Kenya Open 2024 Tips: Six picks for Muthaiga

 | February 20 | 

19 mins read

Jamie DP World

After a week off following Rikuya Hoshino’s breakthrough tour success in Qatar, the DP World Tour returns to action with the Kenya Open at Muthaiga Golf Club – the first of three successive events to take place on the African continent over the next three weeks.

As always, Jamie Worsley is back with his comprehensive preview and six more each-way selections for victory. 

Kenya Open Tips

  • 2 pts Alex Fitzpatrick each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 25/1
  • 1 pt Eddie Pepperell each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 66/1
  • 1 pt Julien Brun each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 66/1
  • 1 pt Kazuki Higa each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 90/1
  • 1 pt Angel Hidalgo each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 90/1
  • 1 pt Filippo Celli each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 100/1

TOURNAMENT HISTORY

The Kenya Open made its DPWT debut in 2019 but the origins of the tournament go back much further than that to 1967. It made up part of the Safari Tour schedule from 1977-1990; then becoming a Euro Challenge Tour event from 1991 up until achieving that upgraded status in 2019.

A trio of Masters winners have each taken home this title: Seve Ballesteros (1978), Ian Woosnam (1986) and Trevor Immelman (2000), adding a little prestige to the trophy. It had also proven to be a stepping stone for several future DPWT winners, including 2016 champion, Sebastian Soderberg and 2017 winner, Aaron Rai.

Last four winners:

  • 2023: Winner: Jorge Campillo (-18); runner-up: Masahiro Kawamura (-16)
  • 2022: Winner: Ashun Wu (-16); runners-up: Aaron Cockerill, Thriston Lawrence, Hurly Long (-12)
  • 2021: Winner: Justin Harding (-21); runner-up: Kurt Kitayama (-19)
  • 2019: Winner: Guido Migliozzi (-16); runners-up: Adri Arnaus, Justin Harding, Louis de Jager (-15)

Jorge Campillo produced a fine weekend display to win last year’s renewal, firing 63 in round three and 66 in round four to win by two strokes for a third DPWT victory. However we have no defending champion this week, as the Spaniard instead chooses to begin his PGA Tour journey in Mexico.

THE COURSE

We return to Muthaiga Golf Club for the third straight edition of the Kenya Open this week. The course was initially constructed at the beginning of the twentieth century but was extensively renovated by prolific South African designer, Peter Matkovich in 2004.

This event was hosted almost exclusively at Muthaiga from 1967 to 2002, though since 2004 it has shared hosting duties with nearby Karen Country Club, which hosted from 2004-2008, 2013-2016 and again from 2019-2021.

The course is a par 71, measuring 7238 yards but plays shorter due to being at altitude. It possesses just 9x par 4s (377-507 yards), 5x par 3s (191-224 yards) and 4x par 5s (534-616 yards).

As the winning scores of Campillo (-18) and Wu (-16) in the last two years here show, Muthaiga’s lack of punishing length does not mean a lack of challenge. If we go back to include the previous six editions of the event here when on the Challenge Tour, it possesses an average winning score of just under -14 over those eight renewals.

This densely tree-lined course features narrow fairways - which dogleg on every hole, sometimes severely – and whilst fairway bunkering isn’t overly abundant it is highly strategic.

Strategy off-the-tee is more important than anything else, with trees often blocking out approaches; finding the rough on the correct side as opposed to the fairway on the wrong side is far preferable in enabling you to attack these putting surfaces.

Said greens are small and although they’re not full of striking undulations they are speedy; proving both difficult to putt on and scramble around in the last two years.

The two nines offer up somewhat of a contrasting challenge. The front is more difficult, with the undulating and hilly ground home to several of the longer holes, including two par 3s at 220+ yards; two lengthy par 4s in the shape of the 507-yard 6th and the 498-yard 8th; and the longest hole on the course, the 616-yard par 5 7th.

Get through there unscathed and birdie chances are easier to come by on the flatter back nine, with the two closing par 4s measuring just 346 and 396 yards, as well as the final two par 5s being reachable for all at under 540 yards. However, these holes aren’t without danger, as water – which is in-play on eight holes in total – becomes a more prominent feature down the stretch.

THE WEATHER

If the course itself doesn’t find the players out this week then the conditions may well do. It’s sunny, clear and warm prior to the start of the event, which continues into the opening two rounds; though still warm over the weekend that sunshine could be replaced by storms and rain.

Winds are forecast to be a major factor too, with gusts at 33mph+ predicted over the opening two rounds and stated to only die down a touch for the weekend’s action, where gusts at around 27mph could still be blowing around the property.

THE STATS

Key stats:

  • SG: Approach
  • Greens-in-Regulation
  • Around-the-Greens
  • Par 5 Scoring

Though each of the impressive winners in 2023/2022 went about it in varying ways, there is one asset that proved especially important with both – quality approach play into these small, fast greens.

Jorge Campillo was 6th in approach and 2nd in greens-in-regulation when winning last year, following on from Ashun Wu ranking 5th in approach when winning in 2022.

Of their closest challengers, we find Santiago Tarrio ranking 13th in approach and 14th in GIR when 3rd last year; Ryo Hisatsune ranking 5th in GIR last year; and Thriston Lawrence ranking 2nd in greens hit when runner-up to Wu in 2022.

The wind could wreak havoc and we should see a low percentage of greens found, which will require a strong short game around greens that have proven difficult to get up-and-down around. Both winners were solid enough around-the-greens when winning and other close contenders showed strength in this area, with Hurly Long ranking 2nd ATG when finishing 2nd in 2022.

Meanwhile, three of the four par 5s are short by modern standards, should be reachable for all and I suspect any player not picking up birdies/eagles on these holes will be giving up too much ground on the field.

Secondary stat:

  • Driving Accuracy

It seems obvious that on a course like this, you are going to be advantaged by being in control of your ball off-the-tee. Though this wasn’t necessarily the case in 2022, for all Ashun Wu ranked a solid 28th in driving accuracy, last year’s renewal was more favourable to those who hit it straight. With Campillo ranking 2nd in driving accuracy and runner-up, Masahiro Kawamura ranking 10th.

CORRELATING EVENTS (COURSES)

ISPS Handa World Invitational/2020 Irish Open (Galgorm Castle)

As a tight, tree-lined and strategic course, with many doglegging holes and small, fast greens, Galgorm Castle has produced a notable amount of form-ties with Muthaiga GC.

Notable correlating form:

Aaron Rai:

Muthaiga (1st) / Galgorm (2nd)

Masahiro Kawamura:

Muthaiga (2nd) / Galgorm (3rd)

Borja Virto:

Muthaiga (5th) / Galgorm (2nd)

David Horsey:

Muthaiga (5th) / Galgorm (2nd)

Daniel Gavins:

Muthaiga (6th) / Galgorm (1st)

Ewen Ferguson:

Muthaiga (8th) / Galgorm (1st)

 

Omega European Masters (Crans-sur-Sierre)

The European Masters takes place at altitude up in the Swiss Alps and with its tightly doglegging fairways, traversing through sometimes claustrophobically tree-lined surroundings, it has many similarities with the test players will face this week.

Notable correlating form:

Lorenzo Gagli:

Muthaiga (1st) / Crans (2nd)

Jorge Campillo:

Muthaiga (1st) / Crans (4th)

Ashun Wu:

Muthaiga (1st) / Crans (6th, 9th)

Thriston Lawrence:

Muthaiga (2nd) / Crans (1st)

Masahiro Kawamura:

Muthaiga (2nd) / Crans (8th, 9th)

Adri Arnaus:

Muthaiga (8th) / Crans (6th, 9th)

Oliver Bekker:

Muthaiga (8th) / Crans (8th)

Marcus Kinhult:

Muthaiga (8th) / Crans (10th, 12th)

 

Soudal Open (Rinkven International Golf Club)

Tree-lined, with tight doglegging fairways and small greens, Rinkven International ticks many of the same boxes as Muthaiga and has some strong comp form to go with it.

Notable correlating form:

Jorge Campillo:

Muthaiga (1st) / Rinkven (1st)

Lorenzo Gagli:

Muthaiga (1st) / Rinkven (8th)

Ryo Hisatsune:

Muthaiga (3rd) / Rinkven (10th)

Ewen Ferguson:

Muthaiga (8th) / Rinkven (3rd)

Oliver Bekker:

Muthaiga (8th) / Rinkven (4th)

Aaron Cockerill:

Muthaiga (2nd) / Rinkven (10th)

 

Andalucia Masters (Valderrama)

I’ll finish with Valderrama. Though a rather unique test, the tight driving corridors, regular elevation changes and small, firm greens make it a good comp for this week’s course.

Notable correlating form:

Aaron Rai:

Muthaiga (1st) / Valderrama (8th)

Lorenzo Gagli:

Muthaiga (1st) / Valderrama (10th)

Masahiro Kawamura:

Muthaiga (2nd) / Valderrama (8th)

Adri Arnaus:

Muthaiga (8th) / Valderrama (2nd)

Lukas Nemecz:

Muthaiga (5th) / Valderrama (9th)

Ashley Chesters:

Muthaiga (7th) / Valderrama (4th)

Thriston Lawrence:

Muthaiga (2nd) / Valderrama (6th)

Marcus Kinhult:

Muthaiga (8th) / Valderrama (6th)

David Horsey:

Muthaiga (5th) / Valderrama (10th)

THE FIELD

Rikuya Hoshino moved back inside the world’s top 100 following his victory in Qatar and at #77 he is the top-ranked player in this week’s field; #87 Thriston Lawrence is the only other player from inside that top 100 in attendance.

Our reigning champion, Jorge Campillo is absent but we do have four former Kenya Open winners teeing it up: Ashun Wu (2022), Justin Harding (2021), Guido Migliozzi (2019) and Edoardo Molinari (2007).

The list of tournament invitees includes the talented and in-form South African, Ryan Van Velzen; former #10 amateur, England’s John Gough makes his first DPWT start of the year; and 18-year-old Frank Kennedy gets 2024 underway, after impressing on the tour at the end of 2023 with a 7th-place finish in the Australian PGA Championship.

SELECTIONS

Market leaders: Rikuya Hoshino 14/1, Thriston Lawrence 16/1, Ewen Ferguson 16/1, Alex Fitzpatrick 25/1, Frederic LaCroix 25/1, Romain Langasque 25/1

The top trio in the betting all have their merits. Hoshino displayed his class in Qatar and should feel comfortable in the surrounds of Muthaiga - a course not too dissimilar to many he’d have played in his native Japan – whilst Thriston Lawrence and Ewen Ferguson have both gone well here before.

I was tempted most by Lawrence of that group; however, I have passed him over in favour of a player who I’m expecting to not just relish this week’s course, but the potentially demanding conditions too, Alex Fitzpatrick.

2 pts Alex Fitzpatrick each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 25/1

Alex’s steady ball-striking and elite short game is not unlike that of older brother Matt. Like him, I think he’s a player destined for the top and will be a major player on the DPWT by the end of 2024.

His schedule in 2023 was somewhat hectic, with starts across the PGA Tour, DPWT, Korn Ferry Tour and Challenge Tour. He recorded a couple of top 5s on the Challenge Tour early in the year but it was in the Open Championship at Hoylake where he really made his name known.

There, Fitzpatrick produced a performance packed full of quality in approach and with the short game, and after a 6-under 65 in round three, he sat inside the top 10 with a round to go; eventually settling for a 17th-place finish after a closing 73 but nonetheless, a top 20 on his pro major debut was super impressive.

He carried this positivity over into his next handful of starts in Europe, winning a first pro title in a tough British Challenge on the Challenge Tour just two starts later, before finishing 2nd in the ISPS Handa World Invitational at Galgorm Castle. With a 14th in the Czech Masters and 5th at Crans to follow, he guaranteed not just his place on the DPWT for this season but spent the rest of 2023 playing on Europe’s premier tour.

Fitzpatrick continued to perform well with his new status, indeed he signed off last year with finishes of 18th and 8th in back-to-back events in Australia and maintained it into the start of 2024; recording consecutive top 20s in the Middle East to begin the year.

He possesses quality in most areas, as he showed last year, ranking top 20 in approach and possessing top 60 rankings in both short-game areas. The driver looked the weak spot in his game but he appears to have rectified that if his early season form is anything to go by, ranking 32nd and looks to have found a little extra length to go with his generally reliable accuracy.

Fitzpatrick makes his debut in Kenya but those two top 5s on the DPWT last year at Galgorm Castle and Crans are very encouraging. However, it’s maybe that win in the British Challenge that can be leaned on most, at the similarly tight, tree-lined St Melion; where he handled testing, windy conditions to win by a whopping five strokes, leaving proven Muthaiga performers Stuart Manley and Ashley Chesters in behind.

Alex Fitzpatrick e-w 25-1

1 pt Eddie Pepperell each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 66/1

After a sluggish start to the year at the Dubai Desert Classic, Eddie Pepperell has given many reasons for optimism over the proceeding starts and can rely on his class to take down this weak field on a suitable setup.

Eddie did little well when missing the cut in Dubai but made swift improvements on his next start in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, firing with the short game and showing a great level of accuracy off-the-tee to take him to a 16th-place finish.

The quality approach play that has defined much of his career and that was evidenced in the latter part of 2023 hadn’t come to the party yet, but he has made improvements over his last two starts in this area; marginally gaining strokes when missing the cut in Bahrain and though losing strokes on his last start when 42nd in Qatar, he was comfortably better than in those opening two events. Even signing off with his best approach round of the year on the Sunday.

If he can come on once again with the irons, he can significantly improve his narrow missed cut here at Muthaiga on debut in 2022; when he was in no kind of form after missing his last four cuts in a row and six of his last seven before entering that week.

Afterall, this is a course that should very much play to Pepperell’s strengths, something that is displayed by his two best performances of 2023, which came when 3rd at Galgorm Castle and 8th in the European Masters.

Eddie Pepperell e-w at 66-1

1 pt Julien Brun each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 66/1

Julien Brun’s erratic driving wouldn’t seem like an ideal fit for Muthaiga. However, the Frenchman has proven himself capable of controlling it much more on these tighter, tree-lined tracks, where the lines of attack are more set in stone. With some progressive approach play on show over his last two starts he can finally break his DPWT duck this week.

Brun hit the ball terribly on his first two starts of 2024, which contributed to him finishing 56th of 60 players in the Dubai Invitational and comfortably missing the cut in the Dubai Desert Classic. Although, he has noticeably stepped that up on his latest two starts, especially in approach and when matched with the typical quality of his short game, he has managed to produce far more adequate finishes of 47th in Bahrain and 56th in Qatar.

He will need to keep that progression coming this week on the type of course where he usually thrives; something that as a top 50 approach player on tour the last two years, I’m confident he can do.

His affinity with this type of challenge is clearly on show from his two performances here, finishing 13th in 2022 and 7th last year. It’s a place where he’s been able to find a greater level of accuracy with his driver and putted the greens well; recording six rounds of his last eight at the venue in the 60s.

Finishes of 15th and 16th in his solo attempts at the Soudal Open and European Masters respectively are further proof of Brun’s suitability to the challenge.

Julien Brun e-w at 66-1

1 pt Kazuki Higa each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 90/1

Rikuya Hoshino in Qatar two weeks ago and Hideki Matsuyama at Riviera last week. Japanese golf is flying at the moment and I’m taking Kazuki Higa to soak in some of that positivity to get his year off to the best possible start at this favourable course.

After a difficult middle section of 2023, Higa started to find some consistency at the end of the year, making ten of his final twelve cuts; which included strong performances when 6th in the Open de France and 10th in an international field at the Dunlop Phoenix back home in Japan.

Despite not playing yet in 2024, he looks to have a readymade game for Muthaiga; a style of golf course that will feel very familiar to him.

Higa possesses quality in most areas; he’s a steady, accurate ball-striker, ranking 16th on tour last season in driving accuracy and ranks 37th in this field in approach over the last fifty rounds played. However it’s his quality around-the-greens that appeals most; ranking 22nd on the DPWT overall last season but is the top-ranked player in the field in this area when accounting for those most recent starts.

As a decent par 5 scorer, this combination of steady ball-striking and a quality short game should serve him well on a potentially testing week in Kenya.

Higa hasn’t played here before and has only played across the mentioned comp courses a couple of times. That being said, he should be more than comfortable here, as strategic, tree-lined parklands dominate the golf scene in Japan. We don’t have to go back too far to find evidence of him winning there on a similar setup to this week, as the most recent of his six victories on the Japanese Golf Tour came in the Dunlop Phoenix at the backend of 2022.

Kazuki Higa e-w at 90-1

1 pt Angel Hidalgo each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 90/1

Spain’s Angel Hidalgo is a player who tends to show up on comparable courses to this week and with a 2024 top 10 already in the bag after finishing 9th at Ras Al Khaimah three starts ago, he looks to have his game ready to go at this more favourable venue.

Since moving up to the tour in 2022, Hidalgo’s results have been inconsistent but it’s no coincidence that this short hitter has been able to step it up on strategic, tree-lined courses. His best finish that year came when finishing 4th at Valderrama and included top 15s at Galgorm Castle and in the Soudal Open; as well as a 17th-place finish here at Muthaiga on debut.

The trend continued last year, where each of his top 20s came on courses which required a little more thought, again seeing him go well in the Soudal Open and ISPS Handa World Invitational, recording respective 15th and 17th-place finishes.

The problem with Hidalgo’s driving has not been his lack of length but the fact that he’s not all that accurate either. He has been very encouraging in this regard at the start of 2024, ranking 30th in driving accuracy, which played a part in his top 10 in the UAE.

Three missed cuts have accompanied that top 10 but he’s only missed by one on two of those occasions, and has shown signs of life in all areas.

If Hidalgo can now combine those qualities at a course that would evidently suit his game more than any other he’s played this year, he’d have every chance of adding to his Challenge Tour and Alps Tour successes with a first DPWT win this week.

Angel Hidalgo e-w at 90-1

1 pt Filippo Celli each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 100/1

The talents of Italy’s Filippo Celli have been well known since he drove his way to the Silver Medal (awarded to the low amateur) at the 2022 Open Championship at St Andrews. Now a DPWT player for the first time having gained a tour card by finishing last year’s Q School in 2nd place, he looks an exciting prospect this year.

Celli didn’t turn pro right away after that performance in The Open, instead waiting until after the Eisenhower Trophy (otherwise known as the World Men’s Amateur Team Championship). Where he played a starring role in helping Italy take home the gold medal; finishing 4th in the individual aspect of the prestigious event.

It’s results like that and his win in the 2022 European Amateur Championship that helped him reach a high of 30 in the amateur rankings.

He's spent much of his short pro career mixing his time between the DPWT and Challenge Tour. Results were solid on the Challenge Tour last year, with a 2nd in Cadiz rating as his best effort but he’s a player who has often looked at home on this higher tier, finishing 7th at Galgorm Castle in 2022 when still an amateur and recording a finish of 12th in last year’s KLM Open. He now gets the chance to test himself at this heightened level for a full season.

Celli started his campaign with a couple of inauspicious efforts in South Africa at the end of 2023 and looked in similarly uninspiring form on his first start of 2024 at Ras Al Khaimah. Though he’s been much better on his two latest starts.

He was 23rd in Bahrain and followed with a 42nd-place finish last time out in Qatar, entering the final round there just outside the top 25 before a closing 76 dropped him down the leaderboard.

It’s still a little difficult to pinpoint what his game is about. He drove the ball excellently in that Open Championship appearance in 2022; although, while he’s continued to look solid enough with driver, it’s in fact the short game that has stood out more overall, ranking 10th around-the-greens at this early point of the season.

A top-10 ranking in approach in Bahrain signals a player who has most areas of his game in good shape currently and with that 7th-place finish at Galgorm in 2022 showing what he can do on similar courses, he was an interesting prospect this week.

Filippo Celli e-w at 100-1

You can find all Jamie's latest Golf Betting Tips over on our dedicated golf Insights hub.

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