The AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open may have been dropped from the 2017 European Tour schedule, but it was only so that it could move to a new slot near the start of the 2018 season.
This third edition sees a return to Heritage Golf Club on the south coast, scene of George Coetzee's play-off victory over Thorbjorn Olesen in 2015, a week that also witnessed the Tour's first hole-in-one on a par-4.
Playing in Friday's final group Spain's Javier Colomo reached the 334-yard ninth hole, his 18th of the day, one shot outside the cut mark whereupon his ace vaulted him two shots inside it.
The 2016 tournament was held at the Four Seasons Resort where Jeunghun Wang, one of only two players to end the week under-par, completed a second win in as many weeks (he had also held a share of the first round lead 12 months earlier).
Mauritius is a beguiling spot and for some years it has hosted unofficial events at this time of the year. Many players will be keen to make a strong start to the season, others will be viewing it as an end-of-year working vacation.
The island has strong links with France and South Africa so golfers from both nations spend a lot of time there, professionals included.
A Peter Maktovich design which was opened in 2004 the course has been shaped in typical resort style, with wide bunkering and water often in play. There are a number of elevated tee boxes and plenty of undulating approach shots. A couple of holes are tree-fringed (distinct from tree-lined) and some feature long native grass for wayward shots. Don't panic if your pick starts from the 1st tee and makes a rough start: four of the first five holes ranked top five for difficulty in 2015, swiftly followed by two of the easiest (5 and 7). Also note that the 6,987 yard par-71 has five par-3s. Nicolas Colsaerts said, after practise there: "It's quite wide, but you need to navigate well. The greens are undulating and it is windy. It was actually quite brutal. If it blows like that it will be a decent test."
Winners, winning scores, stats in 2015 (when held at Heritage GC)
-13 George Coetzee (DD: 29, DA: 50, GIR: 28, SCR: 14, PA: 4, AR: 12)
-13 Thorbjorn Olesen (DD: 1, DA: 70, GIR: 49, SCR: 36, PA: 1, AR: 27)
-12 Mardan Mamat (DD: 37, DA: 8, GIR: 20, SCR: 20, PA: 11, AR:3)
-11 Thomas Aiken (DD: 38, DA: 8, GIR: 10, SCR: 5, PA: 18, AR: 13)
-10 Scott Hend (DD: 2, DA: 29, GIR: 28, SCR: 58, PA: 18, AR: 18)
-10 Masahiro Kawamura (DD: 57, DA: 8, GIR: 1, SCR: 28, PA: 55, AR: 23)
-10 John Parry (DD: 36, DA: 5, GIR: 20, SCR: 2, PA: 38, AR: 5)
Winner at Four Seasons (in 2016)
-6 Jeunghun Wang (DD: 29, DA: 39, GIR: 26, SCR: 5, PA: 7, AR: 4)
Notes: Little stands out so maybe take note of three of the top four names. What do Coetzee, Olesen and Aiken have in common? An excellent record at Doha GC in the Qatar Masters. Given that Heritage is a modern design, with Bermuda grass and is subject to blustery trade winds, it's maybe not a blithe comparison.
The temperature is set to be in the 80s all week with humidity high, but not so great as it was when this tournament was held here in May 2015. The wind will be around 15mph, but 20mph gusts are possible and the wind direction might change (sometimes quickly). There is a 33% chance of rain around Thursday lunchtime and throughout Saturday.
The Leading Contenders
If the Qatar link backs up then the 2010 Open champion has to have a good chance because like George Coetzee he has three top ten finishes there. He's played only once since mid-September, but didn't seem too rusty in finishing T8 at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. One concern might be that he hasn't won since early 2016, but that came in the Perth International at Lake Karrinyup, a course Olesen has won on (they've also both won at St Andrews). He is currently co-designing the resort's second course with Maktovich, hence his participation this week.
Became a European Tour regular in 2016 off the back of increasingly impressive Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned performances and made the breakthrough with victory in the Tshwane Open this year. Added T9 in the BMW PGA Championship and T4 in the DP World Tour Championship to confirm that he is ready to take the next step up in class. Celebrated 2017 with a week in the north of Mauritius on a family holiday. If he's used that well and can refocus he has to be a big threat this week. He opened 67-68 to lie T3 at halfway on this course in 2015 and ended the week T20. Played the five par-3s well in 2015 (-3) and the long holes too (-5), he just toiled on the par-4s (+3).
Like Burmester, another South African who has thrived in this calendar year, capturing a maiden win and performing well at the seasonal finale in Dubai (Frittelli was also T4). T2 in the Turkish Airlines Open at Regnum Carya, where Olesen was the defending champion, what Frittelli lacks in contrast to Burmester is any form in Mauritius. In fact his two trips there have been pretty disastrous. He shot 76-72 to miss the cut on this week's course in 2015 and 79-72 to get the weekend off in 2016.
The course "defending" champion who prowled through the field two and a half years ago, posting 70-67-65-69 to rank T32-T6-1-1 through the week before overcoming Olesen on the second extra hole and was T27 when defending in 2016. Had a nice spell of form towards the end of the season, collecting top tens in the KLM Open, Portugal Masters and Italian Open, but then it all drifted in the wrong direction right at the close. He was T27 in the Turkish Airlines Open, T37 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and T58 at the DP World Tour Championship.
Another golfer who played the first two editions of this tournament when his career was on a different level. He missed the cut (76-71) here at Heritage and was T34 at Four Seasons. He's yet to break 70 on the island, for what that is worth. A winner of the Czech Masters in August his form tailed off a little but he ended with a flourish, finishing T12 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and T21 at the DP World Tour Championship. Wrote on Instagram: "Excited to get the season up and running in Mauritius. I've been looking forward to @afrasiamruopen this whole year! #paradise"
When this event was held in 2015 Bjork was a little known Challenge Tour performer just starting his second season at that level and boasting just the one top ten finish. By the end of that month he had doubled that figure and in 2016 he graduated to the main tour. His rookie campaign was impressive and he very nearly started 2018 in spectacular style, leading the Hong Kong Open during the back nine on Sunday before dropping a crucial shot on 18, one which cost him a place in a play-off. His eighth week of activity in nine which is slightly exaggerated by the scattered worldwide nature of that schedule (Sweden-Scotland-Italy-Spain-Sweden-Turkey-South Africa-Dubai-China-Mauritius) and in recent weeks plenty of mental energy has been used whilst contending.
The Aussie elects to play this event (co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour) rather than head home for the Australian PGA Championship, perhaps tempted by a track that seemed to suit him in 2015. Oddly, for a big hitter, he failed to make much of the par-5s (he was only 1-under for them, giving at least three shots to each of the other top five finishers), but he did trump them all on the par-3s (3-under for the week). Has played all four rounds in his last seven starts (admittedly some of them with no cuts) and yet to notch a top 30 finish in that run, but he did lead the DP World Tour Championship after 18 holes.
The Belgian has already Instagrammed his pleasure this week, showing the lagoon a few feet outside his hotel room. He's also a regular visitor to the island, although this will be his first appearance at this course. In 2016 he was third at Four Seasons, has a long standing association with the Anahita resort and won the Mauritius Golf Masters (one of the afore mentioned close season events) in 2010. He was second in the Turkish Airlines Open before limping to the 2017 season's end with T57-T55 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and DP World Tour Championship. Note that although he has traveled to Mauritius for over 20 years he has never before played this course: "I'm in-between. I feel like I'm at home but I don't know this place."
His debut in the tournament but he won the 2008 Mauritius Golf Open, a tournament held in the north of the country at Belle Mare Plage prior to that event turning into what is now the Senior Tour's MCB Tour Championship. What's more, Donaldson contended for the title 12 months before that. The Welshman closed out his 2017 season with a card-clinching T4 in the Andalucia Masters then opened 2018 with T23 in the Hong Kong Open.
Another who might come into the reckoning should the Qatar Masters be a genuine link because back in 2003 Fichardt won there (and he was third in 2006). Moreover there is every reason to like his form because he was T6 in the recent Nedbank Golf Challenge and in winning the Joburg Open in February (a trophy he'll defend next week in a quirk of the calendar), he once again proved that he knows how to win when he gets the opportunity.
The Next Rung
The Frenchman is in great nick having won the Challenge Tour's NBO Golf Classic Grand Final to confirm graduation to the main circuit and then ended the Hong Kong Open with rounds of 64-67 to finish T10. The clincher? Like many Frenchmen he spends time in Mauritius and actually represents this resort.
In finishing T8 at the Indonesian Open, T2 in the Panasonic Open and T7 at the Manilla Masters the American's Asian Tour form was not in question last week, but his ability to transfer it to the co-sanctioned Hong Kong Open was. He shrugged those concerns aside with a fine T2. Closed this year's Qatar Masters with a 64 for T28, but has average experience of the event: T55 in 2015 and T50 12 months later.
A tournament debut for the Portuguese player who struggled to retain his card in 2017 and is now looking to get points on the board early (last year he took the end of the calendar year off). He made the cut last week in the Hong Kong Open, but didn't break par in even one lap. He finished T7 in the 2016 Qatar Masters and is the type of player who should be looking to stamp his quality on a field like this.
Another Frenchman with experience of playing on the island (in the Mauritius Masters), but he's never threatened to win that tournament. Has to be in pre-event thoughts, however, because of the high standards of his golf in 2017. He had three top six finishes and ended the year with lucrative top 20s in the Turkish Airlines Open (T20), Nedbank Golf Challenge (T19) and DP World Tour Championship (T13).
A winner in 2017 who quietly had something of a shock when he learned - pretty late in the season - that his exemption for that victory (May's Open de Portugal) only lasted till the end of the season. It explained his gasping delight when his T4 in the Italian Open confirmed his card for 2018. Visually, at least, the scene of his win (Morgado GC) is a little similar to this week.
The Frenchman has enjoyed success in the 2011 Mauritius Masters at Anahita and a near miss in the 2007 Mauritius Open at Belle Mare Plage which makes it a little odd that this is his tournament debut. Scraped his card last year (without one top ten) but a wily performer.
Four top 15 finishes early in the season allowed Pigem to gain a 2018 card and he opened his campaign with T54 in the Hong Kong Open. Was T41 in the second of these events but impressed at Heritage in 2015, opening with a 65 to share the lead and lying T5 at 54 holes before finishing T20.
Couldn't break 73 when T46 in this event in 2016 (held in tough conditions), but much preferred this track in 2015. Opened 69-70-68 to lie T9 after 54 holes before a final lap 71 left him T13. Eagled the final hole of ET Q School to win a card although not needed this week due to Asian Tour co-sanctioning.
If 54-hole leads and play-off defeats were wins Lombard would have four in the last two European Tour seasons alone. Of course they aren't and for a very good reason, but it's always worth remembering. Course debut but was T4 on his last outing early this month on the Sunshine Tour.
Cruised to an eight-shot victory in the Qualifying School which at the very least deserves consideration this week. Made three ET starts: closed with a 65 for T49 at the Made in Denmark, missed the cut in the KLM Open, T59 at the resort style Portugal Masters. Learned all his golf in Florida (resort courses, Bermuda grass, blustery).
Who's On The Team?
I'm rather surprised by the bookmakers' assessment of Dean Burmester's chances (28/1). He's just competed creditably with the very best on the European Tour and has shown he can score on the course. He has a great shout this week.
I respect Clement Sordet's hopes, with his recent form in Oman and Hong Kong plus the course connection, but the prices reflect all those factors.
I'd prefer to give Sam Horsfield (at a huge opening 125/1) or Darren Fichardt a go.
One To Swerve
He's turning into a very fine player, but with the Tour's Fantasy game not yet started we're talking betting and I'd not be in a rush to back Dylan Frittelli at the low prices. Even were he to win I'd not kick myself.