Ben Coley fancies Andy Sullivan to relish a return to the Midlands and with it threaten a return to the winner's enclosure in the Hero Open.
Forest of Arden gets to renew its marriage vows this week as the Midlands resort which both prides and sells itself on its European Tour status gets to host a European Tour event for the first time in 15 years. Back in the day, they played both the British Masters and the English Open here, live on the BBC, and were rewarded with victories for some of the finest players from this side of the Ryder Cup divide: Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke, and Thomas Bjorn.
The return of the English Open, sponsored by Hero, is a welcome one, even if its rebirth was out of catastrophe. The European Tour's home is considered to be Valderrama by some, perhaps now even Dubai, but its heart is here, in the UK. These six events with which it returns are important not just to us diehards, but the rank-and-file membership who do not all have the luxury lifestyles of those playing for five-times the money in the United States.
It's on that point that I'll begin what's a speculative preview by necessity, this being the first non-seniors tournament at the course since 2005. Last week, six of the first seven home in the British Masters were European Tour winners, and I think we'll see this emerge as a trend over the next month or so for two main reasons. Firstly, this series of events will provide 10 US Open places through an order of merit, which brings with it pressure. Secondly, for all that rookies and those struggling in the spring have their cards guaranteed for 2021, remember that these players have been without pay for months. Few of them are genuinely wealthy, and even now their day job has resumed, they operate with no guarantee of earnings.
Those like Renato Paratore, Justin Harding and Rasmus Hojgaard, the three contenders come the back nine at Close House, have no such worries. Add the extra focus on what are otherwise fairly weak tournaments, and performances like that of Dale Whitnell may well prove to be rare. The winner last week was around a 45/1 chance and while I wouldn't be drawing an arbitrary line in the betting, it could just pay to focus on those to whom winning here won't change their life, for all it may reignite their career.
All of that leads me to the front of the market, where ANDY SULLIVAN and THOMAS DETRY are my two against the rest.
Sullivan felt he wasn't at his best over the first 54 holes of the British Masters, but a bogey-free final round saw him finish fourth to make it four top-10 finishes in his last 10 starts, dating back to last October's Portugal Masters.
In truth he'd been catching the eye before that, finishing runner-up to Jon Rahm in the Irish Open during a strong run in the summer, and having also won a mini-tour event just prior to the European Tour's resumption, it's clear he's playing really nicely.
Born in Nuneaton, little more than 10 miles from here, he's got plenty of rounds at the course under his belt and has never gone far from home - he now bases himself in Stratford, just half an hour south.
Whether or not that'll mean he can stay at home I am honestly not sure, as the European Tour selected these venues based on their ability to house players on-site, but this is still clearly a home game for the former Ryder Cup man and he's entitled to feel like he's ready to go and win.
Looking through old leaderboards here, Doha stands out as one potentially good guide, and Sullivan's record there is another small boost to his chances. Granted this is a long way from Qatar, but that course is flat and exposed to wind, and it's always been a good pointer to UK form on the basis of the latter.
If you take the 17 players who've been first or second in an English Open or British Masters here, 13 of them have exceptionally good form in Doha, including the likes of Raphael Jacquelin, Soren Hansen, Greg Owen, Pierre Fulke and Christian Cevaer - fine players each of them, but hardly the cream of the crop in Europe.
Fundamentally though the case here is built around an in-form player, with winning experience, playing close to home, and seemingly primed to go close.
Eddie Pepperell would be of obvious appeal based on the Doha link, given that he won there in 2018, but it's not enough on its own and I'm slightly put off by a back-nine 42 on Sunday. Perhaps we can put that down to a lack of sharpness which revealed itself in an absence of focus once any chance for a high finish had gone, but all things considered there weren't enough positives to take 25/1.
Instead I'm keen to give another chance to Detry, a class act with a huge future and worth forgiving last week's narrow missed cut at Close House.
It was his first appearance there having missed the 2017 renewal and he just made too many stages around an idiosyncratic, undulating course which isn't necessarily the most popular venue among European Tour players.
Prior to it he'd shaken off some rust by playing well in Austria, after winning a strong pro-am hosted by Sullivan, and as touched upon last week his ties to England are strong. Not only did his Challenge Tour victory come at Heythrop Park, where he blitzed the field to win by 12, but he spent lockdown in Cornwall.
Detry has the Qatar form having made all three cuts there and been a shot out of second when tied for 11th in 2019, and he's bounced back from an off week plenty of times previous. Indeed the closest he's come to winning was probably the BMW International Open, a week after a missed cut, and he has since added four more top-10s in similar circumstances.
The extra par-five will help, as should a flatter, more straightforward course, where attempts to grow out the rough have been hurried, and I remain very positive as to his prospects not just for this week, but the events which lie ahead.
Returning to the nature of the course, it's listed as sub-7,000 yards but did play a touch over when last seen at this level. On paper it's straightforward enough despite a hazardous front-nine, and much will depend on the weather - which at this stage is forecast to be sunny and dry on the back of a fairly wet month, including heavy rain at the weekend.
That should set things up for low scoring but any breeze could drastically alter things, as it did here in 2005. Back then, Thomas Bjorn won in six-under, 10 shots more than Barry Lane's victory the previous year.
Looking again at Forest of Arden winners, it did strike me that Clarke won the Open at Royal St George's, where eight years earlier Bjorn should have. Dig a little deeper and Jacquelin's single major top-10 came behind Clarke, while Brian Davis, who lost in a play-off to Bjorn here in 2005, was sixth behind Ben Curtis in the 2003 Open.
Those links ties are there if we look at Portmarnock, too - Bjorn, Owen, Greg Turner and Peter O'Malley have all won at Forest of Arden, and all were inside the top 11 in the Irish Open of 2003. Portmarnock hasn't been used since so this isn't particularly useful, but does underline that this inland, parkland course has thrown up ties to very different-looking venues by the coast.
Perhaps that's largely down to wind, which isn't forecast to get much beyond 10mph here. Still, if the link to St George's does play out then watch for Pablo Larrazabal, who was close to the lead throughout much of the 2011 Open.
ROBERT ROCK is a fine links exponent, and he's another from last week's top five who could use it as a springboard to an eventual place in the US Open.
A play-off defeat in the Irish Open and some good Open Championship form which includes 38th at St George's and seventh at St Andrews serves as encouraging evidence, but it's Rock's form at Forest of Arden which really stands out.
Back in 2003, he played here on an invite having won a regional order of merit while making his living as a coach, and went on to finish fourth. That earned him his full playing rights, and was enough to pay back the credit card debt he'd taken out as he'd backed himself to make the most of opportunities handed to him by Chubby Chandler.
Rock was born 30 miles away in Staffordshire and is another who is firmly rooted in the Midlands, just like Paul Broadhurst, who led for a long time here back in 2004 and again in last year's European Senior Masters. Steve Webster is another local with two top-fives and a further top-10 at the course, Owen's Mansfield base isn't far away, and touring pro John Bickerton went well here more than once, too.
As mentioned I'm not sure whether Rock can stay at home this week but regardless, after a few too many mistakes in round one he made just three bogeys throughout the closing three rounds last week, and he has the class required to step up on that and win his third European Tour title.
Sticking to the local theme, AARON RAI is the third and final Englishman in my staking plan and he hails from nearby Wolverhampton.
The 25-year-old hasn't kicked on since he held off Matt Fitzpatrick to win the Hong Kong Open late in 2018, but he was nevertheless 12th in the corresponding WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational this time last year and is much better than his price if playing to his best.
There were signs last week that he might be about to, having ranked third in fairways and fifth in greens, and for all that he hasn't threatened to win since Fanling he also bagged a couple of Rolex Series top-20s towards the end of 2019.
A notoriously hard worker, he'll have seen the break as an opportunity to fix a few things which had been holding him back, and there was a lot to like about his performance at Close House where he finished 21st despite a quiet final round.
This short, parkland course should suit one of the most accurate players around, and anything 50/1 and upwards looks worth taking.
David Drysdale has solid course form figures of 10-WD-16 and contended here as a rookie, so I did look twice at the Scot given that he's out to 250/1 from around the 150/1 mark last week.
He missed the cut at Close House, but was bogey-free in round two, and when last we'd seen him competitively lost a play-off for the Qatar Masters - albeit at a new course. One of the straightest drivers around, if this does turn into a test of accuracy he could perform much better than his price suggests.
However, I suspect the winner will come from much closer to the front of the market and it's GUIDO MIGLIOZZI who completes the staking plan.
This youngster was prolific on the Alps Tour and, like Matt Wallace before him, quickly translated that to the European Tour, winning on parkland courses in Kenya and Belgium during a successful rookie campaign.
Before the break he contended in Oman and while there are more missed cuts on his record than you'd like to see, that's a reflection of his aggressive, youthful approach to the game - they were present even at Alps and Challenge Tour level, but didn't stop him winning when on a going week.
As to his prospects here, I'll admit hopes are largely pinned to the fact he lives with Paratore out in Dubai, and was there to greet his friend and compatriot at the 18th green on Sunday. I've absolutely no doubt success can transfer from one friend to another, and in fact when reading old transcripts from events here, there's Soren Hansen saying Anders Hansen inspired him by winning the week before, and the same with Jacquelin and Thomas Levet.
Migliozzi was up and down at Close House, mainly the latter on Sunday, but he'd been 28th through 54 holes after an excellent third round and had earlier blown away the cobwebs with a solid 69 in the Clutch Pro Tour event won by Sullivan.
He and Paratore played a lot of golf together out in Dubai during lockdown, something the latter credited as key to his success last week, and back-to-back Italian winners would not surprise me.
At 66/1 and a proven winner, Migliozzi completes the staking plan though I'll also mention two Danes starting with Nicolai Hojgaard, who was out cheering on his twin brother Rasmus on Sunday after narrowly missing the cut himself.
Though it's Rasmus who has already won on the European Tour and deserves odds of 25/1 this week, Nicolai did chase home Sergio Garcia in the KLM Open last year, which is form comparable to anything his brother has done even if he hasn't yet got his hands on a trophy.
At this stage he looks to be a little further behind in his development, but he achieved more as an amateur, and in time I doubt he'll be far off Rasmus for all that we shouldn't allow their genetic similarities to cloud the reality of what they're doing on the golf course.
The point is really that Nicolai is 250/1 here, and it wouldn't surprise me if he did pop up at a massive price and contend at some stage. He's not been far away lately, often starting well, and first-round leader punters should consider chancing him in that market at least.
Finally, I did consider Thorbjorn Olesen, who makes his return following his suspension by the European Tour.
Had this tournament taken place the week after we last saw him, when he contended for a WGC in the US, Olesen would've been clear favourite and likely at a single-figure price.
Immediately, that made him of some interest at an opening 55/1, especially as he blew away some cobwebs with a decent enough performance in the Danish PGA Championship last month.
That said, he admitted there he'd hardly played since the previous August, which is deeply concerning. It's also going to be somewhat awkward if he does play well and have to face the media, as the court case which resulted in his suspension remains ahead.
With that in mind and the fact the best prices have gone, he's left out - despite arguably being the best golfer in the field.
This week's golf previews
- WGC FedEx St Jude: Koepka to deliver
- Barracuda Championship: Backing Burns
- Hero Open: Home comforts point to Sullivan
Posted at 1100 BST on 28/07/20
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133, or visit begambleaware.org.