Kazakhstan Open

Joel Sjoholm. Mad as a box of frogs but of huge interest this week!

Oliver Lindell – 1 point each-way @ 35-1

Mikael Lundberg – 0.5 points each-way @ 66-1 

Joel Sjoholm – 0.5 points each-way @ 66-1

With Julien Guerrier’s second victory of the season at last week’s Irish Challenge came also the realisation that the race to be number one on the Road To Oman is as open as I can recall.

Winnings in the region of 130k were never going to be enough to hold on, but opting not to play in the season’s most lucrative event is surely going to cost current rankings leader, Aaron Rai, very dear. Of course, nobody can blame him for continuing to gain experience on the main tour especially following former number two, Julian Suri’s, victory in Denmark assured him a two-year exemption. However, there have been eight events since his last round at this level and the feeling was he would turn up at least in the more valuable tournaments. With just half-a-dozen events left and the remaining nine players of the top ten taking their place at Nurtau, it looks curtains for our 25-1 ante-post bet.

It is unlikely it would fall in such a way but it is entirely possible that any of the players currently ranked 2-9 could be heading the money-list come Sunday evening, whilst interestingly/confusingly Guerrier would be winning his third event and quite entitled to miss the rest of the season if he desired!

With 72k for winning and 22,500 for 5th, we can assume that the majority of the field will be ‘off’ and trying. Indeed, should 100th place Cormac Sharvin (for example) finish top three, it is likely he would enter that vital top-45, in a qualifying place for the finale. Such dreams are born in one, probably over-valued, event.

The Kazakhstan Open is historically played on alternate courses and, being an ‘odd’ year, returns to Nurtau where scores of around -15 are required. The rough tends to be penal here and a confident, accurate game is needed to be contending come Sunday.

The last three winners of the event around the 7300-yard course have all come to the first tee in decent form. 2015 victor, Sebastian Gros was winning his second of the season and recorded T31/T25/T16 in previous weeks, whilst 2013 champion, Johan Carlsson, had a couple of top-10s in his lead-in. Both Carlsson and 2011 winner, Tommy Fleetwood (T35/T2), won their maidens here but significantly, like nine of the last twelve champions, had multiple top-10s through the season.

The game has moved on at such pace since then but it does look for the main bet as if we are looking for a progressive young player, who has already shown high class form throughout the year. Not necessarily a proven winner, certainly someone that already ranks high on the list of possible bets for next year, should they not gain their card.

It’s very difficult to argue with the front of the market. Exciting Swede, Oscar Lengden, has now started to progress from a stellar amateur career and four wins on the NGL, and is deserved favourite following a victory at the Bridgestone and a rallying runner-up a week later in Carlow. Indeed, he was right up the exhaust pipe of eventual winner, Guerrier, going into Payday but struggled through the first few holes, recording 3-over for eleven holes and allowing the Frenchman to saunter away. However, 4-under for his final seven holes shows a player in rude health and he seems a genuine prospect for honours at the highest level.

Saying that, whilst he looks the one to beat it looks extremely hard to split the majority of the top-12 or so in the betting and it was no surprise to see a little bit of early money for Chase Koepka, currently 10th in the standings and coming off a missed-cut but with four top-10s this year fitting the supposed profile.

From the top lot, I can only select one player and it has to be future star (yes, I am certain) Oliver Lindell.

The 18-year-old Finn was backed at a far higher price in Denmark in June and, of course, missed the cut. Since then he has justified that faith with four top-7 finishes from eight starts including his last two events and is another that looks on his way to the top. Multi-decorated as a youngster, he won three on the Nordic League in 2015/16 and most recently hit three rounds of 68 or less at the shortened Cordon, and finished with a 67 in last week’s Irish. Whilst I am sure he has plenty to learn, he has already achieved an awful lot and looks the type to continue that good run of maiden winners. Currently 33rd in the rankings, a third successive top-5 would surely see him in a very strong position with just a handful of events left.

Swede’s tend to do well here for some reason and although the second bet is hardly a youngster, there are a couple of factors that make appeal at 66-1 in a field that is top heavy but lacks much after the half-way mark of the bookies odds.

Mikael Lundberg is soon approaching veteran status but his form in the eastern side of Europe is excellent. Flitting between the two levels, it is surprising that the 44-year-old hasn’t played in this event more than once, ten years ago, but he is a Russian Open specialist and maybe the return to a favoured part of the world can spark a revival. Twice victor and once third in Moscow, his best effort, moneywise, has in fact been his last victory in the Lyoness in 2014 when beating the likes of Wiesberger and Luiten, rallying after a poor 76 to record a 65 and a play-off win against the Austrian.

I’ll fully admit that Lundberg is tough to read but he has followed his early-season victory at NGL level with a runner-up in Sweden and a couple of top-5s at the Hydro and the Rolex. Currently ranked 17th, he is just 20k ahead of 45th but more importantly is just 3k short of a top-15 and a guaranteed card back on the money train. With years of experience, he may just know when to attack and force his way up the board.

There look to be cases for at least fifteen of the top half of the market but the final bet is the slightly eccentric Joel Sjoholm, another Swede of considerable experience.

The 32-year-old Chilean-born seems to have been around longer than his years but often turns up at some point on the leaderboard and this looks a perfect opportunity to build on his victory at the Italian Challenge with rounds of 67/62/66/65. Given his nature, the next two moderate efforts are forgiven but that recent run of 23/59/21 does remind me of the earlier paragraphs and runs of recent winners, as well as the form he showed when finishing 8th around here in 2015. On that occasion, the former Georgia State star recovered from a poor opening 75 to record three successive 68s and I can see a similar effort here especially given that any decent finish secures his card. It’s a rare formline for the course but a very encouraging one.

There are a few other to be seriously considered but many are just too short. Spaniard Pedro Oriol looks the best of the rest at 40-1 after a recent victory, a warm-down at Cordon and a couple of weeks off, and can also bring further seasonal top-10s into the mix, but you can’t back them all.