As we head into 2021, Waggle Duff previews The Top 10 players to look out for on The European Tour in 2021. The old, the new and a few flying quietly under the radar.
1 VIKTOR HOVLAND
When I see a date of birth with the year 1997, I get the shivers. I then tremble in my boots as I read what Viktor has achieved in a relatively short space of time.
2019 was when the Norwegian got going on the circuit, finishing as the best place amateur in both US Open and MASTERS events. He went on to get his first win at the Puerto Rico Open in February, and then again at The Mayakoba Golf Classic (thereby lifting the Puerto Rico Open curse; nobody has won the PR Open and gone on to win again!)
What has impressed me most with Hovland is the manor of the wins. Walking into the last round of the Mayakoba Classic, Viktor had to start fast, he opened with a par and then birdied 4 of the next 5. After dropping a shot at 12, he bounced back with back-to-back birdies. Sinking cutch puts, including a 12-footer to win by a shot on the last.
That takes guts and grit, and to have that at 23 years old I expect to see more T10’s and wins in 2021 as he improves.
Finally, Viktor has been consistent towards the back end of 2020, his last 3 events he has finished T15, 1st and 3rd at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He is a reliable, dependable pick which will only mean a whole host of Waggle Duff points with him in your team.
2. MARTIN KAYMER
Right. Hear me out on this one. Martin is going to come back next year and get a WIN on The European Tour. Now yes, he has missed cuts when he’s been in The USA, but in Europe he’s more often that not been inside the T20 and often T10. Almost sneaking his way into the top page of the leaderboard, without any of us realising.
Recent European Tour Finishes
- T14 – DP World Tour Championship
- T37 – Golf in Dubai Championship
- T5 – Italian Open
- T10 – BMW PGA Championship
- 2nd Andalucía Masters
- T3 UK Championship’
Lets us also not forget that The German is a Major winner and 11 time European Tour Winner. He’s still only 35, despite it feeling like he’s been around forever. Also the stats around his golf game look strong. He’s above average of the tee (304yds), he’s better than average on puts per round (28.86) and he hits more greens than most (71%). For me, if he sinks the putts in 2021, we will all be delighted to see him with a trophy in his hands again.
3. TYRELL HATTON
I am sure Tyrell is targeting WGC and Majors in 2021, despite a poor showing at the 3 majors in 2020. The Englishman has 3 wins since November 2019 in both The USA and European Tour. Impressively Tyrell won The BMW PGA Championship by 4 strokes, on a week he was a popular Waggle Duff pick. I thought winning on this type of course would be a gatekeeper to Augusta due to some similarities in course design and style, but unfortunately, he missed the cut in the Autumn.
Tyrell certainly plays on the whole better in Europe, but his stock continues to rise on The PGA Tour. He’s a fiery character that you wouldn’t want to play against. I was lucky enough to play match play against him as a UK County Player, and he was the same then. A massive desire to win that boils over at times, but you feel that the more you watch Tyrell, the more tolerant he has become.
I think Golf fans are warming to him and can see that his occasional anger can be misconstrued as passion. If he can make the cuts and get in the mix, I see him having a big part to play in 2021 Majors.
He certainly isn’t scared to win if he does get in the mixer. He’s battled the best at the WGC in Mexico and at the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Tyrell won beating the likes of; Bryson DeChambeau, Rory Mcilroy and Collin Morikawa.
I for one pray for a September show down… HATTON vs REED at The Ryder Cup! Let’s just hope Eddie Hearn doesn’t take hold of it and make PPV.
4. RASMUS HOJGAARD
Rasmus Hojgaard is so young he wasn’t alive for the millennium; he was born after the first Spice Girls album was released, and he was only 6 months old on 9/11, let that sink in.
A short while later, in August 2020 Hojgaard won for the 2nd time on the European Tour at The Belfry. Shooting a final round of 65 (-7) to get into the play off and then win. He finished that round 4 under for the last 6 (including a par on the par 5 15th), now that is some balzy scoring under pressure.
We see youngsters burst onto the scene, get the hype and then disappear. I’m thinking Manassero for example, but with Hojgaard you feel that he will only get better. I would like to see him improve on his course management, he is very aggressive, and goes for every pin, though if you were the 4th best off the tee on tour for 2020 you would take the aggressive lines!
Rasmus hasn’t played great the back end of 2020 since that win in August, missing a couple of cuts and only finishing inside the T40 once. However over the course of the season you would imagine he will build on his 6 top 10s and 2 wins. A good each way bet and a solid Waggle Duff pick, although with the hype, I don’t think he will tee off greater than 50/1!
5. AARON RAI
I’ve watched Aaron Rai a fair amount this year, and every time I think one thing. Robo-Golf. He is a methodical golfer, dedicated to the pre shot routine and the management of emotions. Obviously when you watch a duck gliding across a lake you don’t see the frantic feet swimming below and maybe that is the same with Aaron. However externally he always looks calm and very in control of himself and his game, despite only being 25 years old.
This was most apparent when Aaron won in Scotland on The European Tour (first ever Waggle Duff competition). Now he had some good fortune, I have not seen a poorer putting display at this level than Tommy Fleetwood’s on that final day, but Rai still got it done and closed out the tournament with a par on the first playoff hole.
The thing that stands out with Aaron is when he is on a good run, you get 4 solid weeks out of him, that’s when you have to back and pick him. In July 2017 on the Challenge Tour he had a run of; T8 in Prague, T4 Italy and then won the Le Vaudreuil Challenge the following week, 2 weeks later he finished 10th in Denmark.
On the European Tour, in 2018 he won the Hong Kong Open. In 2020 he finished the ISPS HANDA UK Championship in T15, came 2nd in The Irish Open, Won the Scottish Open and was 3rd in the Scottish Championships 2 weeks later. You can see a picture of improvement year on year as he develops on the European Tour.
Aaron is still a young man on tour, he has an older head on those young shoulders. He’s not anymore than man with 2 gloves, he finished 8th in the Race to Dubai and he’s a contender when he steps on the tee.
6. SAMI VALIMAKI
Sami was flying under the radar a little, but by picking up the European Tour Rookie of the Year Award, his odds for 2021 competitions just shortened and commentators will now mention that every time he pops up on the fairway.
Especially when he runs good during a WGC or Major, expect the commentator to say “VALIMAKI, the ET rookie of the year for 2020.” Maybe take a shot of your favourite liquor every time you hear Paul McGinley’s mention it.
Sami self-confessed he didn’t expect his rise to happen so quickly, in only his sixth start he won the Oman Open 2020. He didn’t fade either, he had seven top 10 finishes which propelled him to 11th in the Race to Dubai.
I don’t believe he makes The Masters as it stands, due to being outside the T50 on the WGR. Sami admits that getting inside the T50 is his goal for 2021. However, there still is time for that to change early in the season, and Sami enters 2021 in good form, finishing 2020 strong in the DP World Tour Championships.
The only thing with Sami is he said he would rather win a Green Jacket over a Claret Jug, this is an issue on a personal level. Although, he did win on tour just 18 months after finishing military service in Finland, so fair play to him. I won’t hold his Green Jacket preferences against him.
7. ADRIAN OTAEGUI
Over the last 3 years Adrian has had opportunities to kick on and be a force on the European Tour. What he lacks is about 20/30 yards of the tee. Now I know that isn’t essential to play well, but it really does help as courses are longer than they have ever been.
Combine this with the Bryson factor and I think courses will lengthen again over the next few seasons, making that 300+ hit more important. Apart from length, Otaegui performs very well statistically, and as we have seen, he is a player that can shoot very low when he’s on song.
He’s one of them players that when he is on it, can get to 8, 9 and as we saw in Scotland 10 under par. That’s something that even some of the best players on tour can’t do. When I watch Otaegui in form, he looks a world beater. Fairways are rarely missed anyway, but his swing puts him in position on every hole. His putting stroke is also one I could watch all day, and I would suggest everyone watches his highlights from round 1 in Scotland last year.
Otaegui traditionally starts the season slow (2 T10’s in 3 years between January – March) but finds form and gets into a groove for 2/3 tournaments. He clearly prefers a scorable course and having that ability to blitz birdies means he will be a good pick on a Links in the summer, a Portugal Masters or even the English Championship at The Belfry this year. He has 3 wins in 4 years on the European Tour and again, he hit 2021 in good form despite traditionally being a slow starter.
I think Otaegui is one to track, he can take a win, experience and some hella low rounds from 2020. A solid 30-50/1 pick for 2021… post March!
8. LI HAOTONG
It feels like Li has been kicking about for 10 years, well he actually has. He played when he was 14 in the Volvo China Open. Which means now he is still only 25 years old, although he has a great deal of experiences which can arm him for a big 2021. He’s played in all the majors, WGC and even in the Olympics. In between such events, he holds 6 wins across the European Tour, OneAsia Tour and PGA Tour China.
The most notable win came in 2018 when he wont the Omega Dubai Desert Classic (a tournament Waggle Duff Fantasy Golf will cover in 2021) beating Rory McIlroy in a duel by one shot. Li also has some good finishes in Major Tournaments. He has played in 10, making the cut 8 times, which means he has a versatile game.
The best performance came in the 2017 Open at Royal St Georges, which still is a Chinese record at a Major championship, finishing in outright 3rd. Last year many will remember him taking a 2 shot lead into the PGA Championship, ok he fell away, but often this type of experience leaves a player hungry for more. What impressed me here, was that after round 1 he opened up round 2 with 2 birdies. In round 3 it was holes 5,6,7,8 that killed the challenge for the title. However, Li can take a lot away from his performance.
I believe if Li remains confident, he will win more, he clearly is comfortable mixing with the big guns. He isn’t in good form at the moment, and finished 2020 poorly on the European Tour, but I think after another solid season on the whole, it could be his time to kick on. He will be a good pick early on in the Waggle Duff Fantasy Golf season, you probably will struggle to get him at 50/1, especially when the tour gets into the far east, however a sneaky Major e/w pick would be wise. However, Li has some work to do to get into The Masters (167 in the world).
9. ONDREJ LIESER
Lieser is the first player from the Czech Republic to gain a full playing card on the European Tour and I don’t think he is joining to enjoy that accolade alone, I believe he will go a lot further. Lieser joins a list of “notable” players who played on the Challenge Tour; Thomas Bjørn (1995), Justin Rose (1999), and Henrik Stenson (2000), are all former Challenge Tour players.
At the end of 2020 Lieser hit form, beating Richard Mansell to the Andalucía Challenge de Espana (Challenge Tour) and then winning the Challenge Tour Grand Final by 1 stroke. For me, this shows Lieser can close deals and has learnt to win when under pressure. These late wins propelled him to the Top of the Race to Mallorca, meaning he has a European Tour card for 2021. This is a high-pressure situation for golfers to compete in, knowing they are one round, one week or one month away from being promoted from Challenge to European Tour. The bread, dough and career is on the line.
For a big man, Lieser has a compact, repeatable swing, he looks a little like Matt Kuchar in the way he gets the club moving back round his body. I hope this means he will be able to hold it together early on in the season and get some Race to Dubai points early, despite probably being nervous.
He will also be full of confidence entering 2021. Similarly to Otaegui, I think he will be a player that grows into the season. Definitely worth tracking in 2021, particularly as Lieser will have some favourable odds, (100/1 +) at least to begin with.
10. JUSTIN HARDING
Ok, left-wing pick alert, but give me a chance. Justin is getting better each year on the tours. He is a veteran of the Sunshine Tour and Justin is slowly getting more starts at Majors and performing better on the European Tour. Up until 2018, he mainly played inside Africa but I think that will now change.
2020 was a good year for Justin, he finished 3rd in the British Masters and the Andalucía Masters. I want to see Justin put all the rounds together, and work on his consistency. At the BMW Championship at Wentwoth he opened with a 66 on the West Course, and looked solid. He was also a player I tipped for the tournament. It looked a good bet until he followed up Round 1 with an 81 on the 2nd day!
He also showed glimpses at Augusta, and I recall seeing him sneak onto the leaderboard pages early on. Finally, in Saudi Arabia, Justin shot rounds of 68 and 67, but sandwiched them with 73 and 74. Consistency is what he needs to improve on.
However, despite this clear concern over his ability to put 4 rounds together on the European Tour, Justin has won and has been winning professional golf events for a long time. He has 10 professional wins across 10 years. You can see the incremental improvements over the years, and I think after winning in 2019 and having some good performances in 2020 he could well re-enter the winning circle in 2021.
Lets just hope he doesn’t pair with any slow players, Justin has been quite vocal about the pace of play on the European Tour!
This article has been written by Matt Tizzard, Organiser of Waggle Duff; a 100% free fantasy golf game played on twitter #opentoall #freeforall