The globetrotting European Tour heads from China to North Africa this week for the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco.
Established in 1971, this was the event which had become known in recent years for taking place inside the Royal Palace walls in Agadir. The king used to come to the gates at the Golf du Palais Royal with his key and let the players in.
However, this year it moves back to Royal Golf Dar Es Salam which hosted the event for the first and only time in 2010 so we have very little course form to go on.
It’s not helped by the fact that no stats were recorded by the European Tour in that event six years ago although the winning score of -25 does tell us that it was a real birdie-fest.
This is the 43rd edition of the tournament and the seventh with official European Tour status.
2010 Top 5 at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam
-25 Rhys Davies (Wales)
-23 Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa)
-18 Thomas Aiken (South Africa)
-18 Ignacio Garrido (Spain)
-18 Mikko Ilonen (Finland)
-18 Thomas Levet (France)
Note, the first two rounds were played as a pro-am and the shorter Blue Course was used for one of the opening two laps.
Winners at Golf du Palais Royal (2011-2015)
2015 -10 Richie Ramsay (Scotland)
2014 -19 Alejandro Canizares (Spain)
2013 -17 Marcel Siem (Germany)
2012 -17 Michael Hoey (Northern Ireland)
2011 -13 David Horsey (England)
The Course – Royal Golf Dar Es Salam
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 runner-up, said the weather reminded him of South Africa but perhaps it was more the Kikuyu grass which features on the fairways, tees and rough at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat. Another South African, Thomas Aiken, was T3 so perhaps there’s something in that. A fairly flat course, water is in play on holes 9, 12 and 17. The green at the par three 9th hole is surrounded by water. It’s a 35-37 front 9/back 9 split due to par 5s at 10 (524 yards), 12 (555 yards) and 18 (573 yards).
The expectation in this part of the world would be four days of sunshine but it doesn’t appear to be that simple. Rain is in the forecast on all four days although hopefully just showers rather than a deluge. Temperatures drop to the early 70s for tournament week while the wind is set to pick up for Sunday’s final round with gusts possibly going over 20mph.
The Leading Contenders
Levy jets to Morocco on the back of T4 and T28 in China. He’ll feel he could have done even better, especially in that first event at the Shenzhen International when he held a share of the lead with just half-a-dozen holes to play. This is his first look at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam although he has played this event for the last three years at Royal Golf du Palais, posting MC-35-37. Having finished T28 or better in five of his last six starts, he’ll be a popular pick but there were reports in China that he was feeling fatigued.
The 2014 winner is one of the favorites to win it again after a strong start to 2016. He’s banked top 10s in Abu Dhabi (T5) and Dubai (T8) and also made the top 15 at the Indian Open (T15) and Open de Espana (T11) on his last two starts. He did play at this event in 2010 but finished in T43 after following an opening 67 with three 73s. As well as capturing this title at Golf du Palais Royal two years ago, the Spaniard has made four of his other five cuts in the event.
‘Beef’ makes his first start since scoring his breakthrough win with a gutsy one-shot triumph at the Open de Espana. He triumphed at Valderrama with 1-over so the contrast here is likely to be noticeable given that Rhys Davies shot 25-under to win back in 2010. Johnston also has a fourth in Qatar and top 25s in Perth and Joburg to his name this year so his victory in Spain hardly came out of the blue.
The experienced Frenchman has actually played two events at this course, having contested the 2003 Morocco Classic (MC) before returning in 2010 to post T34 (T16 with a round to go). ‘Consistent’ would appear to be a fair summation of his recent play as Bourdy has finished between T19 and T35 in his last four starts. The latest was T21 in the Volvo China Open last week where he ranked 4th for greens in regulation.
After T13 and T39 in the two events in China, Quesne will want to step it up here in what is undeniably a weak field. He played this venue in 2010, finishing T43, while he was T24, T9 and T37 in the three editions he took part in at Golf du Palais Royal so he’s cashed every time in this event. His putter was hot in China and that could be useful if this turns into another birdie-fest.
Another of the Gallic contingent who will enjoy being able to converse in his native tongue in Morocco where French is one of the two main languages. Following a trio of missed cuts, Wattel got some of his mojo back in China and followed a T31 at the Shenzhen with a T15 in the Volvo China Open after closing 66-69-67. Despite missing the cut on his first three starts in this event (2012-2014), he finished runner-up at Golf du Palais Royal last year so will hope to go one better on his first look at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam.
With Louis Oosthuizen runner-up and Thomas Aiken T3 in 2010, perhaps Burmester will be another South African to enjoy the Kikuyu grass. He missed the cut in China last week (68-75) but that was a rare blip and it could pay to keep the faith with a player who has been a leaderboard staple for most of 2016 on his home Sunshine Tour. This is his first start anywhere in Morocco.
Rock is the only player high in the betting who boasts a previous top 10 at this venue so his shortish odds are merited. That came via T7 in 2010 when he shot twin 67s in rounds two and three. The Englishman also made his last two cuts at Golf du Palais Royal (T34, T33) and, before a halfway victim of the ultra-tough conditions at Valderrama, had posted a solid run of results: 15-33-20-26-12. Looks close to a big week.
The young Irish rookie makes his first start on Moroccan soil but he’s adapted well to new venues this year, positing T9 at Joburg in South Africa, T13 at Torrey Pines in California and T16 at Valderrama in Spain. He was also going nicely for three rounds of the Shenzhen International in China last time out before dropping from 6th at halfway and 9th after 54 holes to T31 after a closing 76.
Yet another Frenchman who could be part of the conversation this week. Hebert already has a third and a T7 to his name this season and shot four solid rounds when T21 in last week’s Volvo China Open. His greens in regulation numbers are particularly strong and he sits fifth in that category on the season-long stats (highest in the field this week). Hebert played in the 2012 and 2015 editions of this event at Golf du Palais Royal and finished T36 and T27 respectively.
The Next Rung
Wang came badly unstuck in the Volvo China Open (78-78) but before that had produced five top 10s in seven worldwide starts including a share of second in the European Tour’s co-sanctioned Indian Open. A 20-year-old Asian player (Hao Tong Li) won in China on Sunday so perhaps the 20-year-old Wang can make a big impression here too.
After T10 in his home Indian Open at the end of March, Kapur re-emerged on the Japan Tour a fortnight ago and took fifth place in the Panasonic Open. On pure current form, he’s worth a look and it’s also worth noting that he made the cut at this week’s venue in 2010 (T52). Kapur was T17 in the 2014 Moroccan Open at Golf du Palais Royal so there are a few roads leading to him this week.
While several of his countrymen have decent claims this week, Havret could well be the one to invest in. He has course form via T31 in the 2001 Moroccan Open and T15 in this event in 2010. Adding to that is current form which shows three top 15s in his last five starts, the latest a T13 in China last week. Hits a bunch of fairways and has decent GIR figures too.
He’s not been pulling up any trees but Pepperell is 4-for-5 this season and has too much talent to be quiet for long. A low-grade event like this could be a good opportunity for him to kick on and, although it came at a different venue, he played nicely to finish T17 in this tournament last year so should have some good memories of Morocco.
The Englishman is probably one of those lamenting the venue switch as he had some imperious form at Golf du Palais Royal with a win (2011), a second (2013) and three other top 20s in five starts. That said, he did still take T29 at this week’s venue in 2010 so is 7-for-7 overall in tournaments in Morocco. The concern for managers is that he’s played just once since T14 in mid-February’s Tshwane Open and that was a missed cut in the Open de Espana.
Sparked by T7 in January’s Joburg Open, the Swede enjoyed a run of five top 20s in six starts before he quietened with MC-48 on the two-week China Swing. He did though post a Saturday 65 in last week’s Volvo China Open, his midfield finish a result of shooting 10 shots higher on the final lap. He’s played just one event in Morocco, missing the cut at Golf du Palais Royal two years ago.
It’s still hard to rely on Quiros even though he occasionally flickers back to life. He certainly did that when taking fourth place in February’s Dubai Desert Classic but since then the big-hitting Spaniard has missed three cuts out of five, the latest in last week’s Volvo China Open. He did manage T24 in the Shenzhen prior to that but he can’t add any Morocco form to the mix (missed cuts in both his starts in this event).
After hanging on to make the cut at Valderrama (T64), Benson played all eight rounds in China, posting T19 in the Shenzhen and T39 in the Volvo China Open. Like compatriot David Horsey, he may wish the tournament was still being played at Golf du Palais Royal. Benson was third there in 2014 and T17 in 2015 while he missed the cut here at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in 2010.
By contrast, Davies will be delighted to see the tournament return to Royal Golf Dar Es Salam given that he won the event there in 2010 after shooting 68-64-68-66. Could it inspire him again? In truth, he needs it to after a poor run on this year’s Race to Dubai. The Welshman has pegged it up 11 times and although he’s cashed more often than not (6 v 5), T25 in Thailand and T28 in Joburg are the only places where he’s cracked the top 40.
Are there finally some reliable signs that the young Italian is on the way back after an alarming slump? A T24 in the Shenzhen International was certainly encouraging but he missed the cut in the Volvo China Open the following week after wasting an opening 69 with a cut-missing 76. He’s still without a top 20 in over a year so it’s a brave move to get him on board just yet.
If you’re looking for a sleeper based on course form, Lawrie fits the bill having finished runner-up in a Challenge Tour event at Dar Es Salam in 2002 and then posted T10 in this event in 2010. We’ve seen him just twice in 2016 although he did make the cut (T53) at Valderrama last time.
Who’s On The Team?
A number of French players stand out this week and there are five in the front eight of the betting.
It’s actually one outside of that quintet, Gregory Havret, that quite takes my eye so he’ll part of my six-man team which I’ll reveal in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
South Africans did well here last time (did they feel at home on the Kikuyu grass?) so Dean Burmester is also pushing for a place.
One To Swerve
David Horsey would have been an automatic pick at Golf du Palais Royal (has a win and a second there) but the switch to this week’s venue is enough to knock him off the team.