Although Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 remains their last green jacket winner, it was still a decent week for the Europeans at the Masters.
Justin Rose was joint runner-up, Rory McIlroy charged through to fourth while Paul Casey and Ian Poulter also cracked the top six.
None of that quartet head to China to contest this week’s inaugural Shenzhen International but two-time Augusta National champ Bubba Watson does.
Now, it would be easy at this point to make jokes about Bubba saying something stupid or inappropriate about ‘that big wall thing’. So let’s do that.
Actually, we won’t as Watson has already been to China enough times to suggest he won’t make another cultural faux pas. In fact, his last visit there ended with him winning the WGC-HSBC Champions.
Bubba is the star turn in a field which comprises 100 players from the European Tour, 50 from the CGA (China Golf Association) and six sponsors’ invitations.
To help us, this week’s venue – Genzon GC – staged last year’s Volvo China Open so there is some course form to get stuck into.
Leading finishers at Volvo China Open (Genzon)
-19 Alexander Levy (France)
-15 Tommy Fleetwood (England)
-13 Alvaro Quiros (Spain)
-12 Francesco Molinari (Italy)
-11 Anders Hansen (Denmark)
-11 Ian Poulter (England)
-11 Henrik Stenson (Sweden)
-10 Rafa Cabrera-Bello (Spain)
-10 Simon Dyson (England)
-10 Michael Hoey (Northern Ireland)
-10 Mikko Ilonen (Finland)
-10 Andy Sullivan (England)
This is the first of four tournaments in China on the European Tour this year so let’s look at who won the previous 10.
Last 10 European Tour events in China
2014 Bubba Watson (WGC-HSBC Champions, - 11)
2014 Marcel Siem (BMW Masters, -16)
2014 Alexander Levy (Volvo China Open, -19)
2013 Dustin Johnson (WGC-HSBC Champions, -24)
2013 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (BMW Masters, -11)
2013 Brett Rumford (Volvo China Open, -16)
2012 Ian Poulter (WGC-HSBC Champions, -21)
2012 Peter Hanson (BMW Masters, -21)
2012 Branden Grace (Volvo China Open, -21)
2011 Martin Kaymer (WGC-HSBC Champions, -20)
NB: China is a massive country of course so it’s worth noting that Shenzhen is as near to Hong Kong as you’re going to get. It’s located just across the water and the two are just an hour’s train ride away. Therefore, we’ll make reference to Hong Kong Open performances in the player blurbs.
The course – Genzon Golf Club
Opened in 1995, Genzon is a par 72 with four par 5s, 10 par 4s and four par 3s. Often, the long holes (2, 9, 13 and 17) at venues like this are three shotters but all four this week are gettable as they measure 547, 536, 543 and 575 yards respectively. Scoring on the par 5s will be key and that has to bode well for Bubba. Total course length is a modest 7,145 yards. The fairways are generous and that played into the hands of the big hitters when this track staged last year’s Volvo China Open. Two of the European Tour’s longest drivers finished in the top three, with Frenchman Alexander Levy taking victory and Alvaro Quiros coming home in third. It’s designed by Neil Haworth and as he had a role in nearby Sheshan International (home of the WGC-HSBC Champions), form from that event has to be relevant too given that big-hitters Bubba and Dustin Johnson are the last two champions there.
The Leading Contenders
The only player in the world’s top 1,000 taking part. Not really, but it feels like that. After a second poor attempt to defend the Masters (T38 this time, T50 last time), Bubba jets off to China. As stated, he won the HSBC on his last visit to the country while he was T8 in that event the previous year. Will giving up the green jacket hurt him? In 2013, his first post-Masters outing ended with a T15 in the Zurich Classic two weeks later. This will be less competitive and the course will suit so it all depends on his mental state. Is he up for the challenge?
Jaco Van Zyl
No-one will boast better form that Van Zyl, who has racked up five top sixes and a T15 in his last six starts. True, five of those came on home South African soil but he showed he could carry it overseas by finishing third in the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco last time out. In China, he’s been a regular at the HSBC-Champions and has best finishes of T13 in 2010 and T21 in 2013.
Is this the week it all comes together for one of the European Tour’s rising stars? Grillo is now a runner-up on both Euro and PGA TOURs after he lost a play-off in last month’s Puerto Rico Open. Also on his results sheet this year is a fifth in Qatar while he was fourth going into the final day of the Trophee Hassan II before putting it in reverse and finishing T27. Adding to his appeal is a decent T24 on this course in last year’s Volvo China Open and a T8 in the BMW Masters on his last appearance in China.
With a third in Morocco on his last start and top 20s in Malaysia and Dubia in his previous two outings the Spaniard is clearly in good form. He’s had a light schedule this year (this is only his sixth start) so he’ll be fresh. Larrazabal has experience of the course, too, although he didn’t break 70 when finishing T36 here last year.
Levy was always going to play in this event once it became known that it would be staged on the same course where he won last year’s Volvo China Open by four shots. It was a perfect layout for the French bomber and his attacking style paid dividends. After an unsuccessful stint on the PGA Tour (MC-38-MC), Levy returned to Europe and missed the cut in Morocco (course didn’t suit). Current form is a concern but this is an ideal opportunity for him to bounce back.
It’s been feast or famine for the smiling Englishman so far this season. He’s won twice (South African Open, Joburg Open) but, probably due to being fatigued, has missed each of his last three cuts. Having played just once in the last month, he should be refreshed and a T8 on this course last year proves his game is a good fit.
After flirting with the world’s top 50 and a spot at Augusta National, Fleetwood must have felt frustration at having to watch the Masters on TV rather than playing in it. He has a good chance to shake off the disappointment here as the Englishman was runner-up on this course in the 2014 Volvo China Open. He’s also made the top 25 in the last two WGC-HSBC Champions so plays well in China. A T17 in Morocco last time was his best finish of 2015 so the 24-year-old also looks to be coming into form again.
The Swede played just twice in 2014 after suffering tendonitis in both wrists but has come back with a bang in 2015. He posted a top 10 in Qatar and followed that with a second place in the Dubai Desert Classic and a T11 in Thailand. After a modest T54 in the WGC-Cadillac, he’ll be hoping to shine again in China where his record is good (he has two top sixes in his last four starts there).
RCB owns a pair of top 10s from his last two starts in China and the most recent came on this course in 2014 when he shot 70-70-71-67 to finish T8. He’s clocked up plenty of air miles recently and cashed in on a rare start on the PGA TOUR when finishing T10 in the Puerto Rico Open. The Spaniard’s very latest form is a T34 in Morocco where he was tied for the lead at halfway before fading on the weekend.
The big-hitting Belgian loves China. He won the 2011 China Open, finished runner-up the following year and was also sixth in last November’s BMW Masters. This course should be made for him too except that, bizarrely, he shot 77-75 to miss the cut by a distance last year. It’s probably worth writing that off. Focus instead on the positives which also include Colsaerts being 4-for-4 on the European Tour this season.
In theory, the wide-open track negates some of Bourdy’s strengths but he played well on this course in 2014 when closing with a 68 to finish T19. His season so far splits into three – a strong start on the Gulf Swing/Malaysia (5-13-5), two unexpected MCs in South Africa and a return to form (8th Tshwane, 27th Trophee Hassan).
The Frenchman offers plenty to gamers this week. After looking strangely out of sorts at the start of 2014, Wattel took seventh in the Indian Open before putting in a strong title challenge in Morocco on his last outing and eventually finishing runner-up. He shot a closing 67 at this venue to finish T40 in last year’s Volvo China Open while he was sixth in the BMW Masters on his most recent start in China.
On the plus side, Fisher finished second in last November’s BMW Masters in China and had some good finishes on the Gulf Swing (T9 in Abu Dhabi and T20 in Dubai). The negatives would be a curiously poor missed cut (77-77) in Morocco last time out and a failure to make the weekend at this venue 12 months ago (74-71).
The burly Thai (even the Asian Tour describe him that way) got it wrong in a big way in the Texas Open (81-77) but before that he was an excellent T6 at Bay Hill and fourth in the Thailand Masters. There’s not many in this field with such credentials so expect him to do well on his course debut.
The Next Rung
The Aussie was sixth in the 2012 China Open and also has a strong record in the Hong Kong Open (fifth 2014, third 2012 and a couple of other top 12s). He was last seen on the European Tour finishing third in the Indian Open while, since then, he’s also finished 10th in last month’s New Zealand Open. His last 17 rounds worldwide have been 72 or lower.
Morten Orum Madsen
The Dane averages over 300 yards off the tee this season so the smart money says he’ll play this course well. We already have evidence; he was T19 last year. Add in five top 25s on his last six worldwide starts – including a pair of top fours – and he looks one to get onside.
After a lengthy spell on the sidelines recovering from a wrist injury, Wood struggled on his return last month and missed cuts in two of the European Tour’s co-sanctioned events in South Africa. But his game clicked again in Morocco last time and despite some “silly” errors he finished tied third. “This is a huge step in the right direction,” he said later. He shot a pair of 73s and failed to cash at this venue in the 2014 Volvo China Open.
The Scot has always struggled for consistency but showed off some of the talent that saw him win the 2006 U.S. Amateur when he shook off a run of four missed cuts and a WD by winning the Trophee Hassan II a fortnight ago. That was his third European Tour success. Ramsay was T32 on this course last year (fifth at halfway) while he has some other good form in China (third at 2010 HSBC and fourth in 2011 Hong Kong Open).
Catch him right and Pepperell can be a valuable addition to a fantasy line-up. His best showing this year was an impressive fourth place in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and he shot a pair of 69s in Morocco recently to crack the top 20 there. The English youngster had a first look at this course in the 2014 Volvo China Open and finished T57.
Trevor Fisher, Jr.
The European Tour’s longest driver this season (average 328 yards although that’s been measured over only eight rounds) should enjoy this track. After finally winning his first event at this level with a five-shot success at the Tshwane Open last month it’ll be interesting to see how he fares on his first start in China. Is it worth paying to find out or is he too much of a risk? Tough call.
On first look, Hend would be an obvious pick here. He smashes it miles and made the big breakthrough on the European Tour by winning the nearby Hong Kong Open last October. He was also runner-up in February’s Thailand Classic. The conundrum is whether all that trumps his very latest form which shows a missed cut in India and a T72 in Morocco (shot 84 in round three). On balance, it’s probably worth keeping faith in him.
China’s best-known golfer doesn’t often get it right on home soil at this level. In fact, his last five appearances in China reveal form figures of 48-48-35-54-MC. The 54th came at this venue last year so you could say he’s a bit of a red herring this week. Don’t be fooled into thinking he has any sort of advantage.
Obligingly, the monster-hitting Spaniard proved the theory that length might be an asset on this course when finishing third here last year. His form remains something of a curate’s egg. Every time he hints he might be getting back to his best, he slips away again. His best finishes this year are a pair of top 20s in Dubai and Malaysia.
The Korean has quietened since opening 2015 with a run of 12-5-13-7. It’s all relative though as he’s still been making cuts and may be closer to another breakout week than we think. He’s long off the tee so this could be a good stage for him to kick on again. He’s posted top 25s in three of his last four tournaments in China.
Pieters would be very much in the Alexander Levy mould if he were to win this week – a young bomber who looks on the verge of a victory anytime soon. Highlights this year include a fourth in Abu Dhabi, a T16 in Malaysia and an opening 64 in the Joburg Open two starts ago. This is his first appearance in China but don’t rule out it being a winning one.
This is the Aussie’s first start since he won the Thailand Classic in February. Can he follow up his second European Tour win with a third straight after? His powerful hitting suggests he could go well on his course debut even though 10 previous starts in China don’t show a single top 30.
Who’s On The Team?
Bubba may actually enjoy being the centre of attention after giving the green jacket up but he's not available in the European Tour Fantasy Game.
But, as a bet, he makes lots of appeal at around 7/1 as he’s simply in a different stratosphere to this field.
Long hitting appears to be the name of the game so Nicolas Colsaerts and Alvaro Quiros make appeal, the latter at 80/1.
This is also a great chance to play some of the younger bombers with Thomas Pieters an obvious call.
Check Playing The Tips for my full 10-man line-up as well as some exciting news about where our team finished in The Masters!
One To Fade
Most of the big names should go well but Ross Fisher could be in for a struggle given his poor showing in Morocco and missed cut here last year.