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The Perth International, alongside the Australian PGA Championship, is the richest event on the Australian golfing calendar with a $1.75m prize fund up for grabs and a field that comprises the best of the PGA Tour of Australasia, 11/1 favourite Louis Oosthuizen and 16/1 second favourite Victor Dubuisson, plus a fair smattering of quality European Tour players who've made the trip down under (or directly from Malaysia in many cases) to tee it up this week. There's a change in scheduling for 2016 with the previously used autumn slot having moved to this week in late February, however the course remains the same for this year's renewal as we head back to the classical track at Lake Karinnyup.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews The Honda Classic - you can read his preview for that event here.
Lake Karinnyup CC. Designer: Alex Russell, 1929; Course Type: Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,143 yards; Water Hazards: 1; Fairways: Santa Anna Hybrid Couch; Rough: Wintergreen Couch / Tall Fescue; Greens: Bentgrass (G6); 2014 scoring average: 71.83; Rd1: 70.94, Rd2: 72.77, Rd3: 71.04, Rd4: 72.54.
Course Overview. Perth International host course Lake Karinnyup is a classical, tree-lined affair just a couple of miles in from the Indian Ocean. The track hosted a number of top-level tournaments prior to the 2012-2014 events, most relevant to us the 2002 & 2003 Johnnie Walker Classic won by Retief Goosen and Ernie Els respectively. You can find details of those events in our event stats section, albeit there are only a few survivors from those older events playing here this week. The 2003 win by The Big Easy holds its own place in European Tour history as the South African's 29-under total is still the biggest winning score under par in any European Tour event. The course has been remodelled by former European Tour player Mike Clayton since Els's win, however, with changes predominantly around the greens giving the track a little more protection, it's safe to say that this is now a much more challenging proposition.
At 7,143 yards the course isn't overly long by today's standards, however with a number of dog-leg holes and the omnipresent breeze coming in off the Ocean it will force players to use a full array of shots and every club in their bag. If the wind really does blow (as it often does each afternoon in this part of the world) then some holes can play quite long; that, coupled with closer bunkering around the greens and punishing run-off areas for wayward irons, should make this week more of a challenge for the top players with a premium on finding the greens in regulation given that the fairways are pretty generous.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's ISPS Handa Perth International that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | 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. 2014: Thorbjorn Olesen, 40/1; 2013: Jin Jeong, 250/1; 2012: Bo Van Pelt, 7/1; For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the completed 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Perth is here. The tournament should enjoy hot and sunny weather with Friday and Saturday temperatures approaching 100 Fahrenheit. A breeze of 15-25 km/h is expected throughout the week and local winds often pick up each afternoon.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 3 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
The consistent stat that falls out of these 3 winners is high GIR performance. With wide fairways averaging 40 yards across, this is a second shot golf course where maximising greens hit - and with that proximity to the hole - will likely determine who wins this event. Heavy bunkering and numerous run-off areas around the greens will severely test the short game of those players who can't find at least three-quarters of putting surfaces in the requisite number, however I'd still favour a GIR merchant over a top-class scrambler here. The breeze tends to stop the scoring getting out of control and pin positions can be placed in some extremely tricky areas should organisers choose. The greens are top quality and speedy bentgrass which will allow players who can produce a high GIR week to make a fair few birdies, however that's easier said than done. My selections are as follows:
Backing the defending champion isn't to everyone's taste and analysis of the last couple of years on both Tours is far from conclusive, however I'm happy to give talented Dane Thorbjorn Olesen the benefit of the doubt this week and back him to repeat his feat from 16 months ago. After downing tools after finishing up at the Earth Course in November, the 26 year-old's return to action has seen him threaten to build further on his 3 European Tour victories, the most recent of which he secured in impressive fashion at the Home of Golf last autumn. 2nd in Qatar and 8th in Dubai followed an easing back into action in Abu Dhabi and a weekend off in Malaysia last time out will have done little more than give the Copenhagen-based star an extra couple of days to prepare for his belated defence here.
Breezy conditions are no issue for Olesen as he proved here last time and the wide fairways coupled with slick bentgrass greens clearly plays to his strengths. His maiden European Tour victory came on the coastal track in Sicily where the wind picked up over the weekend which he handled with aplomb; with that event being shelved following his success, this week will actually represent Olesen's first attempt at defending a European Tour title. Prior to Malaysia his game was looking in a good place - 2nd for GIR in Qatar (83.3%) was an excellent return on that layout and 5th for putting in Dubai (1.63) suggests he's sharpening up once again with the flat stick. Combine all of that with the fact that at 60th in the OWGR he's only a win away from breaking into the world's top 50 and access to golf's higher-grade events and I suspect he'll be super motivated this week to repeat his efforts here at Lake Karrinyup. RESULT: MC
Consistency isn't something that I tend to associate with Mikko Ilonen, however 4 events into 2016 and a form line of 22/13/16/12 can only be described as consistently good. The Finn's best form tends to come when he's confident with the putter which allows the rest of his game to flow so it's been interesting to see his flat stick performances trend positively over that same period of time with just 106 putts required on his last start and a putting average of 1.64 (5th) when he did find the putting surfaces in regulation. 72.2% GIR in Qatar and 75% in Dubai are also positive indicators and it's quite possible that the 5-time European Tour winner could put it all together once again this week on a course that will give him the width off the tee to allow him to maximise his approach play. Like Olesen, Ilonen is another player who has a positive record on breezy tracks - his win at Fota Island was played in a fairly consistent 15-20 mph wind as was his 2nd at Binhai Lake in 2013, plus 2nd in Qatar (2014) is never a bad indicator. It didn't quite happen on Sunday last week after a sparkling 64 on moving day had put him in with a chance of a placed finish or better, however he's clearly in decent nick and this track should play to his strengths. RESULT: MC
Early quotes of 66/1 about James Morrison didn't last long and he's been steadily backed ever since. It's easy to see the attraction with the 31 year-old - he's the course record holder here at Lake Karinnyup after a blistering second round of 63 (he eventually finished 4th last time we played at the back end of 2014) and 15th in Malaysia last weekend was his best result since October last year at the Dunhill Links. 2015 was an excellent season for the Chertsey man having secured his second European Tour title at the Spanish Open in May and finishing 2nd at the French Open a couple of months later; at 93rd in the OWGR he's only a decent string of results away from fighting his way into the world's top 50 which has to be the next step in his developing career. The former Madeira Islands Open winner, an event which generally features a persistent breeze, got the measure of this layout with his irons last time finishing 5th for GIR and his 1.65 putting average last week in Malaysia was his best effort with the flat stick for 18 months on the European Tour. RESULT: MC
It's been a frustrating 12 months for Stephen Gallacher with just a solitary top-10 (Portugal Masters) to show for his efforts after finishing 3rd on his most prolific track at the Dubai Desert Classic last year. Three missed cuts to kick off 2016 was hardly what he had in mind - particularly as one of those was at the aforementioned Emirates GC where he holds such an immaculate record - so it was interesting to see him bounce back to form last week in Malaysia which featured his lowest round for 5 months where he told reporters that he was 'feeling much happier about his game' which clearly showed in his result. The former Ryder Cup player is a step above the vast majority of this field at his best and when his game's on song he's a GIR machine who should suit this test nicely, particularly seeing as there's a welcome bit of width off the tee. Despite his wins in Dubai over the past few years, Gallacher still ranks as one of the most bentgrass-positive players in attendance here and with confidence returning to his long game at last I wouldn't be surprised to see a strong performance here this week. RESULT: WD
The past 3 renewals of this event have all seen at least one Australian or Kiwi work their way into the each-way paying positions and it's not necessarily been the most obvious candidates who've made the grade. Michael Hendry (125/1) finished solo 4th in 2012 and wasn't a complete shock having finished 7th in China the week before; you'd have needed some sharp darts though to have plucked out Dimi Papadatos (500/1) or Brody Ninyette (400/1) who shared 3rd place in 2013 as both had shown next to no form coming in to the event. Matthew Griffin (200/1) finished in a tie for 4th last time we played here off the back of three consecutive missed cuts, however Steve Dartnell (125/1) showed a little more promise with finishes of 11/2 on local Tours over the previous fortnight. Clearly dismissing the more local players who seemingly ply their trade in a lower grade is a little short-sighted so, to complete my team, I'm backing exciting young prospect Ben Eccles to make a name for himself here.
21 year-old Eccles turned pro last autumn after winning the NSW Open as an amateur - only the third player to do so since 1931 - having previously finished 3rd on his second start at the Oates Victoria Open. A raw talent at this early stage of his career I know, however as a new member of the ISM team he'll continue to develop rapidly I'm sure and two top-10 finishes from his three 2016 starts suggests he's in decent enough form to surprise a few people here this week. 5th at the Vic Open saw the Geelong star rub shoulders with a number of the more fancied locals who also tee it up here in Perth this week and his 9th at Fancourt last week behind George Coetzee featured two rounds of 64, one of which contained a birdie blast of 8 red numbers in 9 holes. With a two-year exemption for the Australian PGA Tour tucked under his belt, he's openly stated that his next target is to secure a European Tour card and there's no quicker way for him to achieve that than victory here this week. RESULT: MC