Local hero Li can complete hat-trick of Chinese takeaways
Youngster set to topple Topwin again
Palmer's top tip
Haotong Li 45-1
The China Open has ended in a party the last two years as the galleries have acclaimed a home champion, and Haotong Li can make it a hat-trick of triumphs this week.
Ashun Wu thrilled his compatriots by claiming a maiden European Tour title in the 2015 China Open, then Li followed suit with a more convincing victory 12 months ago. Wu turns 32 in June and has probably stopped improving, but 21-year-old Li is bursting with potential. He is the greatest golfing talent to emerge from China and well capable of a successful title defence at Topwin Country Club.
Li could be about to repeat his trick of last year. He missed the cut in the Shenzhen International before winning the China Open the following week. Another Shenzhen flop has lifted some of the weight of expectation from his shoulders and also provided punters with a juicy price for Topwin.
Li could easily bounce back from his Shenzhen failure by starring this week. He clearly enjoys Topwin more than Genzon Golf Club, which makes sense given the demands of the track. Li possesses an excellent short-game, meaning he can handle the large, undulating Topwin greens, which are surrounded by tricky run-off areas.
Last year, Li arrived as a European Tour maiden in miserable form. His seven previous starts yielded form figures of MC-MC-60-35-MC-57-MC and four of those outings were on the Web.com Tour. The cheerful youngster came alive at Topwin, though, and improved his score each day (69, 67, 66, 64) to crush the field by three shots.
Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Thorbjorn Olesen, Alexander Levy, Bernd Wiesberger, Ross Fisher, Tommy Fleetwood and Jeunghun Wang were among those left well behind by Li last year, and a field of similar quality lines up this time.
Despite his Shenzhen failure, Li can approach Topwin with much more confidence than last year. He is a proven champion who has posted six European Tour top-20s since his career highlight. One of those came with second place in a high-class Turkish Airlines Open in November and he was fifth in the Maybank Championship in the middle of February.
Peter Uihlein 28-1
While Li was making hay at Topwin last year, Peter Uihlein was making plans for wrist surgery. After a double-bogey at the third hole of round two slipped him to two over par for the tournament, the American finally succumbed to the pain, withdrawing and spending more than three months on the sidelines.
Uihlein is fully fit and playing well on his Topwin return. The former US Amateur champion has made 11 cuts in a row, a streak which started in China with 14th place in the Hong Kong Open. He has been around the lead on Sunday four times in this purple patch, finishing seventh in the SA Open, fifth in Dubai, fourth in the Tshwane Open and fifth in Puerto Rico.
A closing 69 moved Uihlein up to 33rd spot at Genzon last week and this proven China performer should be dangerous at Topwin. He was fifth in the 2013 BMW Masters, fourth in the 2015 Shenzhen International and finished second on the European Tour putting stats last year. This low-scoring assignment suits.
Jordan Zunic 300-1
Carlos Pigem 125-1
Two maidens make each-way appeal at enormous prices. Jordan Zunic is one of the most promising players in Australia and the form he has shown over the last month means he could make a mockery of his general 300-1 quote.
Zunic has already won twice on the PGA Tour of Australasia, the 25-year-old making up for lost time after almost dying in a car crash in 2013. That near-fatal accident has given this six-foot powerhouse a wonderful perspective on golf and a China Open debut holds no fears for him.
Zunic was 58th of 78 in the WGC-HSBC Champions last year and he returns to China with his game in great nick. Last month he finished 15th in the New Zealand Open and fifth in the Queensland PGA Championship, then kept his eye in by winning the Wagga Wagga Country Club Pro-Am at the start of this month.
Todd Sinnott, who finished second in the Asian Tour Q-School before romping to a three-shot win in just his second Asian Tour start, has highlighted that Australia's best youngsters are more than a match for their Asian counterparts. Zunic could be the next to take Asia by storm.
Another outsider being dismissed too easily by the layers is Carlos Pigem, who has moved up from 595th on the world rankings to 186th in the last ten months. This surge has been due to form in Asia, a continent the Spaniard has conquered.
Pigem won the Yeangder Players Championship on the Asian Tour in July, an event staged in Taiwan, the island just east of China. This season, he has also impressed on the European Tour, finishing fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, 14th in the Hong Kong Open, fifth in the India Open and eighth in the Hassan Trophy.
Pigem finished runner-up to Sinnott in the Myanmar Open at the end of January and a missed cut by a shot at Genzon last week does nothing to change the fact that the maturing 26-year-old is over-priced for his China Open debut.
Others to note
The Korean has gone off the boil since winning in Qatar in January and he shot a pair of 78s to miss the cut at Topwin last year, but a razor-sharp short-game means he must be respected.
The 17-year-old Thai finished runner-up in the Perth Super 6 two months ago and appears to be blossoming into one of Asia's finest. The whippersnapper could enjoy Topwin.
The Indian is one of the world's great scramblers and he should find a way to compete at Topwin. Last month's seven-shot Indian Open triumph has increased his self-belief.
The chunky Thai fought back well from a poor start at Genzon last week to finish 21st and must be considered a threat in a low-grade event in Asia.
The Austrian giant eventually got over the line in front at Genzon despite an unimpressive final-day performance. A China double is obviously possible, but there is no value in the price.
The Englishman three-putted the final hole at Genzon to miss out on the playoff, extending a victory drought of more than three years.
2pts each-way 45-1 Betfred
2pts each-way 28-1 general
1pt each-way 300-1 BoyleSports, Paddy Power
1pt each-way 125-1 Paddy Power
Course Topwin Golf and Country Club, Beijing, China
Prize money €2.68m (€448,183 to the winner)
Length 7,261 yards Par 72 Field 156
When to bet By 11.40pm Wednesday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 7.30am Thursday
Time difference China is seven hours ahead of the UK and Ireland
Last week – Shenzhen International 1 B Wiesberger (20-1), 2 T Fleetwood (16-1), T3 R Fisher (16-1), G Bourdy (125-1), T5 F Zanotti (50-1), D Lipsky (60-1), D Frittelli (80-1)
Course overview There have been nine different venues for the China Open since it became a European Tour event in 2005, with Topwin becoming the tenth last year. It was designed by Ian Woosnam and opened in 2011. The layout, cut from the hills of Huairou, boasts views of the Great Wall of China and has two par-fives which are almost as long as that Wonder of the World. The 616-yard par-five fourth and the 608-yard par-five 12th make up almost 17 percent of the overall course yardage. There are four par-fours of 365 yards or shorter, with the 317-yard 11th and the 327-yard 15th representing eagle opportunities. The parkland track rolls through rural countryside, among fruit trees and chestnut orchards. As well as dense sets of trees, several lakes are waiting to punish the errant. There are water hazards on every hole apart from 13, 14 and 15. The overall length has increased by 32 yards since last year
Story of last year Haotong Li thrilled the Chinese galleries, delivering a home winner for the second year running, cruising to victory by three shots after a final-round 64
Weather forecast Hot and sunny throughout, with light to moderate breezes
Type of player suited to challenge The leaderboard in the only previous China Open at Topwin contained a mixture of long and short hitters. All putted well, though, and a hot flat-stick seems essential for success on this low-scoring track. Run-off areas around the greens, many of which are large and undulating, add further stock to a sharp short-game
Key attribute Touch