Golf expert Ben Coley previews the Turkish Airlines Open, where Justin Rose can be taken on as he goes for a hat-trick.
Justin Rose bids for a hat-trick in the Turkish Airlines Open and with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy both having justified favouritism recently, the Englishman will no doubt have his backers at 8/1.
Rose might in theory be hamstrung by a move back to Montgomerie Maxx Royal, his two wins having come at nearby Carya, but don't forget he was a fast-finishing third here on his sole visit in 2013. The course, which is broadly similar anyway, surely cannot be an excuse.
Plus, Rose had preceded that effort with victory in the 'World Golf Final', a one-off cash-grab in which he beat Lee Westwood, Hunter Mahan, Webb Simpson, Tiger Woods and then Westwood again, pocketing $1,500,000 for his efforts. His form in Turkey therefore reads 1-3-1-1, evidence of both his fondness for the region and also the fact that this is a good time of year for a player like him to make merry.
As was the case with McIlroy at his beloved Sheshan, there is a very strong and particularly obvious case to be made for the most likely winner of the event. And yet, in total contrast to last week, I find myself overlooking Rose without hesitation, not because winning the same event twice isn't easy, not even because he looks a particularly bad price, but because he's definitely not at his best.
For a player who reached number one in the world because of his consistency, rather than being especially prolific, it's alarming to me that Rose hasn't hit the frame - whether your measure is an old-fashioned five places or a more modern seven - since the US Open. Compare that to last year, when he'd placed on four of his five starts before arriving in Turkey (and finished eighth in the other), and we have more than the rankings to underline a steady decline.
Last week illustrated where the problems lie. Rose drove the ball as well as he has all year, but his iron play was ragged, and his short-game was nowhere near sharp enough to pick up the slack. Here at Maxx Royal, where only a dramatic change to the forecast can give the course teeth, I expect Rose's clumsiness to be punished. He made 11 bogeys and three doubles last week and for all this is much easier, equally there's immediate punishment for those taking a step backward.
Focus then should be on players who come alive in a straight gunfight, the like of which saw Victor Dubuisson win this title twice in scores of 24- and 22-under, and that to me screams TYRRELL HATTON.
A popular selection last week, Hatton flattered to deceive as he stayed on with a Sunday 65, and that would be the chief criticism since he made an excellent Ryder Cup debut last year. The combustible Englishman just hasn't given himself a single chance to win since his own hat-trick bid in the Dunhill Links came up short just a few days after Paris.
That negative has to be given attention, because at 18/1 here we're talking about one of the market leaders, a player who I felt looked short enough at twice the price in China. However, four top-20 finishes in succession hint that he's ready now to get in the mix granted the right circumstances, and there just isn't a better event for him, given that his three European Tour wins have come at around this time of year and in scores of 23-, 24- and 21-under-par.
Having made 23 birdies and got better as the week went on at Sheshan, a course surely less suited to him than this one, Hatton should arrive here ready to make the required fast start and the fact he led the field in strokes-gained approach suggests he's going to have more than his share of chances.
In fact, Hatton leads the European Tour's strokes-gained approach stats for the year, and he looks to be a decent putting week away from going close to winning his fourth title. Having been 19th here as a European Tour rookie five years ago, opening with a round of 65, a return to Turkey coupled with a slight drop in class vaults him to the top of my shortlist.
Patience in Shane Lowry wears thin, but truth be told I wouldn't have been especially keen to side with him here anyway. Along with Patrick Reed, I would think a slightly tougher test would be preferable and the same applies to Bernd Wiesberger, even if the Race To Dubai leader has showcased his versatility and new-found ruthlessness this year.
Ultimately, Hatton stands out a mile at the head of the betting and gets the vote, with HAO-TONG LI next on the list.
One notable feature of Maxx Royal is that it has five par-fives and five par-threes, fairly rare at this level, and there's no doubt that this shortish par-72 is set up to maximise the enjoyment of amateurs who flock here for their annual golf trip.
That means the course is bread and butter for professionals, and therefore just about any style goes, but it does strike me that both Brooks Koepka and Dubuisson in particular won here by attacking the course with driver and dominating the scoring holes.
As well as the par-fives, there's the short par-four 15th to go at and that throws up the possibility that a long, elite driver of the ball gobbles up sufficient birdies and eagles to render what they do on the other 13 holes far less significant. Certainly, my abiding memory of Dubuisson's breakthrough was grip, rip, chip, and it worked.
Li fits the bill perfectly, ranking second among this field for both birdie average and par-five scoring this year, and it just so happens that he arrives on the back of a field-leading performance with the driver at Sheshan International (although the stats available do exclude PGA Tour players).
The Chinese youngster started well on home soil, leading after an opening 64, and I was concerned he'd go on and either win or contend, having had him on my shortlist for a couple of other events - including this one - for a while now. As such, his low-key final 54 holes will do just fine, 24th place not seeming to affect his place in the order here.
Li has an excellent record in Turkey, finishing second at Carya in both 2016 and 2018, latterly losing a play-off he really should have won against Rose, and I can envisage a scenario in which we look back on last Thursday as an obvious clue that he's ready to contend one year on.
It is fair to say Li was in better form at the time, and there's a slight worry he decided to revert back to an old set of irons last week yet still struggled a little with his approach play. That said, he also produced his best putting display since finishing runner-up in Saudi Arabia, and if he brings it to Turkey he'll have every chance.
Keen no doubt to get into top gear before his Presidents Cup debut next month, and having dropped outside the all-important top 50 in the world, Li should see this as an ideal opportunity.
Wins in 22- and 23-under on the European Tour, including last year's defeat of McIlroy in Dubai, underline that a shootout in the sun is just what he wants and at 33/1 he looks overpriced in his bid to banish some demons.
Matthias Schwab is quite clearly a winner-in-waiting, a comment which also applies to Robert MacIntyre, but the layers are taking no chances and there look to be better bets further down the list.
Paul Waring is in the form of his life and will do for many, while Thomas Pieters is an eye-catching price, but the only other two who really tempted me at 50/1 and under were George Coetzee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
The latter has played well in Turkey and in fact almost won here, so having been eighth in the CJ Cup last time he's one to watch. Perhaps it's best to wait and see if he gets a Presidents Cup call on Wednesday, though, before placing a bet.
As for Coetzee, to the surprise of nobody he dominated an event on the Sunshine Tour last week, shooting 61 in the first of three rounds and winning nicely. He'd previously produced his best golf in months across the Open de France and the Portugal Masters, and further silverware is within reach if that putter really begins to fire.
However, this grade has been beyond him in the past and for my final selection I much prefer SHUBHANKAR SHARMA at three-figure prices.
Twitter followers may know I mentioned Sharma as an eye-catcher six weeks ago, as he went on to contend at massive odds for the BMW PGA Championship to confirm fully that he's close to his best once more.
Since then he's been seventh in the Italian Open, a Rolex Series event of similar depth to this, while there was promise in a battling effort in Paris before he spent the week of the Portugal Masters on the fringes of contention.
Every aspect of his game has fired at some point - he led the field in approach play in Rome and putted well last time in Portugal - but it's the consistent quality he's showing off the tee which should continue to underpin his renaissance.
Whether he delivers this week or not, keep the 23-year-old in mind going forward with the Hong Kong Open an obvious opportunity should things not work out for him in the interim.
Sharma needs to play really well this week to climb 15 or so places in the Race To Dubai and qualify for the Nedbank Challenge, so he has that little extra incentive which can make all the difference at the end of a long, hard season clocking up the air miles.
In a return to Turkey, he's been given the ideal opportunity to do what's required as we've seen already that a short, tree-lined, low-scoring test is exactly what he wants, so he goes in as the final selection in a three-pronged attack on the event.
Others on the shortlist include Romain Langasque, whose iron play remains outstanding. He's Dubuisson's protege and while that's anecdotal, what's not is the fact that he's a huge talent who I'm near certain will be winning over the next year or so, possibly in this sort of company.
Jorge Campillo is another to consider at a price, having shown much more last week, but as with Kalle Samooja it's probably fair to say that he could play to his maximum and still come up a little short here. Samooja, though, is another to watch when dropping further down in grade as he continues to stripe it.
Ultimately, this is going to be a shootout and that's reflected in a trio of selections who love nothing more. For Hatton in particular, the only excuse come Sunday can be that the putter has again failed him. Here's hoping it won't.
1915 GMT on 04/11/19.
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