Hong Kong Open betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Will it pay to take on the six star names heading to Hong Kong?
Will it pay to take on the six star names heading to Hong Kong?

Ben Coley tipped the 100/1 winner and 66/1 runner-up in Hong Kong last year, so don't miss his take on the 2018 renewal at Fanling.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Jason Scrivener at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Thomas Aiken at 90/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

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

1pt e.w. Zander Lombard at 200/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Clement Sordet at 200/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)

0.5pt e.w. Khalin Joshi at 500/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

I can't recall seeing a market quite like this week's Honma Hong Kong Open, where there are six players priced between 6/1 and 16/1, and the seventh man can be backed at 40/1. That void between sixth and seventh is, within the parameters of my flawed memory recall, unprecedented, and it hints at a belief that we'll be in for a high-profile winner at the course once known simply as Fanling.

On the one hand, the market is perfectly understandable. Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia are world-class players; Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Lucas Bjerregaard are not that far behind. All have form at the course, all have played well in fairly recent memory and all were in Dubai last week, testament to their achievements in 2018. There have been high-profile winners here in the past, too, most recently Justin Rose but before him Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.

And, perhaps crucially, the rest are simply not (yet) in the same league. Marcus Kinhult is highly promising but remains in search of his first win, and the presence of Marcus Fraser alongside him inside the betting's top 10 tells you plenty. Fraser, verifiable course specialist though he may well be, has always been hard to get over the line and he was three-times the price and more to beat an inferior field in Malaysia when last successful.

All of that makes the case for any one of The Six quite straightforward to make, but let's check the negatives first.

Fleetwood has been on the go since winning in January and, for all his brilliance, built on consistency, he's not prolific just yet. That may come but he was emotionally exhausted at the end of a vain pursuit of back-to-back Race To Dubai titles and this could come too soon, even if his performance in Hong Kong two years ago was a key part of his transformation from wasted talent to world-class Ryder Cup star.

Reed might be pleased to become the first American to finish inside the first five on the Race To Dubai, but he spurned an excellent opportunity to make it an even more memorable year on Sunday. Danny Willett was brilliant, of course, but Reed will have been disappointed not to take him down the last and he's there to be taken on having failed to contend as regularly as he'd have liked since becoming a major winner.

Garcia, then? Possibly, because this is an excellent course for a creative mind, one where his compatriot Miguel Angel Jimenez has enjoyed much success. Yet Garcia has also come to the end of an exhausting campaign which has involved a terrible Masters defence, questions over his form and Ryder Cup worthiness, making history in Paris, defending a title in Spain, being reeled in by Lee Westwood in South Africa and then playing well without looking like winning in Dubai.

Again, Garcia could win this but he might also find the media fun and games take the edge off even more than the last two or three months have. It's easy to imagine waking up on Thursday morning to a scorecard which suggests he's not quite engaged and from there, it could well be a long way back. That looked to be the case when he limped to an obligation-fulfilling 19th place last year.

The infrequent winner Cabrera Bello won't lack for motivation, but a bet at 11/1 he is not, while Fitzpatrick didn't immediately improve for Billy Foster's assistance last week. At least he's fairly prolific, and this course is absolutely ideal, but if the Foster relationship continues and requires some bedding in that's enough of a worry for me. Besides, Fitzpatrick has shot sub-70 in just two of his last 12 rounds - he's shot 80-plus in two of them, too.

Bjerregaard, runner-up to Rose in 2015 having been fifth a year earlier, is the last to find fault with. It's not easy. However, he played poorly for three days out of the four last week in Dubai and was out of the Nedbank before breakfast having somehow gone OB from the first tee; perhaps a long, rankings-climbing year has taken something out of this star young Dane, too. Even if it hasn't, there's always a chance one or two foul balls off the tee at this tight par 70 find him out.

What's more, as I alluded to last year Rose's victory came when this event was before, rather than immediately after, the end of the European Tour season. In fact Wade Ormsby's win 12 months ago came in the first renewal to be held immediately after the DP World Tour Championship and there's little doubt to me that it was this timing which helped the hitherto journeyman beat a field which included Rose, Garcia and Fleetwood.

Not for the first time, then, the Hong Kong Open smacks of opportunity and with Australians ruling the roost in recent years, winning three of the last four renewals, it could be time for Jason Scrivener to earn his European Tour breakthrough.

It's pretty much exactly a year since he romped to a six-shot success over the talented Lucas Herbert in the New South Wales Open, and I wholeheartedly agree with the tide of money which is about to make him that seventh man in the market, the one best positioned to exploit flaws in the favourites.

Scrivener struck the ball really well for 16th in the Nedbank last time having been 23rd in Turkey prior to that, form which stands out in this company, while his record at the course is a smack-you-in-the-face 3-10.

On neither occasion has he struck the ball particularly well but that's no bad thing - with his long-game in better shape now it may only make him more deadly - and he's certainly improved in the two years which have passed since his second visit in 2016.

Scrivener has been more effective here than anywhere and the Australia angle is no coincidence. Fanling is a short, tree-lined, colonial golf course with echoes of those Down Under, including Lake Karrinyup where Bjerregaard has also contended and where Scrivener was third, Hong Kong champion Gregory Bourdy fourth, a couple of years ago.

At 29, he's not perhaps the most exciting Aussie prospect around but under the right conditions he's perfectly capable of winning and that's what he's presented with here, on the back of some big performances in much better events. His accuracy and the improvements we've seen in his short game lately represent an ideal combination and, at a course which does produce specialists, he's got plenty in his favour.

When looking for correlations, Crans-sur-Sierre ought to be top of the list as 2014 Hong Kong champ Scott Hend has twice lost play-offs there and the requirements are similar, even if the surroundings are not. Wentworth and Lake Karrinyup are others while Saujana, home of the Maybank Championship Malaysia, has also proven to be a really accurate guide so far.

Phachara Khongwatmai was eighth in Switzerland in September, lost the final of the World Super 6 at Lake Karrinyup last year and has finished 20th and 17th in two visits to Saujana, but the young Thai has been out of sorts since that effort in Switzerland and didn't immediately take to this course a year ago.

Those same links helped unearth Ormsby and runner-up Alex Bjork in 2017 and the inclination is to stick with them, but having gone through the field and back again it's only Khongwatmai, Fabrizio Zanotti and a hard-to-fancy Nino Bertasio who really stand out so a slight loosening of the parameters is required.

Thomas Aiken has at least gone really well at Wentworth and the South African has the ideal game for Fanling.

Driving accuracy is as useful a tool here as it is anywhere on the European Tour and there are few who hit fairways with the frequency of Aiken when he's on his game, which he was two starts back in Turkey as well as prior to that at Valderrama.

Earlier in the season, Aiken lost a play-off for the Nordea Masters on a course favouring accuracy over power and he looks right back on track now, which wasn't the case 12 months ago when he arrived here on a string of missed cuts yet sat second at halfway after rounds of 69 and 64.

Given his struggles at the time, which would extend to home soil the following week, Aiken's failure to press on over the weekend doesn't come as a surprise and a year on, he's now got the platform on which to sustain his run through to Sunday.

A winner in India earlier in his career, Aiken has plenty of positive experience in Asia and while he is undoubtedly frustrating, when his game is on and he's playing a course like Fanling he's capable of producing a big week.

Thomas Aiken

Next on my list is Edoardo Molinari, for whom a similar case can be made.

The senior Molinari has finished 24th, 16th and 22nd since his younger brother starred for Europe at the Ryder Cup, and perhaps Edoardo will find yet more inspiration in Sunday's Race To Dubai coronation for Francesco.

Not much more is needed from those promising late-season efforts and a dig into the detail reveals that his improvement has been built on a platform of finding fairways, with driving accuracy rankings of 10th, fourth and fifth.

Throw in a trio of top-15 scrambling performances and you've got the ideal Fanling formula so it's no surprise that Molinari has gone well here, finishing 14th in 2016 and 31st last year, where he struck the ball really well without reward.

In 2016, Molinari's effort snapped a run of four missed cuts and was the second of just two top-20 finishes for the year, while in 2017 he'd been without a top-50 finish in a stroke play event since his shock victory in Morocco in the spring.

Put another way, he's managed to stay close to the leaders in this event having arrived in abysmal form and that's simply not the case this time, so once you throw in a proven ability to take a chance when it comes and the renewed focus a new season can bring, he looks a super bet at three-figure prices.

Some events lend themselves to a speculative approach more than others and with this one of them, a further three selections make up a hopeful staking plan with Zander Lombard slotting in at four.

This 23-year-old is a serious talent, that much has been clear ever since he lost the final of the 2014 Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush, and he's gone close to winning a handful of times on the European Tour including in Sicily last year when beaten in a play-off.

It's true that Sicily was a bombers' paradise that week and the power-packed Lombard enjoyed flexing his muscles, but there's more to his game than that and I've been quite taken with him when hitting bullet two-irons from the tee rather than the erratic big stick.

With that in mind, I'm hopeful he might enjoy reining it in a little at Fanling as Bjerregaard has, and encouragement on that score can be taken from his form in Australia which includes fourth place at Royal Pines a couple of years ago. More recently, sixth in the Irish Open could be a decent enough pointer and he also played well in the Perth Super 6 earlier this season, one in which he's secured his first professional win.

Although it's been a difficult year aside from those highlights, Lombard found something for a return home when fourth on the Sunshine Tour at the start of November and then really impressed at Qualifying School, sharing medallist honours with the vastly more experienced Alejandro Canizares, who was playing on familiar terrain.

Lombard started off with a bogey-free 64 at Lumine and never looked like giving away his top-25 position thereafter, so there are clear signs that he's in good shape and ready for a serious crack at the European Tour.

"It's great having lost my card and now I've regained my rights its awesome," he said. "I shouldn't have been here in the first place, but to come out strong and prove myself to be on the Tour it's really amazing, I don't have words for it right now.

"I've usually had a lazy first half to the season but I'm going to try to do things differently this year and play as much as I can early in the year and try to get the numbers up early. I'm going to play four weeks on the trot and then four weeks back home at the beach with a few cocktails."

Clearly, there's a determination to take care of business at the first opportunity and while he's wildly unpredictable, I'm happy to take a shot that he'll bring his Q-School form to the Far East and make quotes of 200/1 look plain wrong.

Others from Qualifying School to mention include Deyen Lawson, a young Australian who has been playing regularly in China this year, and the talented French player, Clement Sordet.

Backing Lawson requires plenty of guesswork whereas Sordet was 10th here last year after a brilliant weekend and, while he arrived on the back of victory in the Challenge Tour Grand Final, he may be ready to produce a similar effort having taken great confidence from his performance in Spain last week.

Sordet is a four-time Challenge Tour winner who might be second only to Romain Langasque of the talented young French players now on the circuit, and while he'd not necessarily scream Fanling on paper the 64-67 weekend he produced a year ago suggests otherwise.

It's been a largely difficult year on the European Tour but, like many quality players before him, Sordet started to play well when he needed to - 28th at the Dunhill Links, 16th British Masters and sixth at Q-School are three recent performances which give him more than a squeak.

Go back further and 17th at the aforementioned Nordea Masters again suggests that there's more to his game than power and he's worth a small bet. Beyond this week, Sordet strikes me as the type of player to keep a close eye on throughout the season.

Finally, while Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano could build on his Valderrama effort returned to China, where's he's twice won and twice been second in fewer than 20 visits, I'm going to take a real flier on Khalin Joshi.

This 26-year-old won his first pro title last time, bravely landing the Panasonic Open back hone in India, and as that came at the tight, firm, fast Delhi GC, it does hint that he's likely to be suited to Fanling where he at least started well enough with a round of 69 last year.

Joshi finished fifth at Saujana in the early part of the year, another hint that his game should work in Hong Kong, and having in his words got the "huge monkey" off his back, there's a chance he can take advantage of this free roll in high-class company.

Posted at 2050 GMT on 19/11/18.

Related links

Like what you've read?
Help your friends Know It All by sharing this article to your social media.

Most Read

Our best bets for the Champions League1

Wednesday's Champions League tips

The final matches of the 2018/19 Champions League group stages take place on Wednesday evening. George Pitts has four best bets.

Check out our preview of the day's action2

Wednesday's racing preview

Swiss Knight is Anita Chambers' best bet of the day and she has a tip for every race in the UK.

Read the latest Mike Cattermole column3

Mike Cattermole: Whipping up a storm

Mike Cattermole joins the whip debate on the back of Matthew Syed's article in The Times, saying a ban would be a step too far but that stricter rules may be needed.

Nap Of The Day
4

Daily Nap: Moore profits

David Ord heads to Chelmsford's evening meeting for Thursday's nap and he's backing a Gary Moore-trained horse over a course and distance she's won over before.

Check out today's Paper Talk5

Paper Talk: Chelsea want Suarez

Chelsea eyeing a move for Barca's Denis Suarez as Liverpool target Pascal Gross - all according to Wednesday's back pages.

Most Read

Our best bets for the Champions League1

Wednesday's Champions League tips

The final matches of the 2018/19 Champions League group stages take place on Wednesday evening. George Pitts has four best bets.

Check out our preview of the day's action2

Wednesday's racing preview

Swiss Knight is Anita Chambers' best bet of the day and she has a tip for every race in the UK.

Read the latest Mike Cattermole column3

Mike Cattermole: Whipping up a storm

Mike Cattermole joins the whip debate on the back of Matthew Syed's article in The Times, saying a ban would be a step too far but that stricter rules may be needed.

Nap Of The Day
4

Daily Nap: Moore profits

David Ord heads to Chelmsford's evening meeting for Thursday's nap and he's backing a Gary Moore-trained horse over a course and distance she's won over before.

Check out today's Paper Talk5

Paper Talk: Chelsea want Suarez

Chelsea eyeing a move for Barca's Denis Suarez as Liverpool target Pascal Gross - all according to Wednesday's back pages.

Racing Tips

Nap Of The Day

Daily Nap: Moore profits

David Ord heads to Chelmsford's evening meeting for Thursday's nap and he's backing a Gary Moore-trained horse over a course and distance she's won over before.

Check out our preview and tips for today's horse racing

Thursday's racing preview

Nick Robson makes Mythical Madness one of his best bets and he has a tip for every race in the UK and Ireland.

Check out our Caspian Caviar Gold Cup preview

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup preview

David Ord has a horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and tips at 25/1 and 16/1.

Next Race Off

17:15 Kempton
7
(14)
Khuzaam
J: Jim Crowley
10
(5)
Sash
J: R Kingscote
5
(2)
Fightwithme
J: R Havlin

Football Tips

Our best bets for the Champions League

Wednesday's Champions League tips

The final matches of the 2018/19 Champions League group stages take place on Wednesday evening. George Pitts has four best bets.

Get your bets on!

Our best bets

Check out all of our available betting tips and previews of the forthcoming sporting action.

Sizing Tennessee on his way to Ladbrokes Trophy glory

Sporting Life Tipping Record

A look at how the Sporting Life recommended bets have performed in December 2018.