After tipping the Open winner at 28/1 last week, golf expert Ben Coley returns with selections for the Cazoo Classic.
2pts e.w. Richie Ramsay at 25/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
2pts e.w. Thorbjorn Olesen at 25/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Alexander Bjork at 33/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Frederic Lacroix at 90/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
0.5pt e.w. Oliver Farr at 200/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
0.5pt e.w. Laird Shepherd at 500/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
The Cazoo Classic is not to be confused with the Cazoo Open, but it’s easily done: the latter followed last year’s Open Championship, when Nacho Elvira beat Justin Harding in a play-off. If there’s an easy way to remember it then that was in Wales, and this is an English tournament. Simple, you see. Although in 2021 it was won by a Scotsman, Calum Hill, who is unable to defend his title this week.
One way to avoid such confusion would be to remain at the same course, but with the greatest of respect to London GC, we’re getting a big upgrade here as Hillside returns to the schedule. If that rings a bell, then Hillside made its return to the DP World Tour – it was the European Tour back then – in 2019. You remember, don’t you? Yes, it hosted the, erm, British Masters. I think need a holiday.
So does the tournament favourite Robert MacIntyre, who was runner-up here during his rookie season. “This is four events on the spin I’ve played,” he told The Scotsman after another cut made in a major championship. “I’ve got to work out what to do from here. But I need a break. I’ve played quite a lot of golf in the last week. Some’s been good, some bad, but it’s definitely going in the right direction.”
That last part is encouraging and you can see MacIntyre light up when he talks about working with a new coach, the unfortunately named Simon Shanks. He also revealed that the reason he’s here is in fact the course, one where he didn’t have to drive the ball as well as he can to push Marcus Kinhult all the way, so there are positives to mitigate concerns that he’s put his heart and soul into the last couple of tournaments and with little reward.
At just 12/1, he’s ultimately straightforward to bypass and the same is true of Thriston Lawrence, one of several others who have been busy of late. He’s bidding to emulate fellow South African, Harding, who followed a good Open performance with a play-off defeat at Celtic Manor, but the market has caught up with how well he’s been playing and at 20/1 he makes no appeal.
Instead, I’m really keen on the idea that RICHIE RAMSAY will turn up here with a bit of fire in his belly and given all the other positives, he rates one of the standout options at 25/1.
Judging by his twitter timeline, Ramsay barely missed a shot of the Open Championship and as a Scotsman, he’ll have watched it with mixed feelings. Clearly, failing to qualify and therefore being a spectator rather than a participant will have hurt, especially as it was the 150th edition and took place at St Andrews, where Ramsay made the cut back in 2015.
One of the more philosophical characters on the circuit, Ramsay is a master of self-reflection and it was after a phone call with Rory McIlroy in 2012 that he won his biggest title so far up in the Swiss Alps. Four years earlier, his first Challenge Tour win came a fortnight after he’d blown a huge opportunity in Northern Ireland, and his first DP World Tour win came weeks after he’d had a good chance back at the Home of Golf in the Dunhill Links.
He should’ve won already this year, making a mess of the final hole at the Belfry to finish third, but if anything he’s built on that in the way he’s played since. Four cuts made have all shown promise and I can forgive anyone for withdrawing from the awful spectacle that is the Porsche European Open, where the emphasis is on making good players look bad with absurdly long holes and water everywhere.
That brings us to Hillside, which is the opposite. At less than 7,000 yards, this is a short golf course which is considered one of the better links layouts in the country by many. He Who Must Not Be Named calls the back nine the best run of holes in Britain, a view pretty much echoed by Jack Nicklaus, and architecture buff Ramsay will speak glowingly of it if given the chance.
He had that chance in 2019, finishing fifth in that classically solid way of his, and returns close to the top of his game. Despite being a short hitter he’s so accurate that right now he’s gaining considerable strokes off the tee, he’s hitting stacks of greens as a consequence, and even his occasionally troublesome putter has been reliable for much of spring and into summer.
In this field, just about the weakest one he’s played in all year, a continuation of his recent performances ought to give him a chance. Everything he does well should be emphasised by this fabulous little course, and at the very least he should make it six years running without missing a cut in England. The courses they play here has a lot to do with that record.
My hopes are higher than that and anything bigger than 20/1 makes Ramsay a bet in a field which lacks star quality, on a course which will suit nobody better than it suits him.
Another class act who missed the Open is THORBJORN OLESEN and it’s far from beyond him to make it a double in the country he now calls home.
Since a top-10 finish at nearby Lytham in 2012, Olesen had struggled to make an impact in England, but that largely reflects how badly he struggles at Wentworth. The Belfry was plainly more to his liking and his eagle-birdie finish to capture the British Masters there was a reminder of how capable he is.
Unsurprisingly given what had happened over the previous two-and-a-half years, Olesen struggled to back that up in subsequent weeks until putting his way to eighth place in the Irish Open, where he finished with a flourish but just missed out on earning an Open start.
From there he went on to finish strongly once more for 30th place in a world-class Scottish Open, one of the best non-majors played all year, so his form is strong and so is his motivation. Like Ramsay, Olesen will feel aggrieved not to have qualified for St Andrews, where he once dominated the Dunhill Links don’t forget.
This former Ryder Cup star really ought to use the last three months as a platform to keep climbing the rankings, and this field affords him a fabulous opportunity. So does the course, because he won’t have to reach for driver too often – it can occasionally hurt him – and he has stacks of correlating form, notably in the Dunhill Links but also in Sicily, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, where he used to be a persistent threat at a course where links golfers always thrived.
Scandinavians so often do well in the UK and with some cooler weather forecast by the time they tee off on Thursday, Olesen could well succeed Kinhult when it comes to being a Hillside champion.
Assessing those who did play in the Open isn’t easy. On the one hand, that was a long week of slow rounds on a course which was virtually unique in how it played. On the other, it was competitive golf by the sea, and there ought to be plenty of bounce in these fairways even if we do get a spot of rain.
There’s precedent for Open also-rans winning at a lower level the week after and it almost happened last year, but it’s hard to escape the idea that Richard McEvoy benefited from the schedule when he won in Germany back in 2018. Patrick Reed, Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau all came across from Carnoustie, all started well, and all ran out of steam.
That is a worry for backers of Matthew Jordan, who lit up the British Masters with a first-round 63 in 2019. Born not far away on the Wirral and with the same form ties as Olesen, he’s going to tempt a lot of people but I’m just a little worried that this is his fifth start in succession, during which time he also came through a 36-hole Open qualifier.
Now, Jordan’s best DP World Tour performance came at the end of a five-week run, but it was in the summer of 2020 when he was playing Celtic Manor for the second time in a fortnight. Things have been rather more hectic this time around so while he played far better than 59th place suggests in the Scottish Open, at skinny enough prices I’m prepared to leave him out of the staking plan.
I can’t however resist backing ALEXANDER BJORK on a sub-7,000-yard course and will have to hope he has something left in the locker having played the last three weeks.
Bjork doesn’t often go to the well four times in succession but he did have a nice break following the Scandinavian Mixed, and a missed cut at St Andrews means he’s hardly overcooked.
That performance was encouraging, too, as he got close to making the weekend for the first time in a major despite it being a bad course for him. Bjork has never been that effective at St Andrews in the Dunhill Links, and I can scarcely think of worse circumstances for one of the shortest drivers around than a string of driveable par-fours.
No doubt, the over-achievers last week were generally big-hitters – Dean Burmester in 11th, Trey Mullinax in 21st – and Cameron Smith did particularly well to overcome two of the very best drivers on the planet. That tells you everything and explains why Bjork, who would be among the worst drivers on a top-level tour, was never going to be effective.
What he needs is something shorter, ideally something firmer, and certainly somewhere that isn’t about driving the ball a mile. That’s Hillside, where compatriot Kinhult put a similar set of skills to use across four short par-fives and a set of par-fours which all come in at under 450 yards.
Bjork’s strengths are his iron play and his putting, both of which remained on display at St Andrews, and for my money the last time he had a course as suitable as this one to aim at, he finished seventh in the Dutch Open. Rewind to last year and fourth place in the Andalucia Masters, seventh in the Scandinavian Mixed and sixth in the Made in Denmark came at three of the shortest courses on tour, and this is another.
Bjork didn’t play here in 2019 as he was in the field for the following week’s US PGA, but I suspect it’s on his schedule now because he realises how well suited he is to Hillside. Second and third in England previously, perhaps this week he can secure his second win at this level and again add to a rich history of Scandinavian success in the UK and Ireland.
Jens Dantorp is another Swedish option who arrives here bang in-form on the Challenge Tour. His best DP World Tour effort came in the Scottish Open so links golf is a positive and he made the shortlist only to be quickly removed from it when a show of betting came through.
I certainly prefer FREDERIC LACROIX at the odds as he’s been catching the eye regularly of late and might just be able to put everything together for four rounds now the quality of competition eases a notch.
This French rookie has climbed the ranks with relative ease, winning three times on the Alps Tour and cruising through the Challenge Tour. When I spoke to French journalist Alex Mazas at the beginning of the season, he told me that Lacroix has a heck of a lot of self-belief and that it’s only increased since working with Mike Lorenzo Vera’s brother, Franck, who coaches a number of the top French players.
Whatever they’ve been working on, it’s helped Lacroix establish himself as one of the most promising iron players on the circuit, and as well as being inside the top 50 in strokes-gained approach, he holds a similar position in the strokes-gained putting statistics. This marks him down as similar in some ways to Olesen and Bjork, albeit longer and less erratic than the latter, and the nature of Hillside should therefore play to his strengths.
It’s fair to say we don’t have much links experience to go at (though we do have an Alps Tour victory by the coast) but 24th place in the Dutch Open rates a good guide, and so might 21st place at the Belfry. We are still learning about Lacroix, ultimately, but having been fourth at halfway in far stronger Irish Open last time, he’ll be a factor if bringing that form with him to the west coast of England.
Another angle I’m keen to pursue in some way is experience here in the Amateur Championship, won by Bryden Macpherson back in 2011. Thomas Detry alluded to it as he found himself in contention, while Matt Wallace tied for second alongside MacIntyre and Eddie Pepperell and he too had been involved in that event.
I count a dozen players who have that sneaky bit of course experience and among them, OLIVER FARR gets my speculative vote at a big price.
Farr made the last 16 along with fellow Shropshire man Ashley Chesters, and he also made the cut here in 2019 when not only was he operating on the Challenge Tour, but he’d only played in two tournaments all year. That was a big disadvantage in what was a significantly better field than the one we have here, yet Farr did what he does and ranked fifth in accuracy as he eased to the weekend.
Hitting fairways is very much his main strength, again like Chesters, and he’s been doing it lately, ranking inside the top 10 in driving accuracy four times in six starts. Unfortunately, that strength was never going to carry him far in the Open Championship and he missed the cut at St Andrews, but the fact he qualified at Hollinwell is a source of encouragement.
Farr has been playing well enough for my money, making four cuts in five before he was in at the deep end last week. His approach play under similar conditions in the Netherlands was excellent, and when he got a short course where fairways actually matter, in Belgium, he ranked a lofty sixth in strokes-gained off-the-tee.
It’ll be possible to marry those two elements here and that would make this three-time Challenge Tour winner a fascinating runner, having shown his best DP World Tour form here in England and won by the coast at a lower level. He was third in the Hero Open a couple of years ago and ninth before that in a British Masters I think will be a good guide, so at 150/1 and upwards is worth a small bet.
Kristoffer Broberg could go well if he remembers how to putt and the same goes for Ewen Ferguson, who won in Doha in the spring. Both appeal to a degree while it’ll be fascinating to see how Wilco Nienaber gets on, as his ball-striking in two recent starts on altogether different courses has been of a standard good enough to contend, only for his short-game – rather than excess aggression – to let him down.
Anywhere else and I’d be siding with the South African but things are different on links turf and that’s why I’ll take a chance on LAIRD SHEPHERD at enormous odds.
Shepherd is so far famous for winning last year’s Amateur Championship in remarkable fashion, recovering from eight down through 17 holes to win in extra holes at Nairn. That helped earn him starts to go with the notoriety and for the most part he’s struggled, except for when producing a gutsy second round to make the cut in this event last year.
The switch in course has to be a positive, Shepherd being a St Andrews resident whose amateur career was shaped by links courses, and there was plenty to like about his professional debut last time. Shepherd missed the cut by a single shot in Germany but broke par each day, did nothing wrong in round two, and impressed in the departments I believe will be key this week: approach play and putting.
We saw with Barclay Brown’s Open start and the fact that so many of the amateurs played well just how much of a leveller links golf can be, a fact underlined by Paul Dunne holding the 54-hole lead in the 2015 Open, and both Chris Wood and Justin Rose bagging top-five finishes before embarking on their professional careers.
Rose’s of course began with 21 missed cuts and Shepherd’s hasn’t exactly gone to plan, first missing by a shot in Germany and then forced to withdraw from Open qualifying because his clubs were lost in transit. But here, at Hillside, a short, links course where the assembled field is not strong, I’m certainly prepared to take a chance as we find out more about a player who reached the top 30 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings before turning pro.
Posted at 1825 BST on 18/07/22
We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.
Further support and information can be found at begambleaware.org and gamblingtherapy.org.
Rickie Fowler is one of the PGA Tour headliners for this week's 2023 Valero Texas Open,
We’re staying put in Texas for the next PGA Tour event, but it will return to its standard stroke-play scoring format during the 2023 Valero Texas Open. This
Ben Coley put up a 100/1 winner, 100/1 fifth and 45/1 sixth across the tours last week. Get his selections for the Valero Texas Open.Golf betting tips: Valero T
Mike Trout is coming back home to play … golf.The baseball superstar from South Jersey is building a golf course in Vineland, just a short drive from his home