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Matt Cooper

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Euro Tour Fringe Notebook

Sunday, January 6, 2019


This is the time of year when canny One-and-Done picks are required and also a neat period to take a closer look at some of the performers lower down the rankings, just to remind yourself where they might excel in the coming months with a low market value. Here are 15 to consider:
 
 
It’s not exactly news to point out that the Englishman thrives on the linksland. He’s finished T12 and T8 in the Open and was also a runner-up in the Irish Open at Portstewart. What’s more he has shared the 36-hole lead in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart and the 54-hole lead in the Oman Open at Al Mouj, the latter a desert track with quite a striking links-like appearance. 
 
A winner of both the European Masters and Madeira Islands Open, a top five finisher in the Madrid Open – what do those results hint at? The veteran can play at altitude. Bear that in mind should he make the journey to the inaugural Kenyan Open, played at high-up Nairobi.
 
Now playing his ninth successive season on the European Tour, the last handful of years have been a curiosity because three times (including last year) he finished outside the top 100 yet clung on to a card whilst in 2017 he smoothed his way to a career-best 26th in the rankings. In all this time he has only one win and that, too, was peculiar: The 2012 Nelson Mandela Championship that was reduced to 36 holes on a shortened course (he shot 66-57). But his fondness for South Africa was backed up by top threes in his next two starts there and recently he has again been knocking on the door, holding or sharing the 54-hole lead in three of his last five starts there. Moreover, in one of the exceptions he ended the week T7 and he was also T4 at the Dunhill Championship at the start of the 2017 season. All told, in seven starts in South Africa since the 2016 season ended, he has slept on being within four swings of the lead six times ahead of the final day. 
 
Like Southgate, the Frenchman should be added to the linksland section of the notebook because of two halfway lead hints last season: when he shared it in the Irish Open at Ballyliffin (finishing T10 on a genuine links track) and was two clear in the Oman Open (T31, see above). He also opened this season with T2 in the Mauritius Open on a track designer Ernie Els claims was links-inspired. To further back that up he was T3 in the 2017 Scottish Open at Dundonald Links (and also topped the GIR stats).
 
The Korean told Rotoworld that he loves desert golf and the stats back that up. In the UAE he has five top 30s from just six starts, including T2 in the Asian Tour’s 2014 Dubai Open, T11 and T15 in the Abu Dhabi Championship, and T6 in last year’s Dubai Desert Classic. He won the 2017 Qatar Masters and was T26 in the Oman Open. So all in all that’s eight top 30s from ten Middle East starts. 
 
The Paraguayan likes a funnel effect because, with the exception of a top two at this year’s Open venue Royal Portrush, all his top threes on the European Tour (not counting the CT co-sanctioned Madeira Islands Open) have come on layouts with trees down either side of the fairways: Wins at Saujana and Gut Larchenhof, T2 at Woburn, Hilversumsche and PGA Catalunya, T3 at Crans, Milano and Prosper. Furthermore, his best efforts in big events re-iterate the trend: T12 in the WGC Mexico Championship (T8 at halfway) and six top 25s at Wentworth.
 
As his given name hints Smith is a decent performer in the Middle East. His two victories on the 2016 Challenge Tour both came there (in Egypt and the UAE), then he went 3-for-3 on his first Desert Swing (all top 40s, T6 in the Qatar Masters the standout) and added T25 in the DP World Tour Championship at the end of his rookie campaign. He struggled on the Desert Swing last year but he was first for Ball-Striking and third for All-Round when T26 in the Oman Open and a lucrative T12 in the Race to Dubai finale at Jumeirah.
 
Twice fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship gives some hint at a fondness for seaside golf, but there are other reasons to pencil him into the notebook for such tests. He lost a play-off for the 2017 Qatar Masters (quality performers at Doha can cope with wind and transfer it on the links), he claimed a first European Tour win at the blustery seaside Verdura last May, and he was T2 heading into the final round at the Irish Open in July.
 
The South African made a very impressive start to European Tour rookie campaign, ending the season ranked 38th and that effort was more often than not constructed on a solid Thursday base. In 26 ET starts since he graduated from the second tier he was within four shots of the lead 14 times and eight of those times he was within two swings. In all that led to six top fives after 18 holes. 
 
The Englishman doesn’t throw a lot of low numbers around, but he can grind and that is strength is built on a straight game from the tee. In his last 16 cuts made he has eight times ranked first for Driving Accuracy, 14 times was top seven and he was never worse than 15th. It says much that he has finished T12 and T4 at Valderrama. A tight test talent.
 
In 2017 the Englishman highlighted the split between the top and bottom level of prize funds on the ET as he totted up eight top 30s in his first ten starts, but was making little headway and by season’s end he was outside the top 100. The problem? His best efforts were in small events. This is backed up by his career top fives on the European Tour: He has 13 of them and only one (T2 2015 Open de France) is in a high grade event. 
 
In similar vein to Morrison Kieffer has struggled to perform in the big weeks, but he’s also chalked up six full seasons at this level with relatively little apparent difficulty. He has nine top fives on the ET and only one was a big prize fund event – the 2016 Irish Open (and that was achieved by playing his socks off once he carded a R1 77 to lie T126). He has held six top ten positions at 54 holes in high grade events but five times he slipped outside the top ten and on the other occasion he needed 77 blows.
 
In contrast to Morrison and Kieffer, since the Kiwi won his full ET card in late 2016 the foundations of his two card retentions have been built on big performances in well paid weeks. He has nine top tens in that spell, six of them Rolex Series and a seventh the well-funded Maybank Championship.
 
During the Scottish Open last July there were many concerns that if England had qualified for the soccer World Cup Final many of that nation’s golfers would go missing in the final round (which coincided with the big match). In retrospect it was Campillo who did. Prior to that lap he collected ten top 30s in 16 starts (seven of them top eights). Rounds of 69-65-67 at Gullane had him in line for yet another top 30, but he shot 71, finished T32 and in the end would see the top 30 only once in his final 12 seasonal starts. A sharp split in performance and it may pay to wait for proof that the slump is over.
 
The Dane’s record in the Czech Masters at Albatross is far from poor (T27-T25-T9), but a closer looks reveals that he regularly flirts with the lead there. He was tied for the halfway advantage in 2016, was T2 and just one back in 2018, and in-between he opened his account with a horrible 75 for T104 only to card two 68s which leapt him to T6 at 54 holes before he relapsed with a R4 75. He was also just three swings back of the Saturday night lead in a Challenge Tour event in the Czech Republic in 2014.
 
 



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