After the Open de Espana was won in over par – the first time that had happened in a regular European Tour event since 1996 – the players should it much easier going in this week’s Shenzhen International.
Yes, we’re off to China for back-to-back events and, first up, a return to Genzon Golf Club where 50 players broke par when it hosted this event 12 months ago.
It was won by Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and the big Thai returns to defend his title on the par 72 in Shenzhen.
But the standout name can be found in the list of six invitees….. Bubba Watson.
Bubba also played last year and could only finish T29 so will look to make a better fist of justifying his position as clear favorite in the betting.
Genzon also hosted the 2014 China Open so that gives us another batch of course form to peruse.
Cashing in on the par fives is crucial at Genzon GC and Aphibarnrat, who won with 12-under, played the four long holes in 8-under last year. Big hitting Alvaro Quiros was 12-under on them and finished at 8-under overall. With yardages of 547, 536, 543 and 575, they really are gettable. The course, which opened in 1994, measures 7,145 yards and has generous fairways. It was designed by Neil Haworth, the man behind Sheshan International which stages the WGC-HSBC Champions. Bubba won that event in 2014. Last year’s leaderboard wasn’t just crammed with big hitters though so all types of player can thrive.
Winner, Winning Scores, Stats
2015 -12 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (DD: 22, DA: 32, GIR: 22, Sc: 23, PA: 6)
As for the 2014 China Open at Genzon....
2014 -19 Alexander Levy (DD: 7, DA: 11, GIR: 5, Sc: 23, PA: 3)
Winners of last 10 European Tour events in China
2015 Kristoffer Broberg (BMW Masters, -17)
2015 Russell Knox (WGC-HSBC Champions, -20)
2015 Ashun Wu (Volvo China Open, -9)
2015 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Shenzhen International, -12)
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)
If you’re doing it by nationality, that’s two Americans, an Aussie, a Spaniard, a Frenchman, a German, a Thai, a Scot, a Swede and, against all the odds, a home Chinese winner (Wu) in last year’s China Open. Nine have been won in double digits under par.
The Leading Contenders
He certainly underperformed last year to finish T29 but did close with a 65 to suggest he’ll be better equipped this time. Bubba was strangely flat in The Masters although the tougher conditions certainly went against him. No flicking 9-irons onto par 5s at Augusta National this time although that’s something he may be able to do here. That said, Watson only played them in 4-under last year so will need to take advantage much better this time. Having won a WGC in China on a course created by the same designer, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t crack the code here this time and, if near his best, he wins. Not available for the European Tour fantasy game of course.
Victory here 12 months ago was one of two on the European Tour for Aphibarnrat last year. He’s now cementing his status as a global player with some big performances in America. For the second year running he posted T6 at Bay Hill and he’s coming in off a solid T15 at Augusta National. The only bit of evidence we have of him trying to defend a European Tour title is clouded. That was at the 2014 Malaysian Open when he withdrew at halfway after two 71s.
Luiten gutsed it out to finish runner-up in Valderrama last week and that was his fourth top 10 of the season (he’s had an additional two top 15s). In other words, he’s one of the European Tour’s in-form players and looks like a man desperate to get into the Ryder Cup team. In China, he’s made his last 10 cuts and six of those have been top 20s. It’s his course debut but expect another big week from the Dutchman, who slots in at 14th on the Race to Dubai.
The Englishman shot three good rounds (69, 68, 69) and an indifferent one (Friday 74) to finish T15 here last year so now knows he can score well at Shenzhen. He’d previously missed the cut there in the 2014 Volvo China Open. He’s 5-for-5 on the European Tour this year and has just posted his best result of the campaign via a T6 in the Open de Espana on Sunday. Fisher ranked 1st in the All-Around in Spain while the other obvious plus is his recent form in China which reads: 13-3-31-15-2. That third was in last November’s WGC-HSBC Champions.
It’s clear that Fleetwood loves this week’s course as he’s managed a second (2014 Volvo China Open) and a third (this event last year) on his only two appearances. He’s a combined 26-under over those eight rounds and has shot nothing worse than a 70. Fleetwood warmed up with a T19 at Valderrama on Sunday, his third top 20 in the last five starts, so obviously the English youngster makes lots of appeal this week.
With a third (2013) and a fourth (2012) in recent China Opens, Dubuisson has enjoyed previous trips to China. This is first start at Genzon so there is guesswork involved although it looks a course that should suit given how he can make hay on the par 5s. Due to lack of golf and poor results, expectations were low for the Masters but T42 was decent enough and gives him something to build on here.
Levy won the 2014 Volvo China Open on this course thanks mainly to a second-round 62 and added a top 25 in this event last year. It’s a course that really compliments his aggressive style and he’ll arrive showing some encouraging form too. The Frenchman was runner-up in Perth three starts ago and also held the R1 lead at Valderrama last Thursday before carding 76-81 over the middle two rounds. He came back with a 69 on Sunday to sneak back into the top 15 and will clearly enjoy this much easier test.
The American had to grind it out at Valderrama last week and probably did well to make the cut on a course which punished anything loose off the tee. Three 75s and a 77 added up to T56 and a learning experience but, having survived it, he looks to have the perfect stage here. Any course with room off the tee is music to Uihlein’s ears and he showed that when fourth here 12 months ago. He has another couple of top 10s in China and also three recent top 10s on the European Tour so give him plenty of consideration even though there are only six slots vacant (down from 10) on the new E.T. Fantasy game.
The former Ryder Cup star is a former winner on Chinese soil (2012 BMW Masters) and has other strong results in this corner of the globe. That said, he did miss the cut in this event last year after failing to recover from a poor opening 77. Hanson has been solid in four starts so far in 2016, cashing each time and posting T26 or better in three of them. The latest was a battling T19 in brutal conditions at the Open de Espana.
An impressive closing 69 when conditions just eased a little helped Olesen post T19 at Valderrama so that gives him something to build on for his latest trip to China. The Dane has never missed a cut in nine starts on Chinese soil and has a 6th, 11th and 19th in that sequence. A runner-up in Qatar earlier this year, he’ll be getting his first look at Genzon GC.
The Next Rung
Larrazabal held the halfway lead in his home Open de Espana last week but Valderrama beat him up badly over the weekend (78-79) and he slumped to T29. He’ll find some welcome room off the tee this week and has finished T36 and T22 in the two events he’s played at Genzon. Last year he posted 65 on Saturday and was third going into the final day before dropping 19 spots but it’s clear this course could be a good fit. Has eight previous top 25s in China, including two top fives (both in 2013).
Bourdy deserves to be on the longlist this week and has enough credentials to make a shortlist too. He’s played in both previous European Tour events at Genzon and made the top 20 each time with T19 in the 2014 China Open and T15 at this tournament last year. He added a fifth top 25 of the season when T19 at Valderrama while a second in the Alfred Dunhill and a fourth in Perth shows he can be a good investment.
Another of the in-form French players, Hebert’s angle is that he’s posted top 10s in each of his last two starts – T9 in Perth and T7 in Thailand. There’s a slight concern that the latest of those was over a month ago and also his 70-82 MC at this course 12 months ago might furrow some brows. He made the top 20 on his previous visit to China so could be a risk worth taking.
Quesne could actually be the go-to Frenchman here as he’s already shown his mettle on this course. He cracked the top 20 (T19) on debut in the 2014 China Open and returned to Genzon last year and raced through the field to finish T4 after a Sunday 65. Like many, he suffered at Valderrama (T61) but before that he’d compiled three top 10s in his previous four starts, two of those coming in Asia.
A battling T11 at Valderrama last week added to a top six in Malaysia two starts earlier and a T7 in Qatar two starts prior to that so the Englishman is in good nick. He’s also 2-for-2 at Genzon although he didn’t really trouble the leaders when T34 in this event last year and T46 in the 2014 China Open. Did lots of things well in Spain last week and his short game was sharp.
The former U.S. Amateur champ is another who has made both cuts at Genzon and, in this event last year, finished T11 after a fast finish (66-68) over the weekend. That added to his T32 in the China Open where he started fast but tailed off so if he can just put it all together. After a two-month gap, he returned to action at Valderrama last week and, in a tournament won with 1-over, it was a tough ‘welcome back’. His eventual T29 was a decent effort in the circumstances.
Only having to endure two rounds at Valderrama was probably no bad thing even if they were 78 and 75. Before that missed cut at home, Campillo had reeled off four top 20s in five starts including a fourth place in Malaysia. He’s made the cut on both his appearances at Genzon and improved to T25 in this event last after only managing T64 in the Volvo China Open.
The German is another who has gone all eight rounds in the two European Tour tournaments staged at Genzon. He was consistent on both occasions but only shot one round in the 60s each time and had to settle for T29 (2015) and T32 (2014). Kieffer was also T29 at Valderrama last week and is struggling to find the big finishes needed by fantasy managers/bettors (no top 10 since June) so it’s hard to make a strong case for him.
He’s not played since T49 in the Singapore Open at the end of January so there is an obvious reason to gloss over Yang this week. But a rewind to last year’s results shows the 2009 PGA Champion sharing fourth spot. His previous start in the region ended in T7 at the Hong Kong Open and that means he’s finished seventh or better in four of his last seven events in China.
Valderrama was his local course but Genzon is far more suited to his long and often wayward driving. Quiros settled for T56 in Spain last week but that was okay and he now tees it up on a course where he’s posted third in the 2014 China Open and T15 in this event last year when closing with a 63. His good weeks don’t come around that often anymore but a fourth in Dubai earlier this year shows he can still land the big cheques.
Who’s On The Team?
Bubba could walk away with this and, although he’s not eligible for fantasy purposes, those who like a bet may be seduced by the 11/2.
The next four in the betting – defending champion Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Joost Luiten, Ross Fisher and course specialist Tommy Fleetwood - all boast strong credentials, as does Alexander Levy, who won the 2014 China Open at this venue.
I’ll reveal my six-man line-up in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
No obvious candidate here. Some might say Bubba after his lacklustre display here last year and subdued performance at the Masters.