The European Tour makes one of its global excursions this week, with the Indian Open taking place at the DLF Golf and Country Club near New Delhi. Steve Rawlings previews the somewhat quirky event...
The Hero Indian Open was first staged back in 1964 and won by Australian legend, Peter Thompson. The tournament was the brainchild of Thompson and he went on to win it twice more, in 1966 and 1976. It became an Asian Tour event in 1970 and it was co-sanctioned with the European Tour for the first time in 2015. Having been staged in one of the last three months of the year previously, there was no event in 2014, presumably because of the new link up with the European Tour, and the necessary change in position on the Asian Tour schedule.
After two wonderful years at the intricate and challenging Delhi Golf Course, the tournament moved to the Gary Player Course and the DLF Golf and Country Club two years ago and as a result it's gone from being a terrific event to bet on to a really tricky one.
The Gary Player Course, DLF Golf and Country Club, Gurgaon, India.
The Gary Player Course only opened in 2015 and we were very much in the dark two years ago. With an advertised lengh of in excess of 7,600 yards it looked far too long for many pros, including the defending champ, SSP Chawrasia, who is notoriously short off the tee, but they messed about with the yardage by using different tees, ignoring the Championship ones, and by round four it played to just a smidgen over 7,000 yards.
Chawrasia cruised to a successful defence by seven strokes, leaving many of us confused and angry. How could someone averaging only 280 yards off the tee win on a course measuring more than 7,600 yards? The answer was simple really. When the course doesn't measure anywhere close to that! As you can probably gauge by my tone, I still haven't got over it!
The yardage, if it can be trusted at all, is set at 7,379 for this year's renewal, as it was last year, and it's a traditional par 72 layout, with the standard 12 par fours, four par three and four par fives.
The course is entirely Bermuda. The fairways are narrow with some undulation and the greens are large, undulating and forecasted to run at around 11-12 on the Stimpmeter.
I don't like this course at all, it's far too gimmicky and danger seems to lurk almost everywhere. In the two editions to date, only three players have played all 72 holes without making at least one double-bogey. Water is in play on seven holes in total - one, five, six, eight, nine, 16 and 18.
It's a really tough test and only seven players bettered par in 2017. Last year that went up to 15 but there was a wide separation in scores, with the two playoff protagonists, Matt Wallace and Andrew Johnston, reaching 11-under-par. The organisers were lucky with the weather though, as the wind wasn't really a factor, and it appears we're going to get another benign week this time around too.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 05:30 UK time on Thursday.
Having expected length to be the key before we ever saw the course, that really hasn't been the case in either of the last two editions. Here are the key stats for the top-five and tiesover the last two years.
2017 SSP Chawrasia -10 - DD: 67, DA: 12, GIR: 31, Scr: 1, PA: 7 Gavin Green -3 - DD: 60, DA: 28, GIR: 31, Scr: 45, PA: 1 Scott Jamieson -2 - DD: 16, DA: 7, GIR: 3, Scr: 55, PA: 5 Matteo Manassero -2 - DD: 58, DA: 12, GIR: 10, Scr: 7, PA: 43 Rafa Cabrera-Bello -1 - DD: 21, DA: 41, GIR: 4, Scr: 57, PA: 23 Anirban Lahiri -1 - DD: 11, DA: 49, GIR: 20, Scr: 54, PA: 8 Carlos Pigem -1 - DD: 26, DA: 35, GIR: 1, Scr: 44, PA: 13
2018 Matt Wallace -11 - DD: 16, DA: 8, GIR: 20, Scr: 5, PA: 5 Andrew Johnson -11 - DD: 15, DA: 24, GIR: 2, Scr: 1, PA: 4 Sihwan Kim -8 - DD: 63, DA: 8, GIR: 5, Scr: 2, PA: 33 Pablo Larrazabal -7 - DD: 9, DA: 45, GIR: 17, Scr: 28, PA: 32 Matthias Schwab -7 - DD: 11, DA: 8, GIR: 1, Scr: 25, PA: 13
To succeed here you need to survive. Bombing it off the tee won't get the job done, it's all about plotting your way patiently and overcoming the inevitable bad breaks. Three of the top-four ranked for Greens In Regulation were placed in 2017 and the first two ranked for GIR last year finished inside the top-five. The best scrambler won in 2017 and was beaten in the playoff last year. Both winners have putted well - ranking seventh and fifth.
It's a controversial venue but it can't be denied that the winners have excellent all round stats and if we disregard its appearance, quirks and undoubted ability to hack off players and viewers alike, it does seem to produce a worthy winner.
Is There an Angle In?
Eddie Pepperell, who was tied for the lead at halfway in 2017, described the course as 'designed by Satan!'.
And last year's winner, Matt Wallace, had this to say. "Every hole is a double-bogey waiting to happen."
Patience and a really good temperament are going to be the keys to success this week. Anyone getting remotely frustrated with the course could soon find themselves out of contention and an ability to ride the bad breaks and remain on an even keel will be crucial.
It's no surprise to see that both course winners are multiple winners and that last year's runner-up, Johnston, is one of the most laid back characters you're ever likely to encounter on a golf course.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Although the playoff was played out between two Englishman last year, the home contingent have dominated this event over the years and an Indian has won 12 of the last 27 renewals.
Only three holes averaged below par in 2017 and last year it was five - the par five fifth and the par five eighth, the par ninth, the par four 11 and par 3 12th but don't assume that's how it will play this year. In 2017, the only three holes to average below par were the ninth, 11th and the par five 15th. The 15th was the easiest hole in 2017, averaging 4.93, but it averaged 5.06 last year (ranked 12th) and last year's easiest hole, the par five fifth, averaging 4.85, had averaged 5.09 the year before, ranking 14th.
I suspect we'll see change again this time around but one thing is clear looking at the two renewals together, is that (if there even is one) the scoring section is between holes eight and 13. The par four 14th is an absolute brute, averaging around half a stroke over-par each year and the finish is really tough
With just two renewals at the venue to consider, it's almost guesswork as to whether anyone can win from off the pace here or not but I suspect they can. Wallace trailed by six at halfway but was tied for the lead with a round to go and while Chawrasia led from halfway two years ago, before winning easily by seven strokes, a couple of players made up a lot of ground between rounds and it's often the case that's it's easier to make up places on a tough course than it is when everyone is knocking in birdies left, right and centre.
Chawrasia coasted to victory in 2017 with his inexperienced closest challengers wilting on Sunday so it was a very straightforward finish but we witnessed all sorts of drama 12 months ago...
Matt Wallace, who was an 80.00 chance before the off, drifted to 270.00 in-running, but he looked as though he'd taken control of the tournament going into the back-nine on Sunday and he was matched at a low of 1.18 but everything changed in the space of a couple of minutes.
Wallace hit a poor tee-shot into the rough on the par three 16th and an even worse recovery shot that flew the green and found a nasty spot in the greenside bunker, just as Johnston birdied the equally tough 17th when trailing by two.
Wallace was a long odds-on shot to make a double-bogey on 16 so with the tough 17th still to play, it looked like Johnston would play the par five 18th with at least one-shot lead and the market reacted. Johnston was matched at a low of 1.01 for more than £5k! That was a nasty case of fat fingers by someone but he was also matched for plenty at around the 1.20 mark - which didn't look stupidly short given the situation.
Wallace then got up-and-down brilliantly at 16 for bogey and Johnston, presumably playing the percentages when he knew he was tied, turned down the chance to go for the green with his second shot on 18 after a brilliant drive. Wallace then parred both 17 and 18 and the event went in to extra time.
The first two home weren't the only two to trade at odds-on though - Emiliano Grillo, who eventually finished sixth, traded at 1.69 on Friday morning! That was ridiculous given how tough the venue is and given danger lurks all over this beast of a course and we could very easily see numerous players trade low and get beat this time around too.
The market couldn't decide between the up-and-coming Thai, Jazz Janewattananond, and the number one Indian in the line-up, Anirban Lahiri, but it's starting to see sense with Lahiri likely to go off favourite.
Lahiri won this event in 2015 and that was the fourth title he's captured in his homeland (two Sail Opens and Panasonic Open on the Asian Tour). He was fifth on his course debut behind SSP two years ago after a slow start and although he could only finish 34th 12 months ago, he's still the man to beat for me.
Lahiri shot the best round of the day (68) at the Valspar Championship on Sunday and that looks like a perfect way to sign off before he attempts to win his second Indian Open. He's finished inside the top-ten in nine of his last 12 starts in his homeland and I'll be surprised if he doesn't figure this time around.
Jorge Campillo looks short enough given he doesn't impress in-contention and given he's still looking for his first European Tour win and although Shubhankar Sharma showed signs of encouragement at last week's Maybank Championship, he's not playing well enough to risk from the get-go.
I'm more than happy to take a chance on Anirban Lahiri @ 18.00and I've also thrown a few pounds at the 2017 winner, SSP Chawrasia, who's already won the title twice. He missed the cut 12 months ago when attempting to win the event for a third year in-a-row but I'm not going to let that put me off given he's also finished runner-up four times too. He's a tournament specialist and a fair price.