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An excellent final round of 66 from 150/1 selection Andrea Pavan helped secure a profitable week in Morocco despite being the unlikeliest of my three remaining chances to grab an each-way payout heading into Sunday. Swap a birdie for the bogey that he made on the 17th hole on Sunday and we could have been looking at a different winner than Alex Levy, however let's hope for one better this week as we head to the Ian Woosnam-designed Topwin Golf and Country Club on the outskirts of Beijing.
Topwin Golf & CC, Beijing, China. Designer: Ian Woosnam, 2009; Course Type: Parkland; Par: 72; Length: 7,261 yards; Water Hazards: 15; Fairways: Kentucky Bluegrass; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass: Bentgrass, 10' on the stimp.
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 7,261 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 hosted its first professional event in this fixture 2 years ago and was also the host venue last year.
Risk-reward is the name of the game here with three of the four par-5s (8th, 12th and 18th) presenting decent birdie and eagle opportunities with only the 616 yard 4th playing over par last year out of the long holes. The 11th and 15th are short par-4s that also encourage aggressive players to take the risk and go for the green, meaning that the back-9 can produce some very low scores if players can get some decent momentum.
Tournament Stats. Please note, only the last 2 years were played on this track - all previous Volvo China Opens were held elsewhere and event form 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. Alex Levy, 25/1; Haotong Li, 100/1; 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 8 years based on the 2017 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Beijing is here. After a wet weekend in the Beijing area, the weather has cleared up significantly and pretty perfect conditions are expected for the tournament days with temperatures reaching 85 Fahrenheit by the weekend and the breeze picking up to around 10mph in the afternoons.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Top 3 finishers (and ties) from the past 2 years here at Topwin gives us a little insight into this week's test:
No official stats were recorded for 2016 winner Haotong Li.
Generally fairways aren't too difficult to hit and even the most wayward are finding the short stuff on well over half of the holes. This turns the course into a second-shot test where players with hot irons and the will to attack the scoring holes tend to prevail.
One interesting dynamic with this course is that a player's score on the par 4s are significantly more important here than most other courses. Last year the top-3 finished 9,10 and 9 under par respectively for the par-4s as opposed to 5,6 and 6 under for the par-5s. Similarly in 2016, those finishing in tied 3rd or better finished 16,12,11,8 and 10 under par for the par-4s with the same players shooting 5,9,6,5 and 3 under par for the par-5s. Most other courses see this trend reversed, so players who are making lots of birdies on the par-4s could be a good starting point.
Bogey avoidance looks to be another key stat. Alex Levy, despite his gung-ho style, only made 3 bogeys and a double on the week last year; Haotong Li made just 3 bogeys the year before so balancing aggressive birdie-making on the scoreable holes with a more measured approach on the tougher holes would appear to be the way to succeed here.
Incoming Form: Immediate form varies between the Volvo China Open winners since 2010, however each had at least one top-10 finish in their previous 10 starts:
Event Form. Only the past 2 events have been played at the Topwin G&CC so event form of the winners should be considered accordingly:
For me this is very much a risk/reward track that appeals to the more aggressive type of player. You can pore through the stats all you like on this kind of test, however the reality often is that as soon as the event starts and we see longer/more aggressive players making birdies and eagles on the short par-4s and long par-5s, that I suddenly wish that I'd gone with a team of bombers. To that end I'm keeping it relatively simple this week but with an aggressive strategy of my own that avoids the top of the market.
My final selections are as follows:
Whilst I didn't have a bean on him last week, it was great to see Alex Levy exorcise the demons of last year's play-off defeat at the Porsche European Open where he missed a tiddler to take the title. His attitude to golf and aggressive play would be an asset to the Ryder Cup team in his homeland and I for one hope that he keeps his foot to the floor this season and makes the team, albeit not this week! As much as I like the Frenchman - particularly when he's playing in China - I can't back him here at a very best price of 12/1. In the start immediately following a European Tour victory, Levy has recorded finishes of 24/13/MC/51 over his career and he has the added burden of defending his title here this week. Of course he may overcome those pressures and lift himself again here, however he's a reluctant leave for me this week.
One player who undoubtedly caught the eye last week, not least in that he led from day 1 before eventually finishing runner-up to Levy, was the precocious talent that is Alvaro Quiros. The long-hitting Spaniard spent some time in the commentary booth last week and it was interesting to hear him talk about a change of approach to his game, having returned to former coach Jose Rivero, with a focus very much on enjoying the game as he used to as a youngster as opposed to stressing too much about the technicalities of it all. Rivero had suggested that Quiros would soon be close to contending once again on the European Tour and the 7-time European Tour winner almost jumped the gun in Morocco with some excellent play from tee-to-green over the first three days in particular. 9th for Driving Accuracy and 2nd for GIR is a great combination when you can hit the ball as far as the 35 year-old and despite a wobble on Sunday, he came back well towards the end to secure 2nd place overall.
Last year's win at the Rocco Forte Open came after a horrible run of form had been stopped in its tracks with a much-improved 22nd place finish in Portugal and despite still being unfancied (he won at 150/1) he opened with rounds of 63/64 to set up his first victory since 2011. Statistically you'll struggle to justify him this week given how many missed cuts he's been producing in the recent past, however his performance resonated with me having backed him in 2011 when he won the Dubai World Championship as it was known at the time. Back then I'd noted that the Spaniard had finished 7th the week before on what's essentially an unsuitable track for him at the Hong Kong Open before beating a high-class field at the Earth Course and last week's effort on a more stringent test in Morocco feels similar to me. If he's showing good form on a track that doesn't necessarily play to his strengths then put him on a course like this that should reward long, aggressive driving then he could well run out winner once again.
With confidence returning to his game and some good memories of China to fall back upon having recorded 4 top-10 finishes in the country over the years, at the price on offer - which of course has been reduced from last week - I'm more than happy to take a chance on him here. RESULT: T45
A pair of bombers to back up my headline selection in the shape of Ryan Fox and Nicolas Colsaerts. Aside from a limited set of recorded drives from Harold Varner III on last year's European Tour, Ryan Fox led the Driving Distance charts for the full season at in incredible 318.1 yard average over 86 rounds and he's the type of player who can make hay on the short par-4s and long par-5s here that others will have to lay up to. With 2 wins on the Australasian Tour and 2 more on the Challenge Tour, it's only a matter of time before the Kiwi breaks through at European Tour level and an amenable track such as this presents as good an opportunity as any in my view. Finishes of 6th, 4th and 4th in consecutive weeks last year at the Open de France, Irish Open and Scottish Open respectively elevated the 31 year-old into the OWGR top-100 for the first time in his career and although he couldn't maintain that level, there have been positive signs of more to come in 2018. 4th at the Rebel Sports Masters on the Australasian Tour kicked off his campaign and 3rd behind Shubhankar Sharma at the Maybank Championship in February ranks as his best effort at this level to date. 12th last week in Morocco was noteworthy given the style of track there and I suspect that his third look at Topwin G&CC will produce a massive improvement over his previous efforts of 63/MC which have helped keep a lid on his price here this week. RESULT: T37
Andrew Landry's win over on the PGA Tour last week gave us all a timely reminder of the impact that fatherhood can have on a player's game and Nicolas Colsaerts is another who's been changing a lot of nappies recently after the birth of his baby boy in February. Understandably his schedule has been sparse since, however he's back to playing golf full-time now and a 28th place finish in Spain showed some promise before he bowed out before the weekend in Morocco. A return to China and an event where he secured his first European Tour victory may well help put him back on the right track and the fact that this is a different venue to his success in 2011 does nothing to put me off as he seeks to rediscover the form that saw him finish 3rd at the BMW PGA Championship and 2nd behind Justin Rose in Turkey last year, both of which were far stronger events than this. We all know about the Belgian's prodigious length from off the tee and despite an understandably slow start to 2018 as he's focussed on family matters, he still ranks 10th on Tour for Greens Under Regulation which is an interesting angle to study in these risk/reward tests. 15th here at Topwin G&CC in 2016 doesn't tell the whole story as he was 3rd going into the final day before treading water on the Sunday and he was inside the top-20 here last season going into Sunday which suggests to me that the course suits his eye - indeed rounds of 65, 66 and 67 over those two efforts are encouraging, particularly if he can find some form with the putter. RESULT: MC
A couple of punts to finish on a pair of outsiders who could surprise this week. First up Lucas Herbert whose price must be being based on a pair of missed cuts in his most recent starts in Oman and New Zealand as opposed to the 5 top-8 finishes he racked up in 6 starts immediately prior to that blip in form. The long-hitting Australian ranks 11th (316.7 yards average) on the Driving Distance charts for the European Tour season to date and these risk/reward type setups are ideal for him to play aggressive golf and take a shy at the greens on the reachable par 4s and par 5s - indeed he ranks 9th on the European Tour for Greens Under Regulation so is clearly happy to take a chance when required with a fair level of success. The 22 year-old also ranks 2nd on the European Tour for birdie average - from a limited number of starts, granted - and after 6 weeks off gets another crack at the European Tour courtesy of his OWGR ranking as he seeks to earn his card having plied his trade predominantly on the Australasian PGA Tour thus far. Herbert's form since November suggests that he's more than capable of stepping up to this level permanently with 2nd at the NSW Open, 6th from a great position at the Australian Open, 7th at the Australian PGA, 8th behind Sergio Garcia at the Singapore Open and 3rd at the Super 6 having finished 2nd after the strokeplay element. RESULT: MC
Finally I'm also taking a chance on Rak Cho who gets another start on the European Tour, this time courtesy of an invite having previously gained sporadic starts as a result of winning last year's China Tour Order of Merit. There are few here with more experience playing in China than the South Korean whose 2 professional wins both came in the country and last year's 24th place finish here at Topwin G&CC showed some promise having previously finished 3rd on this track at the Pingan Bank Open on the China Tour back in 2016. Still a relative unknown in the world of professional golf and arriving here off the back of a missed cut in Morocco has kept a lid on his price, however a 12th place finish in Spain showed a lot of promise with sparkling rounds of 64 and 65 flanked by a pair of 73s. Clearly far from the finished article and a streaky scorer, his aggressive style may well see him record his best finish on the European Tour this week on a course that plays to strengths and that he has solid form upon. 81.9% GIR in Spain was beaten by just 3 players, one of whom was Jon Rahm, and I'm happy to take a punt on the 25 year-old here. RESULT: MC
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