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The Johor Open is now in its 5th year and this week marks its debut on the European Tour as it is now co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour and features a $2,000,000 prize fund. So now this tournament features both a higher level World Golf Ranking points and critically Race to Dubai points. No surprise then that field strength is infinitely better. It’s also worth remembering that the European Tour only has 2 more tournaments prior to the Dubai World Championship cut off, i.e. the South African Open and UBS Hong Kong Open. As I’m sure you know only the Top 60 in the “R2D” qualify for the $7,500,000 European Tour finale and let’s not forget that only the Top 115 after the UBS Hong Kong Open in a fortnight keep their full European Tour cards.
So let’s discuss some interesting angles that will help shape selections. Previous winners include Goosen(08), Choi(09) and Harrington in what can only be described as weak fields. The tournament was earlier in the season last year and Harrington’s win effectively got him into the HSBC Champions so motivation as ever for me is absolutely critical in team selection this week. Big name visitors Villegas and Kim both sit outside the World’s Top 50 after disappointing seasons. They will be desperate to grab their places back at “golf’s top table” by the close of the season so as to cement a place at Augusta next April. Lawrie, Gallagher, Nilsson, Webster and Morisson currently sit just inside the Top 60 on the Race to Dubai so know that a Top 10 finish in Malaysia this week will guarantee a big money spot in Dubai in December. Whilst these guys look over their shoulders notables like Davies, Kjeldsen, Harrington, Lee, Jaidee, Jeev Singh, Stenson and Willett will all be motivated to contend this week to qualify for the season ending finale. Others like Soren Hansen and Maybin are just desperate to grab a Top 115 spot!
In terms of host course Horizon Hills, the fact that Harrington won here last year highlights the fact that inaccurate driving isn’t overly punished here. The course is a rare sub 7,000 yard Par 72 featuring fast Bermuda greens and plenty of water hazards. For me it feels very much like a southern state PGA Tour venue in it’s setup, but there is no doubt that scoring will be essential this week. Electric storms are forecast for every day of the tournament, so expect slightly slower greens as a result, however the heat and humidity will be a real feature, so those that have experience of playing well in equatorial heat get my vote this week. Decent history at Par 72 tests like Augusta, Quail Hollow, Doral and Houston and on the Euro Tour on the “Gulf Swing” and at Oceânico Victoria, China Open and Ballentine’s Championship seem to link in to Horizon Hills.
I’ve always been an admirer of AK and now that he’s back in love with the game of golf he’s a very dangerous customer. I’m also prepared to throw £20 of Unibet’s cash at the problem this week as their account opening no-lose no-risk bet fits the Kim pick perfectly as we can gain £160 if he wins, with the £20 stake refunded if he doesn’t. Perfect! Kim is highly motivated after the worst PGA Tour season of his career and he’s hungry for both his first win outside of the US and that Top 50 World Ranking I highlighted in the introduction by the close of 2011. I’m huge on Kim for 2012 as qualification for the Ryder Cup will surely add more fuel to his desire to climb the golfing ladder as quickly as possible. His recent Far East form including the unofficial Shanghai Masters reads 3-2-3 but his revival effectively started at Sandwich in July where Kim’s star quality shun through with a 5th place finish. It’s also worthy to note that when Kim is hot he stays hot for a number of tournaments and his wins at the Par 72 tests of Quail Hollow (08) and Houston (10) show his liking for courses where there is a little width off the tee. Agreed he’s never won on Bermuda greens but 3rd in Singapore last week allied to 2nd at Hilton Head(08), 2nd at PGA National(10), 3rd at Palm Springs (08) and 3rd at East Lake (08) show me a World Class player that transcends green type. Our Predictor Model No1 Pick. RESULT: T23
Danny Lee was available at 33/1 pretty much across the board when the markets opened on Monday afternoon but he’s already been backed into as short as 20/1 at Ladbrokes. It’s therefore obvious that early bird punters have clocked on to the obvious – he’s a perfect fit for this week! New Zealander Lee hit the golfing scene from nowhere when he became the youngest ever European Tour winner at the Johnnie Walker Classic in March 2009 as an amateur! That win came with a 271/-17 winning score around The Vines, Perth beating Par 72 greats Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Francesco Molinari and one Anthony Kim into the bargain. Danny though has always wanted to establish himself as a PGA Tour pro and despite grabbing a 2 year European Tour exemption for his Australian exploits, establishing himself in the United States has been his focus. Therefore after playing The Masters as an amateur he turned pro and played a limited PGA Tour schedule including a notable 38th at Quail Hollow and 7th at Congressional. A half-hearted European Tour campaign last year brought no results whatsoever so 2011 saw Lee sign-on full time to the Nationwide Tour. The result: 9 Top 10s, another low scoring Par 72 win at the WNB Golf Classic in Texas and qualification for next year’s PGA Tour. Lee’s high quality performances have also transcended to his limited European Tour outings where he’s finished 2nd at Luxehills International GC in April and 5th last week in Singapore. Therefore this week Danny finds himself in with a realistic shot at qualifying for the Dubai World Championship as he sits 82nd in the Race to Dubai and I’m thinking that this short Par 72 will be right up his street with confidence brimming. RESULT: M/C
Spaniards are all the rage right now with Garcia and Fernandez-Castano winning the last 3 European Tour events and for me Rafael Cabrera-Belo has a real chance of becoming another Spanish winner this week. 2011 has seen the talented youngster rise from 211 to 127 in the WGR and a much heralded 2nd European Tour win this week (he won the Austrian Open in 2009 with a final round 60) would not surprise me one little bit as Cabrera-Bello is both streaky and especially well suited to low scoring Par 72 formats. A best-ever 19th last time out at Valderrama where he shot -2 for the final 56 holes highlights to me a player whose ready to contend on a Horizon Hills track that is sure to suit. It’s no coincidence that Rafa’s notable season results of 2nd at Oceanico Victoria, 3rd at Doha GC, 4th at Kuala Lumpur GC and 7th at Abu Dhabi were all on Par 72 formats…and by the way 3 of them were on Bermuda putting surfaces. The relaxed “RC-B” sits 27th on the R2D so is in Malaysia because he wants to play in the Far East which has been kind to him on past visits - 16th Singapore 2010, 4th South Korea and 5th Indonesia in 2009. It all adds up for me and I’m happy to take the Spaniard at 10/1 for a Top 5 this week. RESULT: 72nd
Jeev Milkha Singh’s name on the Johor Open winners trophy for me wouldn’t look out of place come Sunday afternoon after all he’s already won tournaments in South Korea, India, Thailand x2, Japan x4 and full European Tour events in China, Spain (Valderrama), and Austria. Oh I almost forgot another win in Malaysia! If we rewind to 2008 Singh finished 2nd at Ballentine’s in South Korea, 2nd at the Indonesian Open before capturing his last European Tour title in Austria, before going on to finish a creditable 9th at the PGA Championship held at Oakland Hills. Singh’s last stellar season was 2009, where in the United States he interestingly finished 4th at Doral (Bermuda) and 7th at Turning Stone on Par 72 formats in addition to capturing a further 7 Top 20 finishes on the European Tour. Since then injury and poor form has blighted Singh but his game is back on the up and before last week’s MC in Singapore his recent results have included 23rd in Shanghai, 10th at The Mines - Kuala Lumpur, 4th at the Panasonic Open in Japan and 4th in Macau. He’s ready to contend again and victory here would cement a place at the Dubai World Championship and deliver a much coveted 2 year exemption on the European Tour. RESULT: M/C
Call me an unrealistic romantic but I’m still a believer in the amiable Swede and make no mistake about it Horizon Hills is the perfect setup for the former World Top 10 player. Unlike most players who totally lose their form, Henrik’s failings are with the driver. On a tight course Stenson simply can’t hit enough fairways. Missed fairways inevitably mean more missed greens so it won’t surprise you that across the whole 2011 PGA Tour Stenson ranked as the worst player both for Total Driving and GIR%. Steve what are you doing tipping this mug?! Fact is though when we place Stenson on a wide fairway resort course, with Bermuda greens where Stenson’s failings off the tee aren’t overly punished, then his natural ability around the green will prevail. Don’t believe me? Well Henrik went into the final 18 holes in Disney 3 weeks back in joint 4th place and that was his first visit to the final contending groups on a Sunday since the British Open at St Andrews 2010. That’s right St Andrews with the doubled up fairways! With Horizon Hills featuring reachable Par 5s and Stenson still making a sack full of birdies despite his tee to green woes I can see Malaysia this week offering up an opportunity to be back in the spotlight at 15/1 for a Top 5. Remember this guy won the ultimate Bermuda tournament back in 2009 at TPC Sawgrass, so green conditions are perfect for the Swede this week...RESULT: T48
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:00GMT 15.11.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.