Ballantine’s Golf Championship Preview

I remember sitting on a bar stool once upon a time debating the merits of war with an Alf Garnett type character who told me; “son, if it wasn’t for us (the British), we’d all be speaking German right now.” Being a pacifist I disagreed but that’s beside the point. In golfing terms, very soon we’ll all be speaking Korean. The future of golf is Korean.

This week the European Tour moves to Blackstone Golf Club, which is just outside Seoul, for the Ballantine’s Championship.
YE Yang, the local hero and the only Asian to win a major so far, is looking to become the first Korean to win this event and has made no secret of his motivation stating earlier in the week that “I desperately want to win this event.”
KJ Choi, the other Korean star in world golf, is not here as he tees it up in New Orleans in the Zurich classic.

If Yang and Choi are the two established stars in Korea, Sang Moon Bae and Kyung-Tae Kim are very much the rising stars. Bae, the world number 32, is enjoying a fine rookie season on the PGA Tour and is the highest ranked home player in action this week. He’s had strong showings in the US Masters and the Accenture World Matchplay which leads me to believe the added pressure of playing in his homeland will not be a problem. Kim is also ranked inside the world’s top 50 and like Bae is a hugely exciting prospect who should thrive under these conditions.

This is the second year that the event will be played at Blackstone and only the 5th edition of the Ballantine’s Championship, with Lee Westwood’s 12 under par score last year good enough for a one shot victory over Miguel Angel Jimenez. After winning in Indonesia last week Westwood does not defend his title but the lovable Spaniard returns.
Two other previous winners Marcus Fraser (’10) and Thongchai Jaidee (’09) are also in action also this week, whilst the 2008 winner Graeme McDowell plays in New Orleans.

It’s a spectacular course, only two years old, which contains lots of water hazards and dramatic scenery. At 7300 yards it will provide a long and stiff test for the players. It is expected to be soft following heavy rain this week in Korea. It is worth noting also that walking this severely undulating course is very demanding physically.

Aside from the home grown talents, the star attraction this week is Adam Scott. The popular 31 year old Aussie has already recorded career wins in China and Singapore and clearly enjoys playing in Asia. He is 15-2 favourite to win this week, a very skinny price in my book given his indifferent form this year.

Ian Poulter comes into this week following a decent effort last week in China and a good performance also previous to that at Augusta, so he is clearly playing well, however 14-1 is again too short a price for a player whose main reason for being in Korea this week is to promote his clothing brand.

Shane Lowry would again appear to be the best Irish hope this week. The Clara heavyweight struggled on the greens in China last week and never got anything going so expect an improvement this week. Damien McGrane played reasonably well last week finishing 23rd whilst Gareth Maybin will hope to improve on his finishing position in China of 64th. Darren Clarke returns to action for the first time following his recent wedding in the Bahama’s and despite showing no form at all since his heroic triumph last July, I expect to see a strong showing from a happy, relaxed Dazzler this week. That is nothing more than a hunch but there is no scientific formula when it comes to backing golfers. Paul McGinley also makes a return to competitive golf.

Danny Willett at 40-1 and Chris Wood at 50-1 are two young Englishmen worth a mention. There is a strong South African contingent hoping to follow their compatriot Branden Grace’s success last week. George Coetzee, Jbe Kruger, Jaco Van Zyl and Hennie Otto are all solid, consistent performers on the European Tour.

Alex Noren, Soren Kjeldsen and Thorbjorn Olesen head the Scandinavian charge.

As outlined earlier Sang Moon Bae and KT Kim have obvious, big chances and at 18-1 and 25-1 respectively will be seeing some of my money.
When it comes to backing golfers I’m all about value though. Jeev Milkha Singh at 80-1 falls very much into that category. The Flying Sikh has won 4 times on the Japan Tour and 6 times on the Asian Tour – a mightily impressive record.
Another quirky fancy is Robert Jan Derksen at 80-1 who also boasts previous good form in Asia.

I must admit I’m looking forward to next week when the European Tour actually reaches Europe, and an end to this middle of the night golf. I suppose we should be getting used to this anyway – in a few years the European Tour will become the Korean Tour.

Here is my ticket to get rich this week;

(Odds courtesy of Paddy Power)
Sang Moon Bae 18-1
KT Kim 25-1
Jeev Milkha Singh 80-1
Robert Jan Derksen 80-1
Darren Clarke 125-1


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