Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Volvo China Open Tips 2019

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For what seems like the umpteenth time this season, another headline selection finished in second place as a bogey-free final round from Julian Suri wasn’t quite enough to catch Jorge Campillo in Morocco. Campillo had been knocking at the door with increasing vigour of late so it wasn’t a shock to see him finally convert a chance, however disappointment still abounds that our man couldn’t get the job done.

The European Tour heads east for one of the more established events on the European Tour schedule this week, the Volvo China Open. Having originally been scheduled to take place in Chengdu, organisers decided earlier in the year to switch the venue to the Genzon golf club in Shenzhen which hosted this event in 2014, plus 3 renewals of the Shenzhen International between 2015-17, which is worth bearing in mind when studying the event’s history.

The highest ranked player in the field, Haotong Li, heads the betting at a general 14/1 with prominent performers from last week Jorge Campillo, Julian Suri, Jordan Smith and Erik Van Rooyen all rating as chances in the 16/1 to 20/1 bracket. Former Genzon winner Alex Levy will also be looking to bounce back to form after a disappointing missed cut at last week’s Trophee Hassan II, whereas last year’s champion Alexander Bjork fared far better by recording a solid top-10 finish as he prepares to defend a European Tour title for the first time in his career.

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Genzon Golf Club, Shenzhen, China. Designer: Neil Haworth, 1995 with 2008 re-design; Course Type: Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,145 yards; Water Hazards: 12; Fairways: Paspalum; Rough: Paspalum; Greens: Platinum Paspalum, 10′ on the stimp.

Course Overview. Neil Haworth put the finishing touches to his re-design in 2008 with the course having originally opened in 1995 and the clearing of trees and foliage, particularly on the front 9, made the course feel a little more open than it was following those original renovations. The 7,145 yard, par 72 features 4 mid-length par-5s and 3 sub-380 yard par-4s that will appeal to the longer hitters, however with Dragon Lake lurking on many of the holes there’s certainly an element of accuracy required to avoid the worst of any trouble. Both 9s follow a similar pattern of generally easier holes to allow players to get a decent start to their rounds before the course bites back a little, however in normal conditions the course is scoreable and the par-5s at the 9th, 13th and 17th offer the best eagle opportunities to the more aggressive players.

Tournament Stats. Please note, only the 2014 event was held here 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 | Combined Stats.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. Alexander Bjork, 40/1; 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.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Shenzhen is here. The tournament should enjoy warm and sunny conditions with temperatures in the high 70s Fahrenheit throughout. Wind will be light to moderate and shouldn’t trouble the professionals.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Although we have limited course history to go on in terms of the Volvo China Open, the course hosted the Shenzhen International on the European Tour from 2015-17 to give us a little more to work with. Key stats from those 3 winners plus Alex Levy are detailed below:

  • 2017: Bernd Wiesberger (-16). 284 yards (30th), 76.8% fairways (13th), 75% Greens In Regulation (26th), 72.2% scrambling (2nd), 1.76 putts per GIR (31st)
  • 2016: Soomin Lee (-16). 286 yards (28th), 64.3% fairways (50th), 75.9% Greens In Regulation (30th), 69.2% scrambling (4th), 1.66 putts per GIR (3rd)
  • 2015: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (-12). 287 yards (22nd), 67.9% fairways (32nd), 75.0% Greens In Regulation (22nd), 55.6% scrambling (23rd), 1.69 putts per GIR (6th)
  • 2014: Alexander Levy (-19). 296 yards (7th), 80.4% fairways (11th), 81.9% Greens In Regulation (5th), 53.8% scrambling (23rd), 1.63 putts per GIR (3rd)

With Soomin Lee ranking just 50th of those players to make the weekend in terms of fairways hit, but still finding the short grass almost two-thirds of the time, it tells us that this is a 2nd shot golf course. The par-5s are critical to a player’s performance – the quartet above finished a combined 39-under for the long holes on their way to their respective successes – and that combined with minimising errors on the remainder of the course is a sound approach to getting into contention this week.

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 and 4 of them arrived fresh off of a top-10 finish on their last start:

  • 2018: Alexander Bjork: 52/17/2/MC/MC/6/MC/12/19/MC/39/3
  • 2017: Alex Levy: 63/4/58/25/64/27/MC/57/49/4/34/8
  • 2016: Haotong Li: MC/26/7/41/53/MC/MC/60/35/MC/57/MC
  • 2015: Ashun Wu: 47/MC/MC/11/28/64/14/6/50/14/22/MC
  • 2014: Alex Levy: MC/46/52/47/3/56/MC/67/42/MC/37/20
  • 2013: Brett Rumford: 22/36/3/40/10/MC/MC/22/MC/12/71/MC/1
  • 2012: Branden Grace: 9/14/1/1/MC/47/51/28/35/25/MC/40
  • 2011: Nicolas Colsaerts: MC/MC/MC/8/MC/11/MC/28/5/57/MC/17
  • 2010: YE Yang: 33/29/9/19/46/15/17/3/MC/30/31/8

Event Form. Only the 2014 event has been played at Genzon GC so event form of the winners should be considered accordingly:

  • 2018: Alexander Bjork: MC
  • 2017: Alex Levy: 1/3/28
  • 2016: Haotong Li: MC/MC/MC/50/6
  • 2015: Ashun Wu: MC/57/MC/MC/MC/MC/50
  • 2014: Alex Levy: Debut
  • 2013: Brett Rumford: 45/14/11/33/MC/22/29
  • 2012: Branden Grace: 16
  • 2011: Nicolas Colsaerts: 32/MC/8
  • 2010: YE Yang: 43

In terms of actual course form of the winners here at Genzon, each of Bernd Wiesberger, Soomin Lee, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Alex Levy were making their competitive course debuts when winning their respect events held here, so no additional clues there.

For me this is an event that will reward 2nd shot excellence first and foremost, with those who are best able to convert birdies or eagles on the par 5s likely to advance their scores the quickest and those who can minimise bogeys best able to hold onto a contending position. The Paspalum greens are also a consideration and those who’ve putted well on similar surfaces in the past could also enjoy this week’s test.

My final selections are as follows:

Fabrizio Zanotti 2pts EW 33/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Sportingbet

With 17 players priced at 33/1 or shorter at the time of writing, it’s fair to say that the bookmakers don’t have a massively strong opinion on any of the market principals this week. The local players are priced to suggest they’re making up the numbers for the most part which leaves the European Tour regulars in the fancied positions, however it’s fair to say that a tentative case could be made for many.

Haotong Li is quite rightly the favourite as the highest-ranked player in the field, however his recent form has hardly been screaming that a win is imminent, despite playing at a far higher grade than this of late with his last outing producing 43rd at Augusta. The 2016 Volvo China Open champion has an obvious chance based on his 2nd here at Genzon in the 2015 Shenzhen International, however two missed cuts on this track subsequently suggests he’s no sure thing here this week.

How the likes of Jorge Campillo, Julian Suri, Erik Van Rooyen, David Lipsky and Sean Crocker respond after their efforts last week is debatable at European Tour level which can often see players’ form dip immediately after a big effort mentally and physically, however I’m heading my team with a player who’s impressed all season up until a final round nightmare last week in Morocco and that’s Fabrizio Zanotti.

Progressive form of 32nd (Abu Dhabi), 29th (Dubai Desert Classic) and 24th (Saudi International) to start the year culminated in a 2nd place finish behind Kurt Kitayama in Oman as the man from Paraguay looks to add a 3rd European Tour title to his resume. 11th in Qatar and 7th in Malaysia followed as he maintained excellent form with his irons and it’s only a closing round of 82 last week that’s taken the shine off of his season when, in truth, his chance to win had long gone.

10th for putting on similar surfaces in Oman bodes well; couple that with the fact he’s ranked inside the top-12 for GIR on each of his last 4 starts and we have a potent combination on out hands. 10th for par-5 scoring for the 2019 season to date is also strong and he’s quite capable to putting a bad round out of his mind as both wins on Tour came after a disappointing round the week before had either scuppered his chances of winning (72 to close at the 2014 Irish Open, finished 14th from 4th place overnight) or miss the cut (76 in Dubai in 2017). Finishes of 16th (2016) and 5th (2017) here at Genzon also add to the argument that he’ll go well this week. Result: T43

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Kurt Kitayama 2pts EW 35/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Another player in the same price range who has a decent chance this week in my opinion is Kurt Kitayama. It’s always difficult to assess whether a victory by a relatively unknown player is a flash in the pan or the start of something bigger and the fact that the talented American has followed up his Mauritius Open success in December with another win at the start of last month in Oman suggests to me that we may be dealing with the latter.

A long, aggressive player in terms of style, ranking 23rd on Tour for Driving Distance for 2019 with an average of 318.7 yards, Kitayama is far more suited to tracks that he can attack, so last week’s 14th place finish on debut in Morocco was a strong performance in my mind and the putter looked in good shape throughout the week. A return to Paspalum greens shouldn’t hurt either – he ranked 3rd for putting on his way to lifting that aforementioned trophy in Oman a few weeks ago – and given the increased leniency off the tee here, his 70%+ GIR game that we’d seen in his three successive outings before the Trophee Hassan II should return quite readily which will give him more chances to score here this week. 26th for par-5 scoring for the 2019 season-to-date also points towards a good performance here this week. Result: MC

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Masahiro Kawamura 1pt EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

Last year’s Q-School graduates have already won 3 of the 16 regular European Tour events since the wraparound season began at the end of November and another who looks primed for a win soon is Masahiro Kawamuara. The 25 year-old from Japan has quickly found his feet at this level having previously plied his trade on the Japan Golf Tour, the highlight of which was capturing the 2013 Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open with the likes of Sungjoon Park, who reached the OWGR top-100 that year, Major winner YE Yang and China’s golfing superstar Wenchong Liang behind him that week.

5th in Mauritius behind Kurt Kitayama signalled some intent before Christmas, having twice finished runner-up on the Japan Tour in October prior to that, however it’s his more recent form that gets him the nod here this week. 56th in Oman featured a top-10 putting performance on the Paspalum greens to suggest he’ll go just fine on the surfaces here this week; since that point he’s finished 20th in Qatar, 15th in Malaysia, 2nd in India and 6th last week in Morocco as he searches for a European Tour victory that will sew his card up for the next couple of years. 16th for par-5 scoring this term is also positive and another progressive week isn’t out of the equation here in my view. Result: WD

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Minwoo Lee 1pt EW 80/1 with (6EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Of the remaining players in the field, Scott Hend came closest to selection here given his recent win and some solid form on this track from the Shenzhen International. The erratic Aussie is a difficult one to call though, so I’ll chance my arm with one of his compatriots Minwoo Lee who’s continued to impress having progressed from the amateur to professional ranks earlier this season.

With no official status at present, the 20 year-old needs to make the most of invitations if he’s going to fulfil his ambition of firstly securing a European Tour card before progressing, as he hopes, to the PGA Tour over time. Quarter-final finishes at both last year and this year’s World Super 6 event in Perth suggests that he’s more than capable of competing at this kind of level and 4th at the Saudi International, where consecutive weekend rounds of 63 propelled him to 4th place overall, suggests that his ambition isn’t unfounded and he contended again in Qatar where he was 6th heading into the final round before tailing off with a 73. 3rd for par-5 scoring for the season to date is another tick in the box and this aggressive youngster could well hit the ground running on his competitive debut in China. Result: T14

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:35BST 29.4.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.