After two more places at 66/1 and 125/1 last week, be sure to get Ben Coley's selections for the Vic Open as the European Tour heads Down Under.
The Victorian Open has been around for a while on the PGA Tour of Australasia. Gary Player even won it once - ask him about it, I'm sure he'll tell you - and while that kind of cachet disappeared decades ago, it's long been a staple of this circuit and a coveted piece of silverware.
Now, thanks to Golf Victoria's refusal to accept what is considered normal, the event has new life, and is helping to change the conversation. Here, across the two courses at 13th Beach, men and women will share the fairways and split the prize money, as two events co-exist as equals. In years to come, this might be a tournament which is remembered for its lasting impact.
Coming on the heels of the Saudi International, where one of Australia's greatest golfers became the latest to admit he'll say just about anything for the right price, this is the tournament which offers a hopeful glimpse of the future. There are debates to be had about the model, whether it is sustainable, and why bigger names aren't here in support, but thanks to the Vic Open they are at least being had.
The betting for the women's event is headed by 2018 champion Minjee Lee, and the standout talent in the men's is her brother, Min Woo, who was sixth in this as an 18-year-old amateur and has since quickly established himself as one of the world's most promising young professionals.
Lee is 20/1 following last week's missed cut in Saudi Arabia, where his game went missing for 90 minutes of madness but otherwise looked in good health, and on talent alone he has to make any and every shortlist. And yet, if we've learned anything about this event and the two courses at 13th Beach, it's that Lee's power-packed game will have to show some versatility to overcome a windy, tricky and sticky test.
David Law won here as a European Tour rookie 12 months ago, finishing birdie, par, eagle to stun the locals, among whom Wade Ormsby had looked set to collect. The latter, now a two-time winner of the Hong Kong Open, double-bogeyed the 71st hole of the tournament and that meant a closing birdie at the par-five 18th was not quite enough to force a play-off with the young Scotsman.
Law and Ormsby are not players who overpower a golf course, and neither are Brad Kennedy, Justin Harding, David Drysdale, Jason Scrivener and David Bransdon. That means the entire top seven was made of steadier, fairway-finding players, all of whom scrambled well, and that makes perfect sense given the tournament is played on short, coastal tracks which bear many of the hallmarks of the more famous courses just around the coast.
The sport is changing, and Lee is unlikely to prove one-dimensional as he climbs the ranks, but for now this is an excellent opportunity for somewhat less explosive players and it's CONNOR SYME who looks the best bet.
Syme is one of a collection of good, young Scottish players on the circuit, headed by Robert MacIntyre, and he's played really well since returning to the circuit via the Challenge Tour. Starting the season with three straight top-25 finishes, Syme was a little further down the leaderboard last week in much stronger company, but yet again he showed that his game is in excellent health.
Across these four tournaments, which represent the foundations for a successful year, Syme has leaned heavily on the driver. He's ranked fifth, second, 11th, and first in accuracy, and it's providing hugely advantageous with rankings of first, sixth, and fifth twice when it comes to strokes-gained off-the-tee.
More of the same and he should better last year's performance here, where he packed his backs after three rounds, especially as he's a former winner of the Australian Amateur down at The Metro in Melbourne and has the game for the conditions - a point Law alluded to after winning.
Syme contended on his return to Australia after that top-class amateur breakthrough when 20th in the New South Wales Open, he played well in the now defunct Super 6 in Perth last year, and he returns to Oz an improving player who is ready to establish himself on the European Tour and, perhaps, follow in Law's footsteps.
Scrivener and Lee are the obvious ones among the locals, although a return to his Fanling form would make Ormsby a big contender with missed cuts in the Middle East easy enough to overlook. Lucas Herbert is also entitled to respect, though there's a slight concern he's had a career-changing fortnight and could just fizzle out for now.
Certainly, it should pay to look beyond those who don't yet have European Tour cards, as so often they find even events like this beyond them. It's the same in South Africa, where it's rare for a Sunshine Tour regular to overcome a strong raiding party and their world-class compatriots, and I'm amazed one firm rate 45-year-old Brad Kennedy a 12/1 shot when you've players like Lee, Herbert, Hao-tong Li and Ryan Fox in the field.
In that spirit, my eye is drawn to SEAN CROCKER, the Zimbabwe-born American who has shown plenty of promise since a good college career as he plots an international route to the PGA Tour.
Crocker gives it a good rip and isn't really the type of player I was looking for, truth be told, but three cuts made in high-class Middle East events suggest he could take advantage of this drop in grade if adapting to different challenges he'll face here.
And while his scrambling is a weakness, he has so far shown that the rest of his game can cope with Australian golf with finishes of seventh, fifth and ninth to show for his three visits so far.
Those performances across three different courses have been powered by the quality long-game which was on display in better company last week, and the hope is he can keep up his flawless record in this part of the world.
A final note in his favour is that last year's leaderboard threw up the subsequent Qatar Masters winner, Harding, in fourth. Eighth-placed Clement Sordet could've won in Oman on a similarly exposed course, 10th-placed Callum Shinkwin blew a golden opportunity to land the Scottish Open in 2017 and Anton Karlsson, in 12th, was runner-up to Harding in Qatar.
The latter event in particular might work well as a guide and Crocker played in the final group of the 2018 edition won by Eddie Pepperell, at a time when he was without full playing rights on the European Tour.
Two years on and while his progress has stalled a little, he's started the new year in eye-catching form. At prices in the region of 40-50/1, this big talent is worth chancing despite slight concerns around his short-game.
The rest of the staking plan is made up exclusively of players who I really do think will like the Beach, on which 54 holes are played, as well as the slightly less exposed Creek Course.
First, WIL BESSELING has done precious little wrong since returning to the top tier of European golf and looks a shade overpriced at 80/1 and upwards, for all that he's no world-beater.
Besseling was third in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek before Christmas, in better company than this, and while disappointing in the SA Open in January, it was only one hole which cost him.
The Dutchman fought back from doubling the 18th in round one to shoot a Friday 66, missing the cut on the number, and there's every indication his game remains in excellent shape as it has been for several months now.
Over his last four starts at European Tour level he's landed place money twice, having also been seventh in the KLM Open, and I really like the fact he led the field in greens and ranked second in fairways at a tricky Leopard Creek where his ball-striking stood up alongside the likes of Branden Grace.
With wins in Kenya and Colombia on his CV, Besseling could go close to expanding his portfolio even further under conditions which should suit, and he's certainly a decent bet to hit the frame again.
My plan is to stick chiefly to the overseas raiders and there's no reason ALEJANDRO CANIZARES can't throw his name into the hat here as he tries again following another successful trip to Qualifying School.
This sweet-swinging Spaniard climbed inside the world's top 100 when romping away with the Trophee Hassan in 2014, but since then he's been on a downward spiral with only the comfort of Q School at home keeping him going.
Having won that six-round shootout in 2018, Canizares was third late last year and this is just about his level for now, with his prospects of avoiding another trip to Lumine likely to boil down to his performances in a handful of suitable events.
With several good performances in Australia, including in December when he was seventh through 54 holes of the Aussie PGA Championship, this is the sort of test he wants and the 37-year-old remains accurate off the tee and sharp around the greens.
A missed cut in South Africa doesn't worry me too much - he putted awfully and still wasn't far from making the weekend - and he has a couple of top-10 finishes in Qatar if that does prove a useful link. The Trophee Hassan was played under conditions similar to those expected here and while he won't run away with this, he might go close to winning it.
We're still early in the 2020 European Tour season, but so far Syme has been second only to Ashley Chesters in terms of reliability when it comes to finding a fairway, and it's interesting to see AARON COCKERILL not far behind.
This Canadian did well to come through Qualifying School with ease and while still seeking a professional breakthrough, he showed enough both there and on the Challenge Tour last year to believe he can compete in low-grade events while he finds his feet.
Cockerill also tops the embryonic scrambling stats, but it's his performances in the Australian PGA at Royal Pines which really catch the eye having been 19th on debut, his first European Tour start, and then 27th in December.
Those renewals were won by Cameron Smith and Adam Scott, members of the world's top 50, and if he can bring a similar level of form with him to 13th Beach then Cockerill really would look a potential title contender.
Off since December, there's a risk he's a little under-cooked when it comes to coping with a breezy test Down Under, but that's accounted for in what appear to be generous three-figure prices and he can outplay them.
Finally, for all that the locals will likely struggle bar a handful of promising types like Denzel Ieremia, Blake Windred and Maverick Antcliff, I feel compelled to chance BRADY WATT at 200/1.
Once upon a time, Watt was the shining light of Australian golf and while things haven't worked out for him and several classmates, he's refused to follow the lead of his good friend Ollie Goss and walk away from the professional game.
Watt did actually threaten to for a time, going to work for his parents' cleaning company in 2018 in a bid to recalibrate, and that appears to have worked wonders as he's since shown flashes of the game which took him briefly to the top of the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Watt's form on the Australian circuit doesn't immediately leap off the page, but he was runner-up in October and said then that he'd been playing well all year - something he underlined when a good 22nd in the aforementioned PGA behind Scott.
He's also been cleaning up in the Ladbrokes Pro-Am Series, winning three of his last 10 or so starts to pick up some very decent cheques and going close on a number of other occasions, and he's got the ability to do something here despite a poor record in the event.
At his amateur peak, a couple of of Watt's biggest successes came in Melbourne and his game is in a much better place for his return to 13th Beach. With those Pro-Am efforts throughout January ensuring he's sharp, a point confirmed when he came through qualifying for this, he's interesting at the odds.
Posted at 1920 GMT on 03/02/20
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