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Jordan Smith
Jorge Campillo
Alexander Knappe

While I was never going to back him at the price, last week’s ISPS Handa champion Lucas Herbert came to the course with the right form-lines – Dubai and Crans – that mirrored one of Ishioka’s previous course runner-ups in Ashun Wu. That 2015 showing was the best we had in terms of cross-tour form and it’s at least slightly pleasing that the thinking was right.

As for the result, as home favourites Kanaya and Hoshino struggled to keep up, the likes of the classier DP World Tour players came to the fore, suggesting that bridging the gap between top local and top grade is a touch harder than first thought.

The tour moves to yet another Jack Nicklaus design this week, this time the self-titled track at Incheon, South Korea. There looks to be little in the comparison to last week’s Japanese track, although two-time Incheon winner Sangmoon Bae and 2015 Ishioka champion KH Lee have both won the Byron Nelson championship on the PGA Tour, suggesting the class again should rise to the top this week.

At around 400 yards longer than last week’s test, this may have been even more suitable for Lucas Herbert, especially given the high-ranking players in the 2015 Presidents Cup. Back then, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama and Bae top-scored for the Internationals, while Phil Mickelson, Zach and Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson scored heavily for the US. Of note, 2021 Masters champion Matsuyama also won the 2016 Japan Open, beating KH Lee into joint-second spot.

None of those play here this week, but that doesn’t detract from the top of the market.

Of the top, Jordan Smith, Robert Macintyre and Rasmus Hojgaard hold obvious claims. The Scot certainly caught the eye last weekend after a four-under back-nine but he’s often let punters down when sub-20/1, and whilst this course should suit better than Japan, he surely has one eye on defending his Italian Open title in a couple of weeks time.

The Danish youngster may need another run-out after almost two months away, but he’s also let winning positions go in France, South Africa and Ras Al Khaimah over the last six months and his fortitude in contention needs to be seen again.

Smith is tougher to knock, with what should be a relevant history at likely comparative tracks at Himmerland, Green Eagle and Ras, all long enough for a connection with the test this week.

Whilst the stats need to be viewed with a touch of caution, the Englishman continues to find fairways and greens at will, ranking highly in all vital categories at Singapore, South Africa and Japan, a factor that may give him the edge over those looser players off the tee.

This is a definite downgrade for Masters qualifier Adrian Meronk, but he may be another that needs a run on a strange track, whilst Yannik Paul will need to tidy up his driving to allow him to continue his Smith-esque tee-to-green game.

The main selection has plenty of form in Asia, with a pair of top five finishes in China, as well as a seventh place in Malaysia. In a similar vein, and just one shot behind Smith in Japan, Jorge Campillo comes here in rich form and was another to catch the eye last week.

The Spaniard is at home with a test of ball control and, as suggested by his wins in Morocco (9-under), Qatar (play-off in -13), and just six weeks ago in Kenya when recording a comfortable two-shot win, he can compete with the best in every type of condition whether a birdie-fest or a war of attrition.

Where Smith goes, Campillo follows, tying with him when third in the 2018 China Open and finishing two places higher a year later. The well-travelled Spaniard can add another top-10 in the same place, as well as two top five finishes in Malaysia and a run of form that reads fourth in India, win in Kenya and a closing ninth in Japan, finishing with four unanswered birdies in his last ten holes.

For performance over the last three months, the mercurial 36-year-old is 16th in overall ranking on stats site Tour Tips, helped by 27th in total driving, 20th in ball-striking, 29th in greens, 39th in scrambling and 27th for putting average – something beautiful about that consistency, and requiring very little improvement to figure here.

I’m waiting another week for one of last week’s main fancies, Antoine Rozner, who is another that might need a sighter to get back on an impressive form train, while at least one more of last week’s eye-catchers make the plan.

Callum Hill and Guido Migliozzi also appealed after their starred efforts last week, with the Italian favoured following his first three rounds of 69/68/64 in China. The Italian was unfortunate to lose to a demon putting display by Rozner in Qatar but, that, along with top finishes in Denmark, Dubai and at the European Open go alongside three wins at this level in making his claim. That is, if last week was no flash in the pan and if he, like Macintyre, hasn’t been thinking too much about Marco Simone next week.

Instead, I’ll take a chance with the player ranked number one for total driving over the last three months, Alexander Knappe.

The German’s best form reads very well in the context of this event, with his best effort (according to world rankings) being a win at the Di-Data in Fancourt, a 7400-yard (roughly) course that saw him beat big-hitters Dean Burmester, Daniel Hillier and JC Ritchie amongst others.

That third win on the Challenge Tour came six years after his two wins at the Swiss Challenge (similar yardage, altitude accepted) and, more significantly, at the Hainan Open in China, again beating a long driver in Pep Angles at a course that bombers Grant Forrest and Tapio Pulkkanen have both finished as runners-up.

As well as topping the table for prowess off the tee, the 34-year-old is mid-30 ranked for greens, a tempting combination, especially after looking at his play in-running.

Although he has missed half his cuts in 2023, when he has been right he has recorded a never-nearer third in Thailand and a closing sixth in India, before leading the Steyn City field into Sunday. Although he could not finish it off, the performance confirmed the type of track he needs – with the co-sanctioned event having been won the previous year by the previously mentioned home lad, Ritchie.

A bogey-free 64 saw him leap up the board to eighth place after two rounds last week, whilst an early double, and a few too many dropped shots saw him drop away to 35th by the time the cheques were signed.

Knappe is expected to find a bit more on a track that must suit better than the comparatively claustrophobic Ishioka, and whilst Knappe isn’t the nap of the week, he represents the best value on the card at 80/1.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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