There’s a real sense of back-to-the-future about the next fortnight of action on the European Tour, kicking off with the Magical Kenya Open at Karen Country Club. Why’s that? Well, on the one hand, a visit to East Africa might not be an entirely new venture for the circuit, but spending two weeks there definitely is. On the other hand, back in the 1970s, Europe’s golfing revival was fueled by the Safari Tour, a wild ride around ex-colonial countries in this part of the world and an experience few of the old hands miss out on the chance to tell tall tales about. It was a time when hungry young golfers attacked rough and ready courses like hunters seeking game, and the same opportunities are up for grabs this week. The prize fund is modest (roughly $1,200,000), but a win is a win and with it comes exemption. The field might not the highest class, but it is a big improvement on 2019, the only previous time this event has been a part of the schedule.
Karen Country Club
Founded in 1937, Karen Country Club was named after the famous author Karen Blixen whose book ‘Out of Africa’ was filmed by Sydney Pollack, winning seven Academy Awards, and it will be the 12th time the course has hosted the championship. On nine of those occasions, all of them in the 21st Century, the event was co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour, Europe’s second tier, and then in 2019 it welcomed the European Tour for the first time (the second planned visit was disrupted by last year’s Covid-19 lockdown).
That gives us plenty of course form to go on, but within that good news there are plenty of pitfalls. Many of the past winners when it was a Challenge Tour event have achieved relatively little in the game, nearly half the field have never played here, and the half the remainder have very little experience of it. It means we have clues, but they require subtle reading.
What is without doubt is that the test is distinct. The first issue is that the design is traditional, with a layout and shaping that is testimony to the age when the course was built: the examination is classical and tree-lined. That latter factor cannot be over-estimated – the woodland is thick.
The second issue is Nairobi’s thin air at 1,795 meters – altitude is a factor and it is revealed in the winners here. In 2015 Haydn Porteous defeated his friend and fellow South African Brandon Stone in a playoff – both have had lots of good results in Johannesburg at a similar height (1,753 meters). It’s also true that so many Joburg courses also adhere to similar design principles as Karen – tree-lined and traditional. The man who succeeded Porteous, in 2016, was Sweden’s Sebastian Soderberg and he won a first title on the main tour in the 2019 European Masters, at Crans, yet another track at altitude. Whilst defending champion Guido Migliozzi has done little at altitude, it’s worth noting he won at Rinkven in the Belgian Knockout and was sixth at Valderrama – two more tight, tree-lined tests. The par is 71 and the yardage 6,921, but it will play shorter than that and you’ll need players who deal with that thin air quirk.
The weather in Nairobi is set to be steady. The temperatures are forecast to be high 70s, maybe low 80s every day of the week and expect a mix of sunshine and showers for each round (20% likelihood of the latter all week). Even the wind is predicted to be a solid 13 to 14 MPH from the same direction all four days.
Past Champions at the Magical Kenya Open
Migliozzi kept the Italian flag flying when he took the title two years ago, after his compatriot Lorenzo Gagli won the previous year at Muthaiga Country Club, which is a very similar test to Karen. The year before that the Englishman Aaron Rai claimed the title, again at Muthaiga, but there was a local flavor to the triumph because Rai’s mother hails from Kenya.
Before that Porteous followed Jake Roos and Michiel Bothma as the third South African winner in five years. As those two names indicate, this has not always been an event that kickstarts high profile careers.
That said, a glance further down the roster of past champions reveals three major champions: Trevor Immelman (2000), Ian Woosnam (1986) and Severiano Ballesteros (1978).
Here’s an entirely FREE lineup for you this week with MORE for subscribers (DraftKings Prices)
|Player #1||R. Langasque||$9,400|
|Player #2||J. Luiten||$9,100|
|Player #3||D. Van Tonder||$8,400|
|Player #4||J L. Smith||$8,000|
|Player #5||D. Fichardt||$8,000|
|Player #6||J. Walters||$6,800|
Remaining cash $300
Romain Langasque ($9,400) Chat to the French golfing press and they’ll say of Victor Dubuisson and Romain Langasque: “Victor has the game, but Romain? He has the brain.” It took a while for him to live up to their estimations, but he’s made the cut in 19 of his last 24 starts and within that run he has also claimed a first European Tour win. The killer, though? He’s got course form and it’s stellar. He finished solo second here in 2016 and T–6 in 2019. He’s also been T–7 in Crans and solo second in Johannesburg.
Joost Luiten ($9,100) The Dutchman is not the cut-making machine of old, but the opportunity to purchase at this price, against the field, is not one to waste. Even his C game, which is where he is currently at, has been enough to play four rounds in six of his last seven starts, all of them higher grade fields than this one. Oh yeah, he also played the track back in 2007, finishing T–10, and he’s made the cut in each of his last five treks up the Swiss mountains to Crans. Nor do tree-lined fairways both this two-time runner-up at Valderrama.
Daniel Van Tonder ($8,400) The South African 30-year-old is something of a Sunshine Toursecret. Always a decent prospect at that level, he exploded into life midway through last year, ticking six top 10s in a row and then he raced through the gears to claim four wins in his next six starts. Last week he lost a playoff in South Africa and he can transfer that form: he’s played Karen four times and never been outside the top 12.
Jordan L. Smith ($8,100) This Englishman is good enough to have won on the European Tour (the 2017 Porsche European Open), but he’s also gun for playing all four rounds of a tournament, doing so in 86 of his 112 starts and in 19 of his last 25. If that makes him a solid prospect, memories of him going toe-to-toe with Rory McIlroy in the 2017 South African Open at Glendower (tree-lined at altitude) are a further boost. Nor is he without course experience because he finished a solid T–28 in the 2016 Kenya Open when it was on the Challenge Tour.
Darren Fichardt ($8,100) The veteran South African claimed the 54-hole lead last week in the Qatar Masters and eventually ended the week T–2, but that’s far from his only tick-in-the-box. His longer term form is strong: 17 cuts made in 18 starts. Admittedly most of that was on the weak Sunshine Tour, but this field is not a massive step-up and Fichardt was making most of those cuts with ease. He’s yet to play in Kenya, but a fellow who has played, and won, so much on the high veldt around Johannesburg won’t be fazed by the course or conditions.
Justin Walters ($6,800) Another South African, but they thrive on home soil when the European Tour co-sanctions Sunshine Tour events and they can do so again this week given the familiarity of the test. A touch of value in Walters, too, with a low price for a fellow who has made six of the last seven cuts, two of them in Johannesburg. He also owns five top 10s on South African courses that resemble Karen (thin air, tree-lined, traditional).
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• The free month program is ending soon. You can read all of our picks for a month for free (for a limited time) over all sports and $99 for a year after that.
• Check out another fully different line up for this European Tour event including a sneaky $6,300 pick.
• A couple of good alternative picks to help you build out GPP options based around not one but two CORE lineups.
Here’s Another Alternate Lineup For The Kenya Open
|Player #1||K. Samooja||$10,600|
|Player #2||A. Rai||$10,200|
|Player #3||J B. Hansen||$8,600|
|Player #4||S. Sharma||$7,300|
|Player #5||S. Soderberg||$7,000|
|Player #6||R. McGowan||$6,300|
$0 leftover salary
Kalle Samooja ($10,600) One of the stranger trends on the modern European Tour is the rise of Finnish golf. Sweden, yes, we know all about them. But Mikko Ilonen has prompted a real upsurge in recent years for Finland and 33-year-old Samooja is a late bloomer among their number. He’s played the tournament three times, made the cut in each of them, was T–3 at Muthaiga and T–6 at Karen in 2019. And the only time he visited Crans? He lost a playoff. He does miss cuts, but he also scores big points with 12 top 30 finishes in his last 25 starts.
Aaron Rai ($10,200) Rai is English but, as noted above, he also has Kenyan heritage that will guarantee him the support of the locals, as he got in 2017 when winning the event. They called him ‘Toto’ which means ‘our little one’. Ignore the poor recent form in the Middle East because he has a terrible record there. He’s a different player elsewhere and, if you do delete the desert record, his last six starts include five cuts made, all of them top 20, one of them a win.
Joachim B. Hansen ($8,600) The last time the fiery Dane found himself at altitude on a course among the trees was at Randpark in Johannesburg for the South African Open and he won it. Before that, he was T–7 in the trees at Wentworth and ahead of that he ticked off three top 30 finishes on tree-lined British parkland venues. Throw in T–4 at Club de Campo in Madrid (altitude) and you’ve got a man who can bring home the bacon. He’s also got got form (he was T–9 last week in Qatar) and course knowledge (he was T–19 in the 2015 Kenya Open).
Shubhankar Sharma ($7,300) There are weeks that call for specialists and this, we’ve established, is one of them. So why this young Indian? Because, whilst three years ago he was on fire, now he tends to rise and fall. But it’s where he thrived that matters. He won the South African Open at Randpark and then very nearly won the WGC Mexico Championship at Chapultepec. What did they have in common? Altitude, old-fashioned golf, trees down the fairways. It’s his favorite golf and this could be the week he’s waiting for.
Sebastian Soderberg ($7,000) We need to dig deep to cater for some big hitters in this line-up and the Swede has one factor really going for him: he doesn’t suffer from altitude sickness. Anything but, in fact. He’s won this tournament on this course, he was also T–6 at Muthaiga in 2018, his first top ten on the Challenge Tour was at altitude, his first top five on the European Tour was too – and so was his first win at that level in the 2019 European Masters.
Ross McGowan ($6,300) A final dip down low to find a bargain and the Englishman, who won the Italian Open last season, fits the bill. He’s got a ton of experience playing traditional, tree-lined tracks in Surrey, England where he grew up and almost as much background in the Johannesburg region on the Sunshine Tour. He’s also 4–for–4 in Kenya.
Other Player Options For The Kenya Open
• American Kurt Kitayama is top price this week at $10,900 with a record of 4– afor–6. Beware however. He has landed top 20s among the trees, but this big-hitter has mostly thrived when he has plenty of space from the tee box.
• Austria’s Matthias Schwab looks a winner-in-waiting and he makes cuts for fun. He’s a pricey $10,400 but plenty will find a way of edging him into the lineup, because he’s played four rounds of golf in nine of his last ten starts.
• George Coetzee was a popular play last week in Qatar because he owned such a stellar record there, but he missed the cut. Sometimes a player’s expectations are as lofty as gamers and high expectation is a bad thing for any golfer. Bounce back from George? He’s $10,000, but has bundles of Johannesburg region know-how – indeed he grew up playing there.
COVID-19 and Injury Warning:
Pro DFS players know to keep an eye on Twitter, DraftKings, FanDuel and-or subscribe to any number of email feeds and whatnot to keep an eye on injuries or COVID-19 withdraws. Players that don’t make the cut are bad enough. Players that don’t play all four rounds (even when pulling out at the last minute) make for a pretty weak lineup.
Go win your lineups and then tell us how you did. Twitter (@FantasyDFSX) is a good place for that.
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