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Back to normal this week after last week's WGC at Doral which was dominated by Tiger Woods following his late putting session with Match Play partner Steve Stricker. Tiger is continuing to prove that on courses where he has a positive history he is still very hard to oppose - will that trend continue at Augusta where he has 4 victories? All were before the course was 'Tiger Proofed' of course, although the bookies are taking no chances and the former World No.1 has been slashed to a best-priced 5/1 for the first Major of 2013 following his second success of the year over the weekend. There's plenty of differing opinion on the Masters over on our facebook group - click here to join in the debate.
Onto the task at hand then and the fourth instalment of the Avantha Masters throws us another European Tour curveball as the event moves to a new track this year, namely the Greg Norman-designed Jaypee Greens in Greater Noida, just outside New Delhi. The Par 72 course opened at the turn of the century and has quickly become an established venue on the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) hosting a number of events in the past few seasons. At 7,347 yards it's the longest course in India; with wide fairways and immature trees/shrubs it's a layout that is expected to favour the longer hitters, particularly after a poor winter that's hampered the rough growth and forecast rain for Thursday which may slow the otherwise dry fairways down a little. 14 lakes and 88 bunkers may do little to protect the course as rain-softened greens and little wind should encourage low scoring with only the small, grainy Bermuda putting surfaces offering any kind of challenge to the top professionals.
Being tri-sanctioned between the Asian Tour, PGTI and European Tour there are plenty of unfamiliar names on the entry list this week, however the lure of a European Tour exemption will be huge for many of the players with aspirations of bigger and better things in their career. Time's also running out for those players outside of the World's top 50 who need a big event or two prior to the Masters to guarantee an invite to Augusta.
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Taking everything into consideration, here's who I'm backing this week in India:
Lahiri is one of the brightest stars emerging from a new crop of talented Indian golfers and the 25 year-old has his sights set firmly on bigger and better things after winning for the third time at the Delhi Golf Club at the weekend. Fellow countryman Gaganjeet Bhullar is another player in a similar bracket of expectation to Lahiri and Bhullar has recently formed an attachment to Jaypee Greens, a track on which he won as an amateur. Bhullar though is the type of player who seems to reach top gear over a period of weeks then can maintain it for a while, and, at this point in time, I don't think that he's firing on all cylinders; instead I'll be backing Lahiri this week to lift his first European title.
In a little over 5 years as a professional, the Bangalore bomber has picked up 10 professional victories across the Asian Tour and PGTI and is surely destined for stardom, stating recently that his next step is to win an event outside of his homeland. Well one sure-fire way of getting an opportunity to do that would be to secure a European Tour card by winning this week, thereby giving himself the option to spread his wings a little further! The World Number 155, who averages 304 yards off the tee, will be on a high after successfully defending his SAIL-SBI Open title by defeating another Indian starlet Rashid Khan in a playoff and returns to Jaypee Greens where he won the 2009 BILT Open and finished runner-up in 2011 after a sparkling second round of 60. RESULT: T29
Santos has been one of the most in-form players on the European Tour of late and with one co-sanctioned event under his belt already he'll be looking at this event as a huge opportunity to add a second European Tour victory and virtually guarantee himself a trip to the season finale in Dubai at this early stage of the season. The Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year has carded 66 or better in one in every four rounds he's played this season to date; 4 top 10s from his last 5 starts clearly shows a man at top of his game at present. If 4th in Abu Dhabi at the long par 72 with identical Bermuda Tifdwarf greens (and far loftier company) isn't encouragement enough for you, then 7th at the Dubai Desert Classic and 3rd at the lengthy Joburg Open should help sway your mind. At 64 under par for his last 5 events, the 30 year-old - who can give the ball a healthy smash off the tee - has the scoring power to feature heavily here in my opinion. RESULT: MC
When there's a booming Par 72 on the agenda it's always worth looking at one of Austria's finest exports to make the frame. There were plenty of other options I considered for my third selection: Thongchai Jaidee is an expert on Asian soil and has been hanging around the top end of leaderboards without getting over the line for a few months now; Felipe Aguilar has been playing some great golf of late however he and Gregory Bourdy may not be quite long enough off the tee to win this, although neither can be discounted; if Thomas Aiken can find the putter this week then he could also go close at a great 50/1 price, as could Andy Sullivan who has the talent to win at this kind of level. You can't back them all though (well you can I suppose if you really want!) and ultimately I'm plumping for the long-hitting 27 year-old who, at 74th in the World, has a great incentive to do well over the next few weeks and try to sneak a late place into The Masters.
Twice a winner in 2012, one of which was an Asian Tour co-sanctioned affair in South Korea, Wiesberger has been quiet the last few weeks as he travelled to Dove Mountain as first alternate on the off-chance that someone would pull out of the WGC Accenture Match Play. That didn't happen, therefore preventing him the opportunity to try and qualify for Doral with a decent showing, so after a restful few weeks he's back to the day job. By his own admission he's hitting the ball well at the moment and both wins (on 7,300+ Par 72s) came after a short break; the -18 & -19 totals he achieved in those 2 victories could be right in the ball park for a contending total this week. His wayward drives won't be overly punished here and if the flat stick is hot he'll take some beating in this company. RESULT: T61
Finally I've saved a few pennies for two longshots who could also feature this week. I mentioned Rashid Khan briefly in my commentary for Anirban Lahiri - the 22 year-old had made birdie on the 72nd hole of the SAIL-SBI Open at the weekend to cap a superb final round of 66 and set the clubhouse target at -15. Lahiri calmly knocked in a 10-footer for birdie to take the event to a playoff then repeated the feat at the first extra hole to regain his title and break the youngster's heart. The local lad, who hails from New Delhi, isn't the longest of hitters at the moment with his wiry frame, however he more than makes up for it with an excellent short game and hot putter. Khan will enjoy returning to Jaypee Greens where he tasted victory in the Louis Philippe Cup last month as part of the 3-man Silverglades Delhi team that was ultimately triumphant, defeating a far more experienced team including Jyoti Randhawa in the final. RESULT: T34
Emiliano Grillo is also worth a small each way punt at a long price in my view. At over 295+ yards off the tee on average, the Argentinean is plenty powerful enough to tame this course and actually hits a lot of fairways for a player of that length. Greens in regulation isn't a problem either for the Florida-based 20 year-old, it's normally the flat stick which lets him down; some improved performances in that area of late have however lead to decent top 10s in co-sanctioned events in Perth and South Africa and, on a course that few have any experience of playing, I wouldn't be surprised to see him feature at the top end of the leaderboard this week. He led by 4 strokes in Perth at the halfway point proving that he can take to a new course quickly and, although he fell away over the weekend, he'll have learnt an awful lot from that experience and may well go a step or two further next time he's in the mix. RESULT: T13
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