It could have been an awful lot worse.
After a thrilling PGA Championship, we could have expected the quality threshold to drop a fair bit on both sides of the pond. Instead, at Colonial, we will be treated to the sight of the new world number one Scottie Scheffler; the man who maybe should have won his first major last week, Viktor Hovland; local hero Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau. That’s not to mention the rest of the world’s top-20.
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The KLM Dutch Open can’t boast such a field, but the very top of the market contains the defending champion, Victor Perez, an excellent 12th at Oak Hill, and equally in-form Adrian Meronk, winner in Italy two starts ago and 40th last week in his second consecutive US major.
Once a highlight of the European Tour – think Seve, Langer, Monty, Miguel and Westwood – we have now lost the much-loved tight tracks that called for guile, replaced by Bernardus Golf, a newish, not-quite-formed, not links-not-parkland, course and a field, the like of which we see every single week.
In the end, does it matter? The job is to identify the winner, and even though the last two winners have done the job in contrasting styles, there are some very obvious clues about the top of the board at both the 2022 and ’23 runnings.
Inaugural Bernardus champ, Kristoffer Broberg, came into the event off only slight promise. After long-term loss of form and injury, he snuck into notice at the Scandinavian Mixed, but it was the tournament after his emotional victory that caught the eye.
The Swede has only one other top-10 finish in over 30 outings since winning here, that coming at the Alfred Dunhill Links, where he shared a ninth place with Matti Schmid, the German he beat into second place in the Netherlands.
Fast-forward a year, and the defending champion, Perez, has his most notable victory at the 2019 Links, whilst his defeated play-off rival Ryan Fox also won at the same pro-am three years later.
The link (sorry) is very clear. Bernardus continues the theme adopted by designer Kyle Phillips. Responsible for the likes of Kingsbarns, Dundonald Links (home of the Scottish Open 2017), Yas Links (current host of the Abu Dhabi Championship) and the former home of this event, Hilversumsche Golf Club, it’s a surprise he did not have a hand in Rinkven Golf Club in Belgium, where Fox, Meronk and Marcel Schneider – all within two shots of Perez around here – finished in second, sixth and seventh at the Soudal Open a year previous.
Last season, Fox showed that coming off the PGA was not much of a hardship, but despite the nagging feeling that 6/1 coupled is actually a bit of value, I’ll just about ignore the jollies with the other side of the brain thinking this comes too quickly.
Alexander Bjork - E/W
Others to catch the eye across the two events include Aaron Cockerill, Thomas’s Detry and Pieters, and my favourite of all for the week, Alexander Bjork, for whom a victory is very much overdue.
The Swede catches in the eye in more ways than just his 2023 form, but that has plenty to recommend him.
Bjork’s runner-up at Al Hamra in April saw him just in front of Meronk, with earlier Ras champion Fox a couple of shots ahead of Marcus Helligkilde (prominent for three rounds of the Dutch Open in 2021), Perez and Matt Jordan, a frustrating player but with a top five finish at the Links.
That was to be the third of nine successive cuts that include top five finishes in Italy (winner – Meronk – top 10 finish for Perez) and in Belgium, where on each occasion he put up some of the best stats in the field for irons and putting.
After ticking that off, look at his sixth place finish at what might as well be called Broberg’s Scandi Mixed, tied-third at the 2022 Hero Open – won by 2022 Soudal Open champion Sam Horsfield – and his seventh place here last season, when never out of the top 10.
The figures may prompt a negative comment about distance off the tee, but he has plenty of form in the desert (20/28 at Yas Links) where second shot control is more important, as well as in Himmerland, where iron players dominated. Find anything else? nah, me neither.
Shubhankar Sharma - E/W
After a tough week, it was tempting to leave Bjork as a one-and-done but the designer-led theme leads me to Shubhankar Sharma, a player that would look to suit the old-style Dutch Open but improved from a debut 27th here to 14th last season, the best effort coming after three consecutive missed-cuts.
Best efforts over the years are all on the tighter, tree-lined courses of Malaysia, Joburg and Wentworth, but amongst those are a further two outings at a Phillips course – runner-up and seventh in Abu Dhabi – the former when a shot behind Pieters (two top 10 finishes here) and tied with Rafa Cabrera-Bello, winner of the 2017 Scottish Open.
Recent results appear worse than they are, lying inside the top-25 at halfway in Korea and 18th after round one of the Soudal in Belgium.
Clement Sordet - E/W
Scott Jamieson was tempting after a solid run of results and past results in the desert, but, for the last pick, I’ll row in again on still-progressive Clement Sordet.
The 30-year-old Frenchman went into the Soudal Open a popular fancy after a pair of top-10 finishes in Korea and Italy, but blew his chance with an opening 77 before rallying with a second-round six-under 65. That effort confirmed he was still striking the ball well and continued his top-20 figures for approaches and tee-to-green.
With the added advantage of length, Sordet very much reminds me of the likes of Meronk, and it may be that he just needs that slice of luck to get over the line in this company.
It appears that punters are asked to forgive quite a lot when looking away from the top of the market, and whilst the likes Helligkilde, Pepperrell, Mansell et al will understandably have their fans, I’ll keep it very light this week.