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After the trials and tribulations of Oakmont, we move to a somewhat easier challenge for the players this week as the BMW International Open returns to the Golfclub Gut Lärchenhof where this event was also hosted in 2012 and 2014. Whereas last week's US Open demanded a brand of golf where par was an excellent score on most holes, this week will be an altogether different task where players will need to be well under par to make the halfway cut and be in the region of 20-under to be in with a chance of winning coming down the stretch on Sunday given a benign forecast and receptive conditions that are expected.
As always, we have the post-Major dilemma to consider - will those players who endured 4 long days (in some cases) in Pennsylvania be able to raise their game to compete here so soon afterwards? 16 players have made the journey straight to Cologne to compete here, most notably (in terms of their result at Oakmont) Sergio Garcia (finished 5th), Andy Sullivan (23rd) and Danny Willett (37th) as well as Matteo Manassero, Andrew Johnston, Lee Slattery and Romain Wattel who all finished outside of the top 40, however only Sergio was truly in with a chance on Sunday and he never really got close to challenge eventual winner Dustin Johnson. Early departures from the US last week who tee it up here include Peter Hanson (DQ) and Henrik Stenson (WD with 2 holes to play of his 2nd round) as well as Bernd Wiesberger, Jaco Van Zyl, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Max Kieffer, Jeev Milkha Singh and Gary Stal who all missed the cut.
Adapting to the stark contrast in difficulty may be the biggest challenge for these players this week - we shall see of course, however Ernie Els proved that the jet lag and fatigue can indeed be overcome as he won the 2013 renewal in Munich after finishing 4th at Merion and Henrik Stenson finished runner-up last year after returning from a top-30 finish at Chambers Bay.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Quicken Loans National - you can read his thought on that event here.
Golfclub Gut Lärchenhof, Pulheim, Cologne, Germany. Designer: Jack Nicklaus, 1996; Par: 72; Length: 7,288 yards; Water Hazards: 9; Fairways: Poa/Rye; Rough: Poa/Rye; Greens: Bent/Poa, 12' on the stimp.
Course Overview. A slightly lengthened track at 7,288 yards for its par of 72 is still no problem for the modern professional and with 4 mid-range par 5s and a favourable forecast, the Jack Nicklaus design - which features a mix of tree-lined and exposed fairways - is set up to produce a reasonably low-scoring affair as we witnessed in 2014 when the top 50 all finished in double digits under par.
Landing areas have been tightened up in recent years, however with wet weather in the region last week and the potential for another dousing in the middle of the tournament, I suspect the fairways will play reasonably soft and wide. The top quality bent/poa greens will reward good approaches with birdies and again they may prove to be a little more receptive than planned which again all points to a decent week for scoring.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's BMW International Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2015: Pablo Larrazabal, 60/1; 2014: Fabrizio Zanotti, 80/1; 2013: Ernie Els, 22/1; 2012: Danny Willett, 90/1; 2011: Pablo Larrazabal, 45/1; 2010: David Horsey, 150/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. The tournament will enjoy largely dry weather with warm temperatures reaching around 85 Fahrenheit in the afternoons for the first two days before thunderstorms threaten to clear the air. The weekend is expected to be around 10 degrees cooler but with sunshine and light breezes this week should set up nicely for low scoring.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 5 events held here on this track gives us a little more insight into the task at hand:
* Results from 2007-2009 are for the European Tour's Mercedes-Benz Championship held here on this course.
Despite a toughening up of the course in terms of slightly tighter landing areas, this layout is still very scoreable in good conditions as we saw 2 years ago. Greens aren't particularly difficult to hit here, even from the rough, however finding 75% or higher over the course of the week is pretty much a pre-requisite that is likely to continue here again this week in order for players to contend.
One consistent factor throughout the years on this track has been the necessity to score heavily on the par 5s. The 5 winners listed above averaged better than 11-under in total for the par 5s over the 4 days and that trend continues back to Goosen in 2005 (-13 for the par 5s), Harrington in 2004 (-8 in tougher conditions) and Choi in 2003 (-14). Length helps in that respect of course, however the desire and ability to successfully attack the long holes with a lot of club in a player's hands is critical.
In terms of incoming form for the winners of this event here, Zanotti had finished 5th (Lyoness Open) and 14th (Irish Open), having previously finished 3rd in Madeira, before winning here in 2014; Willett's immediate form was less obvious although he had finished 3rd in Malaysia a couple of months before where he topped the GIR category. If we look at the winners from Munich where this event has been played the other years in recent times, Pablo Larrazabal last year wasn't in sparkling immediate form either, however 3rd in Morocco earlier in the year signalled some intent. In 2013 Els came straight here from Merion where he'd finished 4th the week before, plus he'd finished 6th at Wentworth and 2nd in Indonesia in recent times so was in decent nick. in 2011 Larrazabal had finished 11th in Italian Open a fortnight before plus had recent contending performances including 4th in Wales and 3rd in Spain. Before that Horsey had finished 2nd in the Italian Open a month before, Dougherty was 4th in Irish Open the previous month and Kaymer had produced a couple of top 10s in his previous 5 events. Generally the winners of this event on either of the two courses had shown something tangible in their recent results history.
My team for the week is as follows:
Despite running the risk of following Joost Luiten over the proverbial cliff, I'm happy to keep faith in the Dutchman this week and oppose the three favourites who are all returning from Oakmont to play this week. Whilst Henrik Stenson did at least earn himself a couple of extra days preparation for this event courtesy of his withdrawal on Friday, Sergio Garcia and Danny Willett toiled for the full 4 days and getting themselves up for this week both physically and mentally may prove to be too much of an ask, despite their obvious chances. Stenson on the other hand has become very hit and miss of late - his excellent first round last week was a distant memory by the time he called it a day when missing the cut courtesy of a 10-over tally through 16 on Friday - and I couldn't trust him on what has to be a win-only bet at that price for me.
Sitting at home watching the action unfold on TV, Joost Luiten will have had chance to reflect on what's been a positive if ultimately frustrating start to his 2016 campaign. A total of seven top-8 finishes in 14 starts in the wrap-around season includes two runner-up finishes and over 200 birdies notched up during that time, however the win that he so desperately needed in Austria to have earned a last-gasp entry to the US Open - and to reward the form that he's shown in recent months - has so far proven elusive.
For me, the pressure's now off Joost and that could be the final piece of the jigsaw when it comes to producing a fifth European Tour trophy. He had no choice but to attempt to win the Lyoness Open on his last start and whilst he couldn't quite get close enough, a 6th place finish where he ranked 4th for Ball-Striking, 8th for Putting Average and 6th All-Round tells us that there's nothing at all wrong with his game right now, he just needs a Sunday to go his way. 38th on this track on his only attempt back in 2012 isn't a disaster and the World No.65 is a more accomplished and rounded player 4 years further down the track who's well capable of winning an event like this. 3rd on the European Tour for scoring average this season having played more than twice the number of rounds of those ahead of him tells its own story and a rejuvenated Luiten could well take all the beating here this week. RESULT: T16
Another player who had an enforced break last week and who's well-suited to this layout here is Ross Fisher. A decent tee-to-green performance is required this week with water in play on half of the holes and keeping bogeys to a minimum being the order of the day, so a player who's been striking the ball as well as Fisher has lately could well be the type who succeeds here this week. 1st for Total Driving at Doral earlier this season is no mean feat on that layout, however to back that up with an identical ranking in terms of ball-striking tells us just where Fisher's long game is of late and he's been inside the top-5 on both counts on 4 of his last 6 events - clearly he just needs something to click with the putter and he's got to go very close to winning a 6th European Tour event. Interesting then that his last appearance in Sweden produced his best putting performance relative to the field for 18 months and that will send a shot of confidence through the rest of his game without doubt. 5 career visits to this Gut Lärchenhof track have produced 5 paid weekends including 32nd in 2007 where he topped GIR and Ball-Striking categories, 3rd a year later where he topped the All-Round category and 8th in 2012 when this track was used for this event for the first time, finishing inside the top 5 for Total Driving, Ball-Striking and All-Round performances. RESULT: T28
Of the remainder of the field, Romain Wattel came closest to my team and I suspect he will break through sooner rather than later at this level. Benjamin Hebert has been hitting his irons nicely for a while now and could feature at a longer price, as could Raphael Jacquelin who's running into some good form. To complete my team however I'm backing a young, talented course debutant and a vastly experienced local.
Just how good Jeunghun Wang will be remains to be seen, however despite 2 European Tour victories in the past month or so he's clearly still not being taken all that seriously by the bookmakers this week and that's worth taking on in my opinion. The 20 year-old won the very first PGA Tour China event as an 18 year-old a couple of years ago and has steadily risen through the World Rankings ever since, reaching a career high of 70th after securing back-to-back victories in Morocco and Mauritius. The South Korean is an aggressive ball-striker with an outstanding touch on the greens and this course holds no hidden tricks that could scupper a debutant like Wang, instead this open layout should set up perfectly for him to hit plenty of greens and make a ton of birdies. After an understandably quiet few weeks, the Seoul man bounced back to form at last week's Queen's Cup after a sluggish start, which he put down to the readjustment in green speeds versus the European Tour, however once back in the groove he produced a career-best round of 62 to help him along to a tie for 3rd place. Underestimate him this week at your peril. RESULT: MC
Finally I'm backing German Alex Cejka to find some competitive form here this week in his adopted homeland. 4 times a European Tour winner before he moved to Las Vegas to compete Stateside, the 45 year-old finally grabbed his maiden PGA Tour victory last March in Puerto Rico where he went some way to ridding himself of the 'Alex Choker' nickname by emerging victorious from a 5-man play-off. Relative to many in this field, the World No. 133 is a class above at his best and a top-10 finish at TPC Sawgrass last month singles him out as one of the more capable players in this field. A reasonably accurate driver of the golf ball whose irons were in excellent form at The Players Championship (75% GIR, 6th in the field), Alex is also a decent, streaky putter who's well capable of producing a putting performance in the low 1.6s that would be enough to contend here this week - indeed he's done just that in recent performances on the PGA Tour at the Honda Classic, Puerto Rico Open and again at TPC Sawgrass. The Munich resident is one of the most experienced players on this track with appearances going all the way back to 1998 in the German Masters held here and finishes of 2nd, 5th, 6th, 10th and 12th over the years here does little to put me off backing him. RESULT: T45
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel