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With many of the European Tour's rank and file preparing to take an enforced break for the next month - the Trophee Hassan II which starts on the 13th April is the next regular event on the schedule - this is the last chance for many to grab a paycheque before they put their feet up and watch the world's elite battle it out first at the WGC Match Play and then The Masters. Not that many of the Tour's higher-ranked players have made the trip to India for this co-sanctioned event with Rafa Cabrera-Bello holding the accolade of loftiest OWGR ranking in the field at 26th. The bookies' favourite though is former Indian Open winner Anirban Lahiri who rates a 9/1 shot at best at the time of writing, however event history including that victory from 2 years ago has all but been consigned to the dustbin as this tournament tackles a new Gary Player track to the south of Delhi.
Also this week we have the Valspar Championship over on the PGA Tour - you can read Steve Bamford's preview for that event here.
DLF G&CC. Designer: Gary Player, 2015; Course Type: Technical; Par: 72; Length: 7,657 yards; Water Hazards: 6 in play; Fairways: Celebration Bermuda; Rough: Celebration Bermuda; Greens: Bermuda Mini Verde.
Course Overview. After a couple of years at the tight, tree-lined sub-7,000 yard Delhi Golf Club, this event moves to Gary Player's new course which opened in October 2015 and has played host to the Women's Indian Open on the LET for the past 2 years. In stark contrast to the previous venue, Player has carved a 7,657 yard (off of the 'gold' tees) brute out of the Aravalli Hills and this long parkland layout will certainly appeal to a different type of player than the past 2 renewals of the Hero Indian Open.
Built to the latest golf design standards including a full sub-air system, the layout features severe elevation changes, eye-catching bunkering and large, undulating greens. Fairways are described as narrow and winding, however compared to Delhi GC it won't feel anywhere near as tight and the trees and rocks that are in play are most likely to trouble only the most wayward of players. Water, on the other hand, features heavily on 6 holes including the par-3 5th which is to an island green as the front 9 (the 'Lake 9') meanders around the 2 lakes that the course flanks. The back 9 (the 'Quarry 9') is the longest of the two at nearly 4,000 yards and contains the holes with the most elevation change, including the downhill 550 yard par-4 14th. Bermudagrass has been used throughout the construction with Mini Verde the strain of choice on the greens.
Tournament Stats. The Hero Honda Masters (2000, 2002), Johnnie Walker Classic (2008), Indian Open (2009) and Avantha Masters (2010-12) have all been played at the DLF G&CC in the recent past, however those results were on the previous Arnold Palmer layout. The last 2 years' leaderboards for the Hero Indian Open can be found here, however their relevance has to be questioned given the stark contrast in course specification this week. Current form stats are here: Current Form
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Delhi is here. The tournament should enjoy warm temperatures (mid 70s Fahrenheit) with light to moderate winds expected, strengthening slightly around noon each day although nothing excessive is forecast. Friday holds the biggest risk of disruption due to thunderstorms, however there is also a small risk of the same on Thursday and Saturday.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
This is the first men's event being played on this new Gary Player layout, however the past 2 LET Indian Open events have been played here which does give us at least something to review in terms of stats:
Without wishing to read too much into these stats, it's fair to say that the course played relatively tough as only 4 players finished under par over the 4 days last year (Emily Pederson won at even par the year before), however the fairways didn't prove to be that difficult to hit for the LET players. GIR proved to be key and Ashok tied a strong week with her approach play together with a decent 4 days on the greens to gain victory.
The length of this course is an important factor for the men this week and, assuming we play off of the back tees for the majority of the time, this layout is likely to prove difficult for the shorter hitters. High GIR types who are more adept on Bermudagrass greens appeal most to me this week, however as always with a new venue to the Tour we're stepping into the unknown to a large degree.
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My selections are as follows:
Former Indian Open winner Anirban Lahiri is favourite for this week, however having backed him twice in the recent past and both times having watched him fail to so much as place from promising positions, I'm reluctant to back him again at such a short price. Rafa Cabrera-Bello is also short enough at 11/1 for a player who fails to get over the line with alarming regularity, however one player near the head of the market that I do like the look of is Peter Uihlein and I think he deserves some support at 16/1 given this depth of field.
At over 7,600 yards, this is the ideal layout for someone of Uihlein's power to excel upon, however it's not all about power with Peter as he's got an excellent touch around the greens and can be devastating with the putter when he's on his game. What often lets the 27 year-old down is his approach play, however with large greens here in New Delhi we should see the American improve on his GIR running rate of late and give himself far more opportunities to get that putter going and in turn score well on these Bermudagrass greens.
Uihlein's 2013 Madeira Islands Open victory still ranks as his one and only European Tour success, however since returning to a full schedule following wrist surgery which blighted his 2016 campaign he's been playing some pretty competitive golf. 7 consecutive weekends made on the European Tour is a level of consistency that we're not used to seeing from him and within that stretch finishes of 7th (South African Open), 5th (Dubai Desert Classic) and 4th last week at the Tshwane Open suggests to me that he's more than ready to add to his tally in this strength of field. 65-66 last weekend was impressive scoring which only eventual winner Dean Burmester could better and this may well be the week that he puts it all together for 4 rounds on a layout that suits.
George Coetzee was tempting given he's been pushed out to 25/1 following last week's missed cut on his home track, however this will be the 8th consecutive week that he's played and perhaps last week's effort was a reflection of that. Jordan Smith and Romain Langasque are likely winners in the near future, however of the starlets I prefer Phachara Khongwatmai, plus I'm also going to take a chance on the unpredictable Scott Hend who's more than capable of turning recent indifferent form into another win without any notice whatsoever.
As exciting at the World Super 6 was in Perth last month, I'd have much rather that Phachara Khongwatmai hadn't been quite so impressive as it made for a far less comfortable finish than I'd have hoped with Brett Rumford backed pre-event. In the end the more experienced man won through and validated the form he'd shown in the earlier strokeplay rounds, however that wasn't before Khongwatmai's name was etched in many a notebook for future reference. Aggressive from off the tee, accurate with his approaches and impressive on the dancefloor sums up the 17 year-old's performance of late and you don't have to dig too deep to see that this wasn't a one-off: 5 top-4 finishes in his last 9 events worldwide is a decent return by anyone's standard and it would be no surprise to me to see the young Thai capture a European Tour title in the near future. With the accolade of youngest winner of a professional title likely to prove a tough record to beat (he won the Sing Hua Hin Open on the ASEAN PGA Tour in July 2013 aged just 14), Khongwatmai is clearly a talented lad who will feel far more at home in these parts than many of the European Tour members. 2 weekends from 2 attempts in India at the Panasonic Open is Phachara's record in this country and with confidence high I can see him contending here this week in a relatively weak field.
At 43 years of age, Scott Hend has been a professional since before Khongwatmai was even born, however it's only really in the past 5 years that the Australian has stepped up a gear career-wise having captured 8 professional victories since 2012. Trying to second guess when one of these victories will happen has proven to be far from an exact science as preceding form of 43/MC/MC/39/MC/54/63/59 in the event immediately prior to those 8 victories would have hardly had you clamouring for your wallet. That's the kind of player he is though and, as such, 2017 form of MC/60/42/29/65 doesn't overly concern me as we're getting a half-decent price for our troubles about a player who's ranked 2nd in this field in terms of OWGR. I've noted before in this column that I'm interested in Hend when the course suits (and this is plenty suitable enough at over 7,600 yards) and we're putting on Bermudagrass greens. Prior to last week's tailed-off effort at the WGC in Mexico, finishes of 42nd in Dubai and 29th in Malaysia had shown promise with putting performances of 4th and 11th respectively on the Bermudagrass greens and I suspect we'll see a much improved performance from the Aussie this week in India.
I'm going to keep it relatively tight this week given we're in the dark to a large degree, however one name that caught my attention more than most was that of Gaganjeet Bhullar who's more than capable of featuring on this long layout. Before compatriot Anirban Lahiri began accelerating away in terms of world ranking, I'd always categorised the two Indians as very similar players: long enough off the tee, accurate and high GIR. The difference right now, and the reason that Lahiri is plying his trade in America whereas Bhullar is still on the Asian Tour/PGTI, is that Anirban has found some excellent form with the putter over the past few years which has made him far more competitive. That said, Gaganjeet can hardly be disappointed with his game right now with just one missed cut in his last 11 events; two wins came in that period at the Shinhan Donghae Open and Indonesian Open where, crucially, he produced sub-1.7 putting averages on both occasions to compliment his immaculate tee-to-green game. 20th at the Maybank Championship and 28th in Perth on his last two starts is far from disastrous and with home advantage this week and a course that should his high GIR game, I can see Bhullar contending here to keep the local fans interested throughout the weekend.
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