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Ras Al Khaimah Classic Odds: Side with Haotong in the UAE

Ras Al Khaimah Classic predictions: Haotong Li features.
Ras Al Khaimah Classic predictions: Haotong Li features.

Resident golf tipster Jamie Worsley is back looking to make it a second successive winner at Al Hamra Golf Club this week on the DP World Tour following 35/1 winner Nicolai Hojgaard on the same track at the weekend...

We picked up our first winner of 2022 last week, as Nicolai Hojgaard took apart Al Hamra Golf Club to win the Ras Al Khaimah Championship by four shots at 24-under-par. Thanks to an excellent display of ball-striking, that saw him rank 1st off-the-tee and 2nd in approach.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, as Hojgaard let slip a five shot lead to trail by two going into his final six holes. He responded superbly in picking up an eagle and two birdies over those final holes to win in a fashion he’d threatened to do for much of the week. Which probably taught himself and us more about him, than if he’d cruised to victory without real error.

Onto this week and we’re back at Al Hamra Golf Club for the Ras Al Khaimah Classic. Calling last week’s event correctly at this very course should stand us in good stead (emphasis on should) this week as we know how it plays and what type of player is likely to go well here.

Ras Al Khaimah Classic Tips

The Course

As we gathered with past results here and by the look of the course, this 7345 yard par 72 very much suits strong drivers. Not only backed up by Hojgaard in his win last week but runner-up, Jordan Smith, who is also a past champion here from when it hosted events on the Challenge Tour, was the 2nd best driver in the field behind Hojgaard.

The fairways are generous and the rough even more so, meaning strong drivers can just let rip. That’s not to say there isn’t danger here, there’s plenty of water in play and you can find some tricky lies in the sandy areas but by and large, if your long game is in decent shape you will create an abundance of chances for yourself. 

I do wonder if they’ll speed the large greens up a little this week. They were much slower than the opening couple of events of the year at the start of last week though had quickened up by round four. Starting with the quicker greens would certainly add a different dimension to the event.

I mentioned in last week’s preview that events such as the Portugal Masters and Czech Masters could offer clues to this and that definitely appeared the case. Hojgaard is a runner-up in Portugal whilst also possessing a top 20 in the Czech Masters. With other players in the top 10 last week, such as Tapio Pulkkanen and Matthieu Pavon possessing form in both/either event amongst plenty other players with form-ties.

The Weather

The weather forecast is almost identical to last week. A light breeze predicted throughout the opening three days with it kicking up a little more on the Sunday. This came to fruition last week and for a time caused some trouble for the players during the final round.

The Field

The field is much the same as last week. Nicolai Hojgaard stays on to try and claim what would be a unique back-to-back. Whilst a number of players who played in Saudi last week, including Adri Arnaus, who finished 3rd, and also happens to be a past champion here, when winning the Challenge Tour Grand Final in 2018.

Golf betting odds
Haotong Li each-way (6 places)
Odds correct as of 2022-02-08 10:40 Odds subject to change.

Last week’s victor, Nicolai Hojgaard heads the market and is more than capable of going back-to-back here with the way he played, though at less than half the price I’m willing to just watch on. Runner-up to Hojgaard, Jordan Smith comes next, but it’s the man who came through with a wet sail on Sunday to take a 3rd place finish, China’s Haotong Li who gets the nod this week.

The struggles from Haotong have been well documented over the last couple of years. Reaching a high of #32 in the world in 2018, following a victory in the Dubai Desert Classic, an excellent performance in which he overcame Rory McIlroy to win, he continued in excellent form for the rest of that year and into 2019. However, his game has evaded him since 2020 and the hugely talented Chinese golfer seemed to come out of the covid pandemic struggling for his game more than most.

There’s no doubt that the reason for his decline, in which he now sits 293rd in the world has been down to his previously world class long game going missing. Though there’s been signs since a 14th place finish in the Dunhill Links of October last year, that Haotong is starting to rediscover his form. 

Since that 14th place finish he’s played seven times, missing just two cuts. Amongst the five made cuts he has finished 2nd in the China Open, 12th on the PGA Tour on his first start of this year in the Sony Open and that most recent outing of 3rd here last week. 

During his resurgence, every part of his game had showed signs of recovery, particularly his irons, where he’s performed excellently in three of his last four starts. All except the driver, which had previously been a serious weapon, that was until last week. 

After a poor opening round 74, in which he did nothing well, but was once again particularly poor off-the-tee, Li responded brilliantly, firing rounds of 66 and 68, before a stunning final round 63 shot him up into 3rd spot on Sunday. Most encouraging to see was that after ranking 107th off-the-tee on Thursday, he ranked 31st and 22nd the next two rounds before ranking 6th in the field in the final round, gaining 1.67 strokes, which was his best performance in that area of his game since 2020.

I loved the fact he was so visibly disappointed in missing a birdie chance on his final hole there, narrowly missing out on taking the course record from Adrian Otaegui that had been achieved just a couple of days earlier. It shows a determined player back in a good place and if able to carry on driving the ball the way he did at the end of last week, can prove his class here and fully complete his return to form.

Laurie Canter each-way (5 places)
Odds correct as of 2022-02-08 08:10 Odds subject to change.

When looking at this week’s field, for players who possess the ability off-the-tee to take it to this week’s course in similar fashion to the way Hojgaard did last week, one name jumped out above all others. That man is Laurie Canter, who has led the driving stats on the DP World Tour for the past two seasons and can get his year going this week at Al Hamra.

If Haotong Li struggled to find form after the pandemic, Laurie Canter is the opposite. At the start of 2020, he sat outside the world’s top 500 but after showing excellent form over the last 18 months, where he’s finished runner-up three times, he now sits inside the world’s top 100.

The driving is hugely impressive, leading the stats the way he has the last two years but he’s also an excellent iron player, ranking 25th last year. His short game has been the stumbling block and the thing that has stopped him from turning those 2nd places, and other quality performances, in which he’s picked up a further five top 5s the last 18 months, into victories. Though as Nicolai Hojgaard showed last week, if the ball-striking is that good you only need an adequate week on and around the greens. 

He doesn’t have the benefit of a run around here, as he was busy playing in Saudi Arabia last week, were he finished a respectable 38th but as a runner-up in Portugal in 2020, he should find the test to his liking. A runner up finish in Italy the same year offers further encouragement, another open, driver friendly venue, in which Hojgaard himself finished top 20 amongst a raft of other quality drivers. 

Back in calmer waters he can benefit in the same way as Hogaard did. Taking it to these reachable par 5s and par 4s, finally picking up that first title that much of his play in the previous two seasons has deserved in the process.

Brandon Stone each-way (6 Places)
Odds correct as of 2022-02-08 11:05 Odds subject to change.

A familiar name comes next. We had Brandon Stone last week and he went well for the most part. In contention at halfway before a really poor round of 76 on Saturday derailed him and did for his chances. He bounced back well from that though, shooting 68 on the Sunday to finish 36th and I’m willing to roll the dice on him once again at a similar price.

That Saturday 76 was an anomaly and a huge surprise considering he looked strong for those first two rounds. Every part of his game deserted him, though I am buoyed by the way he was able to come back from that on Sunday, where most of his game appeared to be back in good shape and I’ll put that Saturday down as just one of those days. 

The reasons for interest in him remain the same. It’s the type of course that sets up well for his game as he’s generally an excellent driver of the ball and has form at the two standout correlating courses. Possessing a 2nd place finish in the Portugal Masters as well finishing top 20 in the Czech.

I’m confident he can get things going in a similar fashion this week and expect him to have learned from the errors that effectively knocked him out of the tournament in last week’s third round. 

US Masters odds
Matthew Jordan each-way (6 Places)
Odds correct as of 2022-02-08 11:05 Odds subject to change.

The talented Matthew Jordan has enjoyed a solid start to the year. After a good performance here last week, finishing 13th, where his game looked in good shape across the board, I think this former #4 amateur can pick up a breakthrough DPWT win this week.

Despite not winning in 2021, Jordan enjoyed a great year of consistency. Following a bunch of MCs early doors, he missed just four in his final fifteen events of the year, hitting the top 25 on eight occasions, with three finishes in the top six. Though he will have wanted to truly challenge for a few more titles. Something he’ll want to put right this year.

He’s a player with little weakness, when confident and in form all parts of his game work well. Though he has particularly excelled around-the-greens and off-the-tee since making his step up to the DP World Tour. Also possessing plenty of distance. 

This was on show in his 13th place finish last week, where he ranked reasonably high in every area and made the 6th highest amount of birdies of anyone in the field. That performance not a surprise as he’s got a strong record in Portugal, finishing 14th and 5th the last two years. Whilst a 15th place finish in the Italian Open won by Nicolai Hojgaard last year adds to the optimism for his chances.

You don’t get to #4 in the amateur ranks without possessing a serious level of talent. Despite being into his 4th year as a pro, Jordan is a young 26 and with his best years undoubtedly ahead of him, could be the next young European to spring out of the pack, following the Hojgaards. This week looks like a good chance for him to make that breakthrough.

George Coetzee each-way (7 Places)
Odds correct as of 2022-02-08 11:10 Odds subject to change.

With the Portugal Masters comp form franked last week, George Coetzee made instant appeal here as a former champion at Vilamoura and possessing a general excellent record in the event. Finding some form with the driver at the start of 2022, he can improve on a solid 27th place finish last week and pick up a 6th DPWT title.

Coetzee’s form has been trending nicely at the start of this year. After missing the cut by just one at the tough Abu Dhabi Championship, he went on to finish 47th in the Dubai Desert Classic before that 27th here last week. Where he started well but just couldn’t get anything going with the putter over the weekend. No doubt frustrating for him, as it’s the club which can so often carry the big hitting South African.

Having said that, there was huge encouragement to be taken from the rest of his game there, which compensated for his uncharacteristic struggles on the greens. He ranked 11th tee-to-green, his best T2G performance since Saudi at the beginning of last year.

If able to put it all together this week, marrying that typically excellent putter with the quality he showed tee-to-green and has particularly shown with the driver so far this year, Coetzee looks a real danger as one of the winning-most players in the field at this week’s Ras Al Khaimah Classic.

Gavin Green each-way (7 Places)
Odds correct as of 2022-02-08 11:15 Odds subject to change.

Finally I’m going to take a punt on Malaysia’s Gavin Green. A young player who was all the rage a couple of years ago and looked a DP World Tour winner in the making but has seen his form plummet over the last 18 months. Having said that, he’s started to show some signs of life over the last two months and if able to recapture the best of his game would be well suited the test that awaits this week.

At his best, Green is a player who excelled off-the-tee and on the greens, looking particularly excellent in these areas from 2018-2020. Although most parts of his game had been off in his down period, it’s troubles with the driver that have been the most alarming and even though we haven’t seen major improvements in that area, there were some small positive signs at the end of 2021 that his misses were getting smaller. 

This, along with the recapturing of some form with the putter is why we were able to see Green pick up a few top 25s towards the end of 2021. In the Italian Open, at Valderrama and in the Portugal Masters. With two of the three, Italy and Portugal, offering further encouragement as they correlate nicely with this venue. Essentially, wide open venues were you can get away with the odd wild miss more than most, though the 20th at Valderrama is truly bewildering as a course requiring the utmost accuracy, though in it’s own way tells of a player starting to slowly get back to form. 

Amongst his best DPWT performances is a further correlating course, when he finished 3rd in the Czech Masters in 2018. A 3rd in the Saudi International in 2020, another course that is rather forgiving off-the-tee shows again a player who should appreciate the openness of Al Hamra.

He’s started the year in solid fashion on the Asian Tour, with a 33rd place finish in the Singapore International and 38th place finish in the Saudi last week, sandwiching a missed cut at the Singapore Open. That Saudi performance improving the opinion that he’s on his way back, as he ranked a good 12th in greens-in-regulation and 45th in driving accuracy, hitting almost 50% of fairways is an improvement on much of what we’ve seen over these last 12/18 months.

The gains are small and there’s a chance this comes too soon if Green is indeed on his way back to some good form. Though at the price, he’s worth chancing on a course of which he’ll no doubt appreciate the generosity of-the-tee.

Golf betting tips
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