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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 Spanish Open which starts on the 12th April is the next regular event on the schedule following the cancellation of the Philippines Golf Championship which was due to be played next week - 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 at The Masters over the next few weeks. Not that many of the Tour's higher-ranked players have made the trip out to India for this co-sanctioned event with last week's WGC surprise package (for those who've not been paying attention to the European Tour at least) Shubhankar Sharma rating as the bookies' favourite at around the 14/1 mark. 9th last week in Mexico after a first three days which promised so much has moved the 21 year-old up to 66th in the World Rankings and he leapfrogs Joost Luiten to become the highest-rated player in this week's field.
Last week's Tshwane Open winner George Coetzee was pencilled in to play this week before his success on his home track over the weekend and instead we have the likes of Anirban Lahiri, who's a former Indian Open champion, recent winner Joost Luiten and the in-form trio of Emiliano Grillo (8th at the Honda Classic on his last start), Chris Wood (2nd and 13th on his last two starts) and Pablo Larrazabal (two top-4 finishes in his last three events) who sit just behind Sharma on most bookies' lists this week.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Valspar Championship - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
DLF G&CC. Designer: Gary Player, 2015; Course Type: Technical; Par: 72; Length: 7,379 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 moved to Gary Player's new course last year as the track made its bow on the European Tour. In stark contrast to the previous venue, Player has carved a brute out of the Aravalli Hills which stretches to 7,657 yards in length from the Gold tees, however as per last year the professionals will be playing from some of the forward tees this week meaning that the parkland-style track will play as a 7,379 yard Par 72 with the potential for different tees to be used as the tournament progresses.
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 fairly narrow and winding and water 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. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Indian Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event, going back to 2007. Please note, only last year's event was played on this particular track here in Delhi: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes | Combined Form Stats.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Delhi is here. The tournament should enjoy sunny conditions with hot temperatures (low 90s Fahrenheit) and light to moderate winds expected, strengthening slightly around teatime each day although nothing excessive is forecast.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Stats from the top-7 finishers last year gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Despite the course stretching to nearly 7,700 yards from the back tees, it played nothing like that length last year and runaway winner SSP Chawrasia ranked 67th of the 69 players who made the halfway cut in terms of Driving Distance. Runner-up Gavin Green ranked 60th of the 69 players and on that basis there's far more about this course than smashing it a country mile from off the tee.
With just 8 players finishing under par and double-bogeys a very regular occurrence on even the better players' scorecards, this event is a true test of patience and concentration with danger lurking on virtually every shot. The greens are huge, particularly on the back-9, and players who are missing the putting surfaces in regulation need to have a razor-sharp short game to save from dropping shots. The greens themselves are excellent quality, however it's critical to find the right portion of putting surfaces given the undulations, so quality lag putting is also an important strength to possess.
Incoming Form. The overall form of SSP Chawrasia was generally poor with 6 missed cuts in his previous 12 events, however wedged in the middle of that run was a victory at the Manila Masters on the Asian Tour. With the exception of Manassero, all other top-7 finishers had recorded a top-10 or better in their previous 7 starts, however the Italian had shown a little promise on his previous start with rounds of 66 and 68 for a top-20 finish in Malaysia.
Event History. Despite a change of course, SSP Chawrasia continued a fine run of form at the Indian Open when he defended last year - 4 runner-up finishes dating back to 1999 and a further 2 top-10s to go alongside his two trophies speaks for itself. Compatriot Anirban Lahiri also has an excellent record in this event, however the remainder of the top-7 finishers 12 months ago were relatively inexperienced at the Indian Open.
With only 1 year's worth of course history, reading too much into last year's result in isolation may be a mistake, however in Chawrasia and Lahiri it's clear that we've got two players who are extremely comfortable on home soil and each boasts an excellent record in this event at its various venues used in the past, as well as in the country for other tournaments played.
The key aspect to focus on this week in my view is the difficulty of the course and the fact that players need to be 100% focussed and prepared for this tough test from the outset. Some players relish a grind, whereas others don't have the mental approach to shrug off the inevitable bogeys or worse and they can quickly spiral downwards once the first few mistakes are made. For me, focussing on those players who have proven in the past that they can grind out a score on some of golf's tougher tests is no bad attribute, however equally those players who are comfortable with the surroundings may also be at an advantage.
My selections are as follows:
This is Indian Golf's biggest event in terms of stature and prize money and to the local players this is essentially their 5th Major. Bookies' favourite Shubhankar Sharma is attached to the club here in Delhi and will undoubtedly be a popular choice with punters this week after playing so well for three days in Chapultepec, however he's got to overcome both the return travel and disappointment from his effort on Sunday. Other local hopefuls Shiv Kapur, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Ajeetesh Sandhu, EurAsia Cup team captain Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, Mukesh Kumar, Rashid Khan as well as 2016 champion Anirban Lahiri will also fancy their chances, however of the home contingent I can't help siding with defending champion SSP Chawrasia who's looking for an historic treble in this event this week.
Given his form in the Indian Open which includes 4 runner-up finishes and 2 victories to date, it's understandable that the bookmakers are taking a cautious approach in terms of his price this week. An early quote of 50/1 disappeared quickly and his current price is a fairer reflection of his chances given that he took the field apart here last year and eventually triumphed by 7 strokes. The 39 year-old is clearly immensely comfortable on home soil - all 4 of his European Tour titles have come in Delhi - and despite an indifferent form line, he's clearly in a good space ahead of this week, "My confidence is good and I am happy with my putting and driving.The fact that I know the course and won the Indian Open in successive years on different courses serves as good memories," he said whilst sharpening his game over the weekend ahead of his attempted 'threepeat'.
The magical short game of 'Chipputsia' is perfect for this exacting test and although even from some of the forward tees this is clearly still a stretching track for a player who regularly ranks towards the very bottom of the Driving Distance charts, that was no issue 12 months ago and having opted to miss traveling to New Zealand last week to play in favour of getting some extra practice in at home, I can't see any real reason to oppose SSP here this week. RESULT: MC
Whilst 2017 was an incredible year for Andrew Johnston off the course as he quickly became one of golf's most popular celebrities both sides of the Atlantic, that new-found stardom took its toll on his game as he dropped well outside the World's top-100 players by virtue of recording a solitary top-10 finish in the whole year. Beef's better than that as we know - his maiden European Tour victory at the exacting test that is Valderrama the year before is testament to that - however sometimes these American adventures simply don't work out and he's returned to the European Tour in 2018 with instantly more success. 4 cuts made from 5 attempts is a decent enough ratio and top-12 finishes in a decent field in Abu Dhabi as well as on his last start in Oman is encouraging, particularly as his ball-striking appears to be in the ascendancy once again.
That aforementioned success at Valderrama is the most tangible tough course form on his CV to date, however top-10 finishes at Wentworth in 2016 prior to the softening of the course and his 8th-place finish at Royal Troon in the same year when all but runaway leaders Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson struggled to finish much under par go some way to reinforcing my view that he's better on exacting tests than birdie-fests. Johnston led the field in Qatar in 2016 in terms of putting average to suggest that he has no problem on Bermudagrass greens and his time in America will have also exposed him to the surface far more than life in the UK prior to that which also bodes well. With the party lifestyle of last year behind him, I'm expecting a much stronger 2018 from Beef and he can make a huge step forwards here this week on a challenge he should relish. RESULT: 2nd, Lost Play-Off
A couple of 3-figure punts to complete my 4-man team, however these multiple European Tour winners are both quite capable of winning a title such as this in my view.
Phil Mickelson won the WGC over in Mexico on Sunday despite being only 3 years away from the Seniors and although he's a year closer to that at the age of 48, Thongchai Jaidee is still as fit as a fiddle and well capable of contending when the conditions suit. 13 Asian Tour victories over the years puts the Thai veteran at number 2 in the all-time charts and with further Europe-based victories over the past 5 or so years in Wales, Sweden, Germany and most recently France, it's clear to me that Jaidee deserves a little more respect than he's currently getting in this field. We know that he can grind out a win when required - his 2009 Ballantine's Championship success came at 4-under par and his 2014 Wales Open victory was only two shots better - and his most recent success at the tough Le Golf National saw him as the only player in double-digits under par as he strolled to a 4-shot victory a little over 18 months ago. If you dig through those aforementioned Asian Tour titles you'll find that his second trophy came at this very event in 2001, way before it joined forces with the European Tour, and from 5 attempts on Indian soil he's never missed a cut. Yes it's his course debut and yes headline form in 2018 of MC/MC/39/51/53 hardly sets the pulse racing, however if you dig into his recent performances then you'll quickly find that he's led the field for Driving Accuracy on his last two European Tour starts and he's hit over 70% of GIR on his last three events - clearly he's striking the ball nicely and that's undoubtedly one way to survive this tough examination. If he can produce a half-decent week on the greens then an each-way payout isn't out of the realms of possibility. RESULT: MC
One of the stories of last year's European Tour season was the win in Morocco by Edoardo Molinari. The ex-Ryder Cup star had lost has way in the game somewhat following a succession of injuries and had battled his way back onto the European Tour twice through Qualifying School in 2015 and 2016, however life certainly wasn't straightforward for the elder of the two Molinari brothers. An early season 7th-place finish in South Africa offered some encouragement before a string of missed cuts, however 11th here 12 months ago showed the promise that was duly converted on his next start at the Trophee Hassan II when he overcame Paul Dunne in a play-off. Although we'd seen signs of life in his long game, it was ultimately his former strength in his short game that got him over the line on another stringent test of golf and this week sets up nicely for the Italian again. 16th on his penultimate start in Oman was promising as he recovered from an indifferent opening round of 73 and he kept that going to open up with 66 in Qatar before falling away on his last outing. Nevertheless, 81.9% of Greens in Regulation at Doha was eye-catching, as was 80.6% previously at the Dubai Desert Classic and if he can find that spark with the putter once again then he could make a mockery of his price here this week. 9th for putting on this track 12 months ago and a fraction outside of the putting average achieved by eventual winner SSP Chawrasia suggests he could find his form on these greens once again and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him contend here this week. RESULT: T57
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