With a few low key events next to the PGA Tour play-offs and the majors it has been some time since we have had a European Tour preview but after a bit of a break we are back.
The Portugal Masters heads to Vilamoura and the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course for the 12th time, which gives us a very nice bank of form to look at. The course is a wide open, exposed par 71 where its relative lack of length and minimal rough allow low scoring and very straight forward conditions. Everyone in the field will find themselves hitting in excess of 65% of these huge greens and more often than not that results in a bit of a putting competition. The bombers have the advantage that they can let rip and not be penalised but they will also be able to be more aggressive with their approaches and find the right area of the greens.
Last year’s winner certainly isn’t what you would call a good putter but Bjerregaard gave himself so many looks with his brilliant approaches that he found the pace early on and went on to rank 1st in the greens. He was chased home by Marc Warren who hit 82% of his greens despite ranking 3rd last in fairways hit from those that made the cut. In 2016 Harrington was similarly wayward with both his driving and approaches yet his short game display rolled back the years as he averaged just 25 putts per round. The 2015 winner Andy Sullivan did most things well but perhaps most striking was the fact that he got up and down for par on all 13 occasions where he missed a green.
This helps confirm what we know about the Dom Pedro course and it is the sort of skill set required at similar events like the Qatar Masters and the Alfred Dunhill Links. There are many repeat offenders on those leaderboards and they are worth a look at to potentially help with angles in this week.
With just 4 regular season events left many of the players will find themselves looking at the Race To Dubai rankings to see what is required of them. This will differ greatly across the field as some simply look to secure their 2019 card while others aim to break into or consolidate their position in the top 60. Then of course we have the top tier of players who will be looking to take advantage of 10 of the 12 Ryder Cup players being absent as they jostle for position at the top of the rankings. The whole narrative begins to make for an interesting event, even if eyes are already being drawn to France and Le Golf National. This motivation angle has helped me find some attractive looking bets as those trading under 20/1 all look short enough to me. With as many as 8 places being paid this week I think there is definitely some each way value to be had.
There is simply no way for me to avoid backing my main man George Coetzee here at 50/1. Putting an indifferent summer aside it looks a massive price when we consider he was 7th here last year. Last week in Holland Coetzee was back to letting rip off the tee as he ranked 1st in driving distance. This is an aspect of his game that has been up and down as he has tried to find a balance between accuracy and distance off the tee. That won’t matter too much in Vilamoura as you can pretty much hit it sideways off the tee and still have a chance of finding the green. Coetzee will then be aggressive enough with his short irons to go flag-hunting and very few in the field putt better on these grainy types of greens. Coetzee is currently outside the top 60 on the Race To Dubai so he knows he has to finish the season strongly. Despite that position of 66th though he still ranks 9th in putts per round and 42nd in scrambling. If he has a decent week with the approach play I’d expect another contending performance on a course where his results read 7-31-21-6-3.
My next bet is another repeat offender and one that I definitely want to be onboard for when he gets his first win. For Ryan Fox it is very much a matter of time and he fits a similar profile to last year’s winner Lucas Bjerregaard. Both had been posting plenty of top 10s and contending in very strong European Tour fields throughout the year. Fox was extremely unlucky not to win in Ireland when Knox scuppered him with consecutive 40ft putts on the 18th hole. The wider links fairways allowed Fox to let rip and he ranked 3rd in GIR for the week. Indeed Fox ranks 20th for the season in GIR and despite his missed cut here last year he should really be perfectly suited to the exposed course. I’m in danger of backing him at restrictive prices but I have to give him another go on a layout like this. Fox ranks 11th on the Race To Dubai rankings and the only man above him in this field is favourite Olesen. That suggests maybe 33/1 isn’t too bad at all with 8 places as he looks to break into the top 10.
I couldn’t decide between Jordan Smith and Nino Bertasio for a 3rd pick so instead I’ve added them both. Smith showed a glimpse of his 2017 form again last week as he ranked 10th at the KLM Open. That was another trending performance as he had been 36th in Czech Republic before a 20th place finish in Denmark. Smith ranked 1st in the all-round ranking last week and while this is his debut at the course he has a 6th at the Qatar Masters where form always ties in nicely with the Vilamoura course. He looks a very solid each way prospect at 50/1.
Bertasio was 12th here last year and that makes sense as you would expect him to enjoy the extra space off the tee. He was tipped to go well last week in KLM but he didn’t hit enough fairways or greens. Both of those will be considerably easier to hit this week with wide open fairways and big undulating greens. Bertasio is a deadly putter who will thrive on the well maintained grainy surfaces and enjoy the difficult lag-putting from distance. As ever he is in a lofty position in most of the short stick stats; 15th in putts per round, 12th in one putts and 29th in strokes gained: putting. He will be confident of improving on last year’s result and is worth a small each way play at 80/1.
George Coetzee – 1.25pt ew @ 45/1 (1/5 odds 5 places Skybet)
Ryan Fox – 1pt ew @ 33/1 (Skybet)
Jordan Smith – 0.75 pt ew @ 45/1 (Skybet)
Nino Bertasio – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1 (Skybet)
European Tour Results 2018
Points advised = 135
Points returned = 137.7
ROI = 2%