The stakes are high as the European Tour leaves the British Isles and heads to mainland Europe for the Portugal Masters.
For the ‘bubble boys’, this is the final chance to secure their cards for next season by finishing inside the top 110.
Higher up the money list, those with loftier ambitions will be priming themselves for the four-tournament Finals Series. Only the top 60 on the Race to Dubai will punch their tickets to the concluding event, the DP World Tour Championship.
This is the 10th Portugal Masters and, once more, the event heads to the popular tourist destination of the Algarve where the Oceanico Victoria Golf Course plays host.
Gamers have plenty of course form to peruse although it didn’t really point to Andy Sullivan 12 months ago. The Englishman went wire-to-wire and smashed the field by nine shots although previously he hadn’t cracked the top 35 in three previous starts there.
That was Sullivan’s third win of a superb season and his feat was matched by Alex Noren at The Grove last week when the Swede captured the British Masters to make it a hat-trick of wins in 2016.
Noren goes for a fourth this week while Sullivan is back to defend.
Opened in 2004, Oceanico Victoria Golf Club is an Arnold Palmer design where scoring is always low. Flat and exposed rather than tree-lined, there is plenty of room off the tee and the big hitters can happily bomb away with little rough to punish errant drives. Four lakes are in play on seven of the holes and the course measures in at a very gettable 7,146 yards. The par 5s come at 5, 12 and 17 and the large undulating greens are a mix of Bent/Poa.
Past champions, winning scores and stats at Oceanico
2015 Andy Sullivan -23 (DD: 11, DA: 9, GIR: 5, Scr: 1, PA: 4, AA: 1)
2014 Alexander Levy -18 (DD: 40, DA: 11, GIR: 46, Scr: 1, PA: 1, AA: 4)
2013 David Lynn -18 (DD: 67, DA: 70, GIR: 22, Scr: 2, PA: 7, AA: 31)
2012 Shane Lowry -14 (DD: 15, DA: 13, GIR: 13, Scr: 40, PA: 1, AA: 1)
2011 Tom Lewis -21 (DD: 4, DA: 40, GIR: 4, Scr: 2, PA: 33, AA: 2)
2010 Richard Green -18 (DD: 43, DA: 14, GIR: 11, Scr: 59, PA: 20, AA: 23)
2009 Lee Westwood -23 (DD: 12, DA: 7, GIR: 2, Scr: 21, PA: 14, AA: 1)
2008 Alvaro Quiros -19 (DD: 1, DA: 50, GIR: 26, Scr: 3, PA: 12, AA: 3)
2007 Steve Webster -25 (DD: 11, DA: 30, GIR: 13, Scr: 27, PA: 1, AA: 2)
NB: Despite shooting -18 (63-61), Levy’s win was recorded over just 36 holes due to inclement weather.
Six of the nine winners have finished in the top 15 for Driving Distance to back up the idea that the track suits bombers. If you smash it, like to fire at flags and putt well (Thomas Pieters anyone?), that appears to be the perfect recipe for success. Four of the last five winners have been in their 20s.
It’s fair to expect good weather in the Algarve although that wasn’t the case two years ago when rain reduced the event to just 36 holes. We should be set fair this week though. It’s been hot and dry in the build up and the forecast suggests sunny and warm during the tournament although there could be a spot of rain on Sunday. Temperatures are in the mid 70s which is very pleasant although it could get quite windy in the final round.
The Leading Contenders
The big-hitting Belgian looks a dream fit for this course and it’s no surprise to see that he finished T6 here in 2015. PIeters was actually second at halfway after opening 65-66 but couldn’t keep pace with Andy Sullivan (no-one could) on the weekend. After his sensational Ryder Cup debut (he was the event’s top scorer with four points), he didn’t have much in the tank when T50 in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship the following week but gamers have every right to expect a title challenge here.
What a season this has been for the Swede. Victory in the British Masters in England made him the European Tour’s first three-time winner of 2016 and all his victories have come in the 34-year-old’s last eight starts. The former Oklahoma State grad, who now has seven European Tour wins, has course form here too having posted 12-16-6 in the first three editions (2007-9). He’s made three of four cuts since although hasn’t teed it up at Oceanico Victoria since T46 in 2013.
The Englishman lapped the field last year, shooting 64-64-67-66 to post 23-under and win by nine. His finishes at the course previously hadn’t caught the eye although a pair of 66s (R1 and R3) in 2013 offered a hint at what was to come. After a forgettable Ryder Cup (zero points in a heavy loss), he returned to action with T40 in last week’s British Masters. This is his second title defense of 2015 and in his first he missed the cut at the South African Open.
He’ll be in the crosshairs of many managers this week due to a previous win at the course and some sparkling recent form. In the weather-hit event two years ago he carded 63-61 to take the title while in his last four starts on the European Tour the Frenchman has a win (European Open), T4 (last week’s British Masters) and T7 (Italian Open). He has missed two of his three cuts at this venue but, if in form (and he is!), it looks to suit him perfectly.
After a poor year, Fleetwood’s late-season revival continued with a 2016-best T4 in the British Masters at The Grove on Sunday. He’s now connected five top 15 finishes and risen to 45th in the Race to Dubai. The young Englishman is another who should be suited by the course and he’s shown that to some extent with 22-12-26 the last three years. That run included a second-round 64 last year and a R2 65 in 2014.
The veteran Thai has missed just two of the nine editions of this event and can boast five top 25s in his seven starts. Four are actually top 20s although he’s managed just one top 10 (T9 in 2010). A closing 66 in last week’s British Masters gave him T22 and a fourth straight worldwide top 25. A hotter putter should put him somewhere in the mix again.
The previously hot-and-cold Belgian has some admirable consistency in 2016 but since the third of his top three finishes (July’s Scottish Open), he’s been a frustrating figure for gamers. He’s hinted at big weeks but T13 in the European Open last month is his only top 20 in the last nine events. This could be a good week to play him though. Colsaerts shot a first-round 60 in 2014 and was runner-up while he posted T18 (R1 64) and T15 either side.
He hasn’t pegged it up in Portugal since 2011 but Oceanico Victoria has been a good course for the Swede. In just four starts there he’s posted third (2007), fourth (2009) and 11th (2011). His round scores show a 64 and two 65s. He’ll make his first start there in five years on the back of his best result of the season, T4 in last week’s British Masters where he sparkled (64-65) over the middle 36 holes.
The Next Rung
In terms of current form, few can match Horsey right now. For the second time in four starts, the Englishman closed with a 65 on Sunday, the latest to post T12 at the British Masters. That added to form of 11-49-5-4. His putter is hot and that should stand him in good stead for this week’s test. He’ll have to step his course form up, however, having never made the top 40 in five starts in this tournament.
Since ending his long drought for a second European Tour success by winning August’s Paul Lawrie Match Play (it came 431 starts after his first), Wall has kicked on with two top 20s in three starts since. That includes T18 at last week’s British Masters where he opened 67-64. Add that to his third place in this event last year (R2 64) and five other top 25s previously at Oceanico Victoria and he carries plenty of appeal.
No-one hit more greens in regulation than the South African (88.9%) at last week’s British Masters while that was also the case in the Web.com’s Boise Open two starts earlier. His putter isn’t behaving though and he was only T32 and T24 in those two events. Aiken is a perfect 6-for-6 at Oceanico Victoria and five of those were T27 or better. His peak was T12 in the rain-shortened event in 2014.
After his injury-hampered season, the Scot say he’s just happy to be playing decent golf again and getting through it without any further complications. Gallacher closed with twin 68s to post T38 in his home Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and then fired two 66s and two 69s for T12 in last week’s British Masters. This looks a great venue for him to shine again as he boasts form of 9-3-6 on his last three visits.
The form may be a little old but the Swede is definitely one of the field’s course horses. In five starts at this venue he’s twice finished runner-up (2007 and 2010) and also taken third in 2008. He also occupied third in the Porsche European Open last month so, despite missing the cut at The Grove last week, he has the form to make an impression.
With three top 25s in his last four starts, including fifth at the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, Warren has climbed to 68th in the Race to Dubai. However, that still leaves him short of the top 60 who will contest the season closer so he’ll want to push on again here even though he’s never made the top 20 despite playing in all nine editions of this event. He’ll be disappointed not to have finished higher than T22 at The Grove last week after opening with a 65.
He was 6-for-6 at Oceanico Victoria until missing the cut last year. The Spaniard’s highlights are T8 in 2013 thanks mainly to a Saturday 64 and T11 in 2011 when he rounded off with a 65. On his day, he’s hard to stop and there are signs he could be lining up another big week after closing 66-69 to take T25 in the Alfred Dunhill Links and shooting four rounds in the 60s at last week’s British Masters. A cold putter is the concern.
The Spaniard has been a regular at this event but the short trips over the border to Portugal haven’t reaped much reward. He missed three of his first four cuts and despite being 4-for-4 since 2012 he’s not managed a top 40 in that run. After recent top 10s in the KLM Open and Italian Open he had to settle for T44 in the British Masters although 68-69-67 over the final 54 holes should give him some momentum.
Campillo is a healthy 43rd on the Race to Dubai after his strongest season so far on the European Tour. He registered a 10th top 20 of the campaign with T18 in last week’s British Masters so in terms of consistency he’s been very, very reliable. The downside is his failure to land a really big pay-day (he has only one top five finish) although this could be the place for another given that he posted T6 here last year.
With form figures of 22-4-26 on his three starts in this event, the young Frenchman will expect a good week. Looking closer at his scores, he fired a 64 in round two in 2014 and signed off with a 65 last year. After a good week in Scotland (T18 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship), he was well off the pace at The British Masters (77-74) but, sitting at a healthy 44th in the Race to Dubai, this will be a pressure-free week.
It’s now three straight missed cuts for the three-time major winner who had previously shown some encouraging signs in the final two majors of the season (T36 Open Championship, T13 PGA). On a more positive note he’s 5-for-5 at this venue and shot a second-round 62 when third on debut in 2009. He added T16 in both 2011 and 2012 before posting three 70s and a Sunday 69 to take T31 last year. He’s 100/1 with the bookies so deserves to be in the ‘sleeper’ category.
A runner-up in the China Open earlier this year, Aguilar’s main appeal is that he’s twice finished third at this course (2011 and 2014). He’ll have to shake off some poor recent form (he’s cashed just twice in six starts) but could make a mark again.
Another on offer at a three-figure price with the UK bookies, Jamieson could make a mockery of those odds. He has two top 10s in his last five starts and was on target to add another at last week’s British Masters before sliding from T4th at halfway to T28 at the finish. His course form is very interesting too with 12-13-7 from 2012-14.
At 117th on the Race to Dubai, the Finn needs a good week to crack the top 110 and he has some confidence to draw upon. Three 69s and a Sunday 66 lifted the Finn into T9 on his course debut 12 months ago and after starting a run of four cuts in five with T10 in the KLM Open he could be ready to flourish again.
The Scot occupies the 110th and final slot on the Race to Dubai so is once again sweating on his future. This last-chance saloon is one he’s enjoyed drinking in before though. Last year he birdied the final two holes to post T6 and that moved him from 120th to 104th ahead of the final event in Hong Kong. He’ll return there having made his last three cuts, including top 25s in the European Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
One of the former course winners in the field, the Aussie won this event in 2010 after finishing with a flying 65. He’s added top 20s in 2013 and 2015 so really does play the course well. Green has missed his last two cuts but could be worth look given that he was T13 (European Open) and T16 (Italian Open) before that.
The local hero has to be worth a mention and he obviously knows the course very well. He’s played his home event for the last two years, finishing T58 in the rain-hit event in 2014 and improving to T31 last year. With his card safely locked up (95th on the Race to Dubai), he should have a free swing at this even though he’s cooled off since T8 in Denmark with three missed cuts out of four.
By contrast, the pressure is heavily on Pepperell, who sits one spot outside the top 110. He’d have been several spots higher but for making bogey at the 72nd hole in the British Masters but they are the fine margins. His T22 represented just a second top 25 since May but a final-round 64 when T26 in this event in 2013 bodes well.
The Englishman was fourth in the Paul Lawrie Match Play and has made five of his last six cuts but is still only 115th on the Race to Dubai. He’s also 5-for-6 at this week’s course with a best of T12 in 2009 and will need something similar.
Who’s On The Team?
Thomas Pieters, if he’s come down from his Ryder Cup high, looks ideal for this course and showed as much last year.
At bigger odds, Scott Jamieson has an interesting mix of course and current form.
I’ll reveal my full six-man team for the official European Tour fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
Hmmm. Dare we say Andy Sullivan after he missed the cut on his last attempt at defending a title?