And you thought the gap between seasons was small on the PGA TOUR…
The new 2019 campaign begins in Hong Kong this week, the first stop of a 48-tournament schedule which takes in 31 countries and five different continents.
It might have been fair to presume that the big names would be putting their feet up after the season-ender in Dubai.
While it marks week one of Race to Dubai 2019, the official European Tour fantasy game doesn’t kick back into action until the calendar year turns.
Still, there are plenty of other games to get involved in and possible bets to peruse so let’s try and solve the puzzle.
A course measuring just 6,700 yards would seem vulnerable in the extreme to the top pros but Hong Kong Golf Club (commonly referred to as Fanling) is no pushover. While one of the shortest tracks on any major tour, it’s tight, tree-lined and testing. Evidence is provided in the winning scores which have been between -11 and -13 in four of the last five years. It’s a par 70 with a 34-36 split, the back nine featuring seven par 4s along with just one par 3 and par 5. The greens are Bermuda while the fairways and rough are a mix of Bermuda and Zoysia. Accuracy is rewarded here and bombers are kept further in check by six doglegs (four left, two right).
Winners, winnings scores, stats
2017 -11 Wade Ormsby (DD: 64, DA: 3, GIR: 9, Scr: 4, PA: 15)
2016 -13 Sam Brazel (DD: 37, DA: 35, GIR: 10, Scr: 3, PA: 3)
2015 -17 Justin Rose (DD: 11, DA: 21, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 28)
2014 -14 Scott Hend (DD: 1, DA: 37, GIR: 5, Scr: 3, PA: 26)
2013 -12 Miguel Angel Jiménez (DD: 42, DA: 31, GIR: 8, Scr: 23, PA: 14)
Notes: First comment – three of the last four winners were Aussies. All the last five champions were in the top ten for GIR and, going further back, the last 14 were all ranked inside the top 12. Scrambling has been a key weapon too.
There’s some rain in the forecast on both Thursday and Sunday while Saturday looks the best day with temps approaching 80 degrees. It could be a little windy (13-14mph) for Thursday’s early starters and, if the forecast is correct, late-early looks the best draw.
The Leading Contenders
This seems very much a Sergio course although the first glimpse we got of him here was 12 months ago. That debut ended in a slightly disappointing T19 after he’d only managed to shoot even par over the first 36 holes (69-71-66-69). More recently, we’ve seen Garcia win at Valderrama, finish runner-up at the Nedbank Golf Challenge and add T9 in Dubai last week. His recent GIR numbers are excellent and he was 7th for Scrambling in Dubai. Expect better this time.
Fleetwood’s bid to retain his Race to Dubai crown came up short after T16 in the DP World Tour Championship and there could be a temptation to regard him as fatigued after playing five weeks out of six since the end of the Ryder Cup. However, we thought along similar lines last year and he finished T6, a year on from a third place in 2016. Fleetwood’s GIR and Scrambling numbers were excellent in Dubai so the good easily outweighs the bad.
By finishing joint-runner-up in the DP World Tour Championship, Reed actually finished second on the Race to Dubai, splitting Francesco Molinari and Fleetwood. Not bad for a player who made just 11 starts. T2 in Dubai followed T7 in the WGC-HSBC Champions and he was tied third on his debut in this event in 2015. Also played it in 2016, shooting three 70s and a 69 for T43. Second in DA and third for GIR last week so his game looks in great shape to do well here again.
The runner-up here for the last two years, there’s every reason to think that RCB will put in a big title challenge again. Without generating much attention, he’s pieced together seven top 20s in his last ten worldwide starts, a run that includes third in the CJ Cup (pair of weekend 65s), T14 in the WGC-HSBC Champions on his last trip to the Far East and T18 at the DP World Tour Championship last week (3rd for Scrambling).
There are some good correlations between Hong Kong GC and Crans-sur-Sierre (both short, tight and fiddly) and Fitzpatrick’s results have been used to stress the link. He’s won the last two editions of the European Masters at Crans and at this venue he was third in 2015 and T19 last year after one bad round. A decent weekend (5-under) for T34 in Dubai on Sunday, the Englishman is a sensible choice this week.
After racking up a win and nine top 10s last season (all coming in his final 20 events) to finish 13th on the Race to Dubai, the Dane is worth a look wherever he pegs it up. But he comes into even sharper focus when looking at his record here. T24 on debut in 2013, he was fifth in 2014 and finished runner-up in 2015. After missing the last two editions, Bjerregaard returns in the form of his life.
If you’re looking for a fourth different Aussie winner in the last five editions of the Hong Kong Open, Scrivener is certainly a strong candidate. He’s shot par or better in all eight rounds here, finishing third on debut in 2015 and T10 in 2016. More recently, we’ve seen him post six top 25s in his last eight European Tour starts, the latest a T16 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge where he was ranked 1st in DA.
Or perhaps that Aussie could be Fraser who has the ideal steady-eddie game for Fanling. He’s shown it numerous times with six top 11s in ten appearances, the best a third in 2012. Fraser has current form too with a top four in last week’s Australian Open and T10 in October’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
It was a fine effort for the Swedish youngster to reach the DP World Tour Championship and T22 with four sub-par rounds was a very solid debut performance. He’s got some useful form in China on the Challenge Tour and his straight hitting worked well for three rounds in Hong Kong last year. He was in the top 10 after Thursday, Friday and Saturday but slipped to T27 at the finish.
Only 13 players in this week’s field played the DP World Tour Championship but Sharma was one of them. T41 seems nothing special but Sharma shot middle rounds of 67-66 and was in the top ten heading into the last round before ballooning to an 80. The Indian should be suited by this type of test and that played out when he took T10 on his debut here 12 months ago.