After a splendid week of top-quality golf at Wentworth, we move to another iconic venue as we revisit the scene of the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales. The man who closed out the European victory in October is the defending champion here, however 12/1 for Graeme McDowell is plenty short enough about a player who's looked jaded and off the boil so far this season in my opinion.
The Twenty Ten course needs no introduction, however at 7,378 the par 71 offers a reasonable test to the professionals with a premium on putting performance on the quality bent/poa greens. The course is generally flat and exposed with water offering the main defence as it's in play on 10 of the holes, however overall the layout is reasonable open to good scoring as McDowell's total of 269 shows.
With only 3 previous years course form to study there's little in the way of trends to pick out here, however there do appear to be tenuous form lines with the Scottish parkland courses and the recent results from these events are well worth a look. Overall though I think this will come down to a putting competition as the forecast is set fair with calm, sunny conditions expected throughout the week which will encourage low scoring. As such I've picked players who are either talented with the flat stick and/or demonstrating the kind of form that might just see them through the finishing line here:
Welshman Davies is a bit obvious for this event however don't let that put you off - he's got a great chance of notching his second European Tour victory this week in my opinion! His 25-under winning total in Morocco last year came off the back of a good run of form including two top-6 finishes in his previous 4 events; currently Davies is on a run of 9 consecutive cuts made and a best effort of 2nd in his Moroccan defence last month - in my view he's peaking just in time for this after an impressive top 20 finish last week at Wentworth.
As I mentioned in my commentary, putting is absolutely key around here and they don't come much more talented with the flat stick than Davies. He led the way in overall putting last week with just 105 strokes and a GIR average of 1.656; it was a similar story in Majorca with 109 putts and an average of 1.607....his putting has always been strong, however just now it's reaching a peak and it's time to jump on board.
After finishes of 2nd in 2010 and 17th in 2009, the predictor no.1 selection has already show a liking for this event and the Twenty Ten Course, and with the full backing of a vociferous Welsh following I'm expecting a big performance here from the talented Welshman. Result: 58
Horsey is in the form of his life and the 40/1 being offered about the Englishman securing his second win of the season just has to be taken on. Another top 10 last week at Wentworth - his 2nd in consecutive events - came just a few weeks after securing his 2nd European Tour title in a playoff over Rhys Davies in Morocco, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see the same 2 players battling it out on Sunday.
Horsey couldn't quite mount a challenge on Sunday at Wentworth to get himself really into contention, however a 1-under total has good enough for 7th position and a healthy pay cheque. With ever growing confidence and a putting performance which sees him inside the top 5 for both average putts and putts per GIR this season on the European Tour, I'm expecting another prominent performance this week by the man from Wilmslow. Result: M/C
The Great Dane is lightly raced now that he's into his 40s, however the 11-time European Tour winner proved once again in Qatar that he's able to compete at this level as he secured his 2nd victory inside 12 months with a 4-shot victory over Alvaro Quiros.
Accurate ironplay is more Bjorn's game, however when his putter's warm then beware! His last competitive round was a 62 in Morocco where his putter was on fire - if he can get anywhere near that level for 4 rounds this week then the 75/1 on offer from Bet 365 (he's as short as 33's elsewhere) will look very generous indeed, particularly when you consider he was in the final group on Sunday last year following rounds of 69/68/68 before a final round 74 put paid to his chances. Multiple top 5s at Loch Lomond and Gleneagles over the last decade also bodes for Bjorn in my opinion. Result: M/C
South African Kingston is often overpriced when it comes to European Tour events as he tends to share his time between Europe and the lesser Sunshine and Asian Tours - don't let that put you off though as 15 Worldwide titles proves he's good enough on his day to win this type of event.
Already a runner-up twice this season, once on the Sunshine Tour and of more relevance in a classy Dubai field in February, recent form has been patchy with a couple of mid-40s finishes and a missed cut at Wentworth. Form is temporary though and I'm willing to back the 45 year-old on a layout and putting surface which will play to his many strengths. 2nd at Loch Lomond in 2008 is also a positive result for this. Result: M/C
My final selection is a speculative half point EW on the winner of this year's Avantha Masters in India. 300/1 reflects the fact that he's missed a string of cuts following that victory, however that's understandable and his tie for 31st at Wentworth was encouraging on a course which penalised his sometimes errant driving. It was Chowrasia's putter which got him out of trouble last week (as it was in his Indian victory) and good form with the flat stick could well prove crucial here once again at a long, long price. Result: M/C
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 20:00BST 31.5.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2012 Celtic Manor Wales Open will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!