The European Tour awakens from its Easter hibernation and does so at a familiar venue in an event which is this year celebrating a tenth consecutive season on the circuit.
The tournament itself has a much longer history, stretching back to 1971 when Bill Casper was a regular visitor. Indeed, he was also a winner in 1973 and 1975.
Other big names to lift the ornamental dagger include Orville Moody, Ed Sneed, Lee Trevino, Ken Green, Vijay Singh, Payne Stewart, Nick Price, Colin Montgomerie, David Toms, Joakim Haeggman, Erik Compton, Sam Torrance, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els. If you think it’s an enigmatic list of winners, you’d not be wrong.
Since joining the European Tour there was a spell in which it was held at Golf du Palais Royal, but now it has settled at the Robert Trent Jones Sr designed Royal Golf Dar Es Salam
The field is not stellar, but it feels good have the circuit back in action.
Champions, Winning Scores and Stats (at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam)
2018 -8 Alexander Levy (DD 17, DA 53, GIR 13, SCR 2, PA 27, AR 5)
2017 -9 Edoardo Molinari (DD 22, DA 36, GIR 41, SCR 1, PA 14, AR 5)
2016 -5 Jeunghun Wang n/a
2010 -25 Rhys Davies n/a
Notes: The first standout is the difference between Davies’ winning score and the more recent ones. There are two explanations. The first is that Davies won under a different format: Pro-am and using two courses, one of them much easier. The second is that in recent years the track has been toughened up (see below). There are few stats to go on, but perhaps recall that those two recent winners excelled at getting up-and-down whilst Wang and Davies are known for being decent in that facet of the game (at their best).
A par-73 at 7,633-yards the Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam was opened in 1971 and designed, as mentioned above, by RTJ Sr. It cuts through corks trees, has dark reddish sand, and has a very similar climate to Valderrama – another RTJ Sr track and plenty of golfers have thrived at both (one reason being both demand good driving). It’s a popular spot, but the sight of the new greens last year caused some consternation. Paul Dunne, the runner-up in 2017, was particularly dismayed by the buried elephant nature of James Duncan’s renovation work. Since last year the par-3 17th has been turned into a short par-4 at 287-yards.
The first two days are expected to be in the mid-60s, rising to mid-70s at the weekend. Rain showers are a possibility on Thursday, but the real key is the wind. It is unlikely to ever be significant, but the forecast has it changing direction every single day.
Joost Luiten (2018): "I love this track. It's very narrow and tree-lined. You've got to be driving the ball really well and in position for going into the greens. It's just very demanding."
Paul Dunne (2018): "Obviously it's much different this year with the greens but it's still the same layout from tee-to-green visually. The greens are slopey and quite firm. It's also one of the tougher courses we play on Tour off the tee."
Erik van Rooyen (2018): "Keep it in the fairway on this place, you can control the spin coming out of the fairway, which is key to getting it close to some of these pins with Kikuyu grass (on fairways and in rough)."
Oliver Fisher (2018): "It’s a strong course. I think with the green re-design it's quite tough to give yourself a lot of good chances. You have to fiddle shots in and try to hit little slopes which is pretty tricky at times."
The Leading Contenders
His words above make a pretty compelling case all on their own. He’s made sluggish starts here (ranking T26, T67, T36 after round one), but he pushes on thereafter, clearly relishing the tough duel with the course. He was T14 in 2016, T13 in 2017 and T9 last year. He’s 4-for-5 on the European Tour this year and every cut made has reaped a top 12 finish. A compelling case.
The Frenchman has begun to reset his bearing after the problems of 2018, collecting T18 in Saudi Arabia, T12 in Oman and T10 in India. Add that sort of form to his highly promising only appearance on the course and he’s presented with a good chance to earn another win. He was T4 in 2017 when all elements of his game were strong.
Last year the South Africans in the field noted the advantage they have this week with the Kikuyu grass because whilst some Euros are not used to its sticky qualities, South Africans have played it all their lives. Van Rooyen proved the point, never being more than three swings off the lead all week as he finished T7 whilst ranking 7th for Greens in Regulation and 11th for Scrambling. Three top 15 finishes in his last four starts.
The Englishman posted 74 in R1 of his last start, the Maybank Championship, to lie T105 on the leaderboard, but 68-71-65 followed and he ended the week T7 making him 7-for-7 this campaign. He’s also 2-for-2 on the course, with T8 in 2017 his best when he ranked seventh for Ball Striking (he was 12th for that category in 2018 so likes the tee to green challenge).
The Englishman has enjoyed the challenge of golf in South Africa so perhaps that is one reason he was T7 on his course debut last year? He shot 72-72-69-70 to creep through the field that week (T36-T25-T12-T7) and his form is trending in the right direction too: T70 in Oman, T11 in Qatar and T7 in Malaysia.
There is a certain symmetry to the Spaniard’s record book this week. Two starts ago he lost a play-off in the Maybank Championship, making it into those extra holes with an extraordinary putt (he was also second in Qatar). Qatar is an event Jeunghun Wang has won and the Korean also defeated Elvira in a play-off here in 2016, when it was Wang holing the big putts. Opened the season with five MCs; not out the top six in his last three starts.
It’s all been a little boom or bust in recent months for the Spaniard. He claimed nine top 15 finishes in 15 starts from the start of 2018, then made just one in his next 17 appearances, and has now gone T2-T2-T20-T3 in his last four events. He’s also solid on the course. He was T19 in 2017 and then T46 12 months ago when ranking second for Total Driving and fourth for Ball Striking. Has struggled scrambling here (35% through eight rounds).
Victory 12 months ago (after being T34 twice before) seemed to set him up for a tilt at a spot in the European Ryder Cup team, but he was a little reticent to overwork that goal and also working hard on his game – the result was 22 starts without a top five, a run broken by T5 in the Saudi International. However, since then he shot 68 in Oman to open (T4) and then had to withdraw – not seen since, no word why.
The American might have needed the ET hiatus after he led through 18, 36 and 54 holes at the Indian Open only to experience the vagaries of the course in the final round, post 77 and finish fourth. Before that he was T20 in Malaysia, his first start of the season. He makes his course debut this week.
On the face of it this track is made for the parkland specialist, but T29 in 2010 and a missed cut last year suggest otherwise. His 2019 form after a MC in Hong Kong is superb however: seven starts, all T29 or better with his last three entries in the log book reading: T2, T11, T7.