From last week’s Open de Espana, the European Tour makes the short hop over the Atlantic Ocean to North Africa where Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Morocco stages the Trophee Hassan II.
From 2011 to 2015 the event had been staged at Golf du Palais Royal so gamers/punters have two years of fresh form at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam which had previously been used back in 2010.
That said, the European Tour didn’t even record Wang’s stats when he won in 2016 so life hasn’t been made too easy for us this week.
-9 Edoardo Molinari (DD: 22, DA: 36, GIR: 41, Scr: 1, PA: 14)
-9 Paul Dunne (DD: 40, DA: 53, GIR: 20, Scr: 24, PA: 1)
-8 Paul Waring (DD: 2, DA: 25, GIR: 5, Scr: 53, PA: 6)
-6 Victor Dubuisson (DD: 58, DA: 18, GIR: 15, Scr: 29, PA: 29)
-6 Lasse Jensen (DD: 27, DA: 3, GIR: 2, Scr: 47, PA: 31)
-5 Jeunghun Wang (N/A)
-5 Nacho Elvira (DD: 17, DA: 39, GIR: 28, Scr: 17, PA: 2)
-4 Robert Rock (DD: 31, DA: 33, GIR: 28, Scr: 3, PA: 3)
-4 Clement Berardo (DD: 4, DA: 58, GIR: 2, Scr: 20, PA: 33)
-3 Nino Bertasio (DD: 58, DA: 39, GIR: 33, Scr: 1, PA: 9)
-3 Chris Hanson (DD: 12, DA: 20, GIR: 33, Scr: 14, PA: 9)
Notes: Driving doesn’t seem particularly important and you can still do well despite missing a fair few greens. The best pointer appears to be putting. It would be nice to know if Wang backs that idea up although those who watched him win in 2016 will recall the youngster holing an 18-footer to make a play-off before draining a 50 footer to stay alive at the first extra hole and then sinking a 20 footer for victory when playing the 18th for a third time.
From Europeantour.com: “The Red Course at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam, a par-72, is regarded as one of the top golf venues on the African continent and spans more than 7,600 yards which traverses through a forest of cork, oak and eucalyptus trees. Course architect James Duncan has worked in partnership with His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid, the Fédération Royale Marocaine de Golf and the team at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in renovating all 18 greens at the regal venue. The collaboration has seen greens enlarged, creating additional pin placement opportunities, and adding internal contours to place a premium on strategy, approach play, recovery and the short game during next month’s tournament.” The card of the course is slightly contradictory in saying that it’s a par 73, with par 5s at 5, 8, 10, 12 and 18. The par 3s are at 2, 9, 12 and 17 and three are over 200 yards. It’s listed as 7,615 yards and features Kikuyu grass on the fairways, tees and rough. The greens are listed as Agrostis Pencross and Poa.
Temperatures are very pleasant rather than oppressive in Rabat this week, the thermometer gauge starting at just over 80 degrees on Thursday but falling to the low 70s on the weekend. There are clouds around too while it could get a little gusty on Friday and Sunday.
The Leading Contenders
With three top 10s (two of them on the PGA TOUR) in his last three starts, Dunne is the form horse of the field. He couldn’t quite live with Jon Rahm in the final round in Spain last week but his second place was still a very worthy effort even if his slow, deliberate play did draw some criticism and probably backfired as he took too long at key moments. Dunne also lost a play-off at this venue 12 months ago after finishing T16 the year before and has a hot putter. The planets looked aligned.
The Dutchman deserves to be high on any shortlist this week given that he has some appealing converging trends. In his last three starts, Luiten has a win at the Oman Open (1st for Putting Average) and T9 at the Indian Open while he was T13 on this track in 2017. He also played it back in 2010 and posted T14 (R2 65) so the only concern is that he’s had a month off since teeing it up in India.
Coetzee, a winner at the Tshwane Open in early March, admitted that he had to shake off some rust during the first three rounds of last week’s Open de Espana but when he finally found some rhythm on Sunday he took flight with a closing 63 to finish fourth. The South African then marked our cards by saying he couldn’t wait to tee it up again in Morocco. It’s his first start at the course but he loves playing on his home continent, even the northern part of it, and was T3 (2015) and T11 (2014) in this event at Golf du Palais Royal. The Kikuyu grass at this week’s course will feel very familiar while his current putting stats are excellent.
After a hugely disappointing return to Augusta National (73-78 = MC) having finished in the top four in the 2017 Masters, Pieters will want to get back to contending again after a rather flat run of form. Prior to Augusta, he’d had to settle for T52 in Houston and an early Match Play exit. He’s yet to make a cut in two starts in this event but this is the Belgian’s first crack at Dar Es Salam.
The Ryder Cup-seeking Frenchman couldn’t boost his earnings much at the WGC-Dell Match Play but in regular European Tour events so far in 2018 he has a pair of T4s and a T7 from just four starts. Less appealing is his record in Morroco. At this venue Levy has had to settle for T34 in both 2016 and 2017 and he didn’t break 71 in his eight rounds. Very capable of finding a spark though.
With form of 3-44-4-4 going into his home Spanish Open, a big performance was expected from Larrazabal in Madrid but, despite a Friday 65, a third-round 73 meant he could only manage T21. He should be able to kick on here though and the Spaniard has some strong tournament form with T13 at this week’s venue 12 months ago and a top three finish at Golf du Palais Royal in 2015. Second in Putting Average when tied fourth in India last month.
It was a strange week for the Englishman in Spain as he eventually finished T21. On Thursday (75) and Sunday (73) his golf was distinctly average; on Friday and Saturday he played like a god, shooting 63-65. Adding to the puzzle he represents this week is his lack of course form (making debut at Dar Es Salam) but the Englishman did finish runner-up at Golf du Palais Royal in 2014 when closing with another 63. Also note that his first two European Tour wins came in South Africa so he likes a bit of Kikuyu.
He didn’t quite get in the mix on Sunday but Campillo’s tied fifth at his home Open de Espana on Sunday represented a third top five finish in his last four European Tour starts. The odd one out was the WGC in Mexico so in regular events he’s been a great man to have onside. Campillo hit over 80% of greens in Madrid and will be full of confidence heading back to a venue where he finished T19 last year. Also T11 at Golf du Palais Royal in 2014 and 11th in SG: Putting this season.
At his best, the Englishman would be right at the front of the betting but he’s gone a little cool since finishing runner-up at the Oman Open when losing a final-day duel with Joost Luiten. He followed that with T13 in Qatar. Wood hasn’t played this venue before but has good memories of Morocco after closing with a 67 to bank a top three finish in 2015 at Golf du Palais Royal.
If it’s a great putter with a bit of current form we’re looking for this week (it is, to be honest), then Rai certainly fits the bill. As expected, you’ll find him in the top 20 for Strokes Gained: Putting this season (17th) and he’s coming in off T12 at the Open de Espana having posted T9 at the Indian Open prior to that. Last year’s T34 on this track in his rookie season could be a good marker.
The Next Rung
The UNLV alum closed with three rounds in the 60s for T21 in the Open de Espana on Sunday and that followed on from a top five in the PGA TOUR’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. There’s definitely a tendency to underrate Asian players so perhaps the Kodaira-Kim 1-2 at Hilton Head and Wang’s win here in 2016 should warn gamers/bettors not to. The World No. 87 is making his debut in Morocco.
After grabbing his first European Tour win in Qatar, Pepperell had to wait nearly two months to tee it up again and, perhaps not surprisingly, missed the cut in Spain. The R1 77 was responsible for that but Pepperell came back hard with a 65 on his second lap and that should give him some momentum here. He has no course form (MC and DQ) but that win should be the start of a big move up the world rankings.
After doing the polar opposite of compatriot Si Woo Kim at Hilton Head by putting like a demon to win this tournament in 2016, Wang missed the cut when defending last year. He played nicely in the Middle East earlier in the year (T15 Abu Dhabi, T6 Dubai, T26 Oman) but has two MCs in his last three starts. If that blade gets hot again, he could be a leaderboard presence once more.
The Swede has the tools to post a first win sooner rather than later and he’s already managed a second (November’s Hong Kong Open) a sixth and two top 20s in nine starts this season. He was T39 in Spain on Sunday after entering the final day in T17. Initial enthusiasm is tempered by his cold putter (141st in SG: Putting) and MC at this course last year (80-71).
Having finished runner-up at Dar Es Salam in 2016 and held a share of the lead with two to play in his home Open de Espana last week, Elvira has some impressive converging trends. It was certainly a kick to the stomach to double bogey the 17th and lose his winning chance in Madrid but he proudly waved a Spanish flag as he walked up the 18th so surely took more positives than negatives from the week. Another key note – he was second for Putting Average in Spain.
The good news – Gallacher has finished fourth at this venue. The less than ideal news – it was back in 2001. Also top 20 in 2010, the Scot missed the cut last time but, if he has a good memory, there are still some positives to be taken from those previous visits. He shot three 70s and a 71 for T52 in Spain but he’s cashed in all seven starts this season and has top 10s (India, Oman) in two of his last four. 34th in SG: Putting.
Home players made the headlines in last week’s Open de Espana and a rung below the main protagonists, Canizares was calmly composing a final-round 66 to climb up to tied 12th. After injury problems, that was a nice return to form and he’s also 3-for-3 at this week’s layout even though the best of those is only T34 two years ago. 28th in SG: Putting.
Rock went home early last year after a Friday 77 but in 2016 a trio of 70s over his final 54 holes helped him take third place in a week of tough scoring. Six years earlier when Dar Es Salam had staged the 2010 edition he was T7 so this is a good course for him. His appeal broadens when looking at current form with T7 in Oman, T12 in India and T28 in Spain on Sunday. A clincher? He’s 4th in SG: Putting.
MLV will be able to converse in his native tongue in French-speaking Morocco and he’s cashed on all four starts in the country. That includes T55 and T34 here although note that he was T12 with 18 holes to play last year. His latest form is encouraging too with T10 in Qatar and T17 at the Maybank while he shot three rounds in the 60s when T34 in last week’s Open de Espana.
The straight-hitting German was second for Driving Accuracy in Spain and an improved performance with the putter helped him finish T12. That was just one spot outside his 2018 best of T11 at February’s Maybank Championship in Malaysia. Kieffer was T25 in this event at Golf du Palais Royal in 2015 but look away now if you want to avoid seeing the 80-77 he shot at this track 12 months ago.
He’s played this track four times but with little success – MC-67-20-MC. A pair of 77s saw the Belgian go home early last year although T28 in Spain on Sunday was a decent return to action after nearly two months off since his T34 in Qatar. Colsaerts is outside the top 100 in SG: Putting and that’s been the weakness of his game for a while. He may get hot with the blade for a round but over four he still struggles.
One of just two players in the field who owns back-to-back top 10s at this course. The Italian youngster dipped with four MCs across January and February but hit back with a top four in Qatar and delivered twin 68s for T21 in Spain on Sunday.
The ultimate gamble. Who knows what we’ll get from V-Dub who missed the cut in Spain last week (74-72) in his first start since November. T4 here last year.
He’s a course horse with a top five in 2016 when leading after 54 holes and also T6 last year. Current form is poor though with four MCs and a T53 since January.
Since his shock win here last year he’s missed 14 cuts in 26 events and managed just one top 20. At least that was just a couple of months ago (T16 Oman).
7-for-7 on the European Tour this season but just hasn’t been able to land the big cheque, with T19 in Abu Dhabi his best. Has a T12 at the course although that was at a Challenge Tour event back in 2002!
Has enjoyed this event with a top 10 in 2014 and solo third here last year. T20 in Qatar and closed with a 67 in Spain despite finishing down in T63.
Cracked the top 10 in this event last year so worth considering. MC in Spain but top 30 in India before that.
Veteran was T13 in Qatar and missed the cut in Spain despite a second-round 69. Played four rounds at Dar Es Salam in 2017 and 5th in SG: Putting this season.
MC in Spain but did shoot a Friday 68 to suggest something better is coming soon. 2-for-2 at this venue although main appeal is his 12th spot in SG: Putting.
Who’s On The Team?
With two surprise course winners in Wang and Molinari, this is a tough week for gamers.
Those who shook off some rust in Spain last week after the break in regular European Tour events could be at an advantage too. George Coetzee jumps out in that bracket.
One To Swerve
He’s a class act but Thomas Pieters looks out of sorts at the moment.