The Portugal Masters’ move in the schedule from October to September means the tournament is denied the familiar storyline of players trying to secure tour cards.
But don’t think it’s also being played on a new course.
If the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course doesn’t sound familiar, you’re right. However, the change is due to a new sponsor after Oceanico had previously put their name to the event which started in 2007.
So, gamers and bettors have 10 years of previous form to go at on the Vilamoura track which is situated in the busy tourist destination of the Algarve.
It’s a popular one amongst the players and has attracted a decent field too. Eight of the previous 10 winners are back for more and that includes last year’s winner Padraig Harrington, who ended an eight-year drought on the European Tour by holding off the 2015 winner Andy Sullivan.
Steve Webster won the first edition here with 25-under and last year Harrington became the third champion, and second in a row, to post 23-under. In other words, get ready for a birdie-fest. The Arnold Palmer design is a flat and exposed 7,146-yard par 71 with several teeing options. Opened in 2004, it features large greens which are a mix of Bent and Poa while the generous fairways are Bermuda. Bunkers are sprinkled liberally but are often more for decoration rather than being in play for the pros.
Past champions, winning scores and stats at Oceanico
2016 Padraig Harrington -25 (DD: 25, DA: 49, GIR: 67, Scr: 2, PA: 1, AA: 12)
2015 Andy Sullivan -23 (DD: 11, DA: 9, GIR: 5, Scr: 1, PA: 4, AA: 1)
2014 Alexander Levy -18 (DD: 40, DA: 11, GIR: 46, Scr: 1, PA: 1, AA: 4)
2013 David Lynn -18 (DD: 67, DA: 70, GIR: 22, Scr: 2, PA: 7, AA: 31)
2012 Shane Lowry -14 (DD: 15, DA: 13, GIR: 13, Scr: 40, PA: 1, AA: 1)
2011 Tom Lewis -21 (DD: 4, DA: 40, GIR: 4, Scr: 2, PA: 33, AA: 2)
2010 Richard Green -18 (DD: 43, DA: 14, GIR: 11, Scr: 59, PA: 20, AA: 23)
2009 Lee Westwood -23 (DD: 12, DA: 7, GIR: 2, Scr: 21, PA: 14, AA: 1)
2008 Alvaro Quiros -19 (DD: 1, DA: 50, GIR: 26, Scr: 3, PA: 12, AA: 3)
2007 Steve Webster -25 (DD: 11, DA: 30, GIR: 13, Scr: 27, PA: 1, AA: 2)
Notes: Harrington put on a short-game masterclass last year and previous winners also boasted excellent Scrambling and/or Putting figures. Overall, length of the tee counts for more than accuracy as you’d expect on an Arnold Palmer resort course.
British tourists flock to the Algarve when the sun runs out in the UK and for good reason. As is usually the case, good weather is guaranteed this week with temperatures touching 80 degrees on all four days. Winds can be part of the deal too and it could be a little gusty on Thursday and Sunday.
The Leading Contenders
On a course which rewards huge driving and great putting, Pieters looks a great fit. T6 in 2015 supports the theory but he never got in a blow last year when T31 and missed the cut on debut in 2014. The biggest dilemma for punters though is his current form. The Belgian has mixed missed cuts with great highs this season but right now he appears in a bit of a sustained dip after a run of MC-MC-66. The latter two flops came in events he’d won previously, causing a collective head-scratch amongst gamers.
Sullivan has a win and a second the last two years and has played those eight rounds in 45-under! He’d also cashed in his three previous appearances so looks a no-brainer pick. However, like Pieters, you’ll have to turn a blind eye to recent form. Sullivan missed the cut at the US PGA (no harm in that) but also failed to cash in last week’s KLM Open. Course form is surely the best guide though.
Lowry is another former winner making his return to the course. His victory came in 2012 via rounds of 67-70-67-66 and followed T16 in 2011. His last appearance was three years ago in the rain-hit 36-hole event when he posted T33. Apart from T20 in his home Irish Open, Lowry had a quiet summer but hit back with T7 in the Wyndham Championship after a 64 and three 67s. That was a month ago so he’ll hope the sharpness remains.
The Dane is 4-for-4 here although since T16 on debut in 2012 he’s not been a factor with T50 on his last two visits. His last three European Tour wins have come in late-season (two in October, one in November) with winning scores of -17, -18 and -20 so he’s definitely one to watch at this time of year. He’s also got promising recent form with T14 at his home Made In Denmark and T10 at the WGC-Bridgestone.
The Scot made it through two legs of the FedExCup Playoffs (MC-61) but, with his schedule clear, heads back to Europe for a first appearance in this event. It’s been an underwhelming season but T5 in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was a reminder of his talents. Also T28 at the Wyndham Championship but will he make enough putts (169th Strokes Gained: Putting on the PGA TOUR) to contend here?
It’s a real case of feast or famine from both angles for the Frenchman. As for course form, he won the rain-shortened event in 2014 when shooting 63-61 but missed the cut either side. Current form shows three weekends off in his last four starts but amongst the disappointments a second place in the European Open at the end of July. A risk with huge upside is a fair summation.
A run of four top 10s in five starts on European soil was ended with T60 at the KLM last week but, overall, the Kiwi is one of the Tour’s form horses. Fox has cashed in 18 of his 22 starts this season and sits a very healthy sixth in Scoring Average. What he doesn’t have is course form. Not due to failure but down to this being his debut in the event.
Those who played him at last week’s KLM Open (yep, I was one of them) will still be shaking their heads in disbelief. The Thai held the lead with four to play but then took double bogey-7 on both the par 5s at 15 and 18, spiralling back to T9. Looking at the positives, that top 10 followed T16 in Switzerland seven days earlier so he’s in excellent form and his stats are strong. He’ll be playing this event for the first time.
Fluffed his lines when given star billing at his home KLM Open last week, Luiten’s title defense ending with a missed make-it-or-go-home putt at his 36th hole. The bad weather didn’t help him and he almost repaired the damage of an opening 75 with a second-round 68. However, that’s three missed cuts in four now for the Dutchman and, despite finishing runner-up in this event in 2010 (29-MC-51 since), his form is a real concern.
One of the most articulate and deep-thinking pros on tour, Pepperell had the ultimate in mental demons to battle at this event last year. Looking certain to regain his card after an opening 64, he crashed to a 76 in round two after double-bogeying the last and suffered the missed cut of his nightmares. He’s regrouped though and heads back with a fifth and a third in his last two starts. His scrambling stats are particularly eye-catching and that could be key this week.
The Next Rung
It’s a first start in Europe for the Chinese youngster since his remarkable third place in the Open Championship (closing 64). He’s played twice in America since, missing the cut in the PGA and Wyndham Championship, but T7 at the Open de France and T3 in the Rocco Forte Open show that his Royal Birkdale performance didn’t come from nowhere. Debut at the course.
Like Knox, the US-based Swede also got cut from the FedEx Cup Playoffs at halfway (T29 Northern Trust, MC Dell Technologies). He had a run from late April to early July which featured seven finishes of T26 or better in eight starts and showed his ability to go low with opening rounds of 64, 65, 65 in three of them. Should enjoy the course.
Strong through the first six months of the season, Coetzee’s form disappeared over the summer and he headed to the KLM Open last week with three MCs and a WD in his last four starts. Those who kept faith, though, were rewarded as the South African shot 69-67-68-67 to take a share of third place. He also has a third place to his name here (2011) along with 6-21-31 since and 12 of his last 13 rounds at the course have been in the 60s.
One place above his Springbok compatriot Coetzee in the Race to Dubai, 63rd-ranked Porteous will still have the afterglow of his excellent victory in the D+D REAL Czech Masters. T6 at the Made In Denmark before that, he followed it with T37 in the Omega European Masters. After a week off, he should be ready to shine again despite a missed cut (70-72) on his tournament debut last year.
The defending champion scrambled like a god when winning last year to bank the 15th victory of his European Tour career. “I tried to be really aggressive. The golf course really suited me and I just tried to go after every pin I could,” he said. “No matter where I hit it, I felt like I could get it up and down.” Third on debut in 2009 and also T16 in both 2011 and 2012, the Irishman certainly does enjoy this place and he’ll hope last week’s T55 at the KLM Open suggests a turnaround after four MCs before that. He once defended an Open Championship; this should be a doddle then!
The Paul Lawrie Match Play champion will look to regain the fine play which gave him that win last month and also a run of 5-19-20-7 leading into it. The Spaniard has played this event in neighboring Portugal three times and opened with a 63 in his very first round when T12 in 2014. He hoisted up a pair of 67s in 2015 to be T7 at halfway (ended T37) and missed the cut last year. MC and T48 in his last two starts but this could be a good place to heat up again.
MC-MC-MC in three starts at this event suggests he’s one to ignore from the off but that course form is old (2007, 2008 and 2012). If managers give him the benefit of the doubt, there is plenty to like about the South African’s current play. He was top 20 in both Scottish and European Opens, T28 in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow and T9 in Switzerland two weeks ago.
It’s not quite at the level of his amazing form in the Dubai Desert Classic (10-2-1-1-3-MC-9) but the Scot certainly loves this place. From 2012 to last year, his course form reads: 6-3-9-12. That includes a 64 in round three last year. He’ll return with two top 20s in his last four European Tour starts, including T20 at Crans-sur-Sierre last time.
Victoria Golf Course is a very special place for Lewis as he won the 2011 edition of this event in just his third start as a pro. Tiger needed five starts and Rory 38 so, at the time, a huge future beckoned for the young Englishman. Race to Dubai finishes of 117, 94, 104, 116 and 170 tell the actual story and he’s struggling again at 128th this year. However, Lewis was T3 at the Czech Masters and T20 in Switzerland before missing the cut last week so he’s found some form. Since the win here, he’s cashed in four of his five subsequent visits but not cracked the top 25 (T29 last year).
Often a profitable time of the year for the Englishman, he’s shown that again in 2017 with an excellent run of results. His last four starts? T9 Scottish Open, T19 European Open, runner-up Czech Masters, T6 European Masters. Course form isn’t as strong though with five missed cuts in his last eight visits and just a single top 20.
The bad news first: he’s missed the cut in his last two events. The good news: he ended both those events with a round in the 60s and, previously, he’d had three top 10s in five starts. Also, he’s made the top 10 here for the last two years. The good certainly seems to outweigh the bad.
Course horse (third and T9 in only two starts) and runner-up at Lyoness Open in June although quiet since.
Can go low here. Friday 63 helped him to T3 in 2013 and T12 and T22 (R2 64) in two visits since. T31 at Made In Denmark two starts ago could be a marker.
Rookie was surprise winner of nearby Open de Portugal in May and, after spate of missed cuts, has found mojo again with T6 in Denmark and T9 at KLM Open last week.
5-for-5 here with a best of T12 and nothing worse than T38. At his best, he’d be one of the top 10 in the field but current form is poor and continued with MC in the KLM Open last week.
Secured his card with second place here in 2013 and added T21 in 2014, T37 in 2015 and T17 last year thanks to a final lap of 64. Third in the KLM Open last week and T14 in Denmark but still way down the bookies’ lists.
Strong recent scrambling stats, 44-18-37 in last three starts and shot bookend 67s when making cut here on debut last year.
Recent top 20s at Scottish Open and Czech Masters and crept into the top 10 here last year after a Sunday 65.
Semi-retired but was so last year and finished third. Also T22 in 2015. Played home Made in Denmark recently and missed cut (70-75) but it may have shaken the rust off.
Not much current form (MC-44-MC-33-28) but third in 2015 after starting out with 65 and 4-for-4 since 2013.
Who’s On The Team?
An interesting week as some of the course horses have dubious current form so a decision needs to be made.
Siding with course form certainly worked at Crans-sur Sierre two weeks ago but this venue doesn’t have the same quirky nature.
Eddie Pepperell will feel this place owes him one after he lost his card last year and his current form and excellent short-game stats will get him a place on my team.
As for the rest, I’ll reveal my six-man line-up for the six-man official European Tour Fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
Joost Luiten continues to struggle and last week’s home MC will have hurt him badly.