Bridgestone Challenge

Time for Bradley Neil to hit the big time

Sam Connor – 0.5 points each-way @ 175-1

Bradley Neil – 0.75 points each-way @ 50-1

It seems as if taking last week off for holiday was a great idea. Although there was a small case for backing eventual winner Birgir Hafthorsson on his course form in 2016, it was something of a pick to expect a near-veteran to win his first event at anything like this level in 167 starts.

Of course, with only seven qualifying events left before the top-ranked 45 players battle it out for the 15 main tour cards, players need to get moving up the board and the Norwegian showed just what can happen with a win.

Interestingly enough, he was the third player in a row to win the Cordon after a poor season and showed again that when the big boys are elsewhere, these are very open fields.

Rising from the depths of nothing to a current 16th, he is almost certain to make the finale although there are less than 20,000 points separating him from the current 46th ranked Foos. Indeed, Oliver Farr, currently in that final qualifying place, is only 10k ahead of 69th-placed Jeff Whinter. With three lucrative events coming up, anyone down to 80th would have some sort of chance to make the plane to Oman.

As for the front of the rankings. Aaron Rai doesn’t even turn up and increases his lead at the top. With Suri taking his European Tour card, he has a 50k lead over Pedro Oriel (non-runner this week) and whilst it will be surprising if 130k is enough to win the Road To Oman, he surely will return for the bigger bucks shortly – our 25-1 ante-post voucher hopes so!

Just to make things easy, the Tour have decided to play around again this week and whilst it’s lovely to see an event held in England, it has now become a ‘modified Stableford’ event. Instead of the standard scoring, players will be hugely favoured by playing aggressively although not recklessly as the difference between a birdie and bogey is 3 points. It’s possible the longer hitters will be favoured but organisers have made two of the reachable par-5s into par-4s (leaving three) but with not a single bunker on the course (so what, they are never penal these days anyway) the ability to place the ball may count for plenty.

In researching the course, I found a snippet of interest and one that supports the main bet advertised on Twitter earlier today. Although a few years old, Golf Architecture describe the lack of bunkers as giving no visual cues to the golfer. Indeed, they go on to describe the par-5 2nd –

Not massively long, careful study reveals a fine hole which asks the golfer either to place his tee shot just before a turn in the fairway, or alternatively to take on mounds on the right hand side for a possible attempt to reach the green in two. But standing on the tee the player has almost no way of identifying this challenge.

The article studies a couple more holes and the indication is that long-hitters will be favoured but knowledge of the course may be even more crucial.

In backing Sam Connor, we have a player that won here as recently as the end of July, and by seven shots. Of course this is a step-up from Europro level but if knowledge of the course is of some influence I don’t mind taking large prices about a player that topped or joint-led the rankings for ‘par or better’, eagles, par-3 performance, par-4’s, back-9 scoring and ‘bogey free streak’! He ruins it with the T2 for the front-9 but if this is a unique challenge I would rather be taking the chance with someone that will be totally at home here.

Efforts at this level need a bit of improvement but with a couple of top-20 finishes this year (rounds of 65 and 66 at both) and a T45 in Prague behind him, he may find that push forward after a series of good efforts over the last month back at the satellite level, where last week’s T8 would have teed him up nicely.

In looking for a back-up wager, I felt putting in one of the more standard players was a sensible move.

Ryan Evans looks a tad big at 28-1 given his style and would be shorter with me on a normal week but it’s too risky in this format and after considering a handful, it went down to JB Hansen and Bradley Neil, both of whom can open up off the tee and go slightly loopy on the scoring front. At similar prices, and without the dubious attitude when in front, the young Scot was far more convincing.

A much-decorated amateur, the 21-year-old has been playing at this level for just over a season but the talent is clearly now beginning to show.

Winner of the Scottish Boys and then The Amateur Championship (beating Zander Lombard) he understandably took a season to adjust to life at this level. However, now settled at 7th in the rankings, he would need just a couple more half-decent placings to assure him of a ticket in the big league. After back-to-back runner-up finishes in July, he made the latter stages of the Northern Ireland Match-6 event, another bizarre set-up by the leading lights who know better. His latest result at the Rolex a couple of weeks ago reads better than the eventual 21st finish given he started with a 75, but improving throughout the weekend finishing 69/65.

Should the young Scot get the driver performing accurately, he could take of the easier holes apart. There is the worry that he over-exerts the reachable longer holes and drops shots unnecessarily but that’s the chance taken with any of these, and I’d rather have a birdie machine than a careful, shorter, hitter at this format. At one show of 50-1, he just beats the Dane and Robin Sciot-Siegrist, who can go on long birdie runs but who has disappointed since winning his maiden.

It is what it is but these two players hold strong claims for differing reasons so we’ll attack from all sides!