The European Tour stays in China for a second week and let’s hope the weather behaves after the Shenzhen International ran over into Monday.
This week it’s the 22nd running of the Volvo China Open and those who played the Shenzhen will have a relatively short three-hour flight to the nation’s capital Beijing.
The course, Topwin Golf and Country Club, will be a new one to the European Tour (Volvo likes to move the event around) and is situated close to the magnificent and iconic Great Wall of China – the only man-made object, apart from John Daly’s trousers, that is visible from space. B'dum tschhh.... silence.... taps mic.... whistly feedback... "tough crowd".
Despite home advantage, Ashun Wu’s victory at Tomson Shanghai Pudong GC last year was a huge shock and he’ll make his way to Topwin to try and defy the odds again.
The field for the first European Tour tournament in Beijing since 2009 includes players from 28 different nationalities and 13 of the world’s top 100.
Last 10 Volvo China Opens
2015 -9 Ashun Wu (Tomson Shanghai Pudong GC)
2014 -19 Alexander Levy (Genzon GC)
2013 -16 Brett Rumford (Binhai Lake Golf Club)
2012 -21 Branden Grace (Binhai Lake Golf Club)
2011 -24 Nicolas Colsaerts (Luxehills International CC)
2010 -15 YE Yang (Suzhou Jinji Lake GC)
2009 -8 Scott Strange (Beijing CBD International GC)
2008 -10 Damien McGrane (Beijing CBD International GC)
2007 -10 Markus Brier (Shanghai Silport GC)
2006 -10 Jeev Milkha Singh (Beijing Honghua International GC)
Topwin Golf and CC
Designed by 1991 Masters winner Ian Woosnam, Topwin is a par 72 measuring 7,229 yards. Two of the par 5s (4 and 12) measure over 600 yards while there are lengthy par 3s at 2 (229 yards) and 16 (212 yards). To compensate, the 6th is a 139-yard flick while there are short par 4s at 7 (346 yards), 11 (317 yards) and 15 (327 yards). According to europeantour.com: “The parkland layout runs through rural countryside amongst fruit and pine trees, chestnut orchards, and an abundance of wildlife, and affords frequent views of one of the Seven Wonders of the World (Great Wall of China).”
As a welcome contrast to last week, the forecast is full of sunshine. Temperatures are pushing 90 degrees on the weekend although wind could be a factor too with gusts of up to 20mph a possibility on the final day.
The Leading Contenders
With no previous course form to go on, current form will dominate the thoughts of fantasy managers this week and that means Luiten is at the front of the queue. He’s coming off a solo second in the Open de Espana and a T2 at the Shenzhen International. They were played on vastly different courses so the Dutchman can contend on any track right now. 5th for greens in regulation last week and if you check through old China Open form you’ll find Luiten posting T8 in 2013 and recording top 20s in his only other three appearances (2012, 2011 and 2008).
After some decent form in America (T14 Cadillac, T27 Houston, T34 Masters), the Austrian makes his return to the European Tour in China. It’s a place where he’s been consistent rather than spectacular with four top 25s in his last four visits, the best of those T13 at the BMW Masters in 2014. He ranked 6th for Greens In Regulation at Augusta and 2nd for GIR at the Cadillac so he’s playing some strong tee-to-green golf and will be a popular pick this week.
The Frenchman had a golden chance to win last week’s Shenzhen International but found a watery grave at the 71st hole and had to settle for T4. Still, it was another big showing for Levy on Chinese soil and he deserves huge respect this week. He won the 2014 China Open at Genzon (also the scene of his Shenzhen T4) while he was third in last year’s edition at Tomson Shanghai Pudong GC. His last four starts on the European Tour show a second, a fourth and a further top 15 so he’s hard to ignore.
Fisher was strong from tee to green (4th DD, 16th DA, 10th GIR) at Shenzhen but couldn’t get the putts to drop and had to make do with T16. That followed T6 in the Open de Espana where his ball-striking counted for more with scoring so tough. He has a second, a third and now five top 20s in his last six starts in China but sitting 152nd and 176th in the Tour’s two putting categories is a concern.
Boosted by an albatross in round two, Hend finished T4 at the Shenzhen International although it was actually his shortcomings on the par 5s (he didn’t birdie any) in the final round that cost him victory. A winner of the Thailand Classic in March, Hend posted his first European Tour win in Hong Kong so he’s a stud in the Far East (makes sense as he cut his teeth on the Asian Tour). Digging deeper into the archives shows that he was a runner-up in the 2007 China Open so all the signs are good for another big week.
The Dane is rounding into some nice form after following a T19 in the Open de Espana with a T8 in the Shenzhen International. He’s never missed a cut in China in 10 attempts and, as well as his Shenzhen top 10, he was T6 in the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International in 2014. A player with Ryder Cup hopes, Olesen will want to keep the pedal to the metal here.
After a previous pair of top threes at Genzon GC, Fleetwood fans were probably underwhelmed by his T19 in last week’s Shenzhen International. He’s close to a breakout week, though, and that was his third top 20 in four starts on the European Tour. He missed the cut in last year’s China Open but was runner-up in 2014 (at Genzon). Another who will be very aware it’s Ryder Cup year.
Noren has pegged it up just four times this year but his last start produced a top six finish at the Open de Espana (7th GIR, 2nd Scrambling) so don’t be too concerned that he’s undergolfed. He’s played all four rounds in his last nine starts in China and that run includes T6 at the 2012 China Open and T6 at the 2012 BMW Masters. He posted T26 in last year’s edition.
Okay, this guy is the real deal. After throwing away victory in Malaysia with a late collapse, he held firm in the Shenzhen International to score a two-shot win on Monday and secure a first European Tour win on just his sixth start. That half-dozen also includes second in Malaysia and third in October’s Hong Kong Open. As we’re in the Far East again this week, the 22-year-old Korean should be near the front of your thinking.
The Next Rung
The South African racked up four straight top four finishes on his home Sunshine Tour across February and March and then posted a decent T39 at the PGA TOUR’s Puerto Rico Open. Also T13 in last week’s Zimbabwe Open he rarely has a poor tournament and that’s why he shouldn’t be dismissed lightly despite this being his first ever start in China. Hits lot of greens and holes plenty of putts and that tends to be a handy recipe.
If you want some Asian Tour reliability, turn to Wang. In eight starts in the Far East he’s posted five top 10s and that includes tied second at the co-sanctioned Indian Open so he can be a force in these lower-key European Tour events too. T8 in the Japan Tour’s Panasonic Open on Sunday, the 20-year-old from Korea will be looking to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Soomin Lee, who won the Shenzhen International on Monday.
A T13 at the Shenzhen was his fourth straight top 15 in China, the first three 9-8-4. The middle number of that latter trio came in last year’s China Open. Wherever the European Tour pitches up, the Frenchman seems to thrive and his T13 added to T10 in India, T9 in Perth and T4 in Malaysia. He topped the putting stats at Genzon GC last week so he certainly has claims to be part of the six-man line-up employed for the European Tour fantasy game.
China has been a happy hunting ground for the American after three previous top 10s but he couldn’t find a spark in last week’s Shenzhen International and missed the cut by one. It followed a T56 in Spain and a T31 in India so his form has dipped since a run of three straight top 10s across February and March.
An impressive weekend (68-67) gave the English youngster T12 in last week’s Shenzhen International (9th GIR) so he could be one to watch in this second leg of the European Tour’s Chinese jaunt. Hatton was coming back from a two-month rest so with the rust visibly coming off over the final 36 holes at Genzon GC he’ll be looking to beat the T8 he hung up in this event last year. Also a runner-up in the Challenge Tour’s Foshan Open in 2013, he does well on Chinese soil.
Dredge is swinging the club well again and will look to thrive at a course designed by his fellow Welshman Ian Woosnam. After a strong Desert Swing (T4 Qatar, T18 Dubai), he took the eye at last week’s Shenzhen International, eventually finishing T7 after a slightly frustrating final round. He’s doing everything well at the moment so could easily better the T15 he posted in this event last year.
The Scot opened 69-66 at Genzon GC last week to sit third at halfway and was also sixth with a round to play before putting it in reverse and ending T24 after a closing 77. His stats were good though (5th DA, 10th GIR, 19th Putting Average) so it would hardly surprise if he features strongly again here. Ramsay cracked the top 10 in last year’s China Open and has four top 25s from his last five starts on Chinese soil.
After his bold bid for glory at the Open de Espana fell away over the weekend, Larrazabal then missed the cut at Genzon last week so his last four rounds have been poor. He has some good form in China, however, with three top 10s including T5 in the 2013 China Open and a further four top 25s. He can be a tricky player to catch right but is certainly capable of big finishes.
Bourdy couldn’t quite get it out of second gear at the Shenzhen and three closing 70s left him tucked away in the pack in T31. That was the exact same position he occupied in this tournament last year and good but not great finishes rather tell his story in China. He has nothing worse than T41 in his last nine starts there but the peak is only T13. Reliable, but is it enough?
The Englishman now has a pair of top four finishes in 2016 after adding to his strong finish in Qatar with another at Shenzhen. He actually led by a shot with nine to play at Genzon GC but appeared to lose some rhythm after the numerous stoppages for bad weather. He followed a win at last year’s Russian Open with a second at the following week’s KLM Open so he can keep hot form going. Has a best of T14 in four starts at the China Open.
Who’s On The Team
With no past course form to go on, last week’s event in China must act as a strong pointer here.
Therefore, Joost Luiten will again be one of the first names on the shortlist after his back-to-back second places.
I’ll reveal my full line-up for the European Tour’s fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
Ross Fisher continues to struggle with his putter and that puts me off him here.