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After the trials and tribulations of Shinnecock Hills, we move to a somewhat more straightforward challenge for the players this week as the BMW International Open returns to the Golfclub Gut Lärchenhof where this event was also hosted in 2012, 2014 and 2016. As always, we have the post-Major dilemma to consider – 8 players have made the journey straight from Southampton to Cologne to compete here, however only Tommy Fleetwood troubled the scorers over the weekend as he made a Sunday run at the title which on another week could well have been enough for him to have secured his first Major. The Southport man is joined by Thorbjorn Olesen, Tom Lewis, Lucas Herbert, Matt Wallace, Martin Kaymer, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia who all missed the cut, however it’s certainly going to be all eyes on Tommy here who’s been installed as the 8/1 clear favourite for this event.
Adapting to the stark contrast in difficulty may be the biggest challenge for these players this week – we shall see of course, however Ernie Els proved that the jet lag and fatigue can indeed be overcome as he won the 2013 renewal in Munich after finishing 4th at Merion and Henrik Stenson finished runner-up in 2015 after returning from a top-30 finish at Chambers Bay.
Golfclub Gut Lärchenhof, Pulheim, Cologne, Germany. Designer: Jack Nicklaus, 1996; Par: 72; Length: 7,229 yards; Water Hazards: 9; Fairways: Poa/Rye; Rough: Poa/Rye; Greens: Bent/Poa, 12′ on the stimp.
Course Overview. A 7,229 yard course for its par of 72 is no problem for the modern professional and with 4 mid-range par 5s the Jack Nicklaus design – which features a mix of tree-lined and exposed fairways – is set up to produce a reasonably low-scoring event in anything but extreme conditions. Landing areas have been tightened up in recent years and with dry conditions expected they’ll likely play slightly narrower this week. The top quality bent/poa greens will reward good approaches with birdies and unless they get overly firm should present decent scoring opportunities.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Romero, 300/1; 2016: Stenson, 10/1; 2015: Pablo Larrazabal, 60/1; 2014: Fabrizio Zanotti, 80/1; 2013: Ernie Els, 22/1; 2012: Danny Willett, 90/1; 2011: Pablo Larrazabal, 45/1; 2010: David Horsey, 150/1.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. After some recent warm and sunny weather in Cologne, the forecast takes a bit of a dip over the four days of the tournament as a north-westerly wind introduces cooler conditions with temperatures struggling to break 65 Fahrenheit. The breeze will pick up to around 15 mph in the afternoons on the first two days before dropping back over the weekend which will likely keep a lid on scoring to a degree this week.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 5 events held here on this track gives us a little more insight into the task at hand:
* Results from 2007-2009 are for the European Tour’s Mercedes-Benz Championship held here on this course.
Despite a toughening up of the course in terms of slightly tighter landing areas, this layout is still very scoreable in good conditions as we saw in 2014 in particular. Greens aren’t particularly difficult to hit here, even from the rough, however finding 75% or higher over the course of the week is pretty much a pre-requisite that is likely to continue here again this week in order for players to contend.
One consistent factor throughout the years on this track has been the necessity to score heavily on the par 5s. The 6 winners listed above averaged better than 11-under in total for the par 5s over the 4 days and that trend continues back to Goosen in 2005 (-13 for the par 5s), Harrington in 2004 (-8 in tougher conditions) and Choi in 2003 (-14). Length helps in that respect of course, however the desire and ability to successfully attack the long holes with a lot of club in a player’s hands is critical.
Incoming Form: Taking results at this venue in isolation, current form tends to be more of a factor here than some weeks which makes a level of sense given that there’s no room for seriously errant irons or a stone cold putter if you’re going to contend. Stenson in 2016 had withdrawn from the US Open after a nightmare start, however before that he’d finished 4th in Sweden. Despite being an 80/1 shot prior to his success in 2014, Fabrizio Zanotti had also produced a top-5 finish in recent weeks, this time in Austria and although Danny Willett’s immediate form had been less obvious, he had nevertheless finished 3rd in Malaysia a couple of months beforehand. James Kingston is the exception here as he arrived at the venue off the back of 4 straight missed cuts, however he had produced a top-10 in Germany a couple of months beforehand.
Course Form (back to 2007): Henrik Stenson had gone close here in Cologne a few times before converting back in 2016 and Fabrizio Zanotti finished 12th on his previous start on the course where he’d led after the first round and was still in with a chance going into the final day. A final round 79 from Danny Willett on his previous attempt had somewhat dampened his only effort here prior to winning and likewise a Sunday 77 from James Kingston pushed his previous attempt down to 35th having been 5th after day 1.
For me, this layout lends itself to the straighter hitters when conditions are dry and that’s what we’ll likely see this week. Attacking the scoreable par 5s from the fairway is by far the best strategy for compiling a contending score and those stronger tee-to-green exponents who can produce a good enough week on the greens are likely to gravitate to the top over the course of the 4 days. A flash of recent form looks positive, as does a good round or two on the course in the past although sparkling course form is by no means a pre-requisite.
My team for the week is as follows:
Lucas Bjerregaard 2pts EW 33/1 with Coral
The performance of Tommy Fleetwood got the golfing world buzzing at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday and the pride of Southport tees it up here just a few days after that effort as he looks to grab something of a consolation prize for what was ultimately a runner-up finish behind the unflappable Brooks Koepka. Tommy is quite rightly the bookies favourite at a best-priced 8/1 – and as short as 5/1 in places – and with a 6th place finish in this event (in Munich) 12 months ago immediately after finishing 4th at Erin Hills, there’s plenty of reason to think that he’ll be in the mix here this week despite course form of MC/33/MC. With a short single-figure price on offer though it’s a win-only bet in my view and for me it would need a fast start for the 27 year-old to retain his focus and interest this week which is by no means assured. Should he start slowly – and with a fairly stiff breeze forecast for the first couple of days there’s no guarantee he’ll fly out of the blocks – then I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see him drift away and miss the weekend. Of course he could pick up where he left off on Sunday and ultimately lap this field, however I won’t be backing that eventuality at the price on offer and if he does win then good luck to him.
With Sergio Garcia ranking as second favourite – despite missing the cut at 4 of his last 5 events – that leaves a rather skinny 16/1 about 3rd favourite Andy Sullivan as the most viable punting option at the top of the market, however I’ll be looking down the field a little for my first selection this week.
Despite running the risk of following Lucas Bjerregaard over the proverbial cliff, I’m sticking with the big Dane having backed him in Italy on his last start where a tailed-off 71st halted a run of three consecutive top-6 finishes. Although this Jack Nicklaus design is by no means the tightest of challenges from off the tee, recent winners and contenders here have generally proven that a good drive can set up chances for players to get their second shot close around these parts and with well over 20 birdies typically required to compile a winning score, the more greens hit the better in my view. Lucas is a player who’s been on fire with his long game of late, hitting over 80% of GIR on his way to 6th in China, 77.8% when finishing 5th in Sicily and he led the field on that same count at Wentworth with 79.2% of greens hit. Even in Italy where he didn’t trouble the top of the leaderboard, he still led the field for Total Driving and Ball-Striking and that, for me, bodes well for this week’s test.
Despite his clear current form, he’s not rating as close to the top of the bookmaker’s lists as he might courtesy of two missed cuts from two attempts here in Cologne. Whilst that’s undoubtedly a negative on paper, the 26 year-old is playing far, far better golf at present than he was prior to either of those two efforts and I’m happy to overlook that fact as he overcame Wentworth form of MC/MC/MC when he finished 3rd there last month. He has some form in Germany having finished 5th at the European Open in 2015 and the fast, top-quality greens here should help him get back in track with the putter which could well be the differentiator if he can continue to find greens at such a high rate. RESULT: T5
Lorenzo Gagli 1pt EW 66/1 with Coral
It was tempting go with Martin Kaymer here who showed some decent form with his irons in Italy and lives only a few miles from the course, however he’s been more miss than hit of late and last week’s badly missed cut in New York may dampen any positivity from that earlier effort. Jorge Campillo was also tempting based on his earlier-season form, as was Matt Wallace who certainly knows how to win at this level, however I’m keeping it relatively simple this week and have backed a trio of slightly longer-priced players who each have a chance to place or better in my view.
First up Lorenzo Gagli who finds fairways with consummate ease and has shown enough form in patches with both his irons and putter to suggest that he’ll seriously contend sooner rather than later. The 32 year-old threatened briefly to become an established European Tour player in 2011 when 5 top-5 finishes at this level elevated him as high as 128th in the World Rankings, however it’s been largely a struggle since as he lost his card following a dip in form with his long game. 18th place at Q-School last autumn looks to have been a turning point though as after a shaky start he’s finally appeared to have found his feet courtesy of a compliant driver first and foremost. His status doesn’t get him a start in all European Tour events by any stretch and a couple of forays back to the Challenge Tour have reaped a win in Kenya and a runner-up finish in Turkey and he’s seemingly brought that form back to the upper tier with a form line of 20/20/14/23 over his past 4 starts. Those efforts have included Driving Accuracy ranks of 1st, 2nd and 3rd, a GIR rank of 4th and Putting Average ranks including 3rd and 10th and although it’s easier to say than do, if he can put all of that together one week then he’s likely to go very close indeed. Like Bjerregaard, I’m willing to overlook his course history here – a solitary missed cut – as he’s clearly playing far better golf at this point in time and a top-7 finish isn’t out of the realms of possibility. RESULT: T63
Sam Horsfield 1pt EW 80/1 with Paddy Power
Of the highest-rated youngsters now plying their trade on the European Tour, Sam Horsfield is a name that is mentioned more than most and with good reason. The 21 year-old demolished the field at European Tour Q-School in November to win the event by a clear 8 shots and earn himself a stab at life as a European Tour professional and thus far the signs are good. Despite seeing most of the courses he’s played to date for the first time, he’s managed some impressive finishes including 4th at the World Super 6 in Perth (5th after the Strokeplay element), 2nd at the Tshwane Open behind local George Coetzee, 14th in a classy field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA Tour and more recently 15th at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth where he was 3rd going into the final round. His length off the tee should give him ample chance to take advantage of the par-5s here in Cologne and whilst we’re still building a picture of what his game’s really like, it’s clear that when on form he can find enough fairways and greens to contend around this kind of track. 3rd for putting at Wentworth on the improved greens there is a positive tick in the box for this week also and I’m happy to take a chance at the price on offer that he can hit the ground running on this track. RESULT: T59
Aaron Rai 1pt EW 125/1 with Coral
inally I’m picking the metronomic Aaron Rai whose outstanding tee-to-green game could well see him sneak a place here at a long price. 7th for Driving Accuracy and 26th for strokes gained from off the tee for the season-to-date suggest that he’ll avoid the worst of any trouble with the driver and 20th for GIR for the season is also positive for this week’s test. The 23 year-old won three times on the Challenge Tour last year in fairly quick succession which gave him instant access to the European Tour and a couple of top-10 finishes in Denmark and at Valderrama set him up nicely for his first full season. Whilst his headline form doesn’t look that sparkling, 4 top-20 finishes in his last 9 starts is fairly positive and within that we see that he led the field in Qatar after the first day, was 3rd at the Spanish Open after 18 holes and was 7th going into the final day after a Saturday 66, he closed off a top-20 finish in China with an excellent round of 66 which was bettered by only 3 players and despite finishing outside the top-50 in Italy on his last start, he still produced a couple of rounds of 67 and topped the field for both Driving Accuracy and Greens In Regulation. A slightly better than average putting week on these slick greens – which lend themselves to the less adept putters on Tour – may well see the Wolverhampton lad in a position to reward each-way backers on Sunday. RESULT: T5
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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 10:40BST 19.6.18 but naturally subject to fluctuation.