Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Singapore Classic preview and best bets

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The DP World Tour returns to Singapore for the first time in almost a decade. Ben Coley has selections ranging from 40/1 to one of the rank outsiders in the field.

Golf betting tips: Singapore Masters

1.5pts e.w. Johannes Veerman at 40/1 (bet365, BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Rafa Cabrera Bello at 66/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Marcus Armitage at 66/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Wil Besseling at 100/1 (BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Jeunghun Wang at 140/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

0.5pt e.w. Joshua Lee at 1000/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

In reading up on Laguna National’s Classic Course, which will host this week’s Singapore Masters as the DP World Tour returns to the country for the first time in almost a decade, one line in particular struck me.

“Don’t expect to shoot your handicap, or even enjoy what you are doing here, but…”

Why is it that so many courses seem keen to set themselves apart not with, say, reasonable green fees, fun holes and a sense of something for everyone, but by being massive and silly?

This place is known locally as The Beast and dubbed the hardest course in Asia by some, although there will doubtless be others who boast of the same. It’s listed as 7,471 yards from the tournament tees and features back-to-back par-fives just to slow things down a little more. As you might expect, there’s a fair bit of water involved.

It was designed by Andy Dye, nephew of Pete, apparently with holes from Oakmont, Troon, Shinnecock and Sawgrass in mind. You guessed it, the nod to the latter comes courtesy of a par-three with an island green, and it’s even the 17th hole. Alas, this one is 200 yards or so, which rather misses the point if you ask me.

The other thing to note is that this isn’t the layout used for The Championship at Laguna National in 2014. Back then, Felipe Aguilar came home in 28 as part of a final-round 62 to win by one, but it was next door on a much shorter and surely much easier layout.

This one will play almost as designed, with the ninth and 18th holes flipped, another deduction only possible with several browser tabs and plenty of willpower. That is presumably to add a bit of drama to the finish as the original ninth is a par-five with water running the length of it, so there’s a chance an eagle is decisive as it was when Aguilar beat Anders Hansen in a battle of the straight hitters.

Here, it’s difficult to say with total confidence what sort of golf will work best, except that patience and a degree of acceptance are sure to be required, and that short might well struggle.

When the Asian Tour came here in 2015, Danthai Boonma won in two-under and eight-over got you inside the top 20. Yes, it played to a par of 71 rather than the 72 we are promised, but the low round of the week was 67 and there were only four of those. It was just plain difficult, made more so by some of the most undulating greens you’ll find anywhere.

I doubt even this improved field will find the Classic Course and its video-game topography anything other than demanding. In fact I wonder if it could play a little bit like Green Eagle, one of the longest courses on the schedule and with a similarly unrelenting back-nine, where double-digits under-par has been out of reach since 2019 as it could well be again here.

It certainly looks like this could be a bit of a slog, particularly in oppressive humidity, so it was very tempting to split stakes between Robert MacIntyre and Jordan Smith after both took last week off.

Given how well suited each of them is to Al Hamra, and that MacIntyre is here rather than heading to the US where an invite to Riviera must’ve been a possibility, it strikes me as significant that they’ve freshened up for this.

Both have Green Eagle form, Smith having won there in 2017 and MacIntyre second on debut a couple of years later, but I’d wanted bigger than the available prices and will leave both out. They are, however, the ones to beat ahead of Ryan Fox and Adrian Otaegui, the latter perhaps a little short off the tee for what lies ahead.

Don’t Veer far from Johannes

Onwards we go to JOHANNES VEERMAN, who cut his teeth in this part of the world and can go well under familiar conditions that help make him one of the key threats to the favourites.

Veerman’s mother is from Thailand and he spent more than a decade of his youth living in the Philippines, Thailand, China and Indonesia, before beginning his professional career on the Asian Development Tour.

He’s got a fabulous record in east Asia, too, and while much of that reflects a pretty low level of competition at times, he was 12th when the DP World Tour came to Malaysia in 2017 and fourth a couple of years later, before he’d earned his card.

Thirteen top-30s from 17 appearances in Singapore and Malaysia plus top-10s in each of his last five starts in Thailand all speak to a familiarity plenty in this field simply will not have, and after a good fortnight in the Middle East that makes for an appealing profile.

Veerman also has a sound record at Green Eagle where he was 10th last year, he played well on his only start so far in Paris, and his long-game was in excellent shape again at Al Hamra last week. But for a couple of short missed putts early on and failing to get up and down from promising positions on par-fives, he’d have been right in the hunt.

That was also the case in Dubai and finishes of eighth and 19th represent some of the strongest form on offer, despite shocking around-the-green figures each time. This is an inherently volatile part of the game and as recently as five starts ago Veerman was among the very best in the field, rather than the worst as he has been more recently.

With his win having come on a big golf course and form under tougher conditions, Veerman might find this combination of course and location absolutely ideal, and a continuation of his ball-striking stats would make him a very likely candidate.

Bello looks a beautiful bet

I will confess that I was looking for an excuse to drop Matthew Southgate from my staking plan, having originally pencilled him in. The popular Englishman has been flushing it for months now and came closest to winning at Green Eagle, but a quiet weekend at Al Hamra where his putter cooled and his long-game for once struggled is all I need.

By contrast, RAFA CABRERA BELLO showed his game to be in good order across the board when adding 13th place to 10th in Abu Dhabi, and he’s a nice price in this kind of company.

Cabrera Bello has suffered with his long-game for a while now but there have been clear signs of improvement off the tee over the past six to nine months, and for the first time since Wentworth his approach play joined the party in the Ras al Khaimah Championship, where he was on the charge before a stumbling finish.

Typically strong on and around the greens these days, a continuation of his improved long-game numbers is all we’re looking for and that’s a chance worth taking, not least because unlike so many of these he has bags of positive experience in this part of the world to call upon.

Fourth and third in the Malaysian Open, Cabrera Bello went on to finish 10th in two of his three starts in the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic, while he contended in Singapore at Sentosa back in 2010. He also made a fast start next door in The Championship at Laguna National, and I like the form he’s shown in the heat and humidity of Mexico City where he threatened once to win a WGC title.

Four top-fives in his last six starts in China, fifth in the Indonesian Open, good efforts in Thailand and three top-20s in his last three starts in India all suggest he’ll adapt better than most and he has a strong form chance regardless.

Ross Fisher was third in the Singapore Masters in 2006 and could go well after an improved display at Al Hamra, but that’s a course made for him and it was more tempting to chance Gavin Green, who has stacks of experience in Singapore as well as his native Malaysia and is prone to popping up out of nowhere.

He’ll have to do that in a sense given a disappointing start to the year, but it’s not long since Green was a persistent threat and he’s certainly a player who wants to be hitting as many drivers as possible. The worry would be that penal courses aren’t ideal given his propensity for a wild one and while the rough here doesn’t look like it’ll be a massive issue, I doubt it’s the sort of course he can bully.

Connor Syme is a player whose progress I really quite like and tougher conditions will suit. He’s a strong driver with form at Green Eagle and his game has travelled with him to Africa and Australia, while he was right in the mix two starts ago when faced with a tricky set-up in Dubai.

He’s shortlisted, but I’ll opt instead for MARCUS ARMITAGE, a quality ball-striker who could really take to this.

Yes, this relies on the Green Eagle idea somewhat as he won there in 2021, and I’ll confess that I like the fact Daniel Gavins won last week. Both are members of Howley Hall in Yorkshire whose careers have followed similar paths, and it didn’t take Gavins long to get off the mark after Armitage had earlier the same summer.

Armitage should be spurred on by that, not least because he wasn’t so fortunate as Gavins when suffering his own late meltdown in Mallorca, and though it’s been a quiet start to the year he showed definite improvement from Abu Dhabi to Dubai before a sensible week off.

Across that fortnight he took a big step forward with his new driver and that should set Armitage up nicely for the sort of demanding test he so clearly enjoys, and he’s a winner and runner-up in China to give us some tangible evidence of form in this part of the world.

WIL BESSELING is a brilliant driver who prefers difficult conditions and as such makes plenty of appeal, too.

Besseling took a big step forward at Al Hamra, where his often troublesome approach play was as good as we’ve seen it for some time, and that looks like a nice building block for a very capable player.

His sole Challenge Tour win came in Colombia when his 16-under total was seven shots too good for the runner-up, and Besseling also won in lesser company in Kenya to demonstrate his adaptability.

A strong record in China includes two top-10s and he played well in Malaysia on his sole start there, and form figures of MC-18-2 at Green Eagle are definitely of interest.

Whether the courses compare at all, the point about difficult conditions stands and Besseling has also been third at Leopard Creek and Valderrama for good measure.

Wang well worth a wager

Those who can cope with the weather and prospect of delays are at an advantage so it’s worth considering anyone with stacks of Asian Tour experience.

Among the many good options is JEUNGHUN WANG, one of a small group of players with course form having been third behind Boonma.

Back from military service with 22nd place in Singapore last August, he’s done really well to put together a string of good displays including when inside the top 30 in Dubai, and I can forgive a missed cut at Al Hamra last week on his first look at that course.

Wang has stacks of experience under similar conditions and boasts an excellent record in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, while he’s also been 13th at Green Eagle at a time when he was out of form and contended at Le Golf National.

A winner in tough conditions at this level, Wang will relish a return to east Asia just as he’s relished a return to golf after what he admitted wasn’t a fun spell doing his duty back home in Korea.

If he’s in the form he showed in Dubai then we’ll get a good run at a nice price and he’s preferred to Taiga Semikawa, a potential star from Japan who acquitted himself well out on the PGA Tour without screaming winner-in-waiting.

Finally, I wouldn’t want to be taking anything less than about 400/1 (imagine writing that in any other sport), but rank outsider JOSHUA LEE is worth a small bet.

This Qualifying School graduate was a good amateur in Florida and while yet to achieve a great deal as a professional, six rounds of par or better in Spain saw him earn full membership for 2023.

He’s already given us something to work with courtesy of 17th place at the very difficult Leopard Creek and while he’s missed the cut in his other four starts, there wasn’t much wrong with his performance in Mauritius nor on his return last week. He just hasn’t made anything.

Significantly, Lee has driven it well on every appearance and his approach play has been really good in each of his last three, so we’ve early signs of the sort of strong tee-to-green game which is absolutely going to be needed in Singapore.

He was admired as a junior for his prodigious length so while I’m not going to pretend we know all we need to know, he’s unexposed and might just underline why he took to Leopard Creek on his first visit.

Posted at 1630 GMT on 06/02/23

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