KLM Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Everybody loves to see a home winner claim their national open, and the Dutch are no exception. The whole of Holland rejoiced last year when Joost Luiten rediscovered his very best form to win the KLM Open for a second time. And he will be among the favourites to make it victory number three this time around.
Huge galleries followed Luiten all week long and it inspired and brought out the very best in him as he went head to head with Bernd Weisberger in the final round, eventually coming out on top by three shots after some brilliant iron play. Luiten, 31, is one of the best putters on the European Tour, so when he gets the rest of his game on song it stands to reason that he is going to be very difficult to beat. Luiten is the only man to have won his national open more than once, and it was his first victory for two years.
It was a win that had been coming, after a series of top-10 finishes, and he did it in style, closing with a 63. "The first one was special but the second was very special," he said. "To have the Dutch people behind me all week and to be able to stand here with the trophy in my hands is very special. It was one of those days where everything I looked at went in the hole. People talk about the zone, and I was in it. I missed one shot all day. These are the kind of days that make it all worth getting out of bed for."
Sadly, there haven't been too many of those this season. In 17 starts he has missed just three cuts, but there has only been a solitary top 10 finish. However, he has finished in the top 30 on eight occasions, so his game is not far away. Luiten is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve, and you should not be at all surprised if he is in contention again.
It was won in 2010 by Kaymer, in 2011 by Simon Dyson, in 2012 by Peter Hanson, in 2013 and 2016 by Luiten, in 2014 by Paul Casey and in 2015 by Thomas Pieters. It is significant because the 2014 KLM Open represents the last time that Casey tasted victory anywhere. Nonetheless, he is firmly established in the top 15 in the world rankings. So, how can that be? Anybody who follows the PGA Tour will know that Casey grinds out top-10 finishes for fun - and he has been having a LOT of fun lately. Sadly, he is no longer a member of the European Tour (and will not be playing for Europe in the Ryder Cup next year, more's the pity) and in any event he is still heavily involved in the climax to the FedEx Cup.
Lee Westwood showed some positive signs at the recent Czech Masters, and it was long overdue. It is an open secret that the veteran English golfer still strikes the ball as well as he ever did. He is a brilliant driver of the ball and hits more than his fair share of fairways. He hits fairway woods as well as anybody, and is a fabulous long-iron player.
Westwood is probably now the best player never to have won a major, and nobody will need to tell him that time is starting to run out. More important for him is that he needs to be in the field of the world's biggest tournaments to have any chance of winning and his ranking is on the slide. He has done wonderfully well to remain as competitive as he is for as long as he has but his weakness on the greens is starting to catch up with him. Westwood needs a week where the putts fall - if that happens, he remains good enough to beat anybody, anywhere.
Speaking of golfers on the slide, what on earth has happened to George Coetzee and Matteo Manassero? Not so long ago, both men were firmly established in the top 50 in the world rankings - and Manassero was a LOT higher than that. He won his first European Tour title in October 2010, at the age of 17, becoming the youngest ever winner on the European Tour. In 2011 he added his second title, securing the Maybank Malaysian Open and the following year came the Barclays Singapore Open.
His remarkable progress continued in 2013 when Manassero won the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour's flagship event. He had the world in his hands and four victories to his name at the age of 20. And then he did what so many players do - he decided to change his swing because he convinced himself that he needed to hit the ball further, even though the technique that had already served him so well had guided him to four victories.
And, of course, that is when it all started to go wrong and began to miss cuts by the bucketload. To make matters even worse, he lost his short game, which had been the key to his early success. Manassero is still only 24 years, which is remarkable as he seems to have been around for so long. So the good news is that he has started playing well again, is hitting the ball a little further and has remembered how to putt.
Coetzee also looked like the real deal when he first burst upon the scene, with many knowing judges tipping him as a future major winner. That seems like a long time ago. Like Westwood the South African is a beautiful ball striker. Unlike Westwood, Coetzee can putt. But he turns to jelly with a wedge in his hands around the greens. There are times when it is painful to watch. If it is possible to get any club on the ball other than a wedge, Coetzee will do it, and the harder he works at it, the more inconsistent he seems to become. Would one good week solve his problems? Probably not. But it would do wonders for his confidence, which must be shot to pieces right now.
Last year's runner-up Weisberger has had a disappointing season, but he is far too good a player to continue struggling for long. He does everything really well but has missed a lot of fairways in 2017. If he can drive the ball well this week he is going to take some beating. Besides, like Westwood, he will want to halt his slide down the rankings. He is now outside the all-important top 50, and Weisberger is somebody whose game is made for the majors. Expect a big finish to the season from the Austrian.
Lee Westwood. Time for a last hurrah
Matteo Manaserro. On the way back
Joost Luiten. Certain to make a solid defence
Lee Westwood. Likes this course, and likes Holland
Matteo Manassero. Back to what he does best
Joost Luiten. Will have massive home support
George Coetzee. I have a feeling in my water about Gorgeous George this week
Victor Dubuisson. Usually starts playing well at this time of year
Bernd Weisberger. Has gone off the boil lately
Brandon Stone. Great South African youngster
Haydn Porteous. Czech Masters win will surely get him going again
Chris Wood. Needs to turn around a quiet year
James Morrison. Promising signs in the Czech Republic
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