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After a three-week break, the DP World Tour resumes with the ISPS Handa World Invitational, an innovative event that also sees the men and women’s tours play simultaneously across Galgorm Castle and fresh course, Castlerock, before all play the parkland course after the halfway cut. Unusually, though, there is a further cull on Saturday night, with qualifiers again playing Galgorm.
Initiatives such as these are great for the game – alongside the Scandinavian Mixed and Vic Open – but the break is a tough gig for punters. It’s always good to strain the brain on the weekly golf puzzle, but doing it after such a time off further complicates what is, already, the search for the one in 150-odd that will play the best.
Still, there are clues, even in just the three events that have taken place since 2020.
Winner of the Irish Open held here in September 2020, John Catlin connects in with some of the narrowest tree-lined courses on the tour, winning in Austria and having a trio of high finishes at Valderrama and a multitude of Asian courses.
A year later, Daniel Gavins created a shock when coming from well behind on the final day, but carries form again at the unique Spanish venue, at the Dunhill Links and in Kenya, location of what should have been Ewen Ferguson’s maiden victory.
Back then, the Scot let a four-shot lead drift away before recovering later in the year with wins in Qatar and at this event, his placings at The Belfry and at the Euram Bank Open confirming the link between these three accurate players.
Need more? In each victory, the three players ranked very highly for accuracy off the tee and finished in the top five for tee-to-green and around-the green. With the introduction of a links track allying the claims of Gavins and multiple Scottish Boys champion, Ferguson, the list of likely candidates should be able to be narrowed down.
On top of all this, the likes of Robert Macintyre and Victor Perez will be bursting every blood vessel in an attempt to qualify, or be selected, for the upcoming Ryder Cup team. Whilst the Scot currently holds the final automatic place in the list and is well odds-on to make the team, he will want to ensure his place amongst Rahm, McIlroy and Hovland isn’t questioned.
In a weak field, Bob Mac is an obvious favourite and it’s hard to argue the Scottish Open runner-up is potentially different class. However, he has already failed to convert when in the final group in Kenya, Korea and Denmark, all standard European Tour fare. He has shed a lot of his old team and appears confident, but that Open effort was poor and he might have too much on his mind come Sunday.
With 10 players under 30/1, it’s clear what odds-makers think of the bottom of the pack and, if pressed for one at under 20/1, it would be Bob’s compatriot and defending champion Ewen Ferguson.
The two-time DPWT winner (should be four) won’t mind the mini-shift to an easy links course for one round and has plenty of experience here, finishing seventh, 26th and 14th before last year’s win.
However, given the circumstances, I’ve opted for a couple of players that will also enjoy the conditions and may offer better value around the 30/1 mark.
Both Matthew Southgate and David Law have enough experience to let little affect their play, both turning professional in 2011.Whilst neither have probably ever reached their full potential, overall form suggests they should be competing on a links/parkland combination
Essex lad Southgate has always been a go-to on ‘proper’ links, but opened his pro career on the Challenge Tour, running-up at Spey Valley, an inland course but with links features – heather, gorse – as well as various water hazards.
From there, best finishes include a clear second to Victor Perez at the Dunhill Links, second and fourth at the Irish Open, to Rahm and McIlroy respectively, three top-12 finishes at The Open and high placings at Le Golf National and the Renaissance Club – everything that screams this week must suit.
Although it’s almost unbelievable that he hasn’t won in 290-plus events, the 34-year-old has shown enough in similar and better company to think he might make the breakthrough on a course he has played just once, when coming from 80th to finish 33rd in Catlin’s Irish Open in 2020.
2023 has been decent for a player that, not long ago, had personal health issues, with an early run of 12/11/18 through Singapore, Thailand and South Africa, and bettered those with a fourth place at tight Soudal, 10th at the Scandi Mixed and again in Denmark, every one of those a hint to conditions facing him this week.
Stats-wise, Southgate continues to bang out the tee-to-green numbers, dropping from better-than-average only in driving distance, pretty irrelevant here. Consistently inside the top-15 for approaches (twice top-10 in his last three starts) and tee-to-green (top-20 in five of his last six), expect the Southend lad to go close to breaking his maiden.
Law, two years younger at 32, has also had over 250 outings as a pro, but bests Southgate with five professional victories.
An impressive junior and beyond, Law won his home amateur championship on two occasions (an event that DPWT winners Bob Mac and Grant Forrest went on to win) before a long career flitting between the Challenge Tour and the main tour.
If wanting a further connection between this week’s main bets, Law again bested Southgate by winning the Scottish Hydro in 2018 by two shots from JB Hansen, a Dane that has lost the plot at the moment, but whose best form ties in very well with the challenge this week.
One further victory followed, this time at the ISPS Handa Vic Open – the inaugural tri-sanctioned event, again having both the men and women play the same courses. Whilst that event has moved on to higher acclaim, the similarity between that event and this week is hard to ignore.
The Aberdonian has plenty in his back catalogue to recommend him in a weakish field this week, highlights being third behind Sean Crocker and (links man) Eddie Pepperrell at Fairmont, fourth a year earlier (behind Forrest), runner-up in Austria (JB and Crocker tied in third) and tied-fourth with John Catlin at the Irish Open behind Adrian Meronk and Ryan Fox (also runner-up at the Hydro). As figures go, the selection should be handicapped with a penalty on this form!
2023 has been decent enough although best form has been since the European Open in June. Sixth in Germany, 10th at the Scandi Mixed and the 15th at The Belfry are all better efforts than a lot of this field can produce, and whilst he missed the cut in Denmark and in his home Open, took a month off before warming up for this with a top-10 at the Scottish Challenge, a new event that replaces the Hydro.
During the spell of positive results, Law was finding some exciting numbers from tee-to-green, putting up double figures in Germany and Sweden. With plenty of experience here, a pair of top-10s at the Northern Ireland Challenge, and 35th and 15th at this level, I’d expect Law to pose a serious threat to any of the market leaders.
Alongside the two senior players, I’ll add a player whose ceiling is, so far, unknown.
25-year-old John Axelsen may not be the household name of the Hojgaard twins, but it shouldn’t be too long before he is joining them on the DPWT winner’s rostrum.
An outstanding junior that led the European rankings in four divisions , he starred in the Danish team that won the World Amateur Team Championship (alongside you-know-who), defeating a US team containing Collin Morikawa, Justin Suh and Cole Hammer.
As a pro, Axelsen found winning an easy task on the Nordic Golf League, winning four times between May 2021 and October 2022 but declining his Challenge Tour card after qualifying for the main tour. After six gruelling rounds, his total of 406 was good enough to gain a top-10 behind subsequent Soudal champion, Simon Forsstrom.
The Dane struggled for the first half of this year, perhaps wary of the scrutiny, but has made seven of his last eight cuts, finishing sixth at the European Open, and top-20 in Munich and Denmark, and 33rd in his most recent outing at the co-sanctioned Barbasol.
The selection doesn’t stand out in any particular factor, but is all about tee-to-green, ranking around 21st since Belgium in June. A very respectable 30th on his only look here in 2020, he should continue to come forward with every week’s play and this former Florida Gator will be looking to join the likes of former Floridian Billy Horschel on the DPWT winner’s list.
Looking down the field, I’d be pretty confident that a hitherto ‘unknown’ will make the top-20.
31-year-old Jamie Rutherford might be seen as a journeyman on tour, but this two-time EuroPro Tour winner is playing well enough to think he can go close to matching his top-10 finish here last year.
Three top-10 finishes this year include a best of third place at Le Vaudreuil behind Darren Fichardt, a player that thrives on tight tracks, and behind Matteo Manassero and subsequent winner Casey Jarvis in Denmark.
That recent form has continued with an 11th in Germany, 18th at the Irish Challenge and 12th at last week’s Scottish Challenge when always prominent. With no stats available on the Challenge Tour, we have just three events on the main tour (since 2022) to judge.
At both the 2022 Cape Town Open and Galgorm last year, Rutherford ranked top-20 for every stat, the most relevant being last year’s 12th off-the-tee, 20th approach and seventh for tee-to-green and 16th for putting. Current form would suggest he is not a mile away from producing those again.
Alongside the Englishman, I’ll take the chance with a virtual unknown.
After just five outings as a professional, Rasmus Neergaard-Petersen really could be anything.
Another top-class Danish amateur, the selection finished runner-up behind the outstanding Axelsen in the 2018 Danish Amateur (Rasmus Hojgaard fourth), made the final stages of the US Amateur and was part of the victorious 2022 Palmer Cup side, winning his singles match 5&4.
In between, RNP studied at Oklahoma State until a couple of months ago, where he joined Rickie Fowler and Viktor Hovland as alumni, before coming back down to Earth after missing the cut on his Challenge Tour debut, although on the number.
Not many could foresee his next result. Playing on invitation at the prestigious BMW International, RNP finished in seventh place, ranking 17th off the tee, ninth for approach and 11th for overall tee-to-green. With a plus figure of 3+ for putting, the selection showed he had more than enough game to compete with a better-than-average DPWT field.
RNP admitted he was nervous but, “I know I have my game and I’ve just kind of taken it one shot at a time, done a really good job of staying right in the present, even though I’ve hit a couple of loose shots here and there, but I’ve been able to recover and just kind of move on.”
Subsequent outings have not been as spectacular, although making cuts at the British Masters and Himmerland is not be be written off, and he was back to form when dropped a grade to Challenge Tour level, finishing 11th in Germany.
There is a history of promising players yet to get going on the DPWT, but there is also the stuff of legend. I have absolutely no idea where this one ends up but, given the standard of the field below the top 30 or so, this would appear a great chance for someone to make a name for themselves.