China Open guide
Dave Tindall's preview and best bets for this week's European Tour event - the Volvo China Open
Last Updated: 30/04/13 5:47pm
Branden Grace: Back in China to defend his title
Remarkably, there's a 12-year-old in the field for this week's Volvo China Open.
Move aside Tianlang Guan, already a two-cut veteran of the PGA Tour, and step forward Ye Wo-cheng.
Ye booked his place after coming through a 36-hole qualifier, shooting 68-74, and, not surprisingly, becomes the youngest player ever to play in a European Tour event.
Only just mind. Guan was 13 when he played in this event last year.
Ye is up against a fairly modest field which includes defending champion Branden Grace.
Grace won with 21-under at Binhai Lake GC 12 months ago so birdies are very much the requirement on this course.
Sky will have live coverage of all four days, with the first broadcast at 0630 on Thursday (SS1 HD). China is seven hours ahead of the UK.
Tianjin Binhai Lake Golf Club was designed by Pete Dye and has some of the famed architect's trademarks. The links style track features deep and large pot bunkers, most faced with traditional wooden sleepers. The par 72 measures a lengthy 7,667 yards and the gently, undulating links-style fairways and other subtle changes in terrain are designed by Dye to give the impression that the land is completely natural. There is plenty of water in play and the winds are described as "ever present".
Bunkers are faced with traditional wooden sleepers
A sunny week is forecast in Tianjin, with temperatures fluctuating between the low 70s and 80s. The highest wind reading is listed as 13mph (Thursday) while it should ease a little on the weekend.
Last year - Branden Grace
Branden Grace claimed his third European Tour win of the season following back-to-back victories in his native South Africa in January. Three clear of defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts at the start of play after a superb third round 64, Grace's lead was never less than two shots during round four and he eventually signed for a 69 and a winning total of 21-under. The victory moved Grace to 66th in the world rankings and made it six wins for South Africans in the first 15 European Tour events of the 2012 season.
Branden Grace with the trophy last year
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Alex Noren (12/1): The Swede was the 54-hole leader at last week's Ballantine's Championship before falling back to sixth with a closing 74. But everything points to another serious title tilt here. He's now finished sixth in his last two starts while, to the chagrin of each-way backers, he was also sixth in this event last year. A third round 63 shows he can go low on this track and the three-time European Tour winner deserves his place at the front of the market.
Branden Grace (12/1): Grace's victory here in 2012 was the third of four wins he posted in a memorable season. Not surprisingly, he's found it harder going this year but he posted three successive top sevens in January and, last time out, was a very creditable tied 18th on his Masters debut after recovering from a first round 78. He shot 67-67-64-69 to win this event last year and a third place in the Putting Average stats at Augusta bodes well for his bid for birdies here.
Thomas Aiken (20/1): This is Aiken's first start for over a month after he finished March with a victory in the Avantha Masters in India followed by an 11th in Malaysia. This is his debut in the event although he has teed it up five times in China, managing nothing better than a tied 28th in last November's HSBC Champions. He shot a third round 62 when winning the Avantha Masters in India.
Pablo Larrazabal (22/1): Like Noren, the Spaniard was another who left the Ballantine's in South Korea feeling like he'd let a winning opportunity pass. Larrazabal started day four in the final group but slipped back to sixth after a closing 73. He was in no doubt where it went wrong, tweeting: "Nothing nothing nothing.... Dont you guys worry, one day the putts will drop on sunday... And we will be on the picture." Encouragingly his China Open record is good - 18th-10th-8th the last three years.
Marcus Fraser (25/1): "Still knocking on that door! Runners 5 times in the last 18 months! Must be doing something right. Keep pushing!!!" That was Fraser's tweet shortly after coming up short in the three-way play-off at last week's Ballantine's Championship. This is another good chance to get the elusive 'W' as he was sixth at this track last year and has a strong record on Chinese soil with four top 11s in his last six starts.
Marcus Fraser: Due a win after a string of near misses
Victor Dubuisson (30/1): A fourth place in this tournament last year means the young Frenchman is again very much on the radar. He's got a fine record in Asia so it came as a surprise that he missed the cut in last week's Ballantine's Championship. That followed on from a disappointing Spanish Open but he can blow hot and cold so shouldn't be written off on a course he clearly likes.
Best of the rest
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (30/1): The Thai youngster crowned a great run of form by winning the Malaysian Open last month - his first European Tour success - and was also a very decent 11th in last week's Ballantine's Championship. He missed the cut at this venue 12 months ago but, on current form, he remains one for the shortlist.
Scott Strange (50/1): The Australian teed it up three times in March and recorded two second places and a seventh. The runners-up finishes came in the New Zealand PGA Championship and the Thailand Open, with the seventh in the OneAsia Tour's Indonesia PGA Championship. Intriguingly, he's also a past winner of this event, albeit on a different course, so he's definitely worthy of 'dark horse' status.
Scott Strange: A former winner of this event
Trends are commonplace in golf and the latest is for Australian players to be inspired by Adam Scott's Masters win.
Two Aussies contested last week's three-man play-off in South Korea and I fancy another pair to shine this week.
Firstly, Marcus Fraser is tipped to go one better after losing out to compatriot Brett Rumford.
True, Fraser has a habit of finding one too good but he's an each-way punter's friend and really doesn't have much to beat here.
His putter is hot, he made lots of birdies (6th most) last week, as is the requirement here, and has course form too.
The 25/1 should be snapped up.
Scott Strange also has seconditis at the moment but, again, Adam Scott's inspirational Masters win might just help him get over the line.
The man from Perth has been playing in Asia just about his whole career and his victory in the 2009 running of this event will give him some extra belief.
Finally, Victor Dubuisson looks a good fit for this course and is more than capable of making this his first European Tour win.
Victor Dubuisson: Ready to make the big breakthrough
2.5pts Marcus Fraser at 25/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1.5pts e.w. Victor Dubuisson at 30/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Scott Strange at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)