Ben Coley previews the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, where Michael Hoey and Marcus Fraser feature in a speculative staking plan.
It's the third edition of the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth under its current guise and I for one am looking forward to the continuation of what's been a fabulous, flagship tournament at the wonderful Lake Karrinyup.
The unique format of this three-tour hybrid is not for everyone, but so far we've been treated to something quite special and there's every reason to expect that to continue throughout four days of genuine excitement.
First, there will be 54 holes of stroke play - with a standard cut after 36 - before the top 24 advance to Sunday's head-to-head knockout competition, within which each match is played over just six holes to give the event its title.
There is additional incentive attached to the stroke play section with the top eight given a bye to the second round, but while Brett Rumford dominated both that and the match play two years ago, personally I don't particularly like the idea of a bet on just the first 54 holes.
Rumford himself sounded a warning last year when telling reporters that while topping the medal for a second time would be nice, it simply wasn't his focus and he had adjusted his style of play accordingly. Just as is the case at qualifying schools, players are inclined to look behind rather than in front and that tempers enthusiasm.
Instead, focus should be on finding the winner and so far, that's not been as hard as you might think. Rumford is nothing if not a Lake Karrinyup specialist, and he was succeeded by Kiradech Aphibarnrat, a late entrant but very much a classy one, whose victory despite several scares saw him return to the world's top 50.
A place among the game's elite is at the forefront of Tom Lewis's mind and he's respected alongside Thomas Pieters, the sort of boom-or-bust type who should relish this challenge. Pieters returns to Australia three months after his World Cup success alongside Thomas Detry and is of course a threat to all.
However, my suspicion is that those who teed up in the pioneering Vic Open last week will be at an advantage, and that helps shape the staking plan. Rumford had finished inside the top 20 there, before it became a co-sanctioned event, while Aphibarnrat was straight on the plane from Malaysia and beat James Nitties, who had played - albeit poorly - in the Vic Open.
Now that the events boast similar fields, the likelihood that those opting for a fortnight's golf in Australia will make up much of the final leaderboard can only increase, and it's with that in mind I'll make Marcus Fraser the headline pick.
More Rumford than Aphibarnrat - that is, a course-form local rather than world-class tourist - Fraser has started the year nicely, improving from a rusty missed cut in Singapore to win a classy pro-am back on home soil, which in turn preceded 17th place last week.
Fraser made 26 birdies in the Vic Open and would've been right on the heels of the winner had he not butchered the par-five 18th hole at the host course, making six there each day.
Still, 17th place was by far and away his best performance in the event on what was his debut at the course, and Fraser should carry great confidence to Lake Karrinyup, where he was 18th, 15th and 15th in the Perth International before this event was created.
Two years ago he missed the weekend in the inaugural World Super 6, but the veteran had flown in from Malaysia where he'd missed the cut as defending champion. In the circumstances, then, it's easy to forgive his sole failure at this week's course, especially as he comfortably made the knockout stages last year.
Ultimately, Fraser went out to Lucas Herbert, but he was arguably unfortunate to do so, actually shooting the better stroke play score over their six holes. Still, going down by a hole to one of the brightest young talents in the country carries no shame and I expect Fraser to once again prove hard to beat if making the latter stages.
Given that course record of four top-20 finishes in five visits, and the fact that he's played nicely for a few months now when presented with the right sort of challenge, he looks a sporting each-way bet at anything 50/1 and up.
Of those in front of him in the market, Min Woo Lee is tempting enough. I sided with the youngster at 200/1 last year and nobody played better throughout the first two rounds of head-to-head, with Lee having birdied 10 of the 11 holes he needed to put out two highly-ranked rivals.
He then bumped into the classy Sam Horsfield in the last eight and surrendered fairly timidly, but one year on, having turned professional and already bagged a big cheque in Saudi Arabia, Lee has to be respected.
The trouble is he was in Panama teeing it up on the Web.com Tour last week and while missing the cut means he's had more time to make it home to Perth, it can't help his chances and the price looks plenty short enough.
Herbert was also among by team last year but is now less than half the price and if you are looking for something more obviously solid than Fraser, I suggest considering Gavin Green, Paul Dunne and Ryan Fox.
The latter has narrowly missed the knockout round in both starts in this event, but does have a top-10 in the Perth International to his name and was sixth behind Dustin Johnson before two big mistakes cost him a final-round place last week.
Dunne appears to be getting back to his best, has won GolfSixes and is suited to this type of test, while Green is an aggressive, big-hitting talent who makes birdies in bursts which could carry him all the way. All three are respected, with Fox by far the pick of the top half-dozen in the market.
Backing the obvious has actually paid off here, but there are caveats. Rumford faced a 17-year-old outsider in the final, while out-of-form journeyman James Nitties led Aphibarnrat last year before nerves appeared to get to him. The champion had already used several lives and the complexion of this event could've looked oh so different with a putt made here or there.
In that spirit, I'll take a speculative approach with Grant Forrest next on my list.
Forrest played well here as a late entry last year, having been fourth alternate when arriving at the course. He actually threatened to top the stroke play section, sitting tied for third through 36 holes and making early progress in the third round, but came home poorly for ninth place.
That meant Forrest missed a good chance to earn a bye into the second round and proved costly, as he lost to local Matthew Millar, but it was nonetheless an encouraging start to a year which he ended with a European Tour card in hand.
Forrest started the season nicely with 36th in Hong Kong and seventh in Mauritius giving him a solid platform, and after a few less impressive results he showed up well for much of the Vic Open where an opening 65 paved the way for another top-25 finish.
He'll definitely have been inspired by compatriot David Law's outstanding finish to win that title and the feeling is this band of young Scottish players on the European Tour have a togetherness which will see them feed off each other as their respective careers develop.
We saw as much when Forrest lost the final of the Challenge Tour's version of this to room-mate Liam Johnston last year, and his performance there is a further source of encouragement with this unique assignment in mind.
A high-class amateur who will love this style of golf, Forrest gets the vote to prove the pick of the Scots but all should be given a second glance after Law's superb performance.
Returning to the home hopes for a moment, Liverpool fan Jarryd Felton is beginning to turn his talent into consistency and is overpriced if you're willing to ignore some moderate course form, while former US Amateur champion Nick Flanagan opened with a round of 62 last week and has a touch of class if he can build on that.
Flanagan made all the right noises when speaking to the media on Monday, telling reporters that his mental game is in excellent shape having decided to return home from his Texas base for a run of events. Flanagan was ultimately the last name off my list but should be watched in-play, with his match play pedigree potentially valuable should be make it that far.
In total, 11 of the 16 quarter-finalists in this event have been from Australia but the locals are at a numerical advantage, and we shouldn't forget how big a deal it is for them when it comes to a co-sanctioned event. More often than they not, and with the exception of the likes of Cameron Davis and Nathan Holman, those not used to competing with European Tour players come up short.
So, the net is cast wider and next is Matthew Nixon.
The Manchester pro endured a disappointing end to 2018, failing to keep his card despite a good effort at Valderrama and then failing to win it back at Qualifying School.
With that in mind his attitude ahead of 2019 is particularly impressive, the 29-year-old telling the Manchester Evening News that he's "never been more excited to get going."
Nixon lived up to his own billing with a strong return to action in the Vic Open, particularly impressive given that he's been adjusting to a new ball and hasn't had quite as much time on the range as he normally would have, and the hope is he can build on it this week.
Five years ago he played well in the Perth International behind Thorbjorn Olesen and the through-the-bag consistency he offers when at his best could make for a formidable opponent. He looks worth chancing at the price and is one to keep an eye on this year having long promised more than he's delivered.
Michael Hoey finished ahead of Nixon in 17th place and there's much to like about his profile at a big price. In fact, he looks the best bet this week.
For starters, Hoey is an eight-time winner across European and Challenge Tours, a big plus in a field like this, and so much of his success has come under the sort of conditions we can expect in Perth.
Although it's approaching six years since he last collected notable silverware, the Northern Irishman has started 2019 with a renewed sense of purpose and has already made it pay, winning a minor event in Portugal with a new man on the bag.
He followed that up with a strong performance in the Vic Open and boasts some experience of Lake Karrinyup, where he was three back through 54 holes in 2013 before ultimately hanging on to a place inside the top 20.
Hoey, who turns 40 on Wednesday, is a tough nut to crack at his best and again, the hope is he can carry over his form from last week and earn a knockout place. He's exactly the sort to thrive come Sunday if that is the case.
Unsurprisingly, there has been money for last year's runner-up, the aforementioned Nitties, who carded nine birdies in succession last week to prepare perfectly for his return to Perth.
Truth be told he's played poorly throughout the last 12 months, but it's interesting that Nitties has won one title since losing to Aphibarnrat - the RACV Healesville Super 6, played under the same format as this event.
Clearly, he likes the system, but at 150/1 he looks just about where he should be in the market and if you are looking to use that event as an angle, runner-up James Marchesani could be worth some loose change at as big as 400/1.
However, I'll finish by splitting stakes on Matt Stieger and Matt Jager.
Stieger won the Western Australia Amateur nearby before making an immediate impact as a professional, and while things haven't gone to plan since he played nicely for 28th in the Australian Open and 19th in the Australian PGA late last year.
He finished a promising 17th in the Vic Open having sat third through 54 holes, so with a return to the west coast potentially drawing out further improvement he looks interesting having topped the GIR charts last time.
Jager produced identical results in those two Aussie triple crown events in 2018 and was similarly promising to a point last week, opening 66-66 before a disastrous 81 in the third round.
He'll need to bounce back quickly, but Perth is his home town, and it was here at Lake Karrinyup that he destroyed his opponent 8&7 in the final of the Australian Amateur at the turn of the century.
Jager had also won the stroke play section of that prestigious event and in second was Jin Jeong, who went on to cause a massive surprise in the Perth International a few years later.
It would be almost as big an upset were Jager to oblige here and he's yet to show any worthwhile form at the course since turning professional, but last week's performance was promising enough to hope that he is ready to conjure something from somewhere.
Posted at 2030 GMT on 11/02/19.