After another enthralling week of golf at Wentworth, we stay on the UK mainland and head to Wales for the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor. Our tips Justin Rose (22/1) and Paul Lawrie (60/1) couldn't quite keep up with the excellent display from reinstated World Number 1 Luke Donald in Surrey last week, however we still managed a tidy profit on the week and have something to play with as we head down the M4 to Newport.
If truth be told, the entry list for this top-quality location isn't the best as most of the world-class players in action this week have headed stateside for The Memorial Tournament - you can read Steve Bamford's view on that event here. Joint favourites at around 12/1 on most books are Spanish Open champion Francesco Molinari and the resurgent Paul Lawrie, who is enjoying a Thomas Bjorn-style renaissance at the moment with some top quality performances. Despite their obvious pedigree in this field, I do have doubts over both given their recent form at Celtic Manor: Lawrie has missed the cut on each of his 3 attempts on the Twenty Ten Course; Molinari has fared slightly better with a fast-finishing 4th here in 2008, however MC/56 since hasn't got me rushing to the bookies to snap up the short price being offered! Both could feasibly win and both have the motivation with very real possibilities of a Ryder Cup berth beckoning, however both have played a fair bit of contending golf recently and could start to feel the strain eventually.
The Twenty Ten course needs no introduction - at 7,378 the par 71 offers a good test to the professionals with a premium on putting performance on the quality bent/poa greens when the weather is tranquil as it's forecast to be once Thursday's potentially wet weather has passed through. Last year's winning score of 9-under should be surpassed, however this isn't an easy course and tends to play every inch of its length - shorter hitters may well find this tough in my view.
As well as recent form, you may also want to take a look at the results from US Open qualifying at Walton Heath on Monday - a number of this week's attendees were in action and those who found form there may well take that forward. Final results from Walton Heath are here: US Open Qualifying Results. Putting it all together, here's my selections for this week:
Defending a championship is never easy, however Luke Donald proved it can be done last week at Wentworth and I see no reason why an improving Alex Noren won't be in the mix in this wide open event at Celtic Manor. The Swede secured his second European Tour title here 12 months ago following a successful Monday US Open qualifying tournament which he described as an 'energy boost' - history has a tendency to repeat itself and following his 9-under 36 holes at Walton Heath on Monday he's bound to feel energised once again as he heads to Wales this week.
At an average of 293 yards off the tee, Noren has the firepower to tackle Celtic Manor as well as the putting ability to make the requisite score around here to feature at the top end of the leaderboard. All 3 of his wins have come on Bentgrass-based surfaces (2 Bent/Poa, 1 Bent) and the putter has been warming up in recent weeks after a slow start to 2012. Alex had registered recent top 10 performances prior to his first and second victories before notching his 3rd success in Sweden just weeks after his victory here last year - recent top 10s in both China and South Korea suggest that he's warming up to another victory sooner rather than later and I really fancy his chances of a successful title defence. RESULT: WD
Regular readers will assume that I've made a mistake here and written Peter instead of Paul - to clarify, I'm backing the Irishman Peter Lawrie, not the Scot Paul Lawrie! At more than 4 times the odds, an each way finish here from Peter would return more than a straight win on Paul and, for me, that's the more backable of the two scenarios as he seeks his second European Tour victory following his 2008 success on the Bent/Poa greens of Seville.
Last week's 4th place finish at Wentworth shouldn't have been a complete shock as Peter has been playing some tidy golf of late having turned the corner recently on the practice range. He was first round leader in Sicily last month before finishing inside the top 20 after fading over the weekend as the putts dried up. Another solid display in the Spanish Open for 16th suggested his tee-to-green game was in great nick (1st for accuracy, 2nd for GIR) and the confidence then carried forward to Wentworth where he topped both the accuracy & GIR stats over the 4 days. Celtic Manor is no pushover and with water punishing the errant on many holes the Irishman can stay out of trouble on a course where he's registered top 25 finishes on both of his last 2 attempts. Lawrie also came though US Open qualifying on Monday via a playoff and following a brief rest will no doubt be charged up and ready to continue his excellent form in Wales. RESULT: T8
Golf is a better place with the likes of Pablo Larrazabal and compatriot Alvaro Quiros playing - their swashbuckling style and happy-go-lucky attitude is great to watch as they always play with a smile on their face. That smile will have been wiped off of Pablo's face though after a second round 77 at Walton Heath turned a likely US Open spot into a week off in June after an opening round of 66 had promised much more. Larrazabal's the kind of player who can bounce back from adversity though - he scored for us last season in Munich, 12 months after having relinquished a guilt-edged opportunity on another relatively flat course with Bent/Poa greens.
The comparatively claustrophobic West Course was never going to suit Pablo last week and a lowly 65th place finish wasn't surprising, however the Twenty Ten course has been kinder to the Spaniard with 4 cuts made from 4 attempts and his 2008 effort of 15th place being trumped with a tie for 4th place last season. A form line prior to Wentworth of 20/9/24/18/2 - with that 2nd place coming on the Bent/Poa surfaces of Seville - is extremely encouraging and if you can look past last week's effort then you'll find a player who could well be in contention here this week. RESULT: T28
A more speculative punt this week is on 3 time European Tour winner Jeev Milkha Singh. India's most successful golfer has struggled with a nagging back injury for the last 2 seasons, however he's seemingly turned the corner now and his golf - and tournament results - are moving in the right direction. The 40 year old is now 182nd in the OWGR, however things are moving in the right direction with 9 cuts made from his first 11 events of 2012 and he's finally playing without the pain of the last 2 years. Before his back issues, Singh had enjoyed his visits to the Twenty Ten course with finishes of 10th in 2008 and 6th in 2009 - with improving health, confidence and form I wouldn't be surprised to see him pop up on the leaderboard this week at a long price for a man of his quality when fully fit. RESULT: MC
Finally, a real longshot to add into the mix but one who I think may well feature this week. European Tour rookie Haindl secured his 2012 playing privileges via the qualifying school in December and whilst his starts on the Tour have been quite limited so far, he's managed to bank nearly €50,000 with 3 top 20 finishes in his last 4 events. 6th in Joburg last season as well as another top 20 at St Andrew suggests this 29 year old is capable of some big results - he's already won on the Sunshine Tour and was runner-up in the Telkom PGA Championship behind Keith Horne earlier this season. He has the power at over 304 yards off the tee to tackle Celtic Manor and is surprisingly straight for a long hitter. He lead the way in terms of putting in Sicily earlier this term - if he can put it all together he could be a real surprise package this week. RESULT: MC
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!