GOLF analyst Lewis Blain (@LewisBlainSport) shares his betting thoughts ahead of The Magical Kenya Open.
Magical Kenya Open | 18th-21st March 2021 | Sky Sports
It may well be Cheltenham week in the betting world, but there are still bets to be had in the golf, so I will do us all a favour and keep this short and sweet.
The European Tour returns for the Qatar Masters after over a month off last week, and now it heads to Kenya for back-to-back events at Karen Golf Course – a short track at altitude, where accuracy, patience and precision could be required.
There's a South African feel to this event, as many from the Sunshine Tour make the trip.
Aaron Rai (28/1 Ladbrokes)
My favourite bet of the week (aside from Joaquin Niemann in the Honda at 22/1) is Aaron Rai at 28/1. His mother was born in Mombasa, some seven hours away from this venue, and relocated well before the Englishman was born but it does mean this tournament does carry some weight in terms of occasion and importance.
He has also won in the country before, clinching the Challenge Tour's Kenya Open at Muthaiga GC in 2017, and whilst that isn't the same track as this week, it does bear plenty of similarities. As does his Hong Kong Open win at Fanling.
This sort of accurate tree-lined test is right up his street, so you can forgive recent form of three missed cuts in the Middle East swing. If you remove that run, then his form is somewhat encouraging – a win at the Scottish Open after a 2nd the week before at the Irish, then third in Scotland again and 18th at the recent WGC at Concession, which was also a tree-lined precision test.
Garrick Higgo (40/1 Ladbrokes)
Next up is a hugely promising young South African by the name of Garrick Higgo, who looks tremendous value at 40/1. In terms of Official World Golf Ranking, he's one of the highest-rated players – almost double the price of Kurt Kitayama, who is among the favourites here yet is nearly 20 places behind in these standings.
The 21-year-old has four victories worldwide form only 41 starts, so he's certainly a stud. He captured his maiden triumph on the European Tour back in September when taking the Portugal Masters. He notched a 5th around Karen GC on the back of two successive victories, so you can hardly slight him for not making it three in a row but that's encouraging as he's clearly well suited to this week's test.
Higgo is able to often find the green from wherever his ball lies, whether in the fairway or rough, so he – unlike most – could counter the course's main defence and to make matters even better, he often scores well on the par-5s which will be key to picking up birdies or better this week.
JB Hansen (40/1 Ladbrokes)
I've been waiting for a return to form for the 2020 Joburg Open winner JB Hansen and it may have just come at the most perfect time ahead of this week. He notched a T9 in Qatar and was largely in contention throughout the week.
There are plenty of comparisons to be made from here to Johannesburg, especially with both playing at an altitude. The Norwegian often has an abysmal score in his locker, but 10th at Wentworth and a 4th in Madrid on tree-lined venues hint towards him having an eye for certain tests.
I am hoping he can build on his encouraging form, one that has seen him start to improve with his ball-striking. He could well be one hot putting week away from clinching as second European Tour title.
Gaganjeet Bhullar (66/1 Betfair)
Another player who showed up last week enough to tease me into a bet is Gaganjeet Bhullar. He's perhaps one of the best form bets in this field as he matches up for both recency bias and course history.
The Indian finished in a tie for 2nd in Qatar last week, and had Antoine Rozner not buried an outstanding 60-footer, then he'd likely have been in a four-man playoff for his first-ever ET title. He also finished 5th here last year.
Bhullar, who is searching for that maiden breakthrough, does actually have ten PGTI wins and nine Asian Tour wins, including one only four starts ago, so you can argue he's never been in better form than now.
He ranked inside the top-15 for SG: Approach, Tee-to-Green, Putting and Around-the-Green, so if he keeps that up here – at a venue he's done well at before – then you can certainly see him outplaying these odds.
John Catlin (80/1 Betfair)
And finally, I'd like to back someone who won us money last year – Irish Open winner, John Catlin. Galgorm is a fairly tight track considering, and the American's only other ET triumph has come at the tricky and supremely-tough Valderrama, which too is tree-lined.
He shook off a run of three straight missed cuts in Qatar with a T42 where a poor weekend took him away from pushing on, but I think he could build on that here. He made the cut here last year, but did very little else though since then, he has picked up those two victories, so he's a far better prospect than before.
You could pick out plenty of names in this bracket but I rate Catlin's chances. He was 6th on the ET last season for Driving Accuracy, so he should have no trouble putting it in the right spots here and 6th for SG: ATG, so that short-game prowess could take him up a notch over some of his other challengers.
Magical Kenya Open – Aaron Rai (28/1 each-way Ladbrokes)
Magical Kenya Open – Garrick Higgo (40/1 each-way Ladbrokes)
Magical Kenya Open – JB Hansen (40/1 each-way Ladbrokes)
Magical Kenya Open – Gaganjeet Bhullar (66/1 each-way Betfair)
Magical Kenya Open – John Catlin (80/1 each-way Betfair)