 54 holes here at Celtic Manor in back-to-back weeks.
Ultimately finishing third and eighth, clearly there's something about the place he enjoyed and those efforts came after an upturn in ball-striking at the English Championship. Almost a year on, his long-game has been getting better, with progressive strokes-gained approach figures and a top-10 ranking in greens hit in Scotland.
Having also struck the ball nicely in Ireland, gaining strokes off the tee and with his irons there too, there's a reliable look to a decent but unspectacular fortnight, and it comes at the right time given the way he struck form here thanks again to good driving first and foremost.
Like several of mine, Syme's weakness can be what he does around the greens (141st for the season) but it's notable that so many with poor short-games did well here in 2020. If that remains the case he looks an obvious each-way threat and he's repeated form at courses in Germany and Austria as well as here in the past.
John Catlin's winning credentials set him apart from most in this field and he's shown enough positive signs to be interesting. He has been sixth here and it's perhaps significant that he'd played similarly on his first look at Diamond in Austria before victory in a play-off there earlier this year.
At 40/1 he's a fair price and so is compatriot Chan Kim, who again appeared to hit the ball well last week, while Vincent Norrman has bags of talent and drives the ball to a world-class standard already.
All are considered in a weak event but DANIEL VAN TONDER is a better bet, with his prodigious driving expected to give him a platform to contend for what would be a breakthrough on European soil.
Van Tonder enhanced a prolific record on the Sunshine Tour when winning a co-sanctioned event in Kenya, the same one in which Horsfield just missed out on the play-off, and while his form since looks patchy, he's remained capable of hitting the ball to an extremely high standard.
While we don't have strokes-gained data from the Open, he's driven the ball superbly week-in, week out and his approach play in both the PGA Championship and BMW International Open was suitably strong, enough to help him to 12th place behind Viktor Hovland in the latter.
Seventh at halfway last week having shot 68-66 to begin his first Open Championship, he struggled a little as the pressure increased but is the type to take a lot from that performance and use it to continue his steady progression.
Next is to really contend outside of Africa and, at a course where what he does off the tee will be so much more beneficial than it was at Royal St George's, and where by contrast his weakness around the greens shouldn't be exposed, he is considered a big each-way player.
Jack Senior is a fair price having caught the eye in the Celtic Classic and done himself justice in the Open, which he qualified for with that Sunday charge for 10th place in Scotland. Something seems to have clicked and this talented Englishman will have drawn encouragement from the success of fellow slow-burners Jonathan Caldwell and Marcus Armitage.
I prefer the more explosive talents of RICHARD MANSELL, however.
Just one poor round kept him down the leaderboard last week but it was still an excellent Open debut for a youngster who has quickly established himself as a quality ball-striker, ranking seventh this season in strokes-gained off the tee and above-average with his approaches.
This time last year he first showed what he could do with second in Austria before graduating from the Challenge Tour, and though his best in 2021 is 12th in the Canary Islands, he was in the mix at Diamond (28th) and at halfway in the British Masters (57th), all of it invaluable experience which will serve him well.
More recently he's been a little quiet, but after a nightmare start to the BMW International Open he climbed almost a hundred places through the final three rounds in Germany, and it was good to see him achieve that despite rather than because of the putter.
By all accounts that was the club which held him back at times at Sandwich but he's hitting the ball well enough to take advantage of this drop in grade on what will be his debut at Celtic Manor. No doubt a big, resort-style course will suit — he won on one when waltzing through the EuroPro Tour — and it's worth remembering that in amongst an improved couple of starts he also qualified for the Open to suggest his game is in good shape.
Finally, while seven selections is more than ideal I can't leave out the risky but capable pair of ZANDER LOMBARD and KRISTOFFER BROBERG.
Lombard is interesting because his driver appears to have clicked. This is the club which has been so ruinous at times in his career, a problem exacerbated by a rib injury in 2020, and it's hard to make it pay in the modern game if you're hitting a couple of provisionals per round.
That's what makes the numbers he's produced lately, at first sudden, now sustained, appear potentially significant. They by no means represent a transformation, but he was well above-average in Germany, 11th in Ireland, and on course for something similar had he made the cut in Scotland.
Given that he's a quality iron player on his day, capable of field-leading numbers as in Tenerife or else something close to that as at Mount Juliet, and that his putter can run hot, Lombard suddenly looks like he might be close to the form which saw him threaten to secure his first European Tour win back in 2019.
It's already been an excellent year for South African golf and having made the cut here despite abysmal driving last September, ranking 12th in strokes-gained approach for good measure, Lombard could add his name to the list of winners.
Broberg is a broadly similar player, one who has been held back by injuries since winning a strong BMW Masters in 2015.
He'd shown flashes throughout the previous few months before finishing 14th and 37th across his last two starts, finally showing quality and consistency in his approaches to rank 11th in his native Sweden and 14th in Germany.
The fact that he withdrew before the start of the Irish Open is probably nothing to worry about, as he had been a late call-up and may not have travelled, and while way down the world rankings he's a talented player who would be a threat here if building on his last two starts.
It helps that he's got some Celtic Manor experience, too, and while missing the cut on debut, he returned in 2014 to finish 32nd, ranking ninth in driving accuracy and seventh in greens. These days we need more from our statistics, and he's shown enough of it lately to warrant inclusion to small stakes.
Posted at 1900 BST on 19/07/21
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