Ben Coley has been back among the winners of late courtesy of Cameron Smith and Richie Ramsay. Get his best bets for the Cazoo Open at Celtic Manor.
2pts e.w. Sean Crocker at 30/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Matti Schmid at 40/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Connor Syme at 50/1 (Sky Bet, Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Richard Mansell at 55/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Andy Sullivan at 66/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
0.5pt e.w. Marcel Siem at 150/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
One of the criticisms levelled at the DP World Tour over the past decade has been its move away from home, an undeniable truth which was rubber-stamped when the European Tour gave over naming rights last year. It is quite clearly a shame, to put it mildly and simplistically, and a similar situation is at play here as we’re asked to refer to the Wales Open as the Cazoo Open, something we probably ought to do given the money the sponsors have ploughed into the circuit at a time of crisis.
But the fact that we are in Wales and that this event is fully restored is something to celebrate. All told, there are 10 tournaments in the UK and Ireland this year and with another four in Spain, that makes for more than twice the number held in the Middle East. Many of them, this one included, boast real heritage, and significance beyond whatever strength-of-field rating is generated. And, as we’ve seen over the past fortnight, when you’ve a full field there’s every chance you get an exciting finish to go with it.
That’s hopefully in store again at Celtic Manor, where Nacho Elvira saw his lead slip away only to be handed victory in the subsequent play-off. The 2010 Course here at Wales’s premiere golf resort was designed for Ryder Cup drama which was delivered spectacularly on that wet and wild weekend, and it does exactly what it says on the tin. This week’s event will be another test of absolute execution and whoever leads entering the closing stretch may not be as fortunate as Elvira if they do make a mistake.
Few have executed with the relentless consistency of Jordan Smith this year and victory for him would neither surprise, nor would it be undeserved. He’s got form at a course which is made for him, his sole DP World Tour title having been earned on another difficult parkland layout in Germany, and hailing from Bath is sure to have plenty of support. Last seen playing well in the Open, just like co-favourite Thomas Detry, he’s the man to beat.
Truth be told Smith is only narrowly passed over but with Thorbjorn Olesen clearly dealing with some swing issues at Hillside, Victor Perez having withdrawn and Callum Shinkwin easy enough to leave out at 20/1, it’s the second wave of the betting I prefer.
There you’ll find SEAN CROCKER, and I don’t see why he can’t go back-to-back after Sunday’s heroics.
One of the very best ball-strikers on the circuit if not the best when the big names aren’t around, Crocker made the most of a good week on the greens to beat Eddie Pepperell and bag his long-awaited breakthrough. To watch it back is to be reminded of how fine the margins are, the odd putt that might’ve hung on the lip another week instead dropping into the hole just as had been the case with Richie Ramsay a week earlier.
For Crocker, though, it should ultimately prove to be the springboard to bigger and better things. He is without question good enough to establish himself on the PGA Tour, having been a brilliant amateur and since confirmed himself every inch the modern professional. All he needed was a short-game and, clearly, a new, fluid approach to putting paid off in some style at Fairmont St Andrews.
Now he comes to a course where he’s been 22nd and 37th in two visits, both times let down badly by that short-game. He ranked sixth and seventh in strokes-gained approach across the fortnight stay in 2020 and we saw straight away, through rounds of 68 and 66 to lie sixth, that this stadium-style golf course was ideal for his game.
So it should be. Celtic Manor’s 2010 has always favoured quality drivers, and it was off the tee that Elvira built a platform for success. The same was true of Romain Langasque and when you see names like Adrian Meronk, Thomas Pieters, Andrew Johnston and indeed that of Shinkwin on leaderboards, plus runner-up Sami Valimaki, and the way play-off loser Justin Harding drove the ball, it seems obvious that you simply have to do that well.
Crocker’s miserable start to the year is still reflected in what’s for him a lowly off-the-tee ranking of 45th, but he was behind only three other players in this field in the equivalent 2021 charts and ranked ninth last week, too. Alongside that, his much-vaunted approach play has also clicked, ranking second, second and sixth among his last five measured starts, including last week when only one player bettered him in strokes-gained tee-to-green.
Last year’s Cazoo Open saw the top seven places on the leaderboard go to players ranked inside the top eight in the tee-to-green stats and this water-laden course, which should have some sting taken out of it by showers before the tournament begins, is a relentless test of ball-striking. Crocker is undeniably one of the three or four best players in this field in that department and Celtic Manor is a perfect venue to go hunting a quickfire double.
That, of course, could be the negative. Winning back-to-back isn’t easy, even if Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Scottie Scheffler have made it look that way of late. However, Crocker has tended to hold form in the past – such as when going 2-4-18-9 in a four-week spell this time last year, and after his runner-up finishes in South Africa and Morroco – and there should be no let-up for a player who clearly wants to get back to the USA as soon as he can.
Crocker’s close friend Sam Horsfield won his second DP World Tour title right here at Celtic Manor two weeks after his first, and there are plenty of other examples of players striking while the iron’s hot. Perez for instance went a very short price in Germany after winning in the Netherlands, and even Elvira went from leading all the way here to contending the following week.
We’ve also seen what an overdue win has done for Ryan Fox’s confidence and whether he can get straight back to work this week or not, I expect Crocker to contend again before the season is finished. Given that we’ve a weak field, an ideal course and a short distance to travel, he’s impossible to resist at what looks a good price.
Returning to that theme of driving the ball well, it’s notable that the entire top eight in strokes-gained off-the-tee this year have form at Celtic Manor. Six of them have in fact had genuine chances to win and from limited opportunities, the other being Wilco Nienaber who has only played the course twice and still managed a fine 22nd on debut when yet to earn full status on the circuit.
The big-hitting South African is respected but it’s the player in ninth, MATTI SCHMID, who I prefer.
We were on Schmid when he led by a couple of shots with a round to go in the Barbasol Championship last month, only to stumble to a closing 77 and finish eighth at a big price. That was of course hugely frustrating, but that’s twice since May that he’s led going into the weekend and the German ought to have learned some valuable lessons along the way.
A fantastic ball-striker whose major weapon is his driver, he’s now been inside the top 10 entering Sunday no fewer than eight times since last June, all the while demonstrating that he has what it takes to leave this level behind. The fact he failed so miserably at the Barbasol probably just highlights what was at stake, and he wasn’t quite ready to jump the queue to earn PGA Tour membership.
My view is that winning in Europe should prove easier, a fact reflected in the odds, and Celtic Manor should be a good fit. He certainly played well when 47th on debut, let down by his short-game yet still able to boss the par-fives as will be necessary. It’s also worth noting this came days after he’d won the Silver Medal in the Open at Lytham, and he’s since climbed over 600 places in the world rankings.
Having produced plenty of good stuff in his starts either side of the Barbasol he looks to be in a nice place and it would be no surprise at all were he to follow the lead of Langasque and Elvira and make this the scene of his first DP World Tour victory.
That’s also a possibility for RICHARD MANSELL, who is far better suited to a parkland test like this one than the links golf of the last fortnight.
Missing the cut on the number in Scotland is therefore of no concern whatsoever, particularly as he was on the wrong side of a two-shot draw bias but still did what he does and drove it superbly. Mansell is fourth in strokes-gained off-the-tee this season and was second in 2021, so he’s right up there as one of the very best drivers around.
He’s also had a look at Celtic Manor where, like Schmid, he was undone by his short-game, ranking 16th off the tee and 10th with his approaches but finishing 32nd. And, again like Schmid, that came days after his debut in the Open, probably enough to put him at a disadvantage versus those like Elvira who hadn’t been grinding it out on a very different golf course.
Mansell is better judged on third place at Green Eagle and eighth at the Belfry, both similar to this, and his putting has looked much more assured since a change in coach prior to the British Masters. He’s also benefitted from reuniting with his old caddie, Connor Winstanley, and has done really well to all but lock up full status for 2023 from a lowly category this year. That’s a big deal for a player who could’ve focused on the Challenge Tour but has loftier ambitions and rightly so.
Last time he played a parkland course, Mansell was 33/1 to beat the likes of Fox, Pieters, Billy Horschel and Louis Oosthuizen, among others. This is considerably weaker, he’s far better suited to it, and nothing I’ve seen since suggests his game has gone off the boil. As with Crocker last week, we might just need to hit on a good putting week and that’s a chance I’m very happy to take at 40/1 and upwards.
Edoardo Molinari is another fabulous ball-striker who probably isn’t at his best under links conditions, so he caught the eye somewhat at 50/1. The veteran Italian has missed three cuts by the sea but all narrowly, and now heads back to a course where he’s contended three times in six visits including when arriving out of sorts.
My nagging concern is that the Ryder Cup might have had something to do with a bit of a downturn in form as well as the style of golf course, as he’d been named as one of Henrik Stenson’s vice captains. Luke Donald has now been confirmed as captain for 2023 but he may want to bring together his own team and it’s not certain Molinari will feature*, so while this is rumbling on perhaps the 41-year-old won’t be able to focus on his own play.
Instead then, I’ll play captain obvious and hope for a Ramsay repeat, with CONNOR SYME big enough to include at prices north of 40/1.
Just like Shinkwin, Syme is a bona fide course specialist but with his form seemingly not so strong, he’s more than twice the price. That’s just fine with me, especially as his approach play has clicked, ranking sixth and ninth in his last two starts, both times undermined by poor putting.
That’s not usually the case with Syme, who putted superbly when third at the Belfry back in May, and if he can find something on the greens then he’s in for a big week at a course where he led through 54 holes in both events played here two years ago, finishing third and eighth, and then added 18th place last year.
Dig deeper and you’ll see that his 2021 effort was in fact just as encouraging, as nobody drove it better but all 17 players in front of him were far more effective on the greens – in fact, among the top 30 it was only the aforementioned Ramsay who putted worse than Syme, but again that’s not something we often see from him.
Back to timing and having produced his best driving display of the entire season here at Celtic Manor, he returns on the back of his best driving display of the current campaign and as with all the Scots, he’ll no doubt have been buoyed by Ramsay’s Hillside heroics.
Unlike his veteran compatriot, Syme is far more effective on inland, parkland courses like this one, his best results coming here, at Diamond in Austria and the old-school Karen in Kenya, and he can underline his love for Celtic Manor providing the putter behaves.
It’s tempting to chance the enigmatic Victor Dubuisson on the back of successive top-20s, especially as he contended here on debut back in 2011 and has only been back once since. He’s doing everything well except for driving, which at his best is a massive strength, so it’s possible the pieces fall into place if he remains focused.
That’s of course no given, however, and with strong driver Marcus Helligkilde making his course debut, I’ll move on to the classy ANDY SULLIVAN at around the 66/1 mark.
It’s been a lean year for Sullivan and I wasn’t convinced by his out-of-the-blue top-10 at the Soudal Open, where he rode a very hot putter. His struggles duly returned until his second top-10 of the year at the Cazoo Classic, this time based on quality ball-striking and therefore much more sustainable, making it no surprise he made another cut last week.
Across this fortnight, Sullivan has continued a run of good driving which stretches back to the start of June, but crucially he’s sustained some better approach play. That’s one of his major strengths when he’s on and while there’s more improvement needed, ranking inside the top 30 in back-to-back weeks is something he hadn’t done for almost a year.
Combine that with this prolonged spell of improvement off the tee and a reliable short-game and good things will continue to happen when he putts well. Indeed, that club was the only difference in his performances at Hillside (eighth) and Fairmont St Andrews (49th), his season-long return of +0.00 strokes-gained putting failing to demonstrate the volatility we’ve seen throughout.
As ever, I’m far more inclined to take my chances with that club than the driver and if he does continue to hit the ball well, a contending performance at a course he’s warmed to is very much possible. Sullivan’s first five rounds here were all poor, but his subsequent seven have all been under-par and his strong form at the correlating Le Golf National is another clue that he should be in his element here.
Currently outside the top 150 on the Race to Dubai, he looks a prime candidate to make a late-season push towards a ranking more in line with his ability, and it goes without saying he’d have been about favourite for this at anything like his best. Based on what we’ve seen lately, that may not be too far away.
Big-hitting Jacques Kruyswijk has been in better touch lately and has a strong bank of form here while Garrick Porteous has drifted to a better price having only underlined that he’s playing well, but I’ll take a chance on veteran MARCEL SIEM for the final selection.
Siem is a Le Golf National winner who helps underline ties between these two Ryder Cup hosts, having made all six cuts on the 2010 Course and contended on three occasions. He was the 54-hole leader back in that Ryder Cup year and sat fifth through 54 holes in 2012, while he was in no real form when sixth at the same stage on his 2020 return. It’s no wonder he’s spoken fondly of it several times.
He comes back to Wales at a bad time on the face of it, his last three results reading 81-WD-MC, but a miserable fortnight over in the USA is easy to forgive and there was actually a lot to like in Scotland, where he drove the ball just about as well as he has all year and got his irons firing again.
Let down there only by his short-game, this point-and-shoot test ought to prove far more suitable and a better comparison would be the Irish Open, where he was 37th in better company, or the European Open in which he was 18th before that.
Both events saw him flirting with the lead midway through the tournament and a second-round 67 to miss the cut on the number in the Hero Open suggests to me he’s in good enough shape ahead of this return to something he knows he enjoys.
It was this time last year that Siem showed us what he still has to offer, first winning on the Challenge Tour and then producing a fiery 15th in the Open, before a string of quality displays. If the ball-striking he demonstrated in Scotland last week is something he can replicate, returning to Celtic Manor might be all he needs to get back in the mix at what’s a big price.
Posted at 1840 BST on 01/08/22
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*Luke Donald has since confirmed that Molinari will be among his vice-captains
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