NBO Golf Classic Grand Final

Aaron Rai – the future is bright – but first the R2O title, maybe….

Julien Guerrier – 1.5 points each-way @ 22-1

Ryan Evans – 1 point win @ 20-1

Ryan Evans – 8 points win TOP-10 @ 11-8

Clement Sordet – 1 point win @ 20-1 

So, after 29 tournaments, it all boils down to four rounds at Al Mouj golf club to determine which fifteen players will hold a full European Tour card and a possible path to fame and glory. Given the Tour has produced the likes of proven Martin Kaymer, Andy Sullivan, Nicolas Colsaerts et al, as well as certain future stars such as Jordan Smith and this year Julian Suri and Aaron Rai and is probably as high-quality as it’s ever been, the future of the game looks very bright indeed.

Let’s not forget all those that finish in the top-70 are secured in the knowledge they have qualified for the Challenge Tour next year and it was great to see one of our long-shot ante-post picks, Cormac Sharvin, find some form in finishing 4th in the UAE and secure that card. As he commented, now safe, he feels much more relaxed in attempting his full card. Elsewhere there are a few youngsters well worth keeping onside for the future and their results in warm-up tournaments for the 2018 season should be monitored closely.

The pressure that will be placed on the game through Sunday afternoon cannot be under-estimated. Whilst there are a few alternative ways of securing a card in a lower category, all these 45 will want an off-season to relax rather than face gruelling qualification events but there are so many possible permutations that a handful will be waiting till the very last putt drops. Take for example the plight of Joel Stalter in 2016.

Stalter stood on the brink of a card after his final round but needed to watch the final hole of Jens Dantorp and Adrien Saddier before knowing his fate. In the end, both bogeyed, allowing the Frenchman to sneak into the top league.

Over the years there have been dramatic final-day changes. In winning this event back in 2013 at Al Badia in Dubai, Shiv Kapur launched into 4th from 20th, whilst Jamie McLeary overcame the enormous pressure of having to finish inside the top-2 to secure a chance at the highest level. A year later, Lando Casanova had to watch Oliver Farr miss a putt on 18 in order to qualify, while Antonio Hortal and Ben Evans dropped out of the fifteen qualifiers after poor final days.

Aside from the race to the fifteen cards, there is the small matter of the Road To Oman title which can probably be won by only a handful of players although the top-three stand out – current leader Tapio Pulkkanen, Julien Guerrier and Aaron Rai, all multiple winners through their short careers.

The final two named have one target only. They can only be crowned champion if they win here this week and the Finn is 3rd or worse but I think that is a huge possibility as I really don’t fancy the trilby-hatted one under this level of attention.

Okay, we are on Rai for the title and it’s to his credit that he is currently in the top three despite not having played in any of the previous twelve events, but he is the clear class here and a deserved single-figure price. Three easy wins this year at this level plus two top-10s from eight main tour outings, suggest he contests very strongly here if the will is there. On an exposed course that can get very windy, Rai has everything in his game to conquer these rivals and gain revenge on a course that cost him his main card last year by under 3k. However, as we are on at 25-1 for the title there is no need to do anything bar cheer him on and, to be honest, he doesn’t fall into what seems a very obvious path.

The theory – put simply, we need to go back to 2010 to find the last winner of the finale that had yet to win that year, and furthermore, since the event moved to Oman in 2015, there has been a huge pointer to form at certain tracks but none more so than Foshan.

Given the conditions of this venue, it is of no surprise that the same players have form in Ireland (both halves), the Hydro in Scotland, Scandinavia, Slovakia and Turkey and Kenya. However by far the biggest pointer comes by way of finishes at the Chinese venue.

Whilst the calendar has changed slightly from 2015 to ’16 with the addition of UAE after China, it is hugely noticeable that of the first five here at Oman in 2015 the top four finished in the top-8 the previous week, and that continues a year later when the top six all finished in the first thirteen places. If we take both those leads, this should be fairly simple….

I’ve taken a list of the top-20 from Foshan and allowed only previous winners in 2017 to remain, leaving 6 contenders – Farr, Evans, Guerrier, McEvoy, Perez and Sordet. All have claims if the plan is to run true with Evans and Guerrier the picks, just over Farr and Sordet.

The last-named, Clement Sordet, comes here after a run of three top-20s was topped with a 3rd last week at Ras Al Khaimer. His wins in Turkey, Northern Ireland and Finland are good pointers and whilst he was only 22nd here last year he wasn’t in such a good position in the rankings, always looking to play catch-up. For me, that’s the issue with trying to get a big priced winner here – they can simply try too hard and force errors, or relax once the chance has gone and play the final round/s in cruise mode. We shouldn’t get that with the young Frenchman and he surely has a future on the main tour if his college career is anything to go by.

Oli Farr brings recent winning form into the final with that win at Foshan, although no player has won both in the four previous attempts at the double. He has that form at the correlative tracks and will naturally love the wind but whilst there was a ‘let-down’ last week at Ras after the win, he had come into the event on an excellent run of form and I wonder if that was a sign that it’s job done and he is left out at the price.

Ryan Evans is known as ‘Mr Top Ten’ and it is highly likely he will add another to the seven he has already racked up this year. Bridgestone, Finland, Sweden as well as a victory in Turkey are all perfect pointers, while he is a much better player now than his only other effort here when 12th in 2015 (67 final round). Off the back of a 3rd in Foshan and 12th last week, he looks stone-cold for a top-10 at 11-8.

I can’t find a single thing against Frenchman Julien Guerrier this week other than the possible pressure of being number one. Two victories, in Ireland and at his home event, a runner-up in Prague, bronze in Turkey and four other top-10s including Bridgestone (different track but last year’s victor Ritthammer also has form there), Turkey and the better-class Rocco Forte all suggest that last season’s ranking of 23rd was merely a sign of what was to come. This is a player finally realising the promise of that win in the 2006 Amateur Championship and ready to deservedly take his place on the main tour, and very possibly as the 2017 Road To Oman winner. I can forgive last week’s ‘poor’ 19th given his poor front-nine on the last two days and it’s of no worry given he missed the cut there last year before an excellent 3rd here a week later.

While I’m here, make a note of the final four at that historic event and keep the lot of them in mind for the near future – the list of previous champions takes some beating.

On a personal note, I am cheering Rai for all it’s worth. A win will make it three ante-post winners in a row on this tour and something I’d be very proud of! It will be tough given the exact circumstances required but it’s a chance I didn’t think we would get a few weeks ago.

Most of you will know this has been one horrible season in terms of betting. However, secretly I have loved doing this column and, even if you’ve all done your conkers, I hope at least a couple now take note of a tour that you may previously have ignored – if that’s the case it’s a job well done as far as I am concerned. I have no idea what will happen for the 2018 season as there may be some changes afoot both for this forward-looking site as well as on a personal level . If I am part of it I’ll see you here next season for the ante-post preview. If not, it’s been fun (of sorts), thanks for reading when you did and ‘Be Lucky’.