ISPS Handa Championship Betting Tips: Six selections for Spain
The DP World Tour returns from a four-week absence this week, as we head to Spain for our first event of the year in mainland Europe.
This week’s ISPS Handa Championship was supposed to be a co-sanctioned event with the Japanese Tour in Japan but with issues still being caused over Covid, they decided to delay that for a year and both tours will host their own version of the event this week.
ISPS Handa Championship Tips
- Matthieu Pavon 40/1 – 1/5 7 places (Betfair) – 1.25 pts ew
- Wilco Nienaber 55/1 – 1/5 7 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew
- Hurly Long 80/1 – 1/5 7 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew
- Marcus Helligkilde 80/1 – 1/5 7 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew
- Wade Ormsby 80/1 – 1/5 7 (Betfair) – 1 pt ew
- David Law 100/1 – 1/5 7 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew
The DPWT version takes place at Infinitum Resort’s Lakes Course, which may seem like an unfamiliar venue, though many players and fans alike will recognise it by its former name as Lumines Golf Club.
This has been the venue of many a Q-School event, hosting a Second Qualifying Stage event from 2012 – 2016 and being the host of the Final Stage from 2017. With the players playing four rounds at the Lakes Course and two at the resort’s Hills Course in a marathon six-round event.
In addition to this, it hosted the Challenge de Catalunya on the Challenge Tour in 2014 and since that year, both the Lakes Course and Hills Course have been part of a Spanish double-header that kicks off the Nordic Golf League season, hosting the Lumine Lakes Open and Lumine Hills Open.
The course itself is a short 6963 yard par 70, designed by Greg Norman. This incredibly water-laden course, where two thirds of the holes have water somewhat in-play, is exposed, well bunkered and generous off the tee.
There are just two par 5s on the course, and they come right at the end of the round on holes 16 and 18. There used to be three, but the 2nd hole has been converted into a par 4, one of two mammoth par 4s on the course, along with the 15th hole, both measuring over 500 yards. Though there are plenty of shorter par 4s, four under 400 yards and a further five shorter than 450, most presenting good birdie opportunities. The par 3s possessing the potential to be challenging, with three of them coming in at over 200 yards.
Though it’s a short, generous driving course, the scores here haven’t been overly low. In the Challenge de Catalunya in 2014, Spain’s Antonio Hortal won a shortened 3 round event with a winning score of -14.
Whilst in the five Q-School Second Stage events we had a winning score of -11 in 2012 from Liam Bond (once again a three round event), -15 from Chris Hanson in 2013, -18 from Ricardo Gouveia in 2014, -19 from Daniel Gavins in 2015 and -12 from David Law in 2016.
Then we look at the three times it’s host the Q-School Final. Sam Horsfield won with a score of -27 in 2017, though bearing in mind two of the six rounds there were played at the Hills Course, he shot -17 in his four rounds at the Lakes Course. Alejandro Canizares shot -24 to win Q-School in 2018 but only shot -9 (in three rounds) at the Lakes Course and Benjamin Poke won at -25 in 2019, shooting -17 for his four rounds at the Lakes.
Some low scoring here in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019 but nothing overly easy, and some years were the course appeared to play particularly tricky. Can only assume this is caused by the amount of water around the setup and the fact the exposed nature makes it susceptible to the wind causing trouble.
It’s hard to know how it will play this week, as that last Q-School event happened two and a half years ago, though at the time the 2nd hole was still playing to a par 5. For that reason it should, in theory, play tougher.
To me it looks like a venue that could be overpowered with driver and there’s definitely a theme of strong drivers going well on the evidence we have. Laurie Canter, one of the best drivers on tour in recent years, has finished 12th and 5th here at Q-School. Callum Shinkwin is another strong driver and has two runner-up finishes, both at Q-School and in the Challenge Tour event in 2014. With other players like Jacques Kruyswijk and Marcus Helligkilde also going well around here at some point, two more players who very much excel off-the-tee.
That being said, I do think a course of this length very much levels up the playing field and every player in the field this week should feel like they can go well around here.
The elements look certain to play a part this week. There’s rain forecasted to arrive every day from now until the start of the event and continuing to fall on the Thursday and Saturday. This, with a strong breeze should make for some tough conditions and though the rain should benefit the longer hitters, I do think the short-game will become hugely important if those conditions do indeed materialise.
We have a good DP World Tour field teeing it up this week. Bernd Wiesberger is the highest ranked player in the field at #78 in the world and is joined by Nicolai Hojgaard, Adri Arnaus and Daniel Van Tonder from inside the world’s top 100.
I feel this is an incredibly open event. Nobody really stands out at the top of the market as the combination of a few weeks off and a course for all it is familiar to many at some level, it isn’t at this level.
Instead I’ll start down at 40/1, with one of the best tee-to-green players on the DPWT this year, Frenchman Matthieu Pavon.
Pavon has been in excellent form stretching to the back end of last year. He finished off 2021 missing just one cut in his final six events of that year and hit the top 20 on four occasions, including a 2nd place finish in the Portugal Masters.
This form has been transferred to this year, where Pavon has yet to miss a cut in six starts and hit the top 6 on two occasions, finishing 3rd in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship and 6th at the Kenya Open. Most recently he was seen finishing 27th in a tough Qatar Masters, in which I was hugely encouraged by his ranking of 2nd tee-to-green, a poor week on the greens stunting his progress.
Quality tee-to-green is very much his bag and it’s this that has engineered his excellent run of form. An overall ranking of 23rd T2G this year on the DPWT does him a disservice as many ranked above him have played far fewer events than he has. He too fits into that profile of strong drivers going well here as that is the standout area of a strong overall game.
He hasn’t played here before but that previous performance in Qatar showed his ability to control his game well, tee-to-green, in difficult conditions should they arise. With a strong book of form in Scotland and the Middle East adding further encouragement in this regard.
I fancy Pavon to play well this week, whether the conditions are tough or more scorable. He’s playing excellent golf tee-to-green and with the quality ball-striking he’s showing this season he should be able to take it to the par 5s and these shorter par 4s.
The huge hitting Wilco Nienaber is another strong driving type who has both the game to go low around here but has also shown plenty of ability at tough courses and in tough conditions.
The young South African has enjoyed a strong start to the year. He started off in his native South Africa on the Sunshine Tour, with finishes of 3-10-21-25 in his first four events of the year. He then played a trio of DPWT tour events, and though missing the cut in the first of them Nienaber played well on his two most recent starts on the tour, first finishing 10th in the Steyn City Championship and then was 12th in Qatar.
We know him predominantly as an excellent, and incredibly long driver of the ball and there’s a real feeling he could turn some of these shorter par 4s into nothing more than a drive and a chip. Though he’s been struggling with his irons going back to last year, his improved short-game makes up for this and sees him rank 32nd around-the-greens and 45th in putting this season. Looking particularly good on that latest DPWT start in Qatar, ranking 4th in the field for scrambling in those difficult conditions.
Nienaber has played here before, when finishing 32nd in the 2019 Q-School final. In his four rounds at the course there was an excellent 65, with a pair of solid 69s and a 71 to go with it, showing his ability to play the course.
He also possesses a good record in Spain in general, a 6th at Valderrama in the Andalucia Masters in 2020 an impressive result and once again showed he’s about more than just giving it a whack. He also finished 6th in the Open de Espana last year.
Nienaber’s driving appealed a lot here, if the strong wind doesn’t quite arrive he could find a short, receptive course that he can easily overpower but equal to that, as he showed in Qatar, he’s more than capable of producing if the conditions do get tricky.
The theme of strong driving continues here as I give Germany’s Hurly Long another shot after he missed the cut last time out in Qatar.
That missed cut came a little out of the blue for a player who had enjoyed a strong start to his DP World Tour career. In his five starts preceding Qatar, Long hadn’t missed a cut and finished 21st or better in three of them. Particularly impressive were his 3rd place finish in the Ras Al Khaimah Classic and 2nd place finish in the Kenya Open.
The only weakness in his game in this early part of the season has come in approach, with him firing in all other areas. Long compliments his quality, long driving with an excellent short game. Ranking 35th in putting, 38th in scrambling and 43rd around-the-greens. A recipe that I expect to see him go well this week.
Like Nienaber, he too played here in the 2019 Q-School finale, finishing 33rd and there was a lot of promise in the four rounds he played here at the Lakes Course. As Long shot rounds of 65, 67 and 69, with his round of 74 looking very much the outlier at this point and easy to forgive.
The one real bit of evidence we have from him in tough conditions is that missed cut in Qatar last time out, though I would say that he played perfectly well there tee-to-green, instead an unusually bad week on the greens was his undoing.
Long has looked comfortable in every forward step he’s taken in his pro career so far. Winning on the Pro Golf Tour in 2019, he stepped up on that immediately in his first season on the Challenge Tour, winning the Italian Challenge in 2020. If getting back to his usual high putting standards this week, I expect him to bounce back well from his first missed cut of the year last time out.
A trio of big hitting youngsters is completed by Denmark’s Marcus Helligkilde, last year’s top ranked player from the Challenge Tour. After a disappointing start to the year, it looked like he found something in a 12th place finish in Qatar last time out and I’m hoping he can kick on this week in Spain.
That disappointing start to the year saw Helligkilde miss three of his first seven cuts in 2022 and finish no better than 42nd. Though to be fair, his game hasn’t looked that far away, particularly off-the-tee and on the greens.
He gained strokes off-the-tee in all barring two of his starts this year, which sees him rank 47th off-the-tee and started the year putting well, though that has tailed off a little in recent starts. However, with the putter going a little cold, we’ve seen a particular upturn around-the-greens on his two most recent starts and more encouragingly he put up his best approach performance of the year, the first time he’s gained strokes with his irons, last time out in Qatar. This helping him rank a strong 7th tee-to-green for the week. The fact he managed to do this in similar conditions that may arrive this week has to be seen as a big positive.
Helligkilde is more than familiar with this course, having played here a number of times in the Lumine Lakes Open, where they play two of three rounds at the Lakes Course, finishing 7th in 2018 and 13th in 2020. He actually won the 2nd of the double headers at this resort that year, where they play one round at the Lakes Course, in which he shot a 63 in round two. In five further career rounds at the Lakes Course he’s never shot over par, with rounds of 67, 70, 65, 68, 67, a very attractive book of rounds at this venue.
Helligkilde had an excellent year last year, winning four times, including three on the Challenge Tour. With him starting to find form in all areas and at a course where he’s produced more quality rounds than most in the field, he looks a strong contender to transfer that winning habit to the DPWT this week.
A bit of a change of pace now and as mentioned, I do think most players in this field will feel they should be able to go well at this course. Australia’s Wade Ormsby has enjoyed a good start to the year and was another who performed with credit in Qatar a month ago.
Ormsby has mixed his starts this year between the DPWT, where he’s played four times and the Asian Tour, where he’s teed it up on three occasions. He’s only missed the one cut, at the Dubai Desert Classic and finished no worse than 33rd in his other six starts, an 8th in Singapore to kick off the year rating as his best effort.
All of his game has looked in good shape, though the driving stats will tell you different, he makes up for what he lacks in power, with accuracy. The putter is in particularly good form, where he ranks 26th for the season, though it was around-the-greens and in approach where he excelled most in his 12th place finish in Qatar last time out, ranking 8th and 16th respectively.
Ormsby hasn’t played here before, but tough, shorter course events are where he excels. Indeed of his three pro victories, two have been won with scores of -11 or higher. A good record at Valderrama, including a 6th place finish an extra encouraging piece of form in that respect.
Ormsby is a gritty competitor, used to playing the wind as an Australian. With most of his game looking in good condition this year, he can pick up where he left off last time out in Qatar this week and will surely relish the potential for tough conditions.
I finish with a player who has proven form here in difficult scoring conditions. As Scotland’s David Law won the Second Qualifying Stage event here in 2016, with a score of -12 across four rounds.
Law has had a good start to 2022. His first missed cut of the year came on his most recent start in the Steyn City Championship, his 7th event of the year. He picked up a couple of top 25s in the back to back events at Ras Al Khaimah, going particularly well in the first of them, won by Nicolai Hojgaard, when finishing 7th.
He’s done everything well at some point this year. Though he’s dropped off a little in recent starts, his iron play has remained strong and barring an off week when 25th at Ras Al Khaimah, he’s barely missed a beat in approach
Law will know this course just about as well as anyone. He played here at Q-School in 2013, finishing 22nd, in the Challenge Tour event here, the Challenge de Catalunya in 2014, finishing 41st, that victory at Q-School in 2016 and most recently played here in the Q-School final in 2017, where he finished 47th but performed well in his four rounds at this course, shooting under par every round, with three of those rounds in the 60s. He has only shot one round over par in fifteen here and shot seven in the 60s.
That familiarity should stand him in good stead this week and if Law can keep the irons firing, he can once again give a good account of himself at the Lakes Course.