Jonathan Caldwell
Jonathan Caldwell

DP World Tour Qualifying School Final Stage: Players to watch at Infinitum

Ben Coley picks out 10 players to watch as the six-round marathon that is Qualifying School begins on Friday.

Ricardo Gouveia

Gouveia's last start came in the Portugal Masters featuring Robert MacIntyre, Jordan Smith and various other Ryder Cup hopefuls, and he was a 66/1 shot. Not only that, but he started really well before a nightmare second round under intense pressure. Yes, he was on home soil at a course where he'd never previously missed the cut, but this is a player who finished eighth in a PGA Tour event in July, and whose form prior to Portugal read 19-16.

Odds of 100/1 with bet365 are all kinds of wrong for a class act with plenty of form in Spain, and he deserves to be towards the front of this market. Note that the only two players who finished ahead of him in the Race to Dubai are 18/1 and 33/1. I would be putting Gouveia right between the two at around 25s.

Max Schmitt

Whereas I think bet365 have tended to underestimate some of the proven DP World Tour players (such as Kristoffer Broberg opening at 140/1), BoyleSports might not have rated the Challenge Tour nearly-men the way I would.

Take David Ravetto, who was going off at 28/1 on that circuit recently, but now found himself rated similarly to players who'd been 100/1 and bigger. His initial 150/1 price has now been slashed and the one I'm most interested in is Schmitt, a formerly world-class amateur who, at 24, still has a bright future.

Schmitt narrowly missed his card, finishing 23rd on the Challenge Tour's Road to Mallorca and losing a play-off for the penultimate event, which ultimately proved the difference. However he only featured in 17 tournaments, fewer than all bar two of the 20 who gained cards as well as virtually everyone around him. By the end of the campaign, he was being put in right towards the very top of the betting with good reason.

While I rate his compatriot Nick Bachem (50/1) as highly promising, Schmitt was the better player on balance and he also has the advantage of experience at Infinitum. Schmitt in fact held on to come through Q School here in 2018 and 66/1 looks generous for the best of the players who've been operating on the Challenge Tour this year.

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Ashley Chesters

The single most accurate driver in men's professional golf, Chesters is the sort to stay out of trouble and secure his card this week. That's largely what he did at Qualifying School in 2016, a year after he'd featured prominently as an amateur in the Open, and some encouraging recent form suggests he can do it again.

It's worth noting that not only has some of his best form come in Spain, fourth place at Valderrama in particular, but that he was 23rd here at Infinitum in this year's ISPS Handa Championship, held at the Lakes course. Inside the top 10 after each of the first two rounds, he finished on the heels of some quality DP World Tour operators despite a poor week with the putter.

That club is the biggest concern but his best display of the year came recently in Mallorca and anything like that should see him in the mix for cards. He's well capable of being right towards the top of the leaderboard, too, although he lacks a little oomph and is one I'd be more inclined to back if a bookmaker offered prices on players getting their cards.

Garrick Porteous

Another one-time amateur prospect whose professional career hasn't yet caught fire, Porteous arrives having produced some of his best golf of the season in Portugal, and then followed it by coasting through second stage, again improving as the week went on.

That should be a nice platform for this fine driver of a ball, and he was 14th in this event when last it was held. Yes, he missed the cut at Infinitum back in May but only narrowly and after a bright start, too, at a time when his game was more miss than hit.

Cormac Sharvin

A former winner of the Brabazon Trophy who played Walker Cup golf before turning professional, Sharvin's career is now at a crossroads having turned 30 last month.

It's been a thoroughly miserable year on the DP World Tour having made just one cut since April, finishing 13th in the 54-hole Czech Masters. Having withdrawn after an opening 81 two starts ago and then struggled in Portugal, it's fair to say there's been very little in the way of encouragement.

That's until he finished fourth at second stage, defying a couple of big mistakes early on to ultimately finish close to the leaders. His final round was the second best of the day and while that Las Colinas sectional was a weak one, it's easy to be drawn towards prices as big as 250/1. He cut through the field here in 2018 to finish 31st and a better start might make him one of the week's surprise packages.

Jonathan Caldwell

The last of the UK and Irish journeymen types I like is old friend Caldwell, a winner last summer yet now back to Qualifying School. The good news is he's played it once at Infinitum and finished 19th, the performance which paved the way for him to fulfil a life's ambition and win on the DP World Tour.

Caldwell returns here on the back of a poor season, but one which showed clear signs of improvement towards the end. He made three of his final six cuts but more than that, the big numbers which had plagued him were generally kept at bay save for a horrible afternoon in the wind and rain of the Dunhill Links.

After a staying-on 23rd in Mallorca he showed promise despite a missed cut in Portugal which can be blamed on the putter, usually his best club. With his irons firing and these fairly short courses hopefully allowing him to compete with more powerful types, he's a player with a touch of class at three-figure odds.

John Axelsen

Dominant on the Nordic Golf League this year, Axelsen looked like being one of the major casualties of second stage – only to shoot a final-round 63 and climb more than 30 places, just inside the cut-off.

Clearly, he'll need to improve again having been 11 shots behind proven tour players Joel Sjoholm and Pieter Moolman there, but Axelsen is an exciting youngster from Denmark who looks to have the potential to join the Hojgaard twins on the main circuit, having played plenty of amateur golf alongside them.

There are other young professionals in here who we expect big things from, including Takumi Kanaya right towards the top of the market, but I'd be more interested in Axelsen at prices around the 66/1 mark and a best of 80s with Sky Bet.

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Luis Masaveu

It's a big ask for a 19-year-old amateur to come through Final Stage, but Masaveu was brilliant at Emporda last week where he finished T3. During the middle two rounds he was 12-under with just a solitary bogey and he signed off with a comfortable 68 to progress with no fuss whatsoever.

Before that we'd seen him get involved on the Open de Espana leaderboard and more than most he's surely able to view this as a free roll, given that he has his whole career in front of him and has already surpassed expectations. Throw in the fact he's on home soil and it wouldn't be a surprise were he to go well.

Alejandro Canizares

From the head of the betting, Kanaya and the classy Kiradech Aphibarnrat make plenty of sense along with Renato Paratore, who is here because he came up just one shot shy at the Portugal Masters, has been playing well for a while, and was third as a teenager at 2014 Q School.

All are respected but at no less than 33/1 I would be inclined to side with the experience of Canizares, who topped the leaderboard here in 2018 and was third a year later. He too has found form lately and while 'only' fifth as favourite for his second stage qualifier, a third-round 62 was the low score of the week to underline the fact that his game is in good shape.

With his 40th birthday a couple of months away, Canizares might just prove the value of having been here before.

Braden Thornberry

Tom Lewis and Niklas Lemke are two fabulous drivers who could really enjoy the Lakes course in particular, which Lemke has done in the past in fact. Lewis meanwhile came through Final Stage in 2016 and has shown some encouraging signs since returning to Europe in the autumn.

Both are genuine contenders for medalist honours but I'll close with Thornberry, another formerly world-class amateur, one with PGA Tour form who few would've expected to be here. That's a reflection of a rough Korn Ferry Tour campaign but it wasn't a surprise to see him go so well at second stage (T4) where he made just two bogeys all week.

Around a 50/1 chance there, anyone who collected the each-way money will surely be tempted to play it up at 80s in this admittedly deeper field. He's certainly among the most talented players in it and while only 25, he also has plenty of experience, including when topping the Korn Ferry equivalent once.

I've tried to avoid merely listing players whose prices between two firms differ greatly, but a glance at the Oddschecker grid will tell you who they are with promising South African Dylan Naidoo and the exciting Hayden Hopewell among them.

Clearly, these are hard players to rate for the most part and this is one tournament where winning isn't the goal. But returning to the top, I can't see how anyone could consider Gouveia anything but one of the standout candidates.

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