Matt Cooper

Across the Pond

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PGA Champs' Overseas Sleepers

Monday, August 6, 2018


In the quest to find canny selections from low down the field it's always worth checking out the lesser-known European Tour regulars.
 
In recent years Jordan Smith has nicked T9 (2017), Gregory Bourdy T18 (2016), George Coetzee T9 (2015), Mikko Ilonen T7 and Marc Warren T15 (both 2014).
 
The value is out there. Let's see if we can find the right name or names for this year's renewal at Bellerive Country Club.
 
 

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The erudite 27-year-old has made only two major starts in the last three seasons and both were top 20. He was T16 in the 2017 U.S. Open and then a fast finishing T6 in last month's Open. Winner of the Qatar Masters he ranks 26th on the ET for Bogey Avoidance, which hints at a preference for tough tasks. Some startling difference in his Strokes Gained stats however: 2nd for Approach the Green (1.339), but 237th for Off the Tee and 243rd for Putting. Missed the cut in his only previous PGA start in 2015.
 
With the exception of his win in the 2016 Masters the Englishman has been pretty poor in the American majors. He has three top 25s in seven starts in the Open, but that win (quite the exception it has to be said) is his only top 25 in 15 big four starts this side of the Atlantic. He does, however, appear to be emerging from his slump, talking in great terms of work done with Sean Foley and collecting four top 25s in his last six starts.
 
Still in with a chance to make the European Ryder Cup team and to do so a strong week here would be a big help. And to be honest it would be against type for it to happen. Back in 2009 he collected four top 30 finishes in the majors but astonishingly he has just one in the rest of his 26 career major starts. In the PGA he is 3-for-8 with a best of T19 nine years ago. T39 at the Open and T17 in the Bridgestone Invitational. 
 
The Englishman opened 2018 with 14 straight cuts made and there were ten efforts of T21 or better in the last 12 of those appearances. But he missed the cuts at both the Scottish Open and Open Championship so this week is a tricky one to assess. The three-time European Tour winner is 3-for-7 in American majors with a best of T23 in the 2016 U.S. Open. He's 1-for-3 in this tournament with the weekend reaping only T49 two years ago.
 
A third major championship start for the Duke Blue Devil and his first outside the U.K. (he has finished MC-T28 in the last two Opens). His recent form is decent: T2 in the Open de France, followed by top 30s in Ireland and Carnoustie. Moreover he was T8 in the Houston Open and T29 at the Memorial Tournament, two of his last three PGA starts.
 
The German was, of course, the winner of this event in 2010, one of four top 12s he has in nine starts. Moreover he's go mug in majors, historically at least (he also won the 2014 U.S. Open). However he was T7 in this event in 2016, followed it with T16 at Augusta (his best effort there) but has not made a top 30 in a major since. He has missed his last three cuts and six of his last eight, but the exceptions were good: T8 in the Italian Open and T2 at the BMW Inernational.
 
A bit of a transitional season for the Englishman who has returned to his old coach and has twice peaked with T2 (Oman Open, Open de France) but both times talked of fighting his own swing. T28 in the Open at Carnoustie when going backwards in the final round. Another with a poor major record Stateside: he's got a best of T23 in 12 starts and five cuts made.
 
The Spanish 25-year-old counts Jose Maria Olazabal as a mentor and his game has been growing in strength and maturity in the last two years. In 2014 and 2015 he finished 118th on the Race to Dubai, in 2016 and 2017 69th and 58th, this term he is already up to 26th having collected a second win, the Belgian Knockout (he likes head to head having won last year's Paul Lawrie Match Play). This is his major debut.  Third for Bogey Avoidance on the ET and 27th for SG: Tee to Green; the long game is his strength. 
 
The 28-year-old Swede took a little time emerging from the Challenge Tour, but having done so his progress has been swift and impressive. He graduated at the third time of asking and then made three top tens as he completed 43rd on the Race to Dubai as a rookie. This year he has claimed the China Open as he moved to 17th. He's played just two majors (last year and this at the Open; both missed cuts) and was T48 on WGC debut last week. A slow start but keep an eye on him in the future.
 
A two-time winner on the European Tour who has used his quick rising world ranking to play more in the States this year (he retains strong links with Austin having gone to the University of Texas). Thus far he struggled at the top level. His only cut made in five major starts was when T63 in this event 12 months ago.
 
A five-time winner on the European Tour and very popular but his major record is one to put anybody off: T30 on PGA debut in 2014, T27 on U.S. Open first start in 2015, seven missed cuts since. Averages 4.22 birdie per round ranking him 23rd on the ET, but he tends to thrive when he can make lots of them and has poor short game stats (195th SG: Around the Green, 104th SG: Putting). 
 
His game is built on a strong putting stroke: he ranks 18th for Strokes Gained: Putting (0.857), but 139th for Approach the Green, 176th for Tee to Green and 244th for Off the Tee. Famously tied for the lead after 54 holes of the 2015 Open when an amateur, but ended that week T30. His other four major starts have seen three early departures and T67.
 
This time last year headed to Quail Hollow to make his major championship debut ans promptly finished T9. Missed the cut at the Open last month in his only other start at the top level. Has just two top tens this season and, indeed, since that big result 12 months ago.
 
Missed the cut on his Open (and major) debut last month, but he did not leave straight away. Indeed he hung around and took close watch of his good friend Francesco Molinari, even venturing out to join Mrs Molinari at the end. Inspirational? It might be, but the win would be a massive surprise because he still lacks one at either CT or ET level. He does have nine top 15 finishes this season however.
 
Was primed to play the very tough Player Course at DLF in the Indian Open after Darren Clarke suggested it would need a calm head to be played well and Wallace took the hint. Very confident and also won the BMW International Open but since then he has recorded four missed cuts, not once breaking 70.
 
Another to have enjoyed a sparkling season which has somewhat run out of gas. The two ET wins and T9 in the WGC Mexico Championship feel a long time ago. Missed cuts in Ireland and Scotland as links land hit him hard, fought hard to make the cut in the Open, was T69 last week in Firestone. His tournament debut.
 
Michael Lorenzo Vera
Number one on the 2007 Challenge Tour he enjoyed life a bit too much in those early days, but he found a girl, had a baby, got a new coach and visited a famous French sports psychologist. Since then? Promotion again in 2014 and he stayed on the ET ever since. Yet to win on either tour since 2007 however. A first start in an American major.
 
A major championship debut for the 38-year-old Finn who made his breakthrough at the Shot Clock Masters, winning by six strokes. His first three attempts to stay on the ET all failed but this will be his fourth year in succession. Big step up in class for him however.
 
Winner of the event in 2008 and was T13 in 2016 but being really honest? He hasn't made a major championship top ten since he was T4 in the 2012 U.S. Open. And he hasn't made an ET or PGA top 25 since the Turkish Airlines Open last November.
 
Last played this tournament in 2006 when he missed the cut and no real reason to think that May's Senior PGA Champion can pull out anything remarkable.
 
Thomas Bjorn
Ryder Cup captain. He's got a head full of information and this week's on course action (his own at least) is secondary.
 
 
Conclusions?
 
Adrian Otaegui could be a very interesting debutant. He knows how to grind out a score.
 
Eddie Pepperell has that small sample of major form, so cannot be overlooked. 
 
Jorge Campillo is the other name of interest: his consistent game and the good vibes might make a decent combo.
 
 
 
 
 
 



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