From the high-up mountains of Switzerland, we head to the lowlands of the Netherlands for the KLM Open.
Netherlands translates as ‘low country’, with most of the land at or below sea level and this week’s course, The Dutch, is very flat in nature, contrasting to the wild undulations we saw in the Swiss Alps.
Luiten has actually won two of the last five KLM Opens but won’t be able to improve that record this year as he’s had to withdraw from the tournament after undergoing wrist surgery.
There are eight former champs taking part though, including Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, while Matt Wallace and Eddie Pepperell are other notables, especially as English players have a great record in the event with six wins in the last 14 years.
A new course opened in May 2011, The Dutch is located in Spijk, about 45 minutes south of Amsterdam. The Monty design is an inland venue but has a strong links feel, with greens repelling shots that come in at the wrong angle. Three of the par 5s on the 6,983-yard par 71 are in the last six holes, making the back nine 313 yards longer than the front. Flat and exposed to wind, the fairways are of average width but the Bentgrass greens quite large and undulating. Water is on play on 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18 (that’s 12 holes). Fun fact: Had their bid been successful, The Dutch would have hosted this year’s Ryder Cup.
2017 Top 2 and Stats
-15 Romain Wattel (DD 22nd, DA 48th, GIR 10th, Scrambling 26th, PA 2nd)
-14 Austin Connelly (DD 45th, DA 1st, GIR 2nd, Scrambling 8th, PA 20th)
2016 Top 3 and Stats
-19 Joost Luiten (DD 50th, DA 10th, GIR 2nd, Scrambling 1st, PA 10th)
-16 Bernd Wiesberger (DD 27th, DA 21st, GIR 17th, Scrambling 10th, PA 5th)
-13 Byeong-Hun An (DD 16th, DA 53rd, GIR 6th, Scrambling 6th, PA 35th)
Notes: Six players tied for third in 2017 and four of those were also in the top ten for GIR. It’s what you might expect, Monty designing a course that rewards good iron play. With those greens slightly elevated with run-offs, it’s also no surprise to see good scrambling rewarded. The stats don’t particularly support it but Luiten says: “It is a very narrow course. You have to avoid making mistakes from the tee.” With all the water, you certainly can’t be too wild off the tee or on approach.
There’s rain in the build-up but it should clear for Thursday’s start and be dry throughout. There’s a bit of sunshine but we’re now into September so temperatures will be in the low to mid 60s. It can get very windy here but it should be relatively calm for the first three days before picking up (gusting up to 17mph) on Sunday.
The Leading Contenders
His win may have come way back in 1999 at Hilversumsche but Westwood took immediately to The Dutch when finishing tied third on his first look there in 2017, shooting 70-65-67-69. He’ll return in fine form too. The Englishman was runner-up at the Made In Denmark and added T12 in the Swiss Alps last week, ranking 2nd and 9th respectively for greens in regulation in those two events.
Some fatigue kicked in for Wallace last week as he closed with 74 to finish T51 in Switzerland. His attitude since failing to get a Ryder Cup pick has been excellent it has to be said but his dramatic win (third of the season) at the Made In Denmark two weeks ago probably took plenty out of him. He’ll keep the engine running here though and T9 on debut last year shows he enjoys Monty’s layout.
File him under tournament specialist. Pepperell cracked the top four at Kennemer in both 2014 and 2015 and improved on that with tied third place at The Dutch last year, firing a Sunday 65 after rounds of 69-68-69. A memorable 2018 has brought him a first win (Qatar Masters on an exposed track), second place in the Scottish Open and T6 at Carnoustie while he added T9 in the Czech Masters last month.
After nearly a month off, Wood returned to action in the European Masters last week and had a solid tournament, closing with 66 for T23. He’s a name always associated with links golf and his recent T14 at the Irish Open and T28 at Carnoustie provided further evidence. This isn’t a pure links by any means but Wood enjoyed it last year when getting better each day (70-69-68-65) to take T9 so could be an interesting proposition.
Fox had his first look at The Dutch last year but couldn’t really get anything going, carding three 71s and a 70 for T60. He’s certainly one to consider any time the word ‘links’ is used and his second place at the Irish Open and T6 at the Scottish has been followed by form of 39-27-30. Ninth for GIR in Switzerland last week when T30.
The search for an elusive first European Tour win continues for the Frenchman who had another great chance in Switzerland on Sunday. He led late in round four but found water at the last and finished two short of the play-off number. MLV was ranked 1st in Putting Average at Crans while he has some notable form in the Netherlands with T8 here in 2016 and T12 in T15 on his only other two visits.
Putting behind him a run of three straight MCs, Sullivan opened with 65 in Crans last week to suggest a return to the form which brought him five top tens in seven starts from April to July. He couldn’t build on it though, finishing T30. He didn’t make the weekend at The Dutch last year but was third in 2014. He won a trip to space that year after making a hole-in-one but hasn’t cashed it in yet due to fear of heights!
Although he hasn’t played this course, Kjeldsen has T12 and T8 (both at Kennemer) in two of his last three KLM Open appearances. The Dane also has some noteworthy current form after a pair of T12s at his home Made in Denmark and last week’s European Masters. He was third for greens in regulation in the former.
Aphibarnrat was the 54-hole leader here last year after rounds of 68-65-66 but faded to T9 at the finish after a poor final day. That was his first start in the Netherlands and followed on from T16 in Switzerland the previous week. His form this time isn’t as good and breaking par just once in four laps meant he had to settle for T45 at Crans on Sunday. Hasn’t had a top 30 since T15 at the U.S. Open.
Erik Van Rooyen
Any nod towards a links test will be good for Van Rooyen who showed his love for such conditions when T4 in the Irish Open and T17 at Carnoustie. He continued his good form with a top five at the Made In Denmark two weeks ago and ranks sixth for GIR this season. This is the South African’s Dutch debut.
The Next Rung
He’s played this event 12 times, taking victory at Kennemer in 2007 while adding a further two top tens and two top 20s. At The Dutch, Fisher has posted T45 and T31, being undone by a round of 73 each time. T17 at Firestone, he shook off some rust with T59 in Switzerland last week, a finish hampered by his still cold putter (206th for SGP this season).
Pavan ranks 7th in GIR this season and that stellar iron play helped him win the Czech Masters three weeks ago following T6 at the Nordea and T14 in the Scottish. He cooled off with MC in Switzerland but Monty’s layout will reward his accurate approaches so a strong course debut would come as no surprise. T41 and T47 in his previous two KLM Open starts in 2014 and 2015.
Belgium borders the Netherlands and Detry’s compatriot Thomas Pieters is a former winner of this event (2015). Detry is still seeking a first European Tour victory anywhere but before missing the cut last week (67-75) he’d been threatening it again after finishes of 13-13-7. He didn’t make the weekend on his course debut in 2016 but recovered from an opening 75 to take T38 last year.
Southgate’s T51 here last year doesn’t suggest much but between the bookends of 72 and 76 he fired 65-68 over the middle 36 holes. The Englishman, who finished T6 in the 2017 Open Championship shortly after a second in the Irish Open, looks a good fit for Monty’s course and brings some decent form in – T10 at Nordea, T20 Made In Denmark, T30 European Masters.
Hao Tong Li
Things have gone a little flat for the Chinese youngster since a run of T16 at the U.S. Open, T21 at the Open de France and T23 at the Scottish Open. A wrist injury kept him out for a month and his return at Crans last week ended after just 36 holes (72-71). On the plus side, the man who finished third at the 2017 Open was T20 on his only start at The Dutch in 2016.
If you want a player with progressive form, turn to Elvira. He’s improved his finish in each of his last four starts – MC-54-24-18-4 – and highlighted three straight top 25s with a top four in Switzerland last week. That was his best finish since third at his home Open de Espana. MC at The Dutch last year but shot three rounds in the 60s wen T45 on debut and recent iron play is hot.
A big fan of this event. The Paraguayan was runner-up at Hilversumsche in 2010, tied fourth at Kennemer in 2015 and T16 at The Dutch in 2016. Overall, he’s 8-for-9 and boasts five top 25s. It could be a very nice sign that he ranked 7th for GIR and 2nd for Scrambling when T16 in Switzerland last week (R4 66).
Beef was T23 on his only previous KLM start and should enjoy this Monty layout. Like the great Scot, Johnston’s strength is his tee-to-green game (17th SG: TTG this year) but he can scramble well too (35th) and that’s an important element here. A runner-up in India earlier this year, in the last month he’s placed T10 at the Nordea and T35 in last week’s European Masters.
Another who plays well on exposed courses, Lagergren owns a pair of top fours in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The Swede was also the halfway leader in this event last year before finishing T9 while he took T20 on debut. A winner of May’s Sicilian Open, he’s cashed in four straight starts before MC in the Swiss mountains last week. This test will suit him much more.
It’s a first appearance for Smith at the KLM Open and, after a frustrating season, he appears to have found a bit of form. Three weeks ago he took T36 at the Czech Masters and last time added T20 at the Made In Denmark after three 70s and a Sunday 67. That was his best finish since T8 at June’s Italian Open.
The defending champion has had just one top ten since his victory 12 months ago although at least it came relatively recently (late July’s European Open). Also T27 at the Made In Denmark two stars ago and T43 at Crans, Wattel was T5 at the 2014 KLM Open but has missed his three other cuts in the event.
Cracked the top at The Dutch in 2016 and also T9 in the 2013 KLM Open. Has only missed a single cut in the last eight and closed with 67 for T23 at Crans.
Available at a three-figure price with the bookmakers but has T20 here on one start in 2016 and 5-9 in previous two KLMs. Returned to form with T16 in last week’s European Masters.
Back to form with T6 in Switzerland last week and started 67-68 here last year before taking T31.
Still a long way down the betting but keep an eye on him. T19 at the Scottish Open, third at last month’s Czech Masters and T12 at Crans on Sunday. Debut.
T25 and T28 in his two starts at The Dutch while he’s finished no worse than T36 at this event in his last six appearances, peaking with T9 in 2014. Has made four of last six ET cuts.
A first start for the Frenchman at the KLM but he was T23 at Crans last week and T9 at the Czech Masters a fortnight earlier.
Has made eight straight cuts, although nothing better than T23 in that run. Could step it up here based on last year’s tied third.
Last year’s runner-up here (71-67-66-66) has had a tough time of it for most of the year but has given us a slight nudge by making two of his last three cuts.
Who’s On The Team?
There’s some decent correlating form – and it makes sense – with links specialists and those who play well on exposed tracks during the Desert Swing.
I’ll reveal my full six-man line-up for the official European Tour fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
Could be a dangerous move but I think Matt Wallace may be running on empty.