PLEASE NOTE: this is Paul’s 2019 preview – his Magical Kenya Open tips for 2021 will be published on this page around 6pm GMT Monday 15th March.
Another runner-up finish for Jorge Campillo on the European Tour – his 6th in total – was our only reward last week in an event in Qatar which once again saw the lead passed around like a hot potato. Our man Jorge hit the front on Sunday after a 3-under opening 5 holes, however that’s where the brakes were applied and eventually Justin Harding ran out the two shot winner with a massive 9 players sharing second place.
That effort from South African Harding, which was his first victory on the European Tour after early-season form had hinted at a breakthrough, has seen the 33 year-old installed as this week’s 12/1 favourite as the Magical Kenya Open is promoted from the Challenge Tour to become a fully-fledged, albeit low-level, European Tour event. Whilst this was a strong event on the 2nd-tier circuit, the €1.1m prize fund and the fact that it coincides with the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass means that a particularly weak field has assembled here as organisers initially struggled to fill all the available spots.
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Karen CC. Designer: Remy Martin, 1937; Course Type: Classical; Par: 71; Length: 6,922 yards; Water Hazards: 8; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu mix; Greens: Bentgrass, 12’5″ on the stimp.
Course Overview. Karen CC hosted the Kenya Open on the Challenge Tour between 2004-2008 and 2013-2016, plus it also played host to the Karen Masters on the Sunshine Tour last year, won by Michael Palmer. Winning scores have ranged from -10 to -18 over this time, however the course will play as a par-71 this week with the 3rd playing as a long par-4, so superficially the scoring could appear to be a little tougher.
The 6,922 yard layout, which sits 10 miles outside of Nairobi, is classical in style with tree-lined holes and relatively narrow fairways, however the trees aren’t tight to the fairways in general and this is more Italian Open style than Valderrama in terms of playability. The small, undulating greens were re-laid with Bentgrass in 2015, replacing the tired Bermudagrass putting surfaces, and 4 years down the road they will play true and fast with stimp speeds expected to get to over 12 this week.
As well as reducing the par to 71 for this event, the routing has also changed since the Challenge Tour events which should make for an exciting event. In particular the stretch from holes 6-12 looks very scoreable, starting with a 552 yard par-5 and ending with back-to-back par-5s, with four sub-400 yard par-4s wedged in-between. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some players getting a decent birdie streak going during those holes, which could make for an interesting dynamic – especially for in-play betting and trading.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Course Winners. Karen Masters, 2018: Michael Palmer; Kenya Open, 2016: Sebastian Soderberg; 2015: Haydn Porteous; 2014: Jake Roos; 2013: Jordi Garcia-Pinto; 2008: Iain Pyman; 2007: Edoardo Molinari; 2006: Johan Axgren; 2005: Daniel Vancsik; 2004: Marc Cayeux.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Nairobi region is here. The weather looks very consistent for the 4 days with sunny conditions and temperatures reaching the mid-80s Fahrenheit each day. The breeze will pick up to around 15-20mph each afternoon so the best scoring conditions may well be in the morning.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysis the final stats of the top-4 finishers here at the Karen Masters last year gives us an insight into the requirements for this week’s test:
1st: Michael Palmer. 46.4% fairways (21st), 81.9% greens in regulation (1st), 61.5% scrambling (14th), 1.73 putts per GIR (18th).
2nd: Merrick Bremner. 32.1% fairways (51st), 69.4% greens in regulation (20th), 59.1% scrambling (17th), 1.64 putts per GIR (3rd).
3rd: Pieter Moolman. 60.7% fairways (5th), 72.2% greens in regulation (12th), 65.0% scrambling (7th), 1.67 putts per GIR (6th).
3rd: Tyrone Ryan. 44.6% fairways (24th), 80.6% greens in regulation (2nd), 50% scrambling (24th), 1.79 putts per GIR (34th).
The Karen Masters was the only event where performance stats were captured, however reading between the lines of this and previous winners here, I’d err on the side of power over accuracy, particularly with the narrow fairways meaning that Driving Accuracy stats are very low to start with. That lack of fairways found didn’t overly hinder players when it came to finding greens in last year’s Sunshine Tour event which then put further emphasis on putting – in total, players ranking 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th for putting finished inside the top-10 overall.
In terms of incoming form, placing much emphasis on what’s happened in the previous events held here at Karen CC might be a mistake given the change of level this week. Plus, if we take Michael Palmer as an example, 8 missed cuts on the bounce prior to winning here doesn’t help us a great deal. For me, this is an event to tread carefully in first and foremost. Power may well trump accuracy this week, however performance on the greens is likely to be the deciding factor when push comes to shove on Sunday.
My Final Kenya Open Tips Are As Follows:
Sebastian Soderberg 1.5pts EW 45/1 (5 EW, 1/4 odds) with bet365
Going back to the Oman Open, there was almost the scenario where Clement Sordet won on the European Tour for the first time on a track that he’d previously been successful on back in his Challenge Tour days, and in Sebastian Soderberg we have a similar situation. Alongside Haydn Porteous, Soderberg is the only other player teeing it up this week to have tasted success here at Karen CC in the past, and he nearly backed up that 2016 victory with more Kenya magic last year when he led going into the final day at the Kenya Open before faltering. Sunday frailty is something that can be said about many of this week’s field, however it’s encouraging to see that the Swede has proven that he can produce the goods when the pressure’s on as recently as last July when he added the Italian Challenge title to his CV, courtesy of a final round 65.
After a tough start to the European Tour season having graduated to the top flight courtesy of last year’s Challenge Tour campaign, the 28 year-old has started to produce some better results at this level of late. 6 straight missed cuts from December finally gave way to a 21st place finish in Oman then 20th last week, both events featuring wind and in both cases the strongest part of his game was the putter. 7th heading into Sunday in Oman was the closest he’s got in a European Tour event for some time and this drop in grade should help him on terrain that he’s got fond memories of.RESULT: T25
Louis de Jager 1.5pts EW 60/1 (7 EW, 1/5 Odds) with PaddyPower
Last week’s Qatar Masters was proof if ever it was needed that players tighten up at this kind of level when the finish line is in sight, so siding with a player who’s tasted victory twice in his last 9 starts doesn’t seem like a bad ploy. Admittedly, Louis De Jager‘s titles have come on the Sunshine Tour at the Sibaya Challenge in October and the Eye of Africa PGA Championship last month, however you can only beat what’s put in front of you and this week isn’t much that much of a higher grade than those events if truth be told. Top-4 finishes at the 2013 Tshwane Open and 2017 Mauritius Open are comparable to this and with his recent winning form to draw upon, should he find himself in the mix here this week then perhaps he can draw on those positive efforts and get over the line at European Tour level.
23rd at the Oman Open despite carding a 77 in the worst of the conditions in the second round was positive, as was a second round 67 in Qatar which ensured he banked a cheque last week. 19th and 15th from his two attempts here at Karen CC at the 2015 Kenya Open and 2018 Karen Masters respectively are encouraging and a 9th at the 2017 Kenya Open, when it switched venues, shows more form in the region to add to the case for the 31 year-old South African.RESULT: T2
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Ross McGowan 1pt EW 100/1 (6EW, 1/5 Odds) with Unibet
There are a few forgotten players here in the field who, at anything approaching their best, could win this title at a canter. We have to go back nearly a decade to find Ross McGowan‘s best form, however 6th at the Dunhill Links, victory at the Madrid Masters and 2nd at the Earth Course catapulted the Englishman up to the OWGR top-70 and at the time into the lead in terms of Ryder Cup qualification. Alas that was as good as it got for the Essex man, save for a win in Zambia on the Sunshine Tour in 2015, however there have been marked signs of improvement of late and that’s enough to rouse my interest at the price on offer.
3rd at the Australian PGA Championship in December ranks as his best European Tour finish for many a season and 4th last week behind JC Ritchie at the Sunshine Tour’s Limpopo Championship featured a Sunday 64 which was the best round of the week by all attendees to give him some confidence coming into this week. An excellent putter when at his best, it’s been his ball-striking of late that’s been the key ingredient to the better form that we’ve seen in patches. 5th place to halfway here at Karen CC in 2007 and 14th in Kenya on the Challenge Tour last year – despite opening with a 76 and having missed his previous 5 cuts – all suggest to me that he’s better than the price on offer here.RESULT: T45
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Jonathan Thomson 1pt EW 125/1 (6EW, 1/5 odds) with Betfred
Finally I’m backing Jonathan Thomson who needs to take advantage of opportunities like this having lost his card last season, despite coming within a play-off of winning his maiden European Tour event at the Made In Denmark. That event, eventually won by Matt Wallace courtesy of his late Sunday birdie blitz, holds certain parallels to this week in terms of course style, length (sub-7,000 yard) and stature and I think he could take to this course here in Nairobi on competitive debut.
The 22 year-old’s back story is inspirational having recovered from leukaemia as a child to develop into a strapping 6 foot, 9 inch giant who’s pushing 20 stones in weight, however with his size comes immense power from off the tee; coupled with an outstanding touch on the greens that could be a potent combination for this week. With limited starts available due to his final Race To Dubai ranking of 147th last year, this week presents the kind of chance that Jigger must take if he’s going to avoid playing at lower levels such as the MENA Tour where he was last seen finishing inside the top-20 last month. Prior to that, a top-20 finish at the Australian PGA Championship where he predictably topped the Driving Distance stat and ranked 2nd for putting is a good barometer that he can perform well at this lower level, and having shaken off the rust since I wouldn’t be surprised to see him feature here this week.RESULT: MC
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