The sixth Rolex Series event of the season gets underway on Thursday with the Turkish Airlines Open and Kiradech Aphibarnrat looks primed to break his duck at the prestigious tournament.
World number 37 Aphibarnrat produced a brilliant performance at Sheshan International last week when finishing tied-fourth at the WGC-HSBC Champions, his third top-10 result in the WGC events in 2018.
The 29-year-old was indebted to some superb work on the greens in China as he ended the tournament top in putts per round with an average of 24.8, and a similar performance with the flat stick in Antalya would go a long way to securing the title.
Aphibarnrat’s all-around short game has been impressive this season and he is 17th in the European Tour’s scrambling statistics, whilst he is 13th in strokes gained: around the green.
Thailand’s star, who landed his fourth European Tour title in February at the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, has also impressed in previous editions of the Turkish Airlines, with a third-place finish in 2015 followed by a tie for 25th and a tie for sixth in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Aphibarnrat is also currently 14th in the Race to Dubai standings and although being crowned Europe’s number one golfer is beyond reach, there is still the chance for the Bangkok-born star to crack the top 10 for the first time.
Lee Westwood, whose last victory came at the 2015 CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters, may have slipped down to 119th in the world rankings but his performances over the last couple of months show he is not ready to slowly fade away into the distance.
The Englishman, who topped the OWGR’s in October 2010, finished tied-second at the Made In Denmark after losing out in a four-way play-off to compatriot Matt Wallace before taking a share of 12th at the Omega European Masters.
A disappointing missed cut at the British Masters put a slight dampener on the 45-year-old’s resurgence but he bounced back to form last time out at the weather-affected Andalucia Valderrama Masters.
With the tournament reduced to 54-holes and requiring the Monday to find a winner, Westwood – who had his son caddying that week – ended up in a tie for fifth for his third top-five of the season.
The Worksop-born star also has previous tournament experience in Turkey with three top-20 finishes to his name and his recent improvement suggests he can end up in the top-10 for the first time since the 2014 edition.
Thursday will mark the 14th Rolex Series tournament to be played since the inception of the premium category of events on the Race to Dubai in 2017 and since the inaugural event – the 2017 BMW PGA Championship – no player has earned more top-10 finishes than Ryan Fox.
The 31-year-old has six top-10’s to his name – the most recent a tie for sixth at the 2018 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open – and he will be confident of putting together another strong performance.
New Zealand’s star narrowly missed out on his maiden European Tour title in July when losing out to Scotland’s Russell Knox in a playoff at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
Fox was tied-30th at the WGC-HSBC Champions last time out and there were enough positives from his performance to suggest he can end this week as the top Australasian player.
Lucas Herbert, who has not played since finishing tied-third at the British Masters, Jason Scrivener, Wade Ormsby and Scott Hend are the other four players in this category.
An interesting bet in the Game Odds section pits Jordan Smith against fellow Englishman Matthew Southgate and there appears to be good value in backing the latter.
Southgate will be making his first appearance since the Andalucia Valderrama Masters and a return to one of his favoured courses could provide the spark needed to see him break his tournament duck.
The 30-year-old, who has three top-10 finishes to his name this season, was tied-31st on his debut in 2016 before showing huge improvement 12 months later when ending up in a share of 11th.
He was fourth in greens in regulation in 2017 and the Englishman has been impressive in this department once again this year, averaging 73.2 per cent to sit 18th in the European Tour’s statistics.
After winning his maiden European Tour title last year, Smith has managed to keep that momentum going throughout this season and he arrives in Turkey in good form.
The 25-year-old finished tied-third at the British Masters last time out – his fourth top-10 of the season – and he will be hoping to end the campaign on a strong note.
However, the world number 135 struggled in Antalya 12 months ago as he ended up in a tie for 42nd, leaving questions marks as to whether his game is suited to the course.
Smith’s driving accuracy was good throughout the week as he ended fifth in that department, but he failed to get anything going on the greens and this area often proves crucial to success.
Looking at the top of the market, 2018 FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose is the 15/4 favourite to claim all the spoils whilst fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who is aiming to defend his Race to Dubai crown, is next in the betting at 31/4.
Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen, who is the third and final member of Europe’s triumphant 2018 Ryder Cup team in the field, is 21/2 to lift the trophy and he will be optimistic of doing so after his fifth-place finish last year, which came on the back of winning this event in 2016.
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