Ben Coley bagged more profits in the US PGA and now turns his attention back to the European Tour and this week's Made In Himmerland.
2pts e.w. Ryan Fox at 50/1 (BetVictor, Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Min Woo Lee at 80/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Alexander Bjork at 100/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Matthew Southgate at 125/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Julien Guerrier at 150/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
0.5pt e.w. Bernd Ritthammer at 250/1 (BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
0.5pt e.w. Jean-Baptiste Gonnet at 400/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
The European Tour has just about had time to recover from an emotional victory for Richard Bland at the Betfred British Masters. Playing in his 478th event on the circuit, the 48-year-old defied all logic to finally get off the mark less than a fortnight ago, before heading home for a lamb dinner on Tuesday. It was a fabulous spectacle on a famous course, a demonstration of how fine the margins are between success and failure, and how much fortune plays its part in this sport.
It was notable that Fred Couples and Vijay Singh extended their congratulations, not something you typically see after a gruelling Sunday of trademark European Tour drama. There was no such message from Phil Mickelson and I doubt very much he owes Bland his thanks, but it has undeniably been an inspired fortnight for the elder statesmen of a game which no longer has an initiation process, where there's no such thing as being old enough, and the only question is are you good enough.
Bland now heads to Denmark for the renamed Made In Himmerland with the weight lifted and he's a realistic contender here given what was an imperious ball-striking display, by no means his first recently. Whether he can go again or not, it's very much worth noting that a British player won the British Masters, after South Africans had dominated in the t-shirt weather of the Canary Islands, as well as in Kenya before that.
Here at Himmerland, a resort course just south-west of Aalborg, a bright weekend is forecast, but there will still be some chill in the air and just enough breeze to keep them honest. Expect then the Scandinavian contingent to thrive as they so often do, or else the British and Irish players to prove as comfortable here as they are back home. Indeed in a fortnight of Challenge Tour action in Sweden we've had a Scottish champion, and a Swede who lost a play-off to 1000/1 outsider Felix Mory, born close to France's border with Belgium.
Geography lesson complete, the favourite here is Robert MacIntyre, who will be 12/1 for the second European Tour event in succession. Undoubtedly a class act and within sight of a Ryder Cup debut this September, he played well in the PGA Championship despite putting poorly, and unlike at The Belfry brings course form with him to Denmark. Two years ago, as a rookie, he was a gallant second here behind champion Bernd Wiesberger.
In some respects, this looks a good time to get stuck into him, given that extra evidence we have versus the British Masters, where he was also returning from a break and where his form in America was hard to contextualise. Much will depend on how much it concerns you that he said "all I want to do is go home right now, but we're going to Denmark" when speaking to reporters at Kiawah Island on Sunday.
It's not impossible that he overcomes both jet lag and a longing for a return to Oban, and he need not look far for inspiration of his own. Seven years ago, Scotland's Marc Warren finished 15th in the US PGA and then came out and won this, while every year from 2016 to 2018, one of the European Tour's post-US-major tournaments was won by someone who took part the week before.
I don't see any juice in 10/1 and you'd have to squeeze hard to get any out of 12/1, but I do respect his chance, and that's partly why I want to go easy on the front of the market. Along with the Scot, Wiesberger, Andy Sullivan, Rasmus Hojgaard, Jason Scrivener, Brandon Stone, Thomas Detry and Aaron Rai arrive on a flight from South Carolina, each of them more than capable of winning this but extremely difficult to assess.
One thing I'm more certain of is that RYAN FOX represents great value at around the 40-50/1 mark and the New Zealander is my sole selection from anywhere near MacIntyre in the betting.
Fox missed the cut here in 2019 but that's just not worthwhile evidence, as it was the third of seven tournaments in succession in which he failed to make the weekend. At the time, he was plainly suffering from some kind of post-breakthrough hangover, and there's nothing to be learned from that run of performances.
Fast-forward two years and the last time we saw him on the European Tour, Fox struck the ball extremely well to hit the frame in the Saudi International, a significantly stronger event won by Dustin Johnson. Granted, he loves that course, one which allows him to open his shoulders, but I've a feeling he'll like it here, too.
Himmerland is a par-71 whose intensity is directly related to the wind. Right now, it's only set to play a significant role on Thursday, but the course is so exposed that, just as at Kiawah Island last week, anything more than a zephyr can make a significant difference. That looks ideal for Fox, who has produced much of his best golf under cool, breezy conditions on seaside links courses in the UK, but doesn't want a situation where everyone is being blown off course and short-game skills become of greater importance.
With two short par-fives to get stuck into, he could follow the lead of Julian Suri and Thomas Pieters, two big-hitting winners of this event, if he's ready to go. And while 16 weeks have passed since he signed off in Saudi Arabia, the 34-year-old was delighted to win back-to-back titles in New Zealand last month, shooting 23- and 25-under to beat decent fields before taking third place in the New Zealand PGA Championship.
That rejuvenating return to home soil could set Fox up for a big summer, and he's one of the standout players in this field at his best. With conditions set to be absolutely ideal and perhaps those performances in New Zealand having been overlooked, he is the one I'm most interested in at the front of the betting.
The others I considered strongly are all quite obvious: Eddie Pepperell, Andrew Johnston and Rai. Pepperell played in the final group of the British Masters last time and was outstanding with his irons for the second event in succession, all signs suggesting he's close to his best once more. That best includes fourth place here and two titles at courses where coping with a breeze is vital, and he's a big danger to all.
Johnston has also turned a corner lately, returning to his accurate self from the tee and dialling in his approach work. Perhaps this former Valderrama champion would prefer a tougher assignment than the one we may get, yet he was close in Tenerife and has won shootouts on the Challenge Tour. As for Rai, he's a classy youngster who can leave behind last week's missed cut, his first start since Kenya due to some frankly bizarre scheduling, but may still be a run or two short.
One thing that ties these three together is form at The Renaissance, where Rai won the Scottish Open last year. Wiesberger did the same in 2019, not long after victory at Himmerland; Romain Langasque was third in both those events, and Benjamin Hebert lost a play-off to Wiesberger having been sixth here in 2018.
Among the others to help tie these two modern, exposed courses together is MATTHEW SOUTHGATE, and at three-figure prices he's well worth including in the staking plan.
Followers of the European Tour will know by now that Southgate is generally best supported either by the sea, such as when second in the Dunhill Links and sixth in the Open Championship, or on an exposed course where wind plays a part, like Le Golf National where he's been fifth. Also on his CV is a top-10 finish at The Renaissance last year, while in 2019 he stopped the rot by following a pair of missed cuts with ninth place here.
All of that suggests we can take a favourable view of 20th in the Canary Islands Championship, where he might've been by the coast but would've much preferred a stiffer test. Subsequently, he finished 34th at The Belfry, improving on a missed cut there last year, and throughout both of these his long-game was excellent.
The same was true here in 2019. Southgate led the field in driving and ranked fourth in ball-striking, and while strokes-gained numbers from that event are not entirely accurate, they're probably close enough to serve as a useful guide. Southgate gained strokes off the tee, on approach and with the putter, only to lose a handful around the greens, arguably the most volatile of the four new-world strokes-gained metrics.
As well as that second to Victor Perez in the Dunhill Links, Southgate had a great chance to win the Oman Open when a breeze whipped off the sea, and it won't take much to bring him into his comfort zone here. A long-time Carnoustie member who had excuses for a quiet start to 2021, he can follow Bland's lead and secure what would be an enormously popular victory.
ALEX BJORK chased home Pepperell in the British Masters back in 2018 and after a quiet spell he's back playing some good golf again, with four top-30 finishes in his last five and plenty of good rounds.
There's a definite worry around his driving, which remains neither long nor particularly straight, but there is a bit of space at Himmerland and there's also scope for mixing it up off the tee. In fact in that regard he's not dissimilar to Pepperell, so perhaps it's not all that surprising that both went well under the challenging conditions of Walton Heath.
Bjork's iron play and putting are his strengths and that's not a bad combination here, with the likes of Warren and Bradley Dredge having done most of their work after the tee-shots have been struck. He boasts a top-20 finish at The Renaissance, which reads well given that it came in the strong 2019 renewal won by Wiesberger, and in four starts in Denmark his results read 25-13-31-25.
The last two of those came here and in 2019, he was bang in the mix at the weekend only to fade away as his putter began to misbehave. At 18th on Tour for strokes-gained putting he's back to his best in that department and shouldn't be far away from the top of the leaderboard if he can avoid the odd ruinous drive, which should be much easier to do than when producing a tidy weekend at the Brabazon a fortnight ago.
Course specialist Chris Paisley, who was third in 2017 and fourth in 2019, has to be considered at 100/1. He's another who demonstrates that putting has been really important here (it isn't always, honest) and I'm hoping he hasn't put us all away by confessing that his long-game was "a shambles" in the British Masters.
Richie Ramsay has let slip some promising positions this season and could be close to putting it all together at a course he should enjoy, but I am drawn to the potential of MIN WOO LEE at around the 80/1 mark, with 100s on offer in a place.
This young Aussie is a big talent who could go far if he can find some consistency, which has been made difficult by his status and the events of the past 18 months. That said, two starts back he produced some quality golf to finish 28th in a World Golf Championship won by Collin Morikawa, and his sole start since then ended in a share of 21st at The Belfry.
It may be that he simply likes the Brabazon, where he also played quite well last August, but Lee's effort a fortnight ago was nevertheless impressive. On his first start for three months he showed serious signs of rust to sit outside the top 100 after round one, and only three players outscored him over the subsequent 54 holes as he cut through the pack.
One of the best drivers in this field and a very good putter, he's another who could follow the Pieters and Suri route to victory and I like that he was 30th at The Renaissance last year, sitting inside the top 10 after round one. He's volatile and will have to avoid popping a seven on the scorecard, but at the price is well worth the risk.
Marcus Armitage hit the ball well last time and was second at halfway in a Challenge Tour event held here, enough to put him on the radar, but at twice the price JULIEN GUERRIER is next.
The Frenchman has made eight of 10 cuts this season as he works his way towards a big performance, his best so far coming last time when 30th. Guerrier was fourth at halfway there and it's the second time since last summer that he's had a big chance after 36 holes, having been clear in the Portugal Masters.
At this level, anyone making cuts as consistently as he is merits respect and if he can improve his iron play a shade, he's good enough to complete the transition to European Tour winner having won twice on the Challenge Tour in 2017. Both of those titles came under similar scoring conditions to those expected, and his best form at this higher level has come on exposed courses in Portugal and Oman.
The key piece of form, however, is rather more straightforward. Guerrier was 14th here in 2015, his sole visit to Himmerland, and at the time was an out-of-form Challenge Tour player ranked 921st in the world. Indeed it was by some distance his best performance in a difficult, injury-plagued campaign.
There may have been an element of fluke about it, but it does support the idea that we've the right circumstances here, and we've certainly the right timing given how well he played for the first couple of rounds in a slightly better tournament last time.
Whether or not he'll be inspired by Mory's Challenge Tour win I don't know, but I am happy to throw in another Frenchman in the shape of JEAN-BAPTISTE GONNET.
Again, he has form here having signed off with a six-under 65 for 20th in 2015, and his best European Tour finish came in Sweden, but it's Gonnet's recent efforts which catch the eye. He was fifth in Kenya and has made two cuts in three starts since, and it's been courtesy of quality iron play, very much his strength when one of the better maidens on the circuit a decade or so ago.
After a long time in the wilderness, I've been quietly impressed by what he's done since returning to the Tour last year, and he signed off with a four-under 68 at The Belfry despite making a double-bogey on the final hole. Given how well he played here and the underlying positives in his ball-striking, 400/1 looks over the top.
Of the locals, all eyes will be on the Hojgaard twins but there's depth to the Danish challenge, with Thorbjorn Olesen a potential champion, Soren Kjeldsen still capable of contending, Marcus Helligkilde and Martin Simonsen having shown promise and Niklas Norgaard Moller boasting a course win on the Nordic Golf League.
Don't discount Lasse Jensen, either. He shot 64-64 over the final two rounds of October's Race to Himmerland, losing by three having spotted the winner 11 shots after 18 of 54 holes, and has been putting the pieces back together with coach Soren Hansen. It's only four years since he finished third behind Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson in the Dubai Desert Classic, and at the weekend he warmed up for this with third place in Sweden.
However, at the same sort of price I prefer BERND RITTHAMMER, who has been operating at a higher level and is capable of giving us a good run for our money.
The German is 34 now and yet to win on the European Tour, but there's a strong argument that he's still getting better and he did go very close in the Porsche European Open two seasons ago, eventually beaten by Paul Casey.
More recently, he was 20th two starts back, 33rd in Austria despite a horrendous putting week and also 33rd in Kenya, his iron play consistently strong. This follows on from a good end to 2020, as he chased ninth in Cyprus with 25th in Dubai, where he led the field in approaches and ought to have been inside the top 10.
Last time he narrowly missed the cut at The Belfry and I think he's a better player than the one who finished 28th here in 2017, and then contended in the Challenge Tour event played at Himmerland the following summer having made his move with back-to-back 67s under difficult scoring conditions.
As with several of my selections, he has form in the UK and Ireland, winning at Mount Wolseley and finishing 15th and 25th on Scottish links courses and in far stronger fields when last he played there. This looks a good test of where he is, and ultimately I suspect he's better than the market says he is at a course he does know well.
Posted at 1900 BST on 24/05/21
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