GOLF analyst Lewis Blain (@LewisBlainSport) shares his betting thoughts ahead of the Saudi International.
Saudi International | 4th-7th February 2021 | Sky Sports
A star-studded field convenes for the third edition of the controversial Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club this week. A desert coastal track on the edge of the Red Sea with plenty of dog-legs, water hazards and large bunkers.
The $3.5m prize fund is the reason why we're seeing major champions Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson make the trip from America, and they are undoubtedly the two to beat – the latter won the inaugural event and followed that up with a second-place last year. Farmers winner Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Kevin Na and Victor Hovland are just a few more names from the PGA Tour.
Laurie Canter gave us some nice each-way returns at 90/1, whilst we had no fewer than three contenders on the PGA Tour yet two came away one shot from securing a place. Frustrating.
Given there have only been a pair of outings here thus far, there is very little to go off, though the wind is often the course's biggest defence. Whilst it seems to suit a long-hitting bomber as well as the best ball-strikers.
Links, Middle East and coastal resort form should all be considered.
As I've said above, I'd be surprised if there neither DeChambeau nor Johnson were crowned champion on Sunday, but as both are < 8/1, I won't be getting involved at those prices and instead, I think there is some value to be had down the betting.
Shane Lowry (50/1 SkyBet)
opens my staking plan this week after a frustrating week in Dubai. The Irishman, who won the Open Championship only in 2019, had a shot at contending going into Sunday but blew his chances with a poor putting performance.
And that has been the story of his recent form. He is hitting the ball brilliantly and has been let down by his flat-stick. Indeed, there was no one worse on the greens last week.
That said, if he can sort that out, then he's going to be right there and it shouldn't come as a surprise. So there is some great value on him in an event like this. He's a major winner after all, one that has won three other times on the European Tour, including at the Portugal Masters which could provide some pointers here. As could his links form and that WGC win at Firestone; a long par-70 just like this track.
Lowry finished 13th here last year, where he ranked third for tee-to-green. If he can get the putter to behave, then he deserves to be among the likes of Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Paul Casey.
Next up is big-hitting Aussie Lucas Herbert (66/1 SkyBet)
, who appears to be in pretty decent shape having missed just one cut in his last six tournaments, of which he finished T7 in Ireland and T4 in Scotland.
Interestingly. Herbert is someone who has won a windy event in the Middle East already, securing the Dubai Desert Classic last year and whilst a T22 there last week isn't as great, it was an opening-round 74 that ultimately had him playing catch-up from the off.
Similarly, he has a runner-up place at the Portugal Masters and plenty of other top-10s across the Links, Australia and Sicily, which all play to the windy elements. His only trip round here garnered a T23, but he opened (67) and closed (68) well, so perhaps he can convert that into even better this week. He looks a fantastic fit here regardless of form or history, anyway.
And we'll end with three long-shot stabs, who in all honesty, maybe won't win this event given the strength of the field but their style and attributes all hint towards them outplaying their odds, at the very least.
The first is Oman Open winner, Kurt Kitayama (125/1 SkyBet)
, who won on a very comparable track (Al Mouj) – coastal, windy, water hazards and paspalum greens.
He's been among the top-10 for distance in the last two seasons and again is sitting there from what we've seen so far in 2021. He found a lot of greens last week, so maybe he can build on that here and snag a place at very nice odds. His form in the Middle East is strong, too.
Another winner at Al Mouj is Sami Valimaki (125/1 Betfair)
and for much of the same reasons above, he has to also be considered at these odds. His win in Oman was a week after contending at the wind-stricken Vic Open, where he finished T7.
His end of year form was very good too, a T6 and 18th in Cyprus (coastal resort) before going T13-T5 across the DP World Tour double in Dubai, only building on some impressive finishes at Celtic Manor (T6 & a runner-up), Wentworth (T13 on debut) and the tough Valderrama (T10). He can be an all-round monster, and clearly is well-suited to this week's test.
Finally, Sean Crocker (150/1 SkyBet)
is someone who has been on my shortlist for a while and I think it is time to pull the trigger at these odds. He is among the longest-odds Americans in the field, quite understandably, but we know from his previous exploits on the ET that he has an immensely high ceiling in terms of potential, and he is a perfect fit for Royal Greens.
He's currently ranking among the top-12 on tour for SG: OTT and Driving Distance, whilst he's 13th for SG: Approach and second to Canter for Greens in Regulation, thus far. His ball-striking is simply off the charts right now and to me, that hints towards an ability to succeed at an event like this.
He came close to sealing his maiden win at Leopard Creek at the back end of last season. He showed glimpses at Celtic Manor (T9) too as well as Scotland (T9) and at the Trophee Hassan. He can take advantage off the tee this week and may certainly make a mockery of these odds.
Saudi International – Shane Lowry (50/1 each-way SkyBet)
Saudi International – Lucas Herbert (66/1 each-way SkyBet)
Saudi International – Kurt Kitayama (125/1 each-way SkyBet)
Saudi International – Sami Valimaki (125/1 each-way Betfair)
Saudi International – Sean Crocker (150/1 each-way SkyBet)