Fiji International betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Check out who Ben Coley is backing for the Fiji International
Check out who Ben Coley is backing for the Fiji International

The European Tour heads off to Fiji this week and golf expert Ben Coley has unearthed a collection of each-way fancies.

Recommended bets:

1pt e.w. Terry Pilkadaris at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Dimi Papadatos at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Simon Hawkes at 100/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)

0.5pt e.w. Antonio Murdaca at 300/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

0.5pt e.w. Jack Wilson at 300/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

The Championship Course at Natadola Bay once again hosts the Fiji International, a European Tour event in name only and one in which experience has been a major plus in four renewals to date.

Steven Jeffress, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Norris make up the honours board at an average age of over 38 and with the schedule now ensuring that there will be no high-class Americans stealing the prize, it's 44-year-old Scott Hend who quite rightly heads the betting.

Hend is in fact the same age Norris was when he caused a massive upset here a year ago, defying poor course form (50-MC-60) and having been playing so poorly that he'd spent the previous week working part-time in a pro shop back home in Australia.

That gives you some indication as to just how weak an event we're talking about and it may well be that the title goes to one of the market leaders this time, with Hend followed by the red-hot Justin Harding, winner of four of his last six starts, all in comparable company.

Last year, just three of the top 15 were not from Australia or New Zealand, each a youngster with serious potential, and those giving chace to Snedeker were also fairly local to Fiji.

Australasian players do make up the majority of the field but they do not dominate the market, with the likes of India's Ganganjeet Bhullar, Thailand's Prom Meesawat and Malaysia's Gavin Green all prominent instead, so perhaps there is some mileage in looking for the next journeyman winner from Down Under with Terry Pilkadaris top of the list.

Another 44-year-old, Pilkadaris hasn't won a title of note in 13 years but he was awfully unfortunate not to end that drought in April as he shot 25-under in the New Zealand Open, dominating from the off only to be reeled in by a closing 62 from Daniel Nisbet.

"They all sting, I've had a bunch of them now, but I didn't hand it to him," he said after a tournament in which he carded just one bogey and had led by five shots entering the final round.

Since then, Pilkadaris has been playing almost exclusively in Asia and with limited success, but last week's good start in the Royal Cup won by Harding was a step in the right direction and it was particularly encouraging to see him exude such control from tee-to-green.

Ranking third in overall accuracy, Pilkadaris had full control of his ball and that was also the case on his last start here at Natadola Bay, when he finished 17th thanks to excellent iron play.

Having been third on his only previous visit, Pilkadaris has developed a clear affinity with the course and will look to Norris for inspiration as he seeks a first success at this level. He can also draw encouragement from the fact that fellow plodding veteran Stephen Leaney ended his own 13-year drought late last year and at a three-figure price, a small bet is advised.

Dimi Papadatos is no veteran but the 27-year-old does have plenty of experience, and that now extends to the Challenge Tour where he sits 12th in the season-long standings having won earlier in the year.

That victory came in Portugal and added to three earlier triumphs on the PGA Tour of Australasia, including at 13th Beach Golf Links on the coast south of Melbourne, enough to make him fairly prolific versus those in opposition here.

Fifth place three starts back serves as evidence that his work with a new coach is bedding in nicely and he's been a consistent visitor to Fiji, making all four cuts without yet contending.

Perhaps that will change this year after he managed to convince Steve Williams, who once upon a time would've been aiming for victory at Firestone this weekend, to take up caddying duties.

"He’s not out there for just a walk in in the park and a chat, I know that," he says of Williams.

"He is very professional and you can tell he wants it as bad as his player does. He is giving it everything and he expects nothing less form you and that will be great.

"I haven’t had a professional caddie too often, I’ve usually just had mates on the bag and I do my own numbers and that sort of thing so this will be a whole new level I’m sure."

The influence of a world-class caddie for a player at this level could be the difference between a solid week and a spectacular one, and Papadatos says he's a big fan of the layout despite having yet to really show it.

"I really like the course and feel like the windy conditions really suit me but I’ve never played particularly well there.

"I’m feeling good about things this year, though. I feel like everything is moving in the right direction for me so I’m just looking forward to getting there and getting underway.

"I’ve had a reasonable season so far and it will be great to catch up on a few things with Steve and see if he can help get me ready to get on the main tour."

Williams' influence, combined with a very encouraging season and a game which would appear suited to this challenge makes Papadatos the standout bet from towards the top of the market in preference to Andrew Dodt, whose recent efforts have been uninspiring.

Richard Green has been scrambling around for starts on minor tours across Europe lately but it wouldn't shock me were he to take advantage of this opportunity, while even the wily old major winners Vijay Singh and Ernie Els have to be considered in an event which won't take much winning.

However, I'm going to stick to the Australasia Tour regulars who've done so well here and hope that some of those with potential might be ready to show it, starting with Antonio Murdaca.

Here we have the first Aussie to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur, enough to earn an Augusta invite, and it's fair to say much was expected of Murdaca when he turned professional.

One or two niggling back issues combined with the harsh reality of playing for a living have made for a bumpy ride so far, but he seems to have started to make significant strides this year.

Murdaca finished fifth in New Zealand and 10th back home in Queensland before earning his first professional title at Blitz Golf, a one-round shootout which is being trialled in Australia in the latest attempt to match the success of cricket's T20.

An unsanctioned event, Blitz Golf form really isn't worth a lot in isolation but the field was strong and, crucially, it could do wonders for the confidence of a player who'd begun to question whether he would make the grade as a professional.

“I'm very excited. It's been a long time coming for me to win as a pro, so I'm just so happy,” said Murdaca, who had his dad caddying for him.

“It was a bit of a struggle for me today off the tee with my irons, but I chipped and putted really well and kept myself in it.

“I was really happy with my birdie on 18 in the third round to go into the final.

“I hit two great shots in the playoff, then Dimi made a great birdie and I missed my eagle. It was pretty cool to win a pitching comp – I can't say that I have ever been in a pitching comp for 15 grand.”

The 'Dimi' he refers to there was the aforementioned Papadatos, who won just three weeks and two starts later to demonstrate that good golf is good golf, and that there is always value in battling it out for a decent cheque against fellow touring professionals.

Just last week, Richard McEvoy traced his life-changing run back to a pro-am a couple of weeks earlier so while it's easy to dismiss form away from the top tours, sometimes it can trigger a big upturn if the player in question draws real confidence from it.

Murdaca has been 27th and 36th in two starts since since and before all this began, he'd spoken about how close to a year's work on his swing had finally started paying off, and how he was ready to start contending.

His record in Fiji is poor (42-MC-MC) but there's strong evidence to suggest he's a much better player right now and at 300/1, we don't have to pay much to find out if this one-time star of the future really is ready to climb the ladder.

Jack Wilson is another youngster who catches the eye at a similar price.

The dreadlocked Aussie does things his own way but is a winner back home already and has contended in high-class company, finishing third behind Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler in the Australian PGA Championship and 14th behind Jordan Spieth in the Australian Open.

More recently, he's not quite kicked on but just last week, a second-round 62 - the lowest round of his career - saw him sit second at halfway in the Royal Cup and ninth with a round to go, the second time in six starts that he's entered Sunday with a chance to win.

Explaining that round, Wilson said: "Last week I went home and spent some time with my best friend, and got some positive vibes going.

"Things are turning around; my ball-striking has been fantastic and I am hitting my driver well. I drove the green on hole eight to give myself an eagle chance but two-putted to settle for birdie.

"I’m hitting driver every chance I get because I’m just confident with my swing right now. I agree that you have to be careful with a lot of the holes out here but if you’re willing to take the risk the reward’s there."

That best friend he mentions is Rizz O'Neill, who is now back on the bag in Fiji, and the positive vibes could take them a long way now that Wilson has also found some faith in his game.

Finally, Simon Hawkes has emerged from nowhere to card finished of 25-1-MC-4-45-3 this year and might still be underestimated at 80-100/1.

Talked up as a deadly putter by some of those to have played with him, Hawkes is loving life on the Australian Tour having earned his card with a shock win earlier in the year and the Tasmanian, who grew up playing by the coast at Royal Hobart, is entitled to carry the good vibes through this week.

Posted at 1445 BST on 31/07/18.

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