ISPS Handa World Invitational preview and best bets

Ben Coley’s good form on the DP World Tour continued last week with tips finishing second and third. Get his take on the ISPS Handa World Invitational.

Golf betting tips: ISPS Handa World Invitational

2pts e.w. Santiago Tarrio at 28/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Dale Whitnell at 45/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Lee Slattery at 125/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Rikard Karlberg at 150/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Steven Brown at 200/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Opportunity is the word of the week at the ISPS Handa World Invitational, where men and women will compete in separate events on the same courses for the same money. Like the Scandinavian Mixed, where they competed as one, this fabulous initiative might one day be reflected upon as something even more significant than it seems while other events in golf dominate the news cycle. And, while the men’s competition is undeniably weak, that in itself might not be a bad thing with Leona Maguire and Steph Meadow the undisputed stars.

Jordan Smith heads the men’s market and the fact he’s an 11/1 shot says more about the lack of depth than any sentence I can write. Smith was sent off around the 18/1 mark for the Wales Open, hit the ball poorly to miss the cut, yet is not far off half those odds at a course he also enjoys. Perhaps that’s fair. Smith has been excellent for the most part this year and currently sits 12th on the Race to Dubai, one of just two players in this field who are inside the top 30.

Driving the ball well, as he does, is a good starting point at Galgorm Castle, which those who make the cut will play three times. Massereene is the other course used over the first two days and proved more challenging than its scorecard yardage would suggest last year, without altering the dynamic we saw at the 2020 Irish Open, where John Catlin picked Aaron Rai’s pocket in a battle of the fairway finders. Had Dave Horsey won this and not Daniel Gavins, who performed a Catlin-like trick, we’d again be talking about the fact that driving accuracy counts for plenty at Galgorm Castle, and that’s worth remembering.

Smith’s blend of power and accuracy, one shared by Richard Mansell and Ewen Ferguson, marks them down as prime contenders alongside Catlin, who will be a factor if his putting improves. However, this looks a good opportunity for a new name to emerge and SANTIAGO TARRIO might just be the man to do it.

This Spaniard has been something of a slow burner, largely because early on in his career he had to take a break and get what you might call a proper job to pay the bills for a while. That set him back a couple of years but his patience was rewarded in 2021 as he won twice in three weeks on the Challenge Tour, and he’s all but guaranteed to make his first season at this level a successful one and keep his card.

That’s largely thanks to his form over the last three months, starting at the Belfry where he was 21st. Since then he’s made six cuts in nine, bagging a top-five in the aforementioned Scandinavian Mixed before taking 16th in the Irish Open and then 11th at Hillside when last we saw him two weeks ago.

The middle one of those three is especially encouraging as Mount Juliet, which has hosted the last two Irish Opens, correlates really well with this. Adrian Meronk won there having been 10th here and there are many more examples, including Catlin, Rai, Fabrizio Zanotti and another one of my selections, which help demonstrate that the challenge at two tricky, parkland layouts is broadly similar.

Tarrio is in fact another as he was seventh here in 2020 before finishing 15th last year in what was his first DP World Tour event of the campaign. That might’ve been the time he truly believed he belonged at this level โ€“ it was certainly his first performance of note above Challenge Tour grade โ€“ and it came courtesy of an outstanding long-game, having ranked second in strokes-gained tee-to-green and made very little.

At 15th in driving accuracy for the season and having ranked fourth in strokes-gained approach when we last saw him, it’s that putter which would have to be the concern. However, he made plenty in Sweden and since then it’s generally been around average rather than really problematic. After a run of wins for shaky putters whose long-games were in great shape, perhaps he’ll extend the sequence.

Following the same formula leads to DALE WHITNELL, another accurate driver with the right game for this.

Whitnell has been fourth and 16th in two visits to Mount Juliet and he’s also been fourth in one start at Close House, which also throws up some strong correlations. Whitnell himself compared those two courses so it stands to reason that they’d both point back to Gaglorm Castle, where he wasn’t far behind Tarrio in the ball-striking stakes in finishing 11th last year.

Back in 2020, Whitnell’s approach work was excellent when he finished 39th here so it’s a course that suits and again like the Spaniard, his game has come around since the spring. First he led the Soudal Open at halfway and he has three top-20 finishes since, while he wasn’t far off that bar in Sweden and Germany and really only needs excusing a poor fortnight on the PGA Tour.

Last week’s first-round leader, Whitnell seems in generally good shape right now and has been closing in on the top 100 in the Race to Dubai, which means he’s one good performance away from keeping his playing rights for 2023.

He too will need to putt better than he has been but he’s done that here before and it’s a club which can run hot, so my main concern would have to be that he’s playing for the eighth week in a row. That’s definitely not ideal but at least he hasn’t had to go far since returning from the US, and so well is he driving the ball right now that I can’t leave him out at 40/1 and upwards.

Whitnell’s best form, which also includes a good spin at Diamond in Austria where Catlin is a former champion, all suggests this is exactly the sort of test he wants, and after a big step forward with his irons in Wales, hopefully he can squeeze more out of his game before taking a well-earned break.

David Law and Richard Bland both made the shortlist, but the latter is hard to weigh up having been playing LIV Golf events and the former has relied heavily on his putter for both recent top-fives. The fact one of them came at Mount Juliet and that he’s a European Tour winner suggests he’s a very fair price in this company, however, and those wanting two from the front of the market should consider him strongly.

Marcus Kinhult’s tee-to-green display at Hillside was almost too good to be true but he’s a class act in this grade, but all in all I’d rather not get carried away with a bunch of largely out-of-sorts players who aren’t the most reliable. A Challenge Tour raider won this last year as proven winners Horsey and Smith got in their own way, and it’s very difficult to have full faith in anyone.

As such I’m content to take a few chances at big prices, starting with LEE SLATTERY.

The veteran Englishman has plenty to do from 186th in the Race to Dubai rankings, but there have been some clear indications lately that his game is coming good. With several courses he likes coming up soon on the schedule, he looks a potential candidate to spring into life and keep his card if he can connect four rounds.

Key to his improvement has been much better ball-striking, which can perhaps be explained by the fact he’s managed to put starts together. Having played six times from January to June, he’s about to compete in his fourth event in succession, and where with Whitnell there’s a fatigue concern, with Slattery he should be getting sharper by the week.

That certainly looks to be the case, as he produced his standout strokes-gained approach numbers in the best part of a year when 25th at Celtic Manor, having also hit his irons to a high standard in the Cazoo Open (ranked 20th, finished 11th) and Hero Open (on course to rank higher still but missed the cut). The 44-year-old has also been driving it fantastically by his standards, so any sign of life on the greens and he’s well capable of making it three top-25s in four starts and perhaps contending for this title.

It’s true that his course record reads MC-MC, but he had zero top-50s at any point in 2020, and last year had managed just one in 10 starts before arriving here ranked 1081st in the world. Despite that, he shot a second-round 68 at Galgorm Castle so while his 75 at Massereene will need leaving behind, I’d rather have it that way and know that he can score at the course which will ultimately determine the champion.

He has a sneaky record at Close House to throw into the equation, too, contending there in high-class company in 2017 and starting well in 2020, and having twice won late in the year perhaps he can salvage his season and land us a big-priced winner in the process.

A browse through RIKARD KARLBERG‘s best form marks him down as a likely type and while he’s a big price for a reason, the former Italian Open champion arrives here having made his last four cuts.

During this time he’s again demonstrated his fondness for Mount Juliet, where he was runner-up out of the blue last summer and shot three good rounds before fading on his return. That win in Italy, second place in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, fourth at Diamond and two places on separate parkland courses in Germany confirm that he is suited by the sort of test on offer this week, and he played really nicely when 14th here on his only visit in 2020.

With his ball-striking much better in Wales and his work around the greens always reliable, he’s one I was interested in before drawing real encouragement from a couple of recent social media posts, particularly in Scotland where he made the weekend among the game’s elite.

“Maybe Sunday was not my best but on Friday and Saturday I played some really solid golf,” he wrote in Instagram. “After a long time of trying to improve my game by lifting under new rocks trying new methods, I can now feel that the way Iโ€™ve just played my best golf is when I just feel free so my mind is just looking forward to feel that wonderful feeling of a crisp hit without caring about the result. Thanks to (coach) Sam Walker for helping me finding the feel again. Iโ€™m looking forward to the rest of the season.”

As I sat down to write this preview, he added another which confirmed the progress made in Wales: “Game is getting more steady from tee to green. Now putting needs some extra attention to really get back contending.”

Given how well he played here in 2020, ranking fourth in strokes-gained off-the-tee and 25th with his approaches, and shooting a round of 65, there are enough positives to take both on and off the course to make him a bet at three-figure odds.

Zach Murray, Haydn Porteous and Tom Gandy all earned glances at absurd odds for one reason or another, but it’s STEVEN BROWN who completes the staking plan at a best of 200s.

Brown was fifth here on the Challenge Tour in 2014, opening with a round of 65 and never leaving the top-five, and he’s played well enough at DP World Tour level with 39th place in 2020, before missing the cut on the number a year ago.

And that very much is the theme with Brown and the case for him playing better golf than might first appear: missing the cut on the number. He’s done it five times in his last seven starts, and while he failed by two shots last week at Celtic Manor, that was after a closing double-bogey five. In fact, he dropped four shots over his final two holes as his frustrations continued.

Throughout this stretch, only at the world-class Scottish Open has he failed to threaten the cut-line and he’s therefore a player who is likely closer than he looks, especially given that his best two driving displays of the year, statistically speaking, have come on his last two starts. With his approach play improving every week throughout the last four, any further step up in a field like this and things get interesting โ€“ although the way things are going for Brown, the fact that the cut here is much smaller will probably find him out.

Glancing back through his stats at Galgorm Castle and it’s the driver which has held him back but hopefully arriving with that club firing will help, and I can worry less about a bad putting week in Wales given that he ranks 36th for the season. He’s a long-time Wentworth member who lost a play-off at Silkeborg so this tree-lined test ought to make him comfortable, and he came good at the end of both the 2019 and 2020 campaigns, too.

Brown in fact won in Portugal three years ago to salvage his card, having arrived there ranked 150th in the Race to Dubai, and will need something of equal brilliance from a position outside the top 200 with a dozen or so events to go. He’s done it before, and at 200/1 I’ll chance him doing it again at a course he knows well.

Posted at 1730 BST on 08/08/22

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