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We stay in China after hitting the crossbar with Alexander Levy last week at the Shenzhen International as we take in the 22nd Volvo China Open here this week. After the stop-start nature of last week's event, thankfully we're promised a far clearer weather forecast as many of the same players head north to this week's venue at the Ian Woosnam-designed Topwin Golf and Country Club on the outskirts of Beijing. Meanwhile on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Zurich Classic of New Orleans - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Overview. Topwin Golf and Country Club is an exclusive Private Members Club carved from the rural countryside in the Hills of Huairou and boasts views of the Great Wall of China on virtually every hole. Ian Woosnam designed the 7,229 yard par 72 which opened in 2011 and the parkland layout features reasonably generous fairways that are lined in part with fruit and pine trees, plus water comes into play in some shape or form on most holes. The course looks immaculate and to date has hosted only a handful of junior or low-grade events, the most notable of which was the China Series Cadillac Championship won by Bryden McPherson at 16-under last autumn - that final leaderboard is here.
Tournament Stats. Please note, this week's event is being played on a new course to the European Tour so event stats should be considered accordingly: Current Form | Event Form | First Round Leader | 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: Ashun Wu, 200/1; 2014: Alex Levy, 150/1; 2013: Brett Rumford, 50/1; 2012: Branden Grace, 60/1; 2011: Nicolas Colsaerts, 80/1; 2010: YE Yang, 14/1. 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 Beijing is here. In stark contrast to last week's weather in Shenzhen, this week should see fine, warm and sunny conditions throughout with only the breeze likely to keep a lid on the scoring over the weekend, although even then it should only reach around 25 km/h at worst in the afternoons.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Events like this - with little to go on in terms of how the course will play - are tricky to assess and we're relying on guesswork to a large degree here this week. Bryden McPherson's 16-under total at last year's Cadillac Championship in the China Series suggests that this layout is going to produce a relatively low score though and despite the abundance of water I suspect this layout will encourage a lot of birdie opportunities for those players who can find the right parts of these undulating greens. 4 par 5s that are just about on the limit from the back tees (and of course with the scope for organisers to move tees forward) and 4 short par 4s of between 317 and 365 yards will encourage the longer hitters to attack, suggesting to me that this week will be all about aggressive golf from those who can put the ball in the right position from off the tee.
My final Volvo China Open tips are as follows:
At the top of the betting, Joost Luiten is very tempting despite his short price. The Dutchman tends to telegraph his victories so back-to-back runner-up finishes and improving greens in regulation figures bodes well, however he does also tend to disappoint at the business end of events which isn't great for such a short price. Bernd Wiesberger's price of 16/1 doesn't really excite given that his last top-10 finish was more than 6 months ago and at the same odds I'm going to stick with Alexander Levy for a second week to see if he can overcome last week's disappointment of being beaten fair and square over the final few holes by Soomin Lee.
China has always been a happy hunting ground for the 25 year-old - Levy became the youngest China Open champion back in 2014 when he romped to a four-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood - and further finishes of 2nd (2014 BMW Masters), 14th (2014 WGC HSBC Champions), 3rd (2015 Volvo China Open) and 4th last week reinforce the fact that the Frenchman feels very comfortable in this part of the world. Soomin Lee's eagle at the 17th hole in Shenzhen knocked out whatever remaining stuffing Alex had left after a stop-start event and he can take great heart from his overall performance despite not getting over the line when he looked favourite to do so going into the final few holes on Monday morning. Looking back to the circumstances of his last win on Tour at the 2014 Portugal Masters, Levy bounced back from a disappointing finish the week before at the Alfred Dunhill Links where he entered the final day tied for 2nd before shooting 75 to sink down the leaderboard without trace. He proceeded to birdie half of the 36 holes played the following week to take the title with a sublime all-round performance and, with his game in a strong place right now, I wouldn't be surprised to see him do something similar here this week.
I'm also backing Alexander Noren who was 6th at the Spanish Open on his reappearance after taking a couple of months off after the Middle East swing and the injury-prone Swede looked to be in great nick at Valderrama as he blew the cobwebs away. What caught my eye most with Noren is that his victories have all come on tracks where he's been able to make birdies following a tricky assignment on his previous start, so a battling 5-over total in Spain might bizarrely be the perfect warm-up for this week: his 2009 maiden victory at Crans followed a tricky week at Gleneagles where he finished at 5-over par; his 2011 success in Wales came after missing the cut at Wentworth before winning again in Sweden a few weeks later after missing the cut at the Open Championship; his most recent win at the Nordea Masters last year came the week after carding a +5 total for a tie for 21st at the tough Irish Open. Perhaps the freedom of being able to play more attacking golf after a tough test brings out the best in Noren and we know that he's a classy player who's well capable of taking a field like this apart. A forecast with breezy conditions over the weekend won't bother the 33 year-old who triumphed in some of the toughest conditions you're likely to see in Sweden in 2011 and with his long game looking in rude health on his last appearance it will only take a spark with the putter to see him contend here.
I'm keeping it tight this week, although a few longshots did catch my eye. Ashun Wu has hardly been playing terrible golf to justify his 200/1 quote about retaining his title with some firms and Seve Benson (150/1) may well produce a better performance than the odds compilers suggest having caught the eye on some of my analysis.
Stats-wise, one of the more eye-catching performance at Shenzhen was from Rikard Karlberg who ranked 2nd for all-round performance courtesy of an excellent display of driving (83.9% fairways hit, 4th in the field) and putting (1.63 putts per GIR, 1st in the field) to eventually finish 8th after a poor start to the event having opened with a 73. For me, the Swede - who became father to twins before Christmas - has the right combination of power (averages 296 yards this season to date) and accuracy to attack this course and he's in strong birdie-making form having made 21 red numbers last week plus an eagle which was the best under-par performance on show, let down only by too many bogeys and doubles. To be fair to the 29 year-old though, that was his first start for over a month having spent some valuable time at home with his family and with positive vibes from last week's effort and the belief he has in his game having secured his first European Tour victory last autumn at the Italian Open, I won't be surprised if he's challenging for this title on Sunday afternoon at a tasty price.
Our predictions for the 2017 Volvo China Open will be published here on the Tuesday before the event.