Ras Al Khaimah Challenge

Renier Saxton, former junior star, now ready to win

Renier Saxton – 1 point each-way @ 100-1 (80-1 fine)

Garrick Porteous – 1 point each-way @ 100-1 (80-1 fine)

David Law – 0.25 points each-way @ 300-1

David Law – 0.75 point top-10 @ 14-1 (may get better)

So, thats basically it.

At the end of this week those outside the top-45 in the Road To Oman will need to find another way of making it onto the main tour next year. Of course there are still a couple of ways, mainly the tough Q-school, but them’s the breaks.

Still plenty to play for, with only the absent Aaron Rai of the top half-dozen or so out of the running for the number one position, whilst a good 25 players just below the cut-line will wait anxiously on Sunday to see if they have made the finale.

It is hard to look at this event as a stand-alone given the side-shows, but we must do that. As is almost traditional last weekend’s impressive Foshan winner, Oliver Farr, heads the market, but in truth there is very little to choose between the top twelve and it’s a toss-up as to who will beat who and I prefer to leave them alone.

Instead I am focussing on a few choice words from last years victor, eventual R2O champion Jordan Smith.

On winning his second tournament of the year, the certain future top-grade winner commented, ‘It feels very similar to that win in Egypt – Ras Al Khaimah and this course remind me a lot of that week, which is probably a good thing. I sweat just as much as anybody else but the heat seems to suit me.’

Looking at the respective leaderboards there were a few similarities and although that was the inaugural event at the Al Hamra course, there have been plenty of events held in Egypt on the ProGolf Tour. Mix it all up and hopefully the following makes sense!

Number one bet this week is 29-year-old Dutchman Renier Saxton, former winner of the prestigious Amateur Championship and showing promising signs of consistency in his game.

Having won three events and thus the 2011 Order of Merit on the EPD tour, his promotion to this level wasn’t without promise, with seasonal highlights including  top-20s in Westwood’s Nordea, and previously in the early-season co-sanctioned events in South Africa. A couple of years in the wilderness followed but he was right back to his best in 2015, opening the ProGolf season with a hugely significant win and 4th around the Ain Sokhna course and an eventual bronze medal in the table. If Smith is right, and I have no reason to doubt his thoughts, that is a big factor this week.

Back again at this level in 2016, Saxton began to show some of his form with a best of 3rd in Kazakhstan starting a late-season run of 3/28/32/19/42. Add this to the previous six top-20 finishes and there are the signs of his former glory, eventually ranking in the top-30.

2017 sees him currently ranked 60th but only 8000 outside the top-45 and a front-page appearance would see him go very close to gaining his ticket to the showdown. Once again, Saxton is showing consistency in the latter half of the year, having made his last 12 cuts and a run that sees him record three top-15s, a top-20 and four further top-30 finishes.

I realise that course form in lower levels is sometimes over-rated and I am sure someone on Twitter will remind me of many an occasion, but this will be a hot week in terms of temperature and pressure and proven ability in the conditions may be a big advantage. Going to work with an improving player with huge relative course form and a 19th here last year, at 80-1+, is a no-brainer.

I had a close look at Nicolai Von Dellingshausen, who launched himself at this level after three wins earlier this year on the ProGolf Tour. Although the best were away from ‘our’ expected correlative track (T22/8) it’s tough to argue with the win record of someone not particularly lauded at the junior level.

Something of a birdie machine, the young German is already 34th in the rankings after just eight starts, including a runner-up at the Bridgestone and a 5th in Kazakhstan (Smith 2nd, Saxton 3rd, the soon-to-be-mentioned 6th). Recent form has tailed off badly though with a couple of average finishes followed by a missed-cut at Foshan. If forgiven, he is a huge runner but at a best of 55-1 (just gone, now 45-1) he can only remain on the watch with trepidation list.

Sixth at Kazak was one of my old faves, Garrick Porteous. Another former winner of the Amateur Championship, he is poised to beat last year’s end-of-year ranking of 30th but will still need to be at his peak to qualify from a current 36th.

Runner-up behind Smith at the Egyptian Challenge last year, he backed that up with 16th round here, a finish that should have been considerable better given he was 5th entering the final day. A poor 2-over back-nine on Sunday however led to a 73 and a plummet down the board. Clearly he took encouragement from the first three rounds to finish 7th at the finale and might just be running into a spot of form again.

Decorated at the University of Tennessee, the Englishman was impressive in his maiden win this year in Prague, sauntering away from a charging Bradley Neil and whilst he hasn’t hit similar heights, he is another that is hitting a run of form at the right time. To sum up, last year’s figures improved from 49/32/16/7 whilst the latest run is 54/42/38. A better player now, he will enjoy conditions, the long track and the pressure.

Final pick is hugely speculative as David Law has never reached the level expected and has never done me a favour when backed! However, he has plenty of form on that Egyptian swing of the ProGolf, having gone 3/3 in 2014 (Max Orrin won the second of those by six shots) , 11/9 in 2015 and 2/8 a year later before backing that up with a 41st when that event moved up a level (poor second round cost him at least 15 places).  Although hard to read, the Paul Lawrie-inspired Scot pretty much turns up at the same places, and it is no coincidence he went well in Northern Ireland this year as he did in 2015. Given that, he may well repeat his 11th around here last season and there is enough there to take a speculative punt at 300-1 and for the top-10 when that market settles down.

Again, for those who followed in on Rai for the title, it seems as if he was simply too good! I am hopeful he turns up for the final event to try and secure a top-4 for us, but he is entered at Turkey and I’ll continue to bang my head against a rusty nail.

See you next week for the last week of the year.