Golf expert Ben Coley fancies Hao-tong Li to win the British Masters, while there’s also room in the staking plan for a European Ryder Cup winner.
Justin Rose is the latest to play host as the British Masters continues on its travels around England, this time to the much heralded Walton Heath in Surrey, just 25 or so miles south-east of Wentworth.
Rose won this title at Woburn back in 2002 after a classic duel with Ian Poulter, and it goes down as one of his many career highlights. Not only was it the only tournament Rose won in the presence of his late father, Ken, but it remains his only success in England in a career which has taken him to all corners of the globe.
Should Rose need any further incentive, a win or two-way share of second here will see him return to the top of the world rankings and he’s had sufficient time to recover from helping Europe to Ryder Cup victory in Paris. He really ought to play well and at least threaten to take back that top spot he held so briefly.
That said, his standing in the game owes more to his consistency than winning strike-rate and recent efforts on home soil have been underwhelming. Considering his quality, form figures of 50-25-38-12 at Wentworth are poor and his second place there six years ago is one of just four top-five finishes in 42 starts in England.
Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari are of course respected, the latter having won the BMW PGA Championship nearby earlier this year and more recently starred at the Ryder Cup, after which the former finished second in the Dunhill Links. These wonderful ball-strikers play well most weeks these days and there’s no reason that can’t continue at Walton Heath, even if Fleetwood will have been disappointed not to win on Sunday.
But a recent scouting trip to the course put Hao-tong Li towards the top of my shortlist and he gets the headline vote having since underlined his credentials.
Li has been demonstrating clear signs of promise for several weeks now, sitting third at halfway in the Netherlands and fifth at the same stage in Portugal, before defying a slow start to climb from 90th to fifth through the final three rounds of the Dunhill Links.
The pieces seem to be falling nicely into place for a late-season push and winning the team event at St Andrews last week won’t hurt – picking up any kind of silverware at the home of golf is always significant.
Li finished second in a US Open qualifier here at Walton Heath two years ago so he knows the course well and it was a real statement of intent to take time out to remind himself of the layout two days after a disappointing finish to the Portugal Masters.
The 23-year-old is good friends with Rose and he’s shown several times that he likes playing in England, where he registered a brilliant third in last year’s Open and has played well without threatening in the BMW PGA Championship.
Already a winner this season, beating Rory McIlroy to the Dubai Desert Classic title, Li looks to hold outstanding each-way claims at a course he knows a little better than some of those around him in the betting, and he won’t fear anyone if playing his way into contention once more.
Chris Wood ought to have won the KLM Open a few weeks ago, when Li’s compatriot Ashun Wu instead secured his third European Tour title, but compensation could await in an event he’s been looking forward to.
Wood has long been able to raise his game on home soil, ever since a top-five finish in the Open Championship at Birkdale a decade ago, and the standout performance of his career so far came nearby at Wentworth.
With that in mind, strong recent form elsewhere is particularly encouraging and I can forgive him last week’s missed cut in Scotland, where cold, breezy conditions made life difficult for everyone. In the end, it was a slow start which cost Wood but I don’t believe it’s indicative of any real downturn in form, particularly as he finished off his third round with a real flourish.
Prior to the Dunhill, he’d managed to defy a slow start with three rounds of 66 for 12th place in Portugal and again, his Thursday effort comes with a caveat – clearly, a clumsy error on the 72nd hole in the Netherlands hurt and it’s no wonder he took a round or so to get it out of his system.
Hopefully, Wood is now able to see the positives in all three runner-up efforts this season and he’ll have this event earmarked as one which gives him the opportunity to put some Sunday disappointments behind him.
“I just love traditional courses,” he told Golf365’s Matt Cooper earlier this year. “It’s such a pity we don’t play more of them. The British Masters going to Walton Heath is brilliant news. I can’t wait.”
Wood, whose last missed cut in England came back in 2011, has plenty in his favour and is fancied to go well.
Chris Wood in action at the KLM Open
Richie Ramsay has been third in the last two US Open qualifiers at Walton Heath and is considered after missing the cut by one last week, when selected at a big price. The same goes for Aaron Rai, medallist here in 2016, and both these accurate types should be on the radar of punters wishing to speculate.
Of the youngsters looking to emulate Paul Dunne in getting off the mark in this event, Marcus Kinhult and Thomas Detry are on the shortlist along with Rai. Kinhult continued his solid run with 20th last week while Detry’s sole professional win to date came in Suffolk and he struck the ball nicely with little reward at the Dunhill.
However, I’m keen to side with winning experience in this prestigious event and it’s Padraig Harrington and Thorbjorn Olesen who complete the staking plan.
Harrington has three top-seven finishes in four starts since returning from a poor season in America, and I’m far from convinced the market has caught up with him yet. His record in the event is solid enough, he’s won five titles at an almost one-in-ten strike-rate in October, and, more relevantly, these recent performances have been across a variety of courses and under vastly different conditions.
Particular encouragement can be taken from his long-game – Harrington was eighth in greens hit last week having led that category in the KLM Open – but in truth everything is firing, hence rankings of second, 10th and eighth in the all-around in those three strong performances since the end of August.
Given that he’s remained capable of winning tournaments despite turning 47 recently, he looks worth sticking with having played as well as just about anyone in the field of late despite various Ryder Cup distractions.
Padraig Harrington pictured in contention in Prague
As for Olesen, his price can be explained by only one thing – a poor record in England. However, that doesn’t factor in a victory alongside Lucas Bjerregaard in GolfSixes and he’s bound to take inspiration from his friend’s success last week.
GolfSixes is clearly team silliness, but defending British Masters champ Dunne won it alongside Gavin Moynihan earlier this year and it shouldn’t be totally dismissed as a small piece in a much bigger puzzle.
With a major top-10 finish in Kent and victory in Scotland at the Dunhill Links, Olesen’s otherwise ugly form figures in the UK should be put down to the specific courses he’s played, particularly Wentworth, where he just cannot work out a way to score.
Here at Walton Heath, where he qualified for the US Open earlier this year thanks largely to a morning 67 around the course used for the British Masters, there’s reason to believe he can be a good deal more effective and at 28/1 I’m willing to pay to find out.
Olesen’s form since victory over Molinari in the Italian Open has been outstanding and he simply can’t be the same price as the likes of Bjerregaard, Shane Lowry and Eddie Pepperell. He’s a Ryder Cup player now and signed off with a stunning singles success over Jordan Spieth to add to the belief that he’s ready to establish himself as a fixture inside the world’s top 50.
Combine that with the fact he’s always been a killer front-runner and the odds quoted about Olesen winning his seventh title as a professional are just too big, hence the win-only bet in an event likely to go to one of the top dozen or so in the market.
Posted at 1825 BST on 08/10/18.