Forget co-sanctioned. That’s old hat.
This week the European Tour breaks new ground by hosting its first ever tri-sanctioned tournament.
Holding hands across the world, or some such phrase, are the European, Asian and Sunshine Tours, who all gather around the global piano (this metaphor is breaking down by the second) at the inaugural AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open.
Mauritius is one of those exotic-sounding destinations where couples go on honeymoon. It’s located in the Indian Ocean. Consult your world map, find Africa and then look to the right where you’ll see it to the east of Madagascar. It’s three hours ahead of the UK.
The Course – Heritage Golf Club
It’s a short 7,036-yard par 71 and was recently recognised as “The best golf course in the Indian Ocean” at the Inaugural World Golf Awards held in November 2014.
Bunkered magazine offers this description: “With breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean and the mountains behind, the Peter Matkovich-designed challenging course features wide undulating fairways, large greens, water obstacles, well placed bunkers and thick African elephant grass.”
Unfortunately, the “wide fairways” comment somewhat contradicts Zimbabwe Open champion Dean Burmester, who says in a pre-tournament press release, “A lot of players who have been to Heritage say it’s a very tight course.”
Peter Matkovich is a prolific South African course designer, who played in two Open Championships, including the 1970 event at St Andrews. He says he likes “strategic courses” and also loves a bit of risk and reward and short par fours.
A gallery of Heritage Golf Club is available here:
There are also animated flyovers of each hole here:
England’s Max Orrin and South African Hennie Otto fill this role with sponsors AfrAsia Bank have run clinics at the course. They may have a head start when it comes to knowledge of the layout and, as you can see below, they've already shone in a previous event in Mauritius.
The AfrAsia Golf Masters
This isn’t played at Heritage (it takes place at the Anahita Golf Course – a longer, 7,468-yard par 72) but at least it’s in Mauritius and, let’s face it, we haven’t got much else to go on! It features 20 players from the French pro circuit and 10 guests from the European Tour. English and French are generally accepted as the official languages of Mauritius.
2014: -6 Max Orrin, -4 Hennie Otto, -2 Benjamin Hebert, Julien Guerrier, -1 Matt Fitzpatrick, Jason Barnes, Nicolas Colsaerts, Christophe Brazillier, Francois Calmels, Par Johan Carlsson, Toby Tree
The 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 winners aren’t playing this week.
As you might expect, temperatures are extremely pleasant (around 80 degrees) but the little rain symbol is present on all four days in the latest forecast. As well as sun and rain, thunderstorms join the battle for superiority in the skies in Sunday’s final round.
The Leading Contenders
Coetzee did pretty well in last week’s WGC-Cadillac Match Play, beating Martin Kaymer and Thongchai Jaidee after extra holes but an opening defeat to eventual semi-finalist Jim Furyk (3-0 in the group phase) proved decisive. Before that, his strokeplay form was excellent with a win in the Tshwane Open and third places in the Investec Cup and Trophee Hassan II in Morocco. He’s one of the European Tour’s best putters and will have an obvious winning chance this week.
The burly Thai has a win (Shenzhen International) and two other top sixes (True Thailand Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational) in his last five worldwide starts and sits ninth on the Race to Dubai. He’s also ninth in Putts Per Gir (one of the two European Tour putting categories) so looks an obvious pick for the 10-man European Tour Fantasy game. Aphibarnrat, who admitted in the build-up that he’s never been to Mauritius, also told Europeantour.com, “My game feels good and I have confidence with my swing and equipment. I feel happy now with my life, and it’s a good time now for me. I recently got engaged.”
After missing the cut at the Honda Classic and the Masters (shooting 78 and 79 respectively in his second rounds), Bjorn looked one to avoid for gamers but something clicked in the recent Indonesian Masters when he drove it straight, scrambled superbly (1st) and putted great (2nd in Putts Per Gir). Okay, this isn’t the South African mainland but it’s not too far away and the course was designed by a South African. Therefore, it could be relevant that the Dane has a win and two other top 10s from his last four starts in South Africa.
The South African is one of the ‘name’ players in this week’s field which tells its own story. Aiken is a proven performer on the European Tour, has two top 10s this season (Dubai Desert Classic and Joburg Open) and also managed a creditable T23 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship on his last start. He’d be an obvious title contender if he’s on his game and should be a lock for those playing the European Tour Fantasy game.
At his best, the classy Dane would be a big fancy to win this but he’s missed his last three cuts (Qatar, Dubai and Malaysia). Clearly there was a reason for that as he often shines on the Middle East Swing and the explanation lies in a hand injury. A tweet on March 25 from Olesen said, “Gym work, rehab training! The hand is slowly getting better still not allowed to do any golf training…”. Five days later he added, “1 hand chipping. Good to feel the grass again. Going to the doctor tomorrow hoping for some good news.” Even if he does take part this week, it’s a big leap of faith to expect him to contend.
He missed the cut at the Dubai Desert Classic on his first start of the year but since then the big Thai is 4-for-4 in co-sanctioned events in Malaysia (T25), Thailand (T31), India (T52) and China (T3). His stats were particularly solid for that third place in the China Open and, as he’s not the biggest hitter, this week’s low-yardage course should suit him.
The straight-hitting American is coming off a T8 at the Indonesian Masters, his third top 10 in his last four starts following a T5 in the Malaysian Open and a T10 in the Indian Open. Yet again, he was in the top five for Driving Accuracy in Indonesia while he also topped the Putting Average stats. This course should be a really good one for him although he’s not available for the European Tour Fantasy game.
Like a lot of Aussies, what you see is what you get and big-hitting Hend is often easy to predict. On long, wide tracks he tends to thrive while on shorter, tighter tracks he finds it a bit of a struggle. As Heritage GC appears to fall into the latter category, his appeal diminishes. His last two starts show a T60 in the Volvo China Open and a T15 in the Shenzhen International. Guess which one came on the longer, wider track.
The former Walker Cup star is dropping plenty of hints that a win is on the horizon. Two starts ago he was T3 in the Trophee Hassan II while earlier in March he was runner-up in the Joburg Open. He’s 6th in Driving Accuracy and 27th in Greens In Regulation so the short layout looks a good fit for the young Irishman.
Unfortunately, Otto is still battling a back injury suffered at the True Thailand Classic otherwise he’d have been close to No.1 pick this week. This is his first start since a third place since February’s Dimension Data Pro-Am so he has rust as well as injury issues to overcome. As mentioned in the intro, he’s a brand ambassador to the title sponsors and has played well in Mauritius before.
An unfamiliar name in the list of leading contenders but he deserves his spot after a superb run of form on the South African Sunshine Tour. He’s posted eight straight top 20s and the last five have been top 10s, including a win at the Zimbabwe Open and a T3 in last week’s Zambia Sugar Open. Bettors have every right to be sweet on his chances.
Adilson Da Silva
Like Burmester, Da Silva is one for bettors as he’s not a European Tour member so can’t be picked for the Fantasy game. Da Silva is on a streak of five straight top 25s, the latest components a second place in the Zimbabwe Open and a T11 in the Indonesian Masters. Hardly misses a fairway and putts well too.
The Next Rung
The Indian has made six of his last seven cuts although he only cracked the top 30 in one of those, a T11 in the True Thailand Classic. His best stat is Driving Accuracy (33rd) which should help his cause this week although he only just split more than 50% of the fairways at the Volvo China Open on his last start.
The Aussie won the True Thailand Classic in mid-February and then had two months off. He re-emerged in China but missed the cut in both events in the Far East, failing to beat 75 in his four rounds. His Thailand win came on a much longer course so there seems no obvious reason to get him on board here.
The 2013 U.S. Amateur champ is finding life tougher than expected in the pro ranks and is missing more cuts than he makes. But there are bright spots such as a T5 in the South African Open before Christmas and a T15 in the Tshwane Open two starts ago. He also came to Mauritius last year and made the top five in the AfrAsia Golf Masters so has form in the region. Mark him down as an interesting proposition here.
He’s never really got going at this level before now but Evans is in a groove at the moment. He was T12 in the Indian Open, T9 in the Trophee Hassan II and also T13 in the Challenge Tour event in Madrid recently. Driving is the key to this upturn as he’s 6th in DA and 20th in DD.
There aren’t too many in the field with five top 25s in their last seven worldwide starts but Walters owns such a record after a T13 in the recent Challenge de Madrid. The other four came in South Africa (T9-T24-T24-T23) so he wouldn’t have to sharpen up too much to be a leaderboard presence this week.
Having noted above that the Englishman is a brand ambassador who won the recent AfrAsia Golf Masters in Mauritius, it’s good to see that he’s available to pick in the European Tour Fantasy game. Beyond the unexpected local connections, Orrin also finished T16 in the Challenge Tour’s Kenya Open earlier this month so he does have a bit of form too.
The Frenchman’s name pops up when scanning the results at the AfrAsia Golf Masters so he does have experience of golf in Mauritius. That adds a little to the mix and is perhaps enough to make him a pick as the youngster has finished in the top 25 in all four starts in 2015 and hasn’t shot higher than 72 in 16 rounds. His last two efforts were a T20 in the Challenge de Madrid and a T6 in the Kenya Open (both Challenge Tour events).
He won’t win any awards for consistency or swing beauty but Kruger can make a mark in tournaments like these. He struggled in China recently but on his home South African Sunshine Tour he reeled off a decent run of 24-MC-5-10 across March and April. With a slight wardrobe change, he also looks as if he could be friends with Marilyn Manson and you can’t say that about many golfers.
The 29-year-old is a four-time winner on the South African Sunshine Tour and also holds a European Tour card. His form in South Africa in recent weeks is solid with a run of 15-29-21-10 on his last four starts. His T10 in Zambia last time came after an opening 76 while he also shot a third-round 65 during his T21 in the Zimbabwe Open.
On the face of it, there seems little reason to get with the South African-born Aussie as he’s missed his last four cuts. However, he did open 2015 with a pair of T11s (South African Open, Victorian Open) and he shot a fine opening 71 in fierce winds in Madeira only a few weeks ago before the tournament got called off. His early exit in the Challenge de Madrid last time out did include a second round 70 so he’s not far away.
The Englishman isn’t available in the European Tour Fantasy game but could have some outside interest for bettors. He’s made just three starts in 2015 but has made the top 20 in all three. The latest was a T9 in the Challenge Tour’s Kenya Open last month while on his one European Tour start he was T17 in the Trophee Hassan II.
Hugo is the subject of a pre-tournament feature on the official tournament website and Ernie Els’ quote that “he has more talent in his little finger than I have in my whole body” is used. It’s a shame Hugo’s other nine fingers have let him down as he clearly has never lived up to the promise despite winning 15 titles on his home Sunshine Tour. A second place in last week’s Zambia Sugar Open means he could be one to watch in such modest company although he isn’t eligible for the European Tour Fantasy game.
On current form, the Swede is worth a look this week. He’s 4-for-5 over the last three months and that run includes a third place at the Indian Open and a T13 in the Africa Open. He also owns a hot putter which always helps.
Since blowing victory in his home Indian Open with a final-round 76, Chawrasia has missed cuts at the Joburg and China Opens. Presumably he’ll get over it at some point and, in theory, this track should suit him. He holes lots of putts so could be a factor if the rest of his game is in shape.
Eduardo De La Riva
The Spaniard’s standout performance in 2015 is a third place in the Africa Open so he’s not without hope in a weak field like this. He’s since followed it with a T46 in the Tshwane Open (T16 with a round to go) and T34 at the Trophee Hassan II.
A T7 in the Challenge Tour’s Challenge de Madrid was a nice warm-up for Oriol, who is also 4-for-4 on the European Tour this year. Three of those were in South Africa, the best a T11 at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December. He’s second in Driving Distance on the European Tour so would probably prefer a longer course.
Who’s On The Team
To be honest it’s bit of a battle to scrape 10 names together for the European Tour Fantasy game.
Coetzee, Aphibarnrat and Aiken are the obvious picks but offer little to bettors at around 7/1, 12/1 and 16/1 respectively.
Youngsters Kevin Phelan and Matt Fitzpatrick are certainly worth looking at and the latter is available north of 100/1.
One To Fade
Thorbjorn Olesen has only just started hitting balls again so it would be a big effort for him to make any sort of challenge this week.