Okay, when up against the blockbuster at Bay Hill, the Madeira Islands Open – Portugal – BPI may be viewed as a low-budget indie film in an obscure 20-seat theatre on the outskirts of town.
But it has several things going for it.
Here’s some fun facts:
It’s set in beautiful scenery on cliff-tops next to the Atlantic Ocean.
Peter Uihlein once won it.
The course – Clube de Golf do Santo da Serra - was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr.
Like any golf tournament, it’s a puzzle to be solved and, whether for betting, fantasy or mind-expanding purposes, it’s always good to give the grey matter a workout.
Right, let’s go. Welcome to this year’s first European Tour event on European soil (sort of. Madeira is actually nearly twice as near to Africa than it is to Europe but Portuguese sailors got there first).
Last 10 winners
2014 Daniel Brooks (England) -9 (36 holes)
2013 Peter Uihlein (US) -15
2012 Ricardo Santos (Portugal) -22
2011 Michael Hoey (Northern Ireland) -10
2010 James Morrison (England) -20
2009 Estanislao Goya (Argentina) -6
2008 Alastair Forsyth (Scotland) -15
2007 Daniel Vancsik (Argentina) -18
2006 Jean van de Velde (France) -15
2005 Robert-Jan Derksen (Netherlands) -13
Note, the 2009, 2010 and 2011 events were held on the Seve Ballesteros-designed Porto Santo Golfe on the tiny neighbouring island of Porto Santo. Talking of the great man, Seve’s son, Javier Ballesteros, is in the field this week.
The forecast is a vital part of the equation this week. Last year it was terrible and the tournament was reduced to just 36 holes. It’s not exactly great this year either. Thursday suggests rain and winds over 20mph while the prediction is for more wet weather in Saturday’s third round. It will be gusty throughout although it gradually drops from Thursday’s high to 17mph on a hopefully sunnier Sunday.
Opened in 1991, the Robert Trent Jones layout is one of the shortest on the pro circuit at just 6,826 yards. The course descends 300 metres from top to bottom and the altitude and wind make club selection difficult so past experience can be very handy. The mountainside layout has plenty of trees but most are situated well off the generous fairways. The sloping greens are very small and difficult to hit.
Recipe for success
Don’t get fooled into thinking the lack of yardage means steady-eddies rule. Uihlein and Santos – the last two winners over 72 holes here – both finished 1st in Driving Distance for the week. The wide fairways allow driver to be pulled. Both men also scrambled well as it’s easy to miss these small greens. Last year’s 36-hole winner, Daniel Brooks, was 5th in DD and 2nd in Scrambling.
The Leading Contenders
A rarity. Someone in the field with three top 25s in his last three starts. Admittedly, his T23, T24 and T24 came on home South African soil so might look better than they really are. He’s had two cracks at this event but missed the cut in both 2012 and 2013. One added plus is that he finished runner-up in the 2013 Portugal Masters so can play well in this part of the world.
The Welshman will always be associated with this tournament for two reasons. Firstly, he won it in 2003 (his first European Tour success) after a T7 on debut and he’s since finished in the top 16 four times, the most recent last year. Secondly, he was the subject of a controversial scoring error in his victory year. Early in the tournament, he was given a 30 (yes, thirty!) on his scorecard. Someone on Betfair believed it to be true and, with Dredge tailed off in last place, laid him at 999/1. Of course, their worst nightmare then unfolded as his card was corrected and Dredge went on to win the tournament. Ouch. Bradley arrives this year having not played since a T67 in Dubai in early February.
This should be a tournament that the Irishman has a genuine chance of winning. All that growing up in windy weather in Ireland. The extra class of someone who has played in a Walker Cup (like 2013 winner Peter Uihlein). Phelan even made the cut in the U.S. Open as an amateur! To prove he’s the real deal, in his last six European Tour starts he’s made five cuts and has a T2 in the Joburg Open earlier this month and a third in October’s Hong Kong Open.
He’s not available on the European Tour Fantasy game but bettors might want to keep him in mind. The Asian-based youngster ended 2014 with a top six in the Dubai Open (not the Dubai Classic of course) and was also T7 in Thailand and T24 in the Indian Open. As a Spaniard playing off the coast of Portugal, he won’t be too far from home either.
It all seemed too good to be true that Portugal’s Santos would win his ‘local’ event but he did just that when sprouting winds with a final-round 63 to lift the trophy in 2012 – a result which helped him win Rookie of the Year. He also made the top 20 the following year. As for recent form, he was T32 (Joburg) and T35 (Tshwane) in two of the recent South African events.
The Swede might be the closest we get to finding anyone with both elements of course and current form. In last month’s Indian Open he played some fine golf to finish T3 before backing it up with a T13 in the Africa Open. Before that top three, his best finish on the European Tour was a fourth place in this event in 2012 when he opened with a pair of 66s.
Hansen turned heads in his one start this year when shooting a back-nine 28 in the first round of the Joburg Open. He eventually finished T37, closing with a 68 following a destructive Saturday 76. He’s played here twice before, missing the cut in 2013 and finishing T47 in 2012. JB was also T33 in October’s Portugal Masters.
The tall, big-hitting Spaniard graduated from the Challenge Tour last season and is 3-for-3 so far on the European Tour with finishes (all in South Africa) of T11-T38-T46. He’s also cashed in both his starts here. Oriol was T47 in 2012 and T24 in the shortened event in 2014.
Has won three times on the Challenge Tour although the last of those was in 2009. He owns a pair of T24s on his last two starts in this event (2013 and 2008) but, like so many this week, he’ll have to shake off rust having not teed it up since the end of October.
An American to follow in the footsteps of 2013 winner Peter Uihlein? He was inspired by his friends Uihlein and Koepka to try his luck on the European Tour and was T17 in India two starts ago. Another top 20 at October’s Portugal Masters has some relevance too given this week’s location. Went to Kent State University in Ohio.
The most promising of the younger Portuguese brigade taking part this week. Gouveia showed his talent by winning on just his seventh start on the Challenge Tour last year and he just missed out on gaining full status at Q School. That means he’s not available on the ET Fantasy game although he could be worth an each-way bet.
Others To Consider
The Frenchman has experience of mountain golf having cut his teeth on the Alps Tour, finishing second in the 2008 Order of Merit. And he’s done well here too, closing with a 66 to finish T22 on debut in 2012 and also cashing (T42) in 2013. He’ll head to Santo da Serra with a pair of top 25s under his belt from the Indian and Joburg Opens.
The Englishman was a runner-up in this event in the dim and distant past. Well, 12 years ago anyway. He was consistent on the Challenge Tour at the end of 2013 and took T16 in the Sunshine Tour’s Dimension Data Pro-Am in South Africa last month – his only start of 2015.
The three-time Challenge Tour winner (most recent in 2012) has been a regular in this event and finished fifth in 2004. Overall he’s 8-for-10 at Santo da Serra although his second best finish was a T30 in 2013. Walker has played just once in 2015, finishing T35 in the Indian Open.
Perhaps one day when he’s gone on to do great things we’ll look back and note that Paratore’s first victory came here. The teenage Italian certainly made waves at the start of 2015, cashing in all three Gulf Swing events and finishing T13 in Dubai. He’s cooled off since then and went T46-MC-MC in South Africa. If we pass that off as an allowable youngster’s dip, he could shine on his debut here.
Carlos Del Moral
Another youngish Spaniard (he’s 29), who could go well. There are smatterings of current form such as a T20 in South Africa and T31 in India. But, most attractive to gamers/bettors is his fourth place in this event in 2012 when he was 54-hole leader after a third-round 63. He also led the 2010 Estoril Open de Portugal at halfway.
Peter not Paul will be making his eighth appearance at this event although only his second since 2008. He was T10 that year while a flick through the record books also shows a T14 in 2000. The Irishman made cuts in Qatar and Dubai before improving to T16 in Malaysia and T31 in India but he didn’t cash in two recent starts in South Africa.
He’s a young Spaniard, who plays on the Challenge Tour. His appeal this week is that he finished third in this event last year although that was over just 36 holes. He’s 0-for-4 on the European Tour this year.
Ring any bells? If so, it’s because he played in the 2007 Masters (MC) after winning the 2006 British Amateur. Now 29, the Frenchman seems to really take to this course and was T11 in 2012 and T3 in the 36-holer last year. Those are his only two starts at Santo da Serra. The downside is that this is his 2015 debut having last played in November’s National Bank of Oman Golf Classic where he was T34.
Shot 67-68 to finish runner-up last year after losing in a playoff although, again, do we only put 50% trust in 2014’s course form given that it was over just two rounds? The Scot was T37 in the Joburg Open on his last start and T55 in the Sunshine Tour’s Dimension Data Pro-Am before that so is going in the right direction.
Rounds of 71-70 were enough to give him T12 in this event last year and he was also T33 on the mainland when contesting the 2014 Portugal Masters. The Frenchman has played just once in 2015, shooting 73-75 and missing the cut in Joburg.
We recently saw him blow victory in the Indian Open, shooting a final-round 76 and finishing second. He was also 10th in Malaysia in February but does he pack a punch outside of Asia? This is his first appearance at Santo da Serra while two starts on the Portuguese mainland resulted in missed cuts. He also failed to make the weekend in the Joburg Open on his latest outing.
Along with Santos, Lima is Portugal’s other ‘famous’ player. On his CV are a full European Tour victory (2004 Aa St Omer Open) and two other Challenge Tour wins (latest, the 2009 ECCO Tour Championship). He’s made the top 10 in each of the last two years here but hasn’t actually teed it up anywhere since last September’s Wales Open.
Just about worthy of course horse status having finished T22-T15-T16 on his three starts here since 2012. On his Twitter feed, the 5’9” Paisley describes himself as “Diminutive pro golfer, currently playing European Tour”. He’s 3-for-4 this season, missing the cut in Joburg on his latest start
The East Tennessee State University grad has played on two Walker Cup teams and has an impressive CV. He’s not had much to cheer about lately though and languishes down at 638 on the OWGR. However, in the last two editions of this event he was T24 last year and T5 in 2013. This is his first tournament since November.
Gets a mention as he won this tournament in 2008 after shooting 66-67 on the weekend. The Scot was also T9 in 2012. The bad news? He’s made just one start in 2015 and shot 77-78 in Malaysia.
In the last 72-hole edition of this event (2012), Im shot four solid rounds to finish T12. Any other good news? Well, in his penultimate start of 2014, he was T21 in Hong Kong and although he missed the cut in Joburg on his only outing so far this year, Im did fire a second-round 68. The 29-year-old was born in the U.S. and played college golf at UCLA.
Don’t expect too much from the young man, who is a great follow on Twitter by the way. He got an invite to the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year and shot 83-81.
Who’s On The Team?
It may seem counter-intuitive to back big hitters on a course that is so short and has many doglegs.
But the evidence shows that those who give it a huge tonk not only fair well but actually win here.
So, in a week where it’s difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, have a look at the 2015 Driving Distance stats.
Last year’s runner-up Scott Henry is 2nd, while another player mentioned above, Pedro Oriol, is third.
Get them on board.
Ricardo Santos has already won this in front of his home fans so is another automatic selection – as is Kevin Phelan, who is in a different class to most of his rivals.
For the full line-up, check Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Fade
Tournament favourite Justin Walters is 0-for-2 here so maybe this course isn’t for him. His current form of three tops 25s is solid but hardly earth-shattering.