For the second straight season, the Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam hosts the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco.
However, this is a new slot for the event which was held in May last year and previously in March when Golf du Palais Royal staged the tournament from 2011-2015.
In a tough week for scoring, which included strong winds on the final day, the two players had finished regulation play tied at 5-under.
Fresh from his Masters debut, Wang returns to defend while Elvira is back again to try and go one better.
South African Dean Burmester, a winner at the Tshwane Open in early March, tops the betting at around the 12/1 mark.
2016 stats at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam
Amazingly, if not surprisingly, the European Tour didn’t actually record any stats for the winner last year.
-5 Jeunghun Wang (N/A)
-5 Nacho Elvira (DD: 17, DA: 39, GIR: 28, Scr: 17, PA: 2)
-4 Robert Rock (DD: 31, DA: 33, GIR: 28, Scr: 3, PA: 3)
-4 Clement Berardo (DD: 4, DA: 58, GIR: 2, Scr: 20, PA: 33)
-3 Nino Bertasio (DD: 58, DA: 39, GIR: 33, Scr: 1, PA: 9)
-3 Chris Hanson (DD: 12, DA: 20, GIR: 33, Scr: 14, PA: 9)
Notes: It’s only one year of evidence but putting certainly looked the most important stat in 2016. Anyone who watched Wang at the finish will testify to that. As well as his 18ft effort to reach the playoff, he drained a 50-footer for birdie at the first extra hole to stay alive and then a 20-foot putt to win.
Opened in 1971, this Robert Trent Jones par 72 measures 7,615 yards and features Kikuyu grass on the fairways, tees and rough. The greens are listed as Agrostis Pencross and Poa. It’s a fairly flat course, with water in play on holes 9, 12 and 17. The green at the 9th hole is surrounded by water and it’s one of three par 3s which play over 200 yards from the tips. It’s a 35-37 front 9/back 9 split due to par 5s at 10 (523 yards), 12 (559 yards) and 18 (575 yards).
Sunshine and warm temperatures are constant throughout the week in Rabat with the mercury levels in the mid-70s and possibly a little higher on the weekend. There is some wind for the first three days but it could get gusty on Sunday.
The Leading Contenders
The big-hitting South African is top seven in both the European Tour’s putting stats so he can cash in on those monster drives. He made the big breakthrough with his first win at this level last month and it came as no surprise after 4-7-41-11 in his previous four starts. Burmester was also T14 at this venue last year so it’s easy to see why the bookies make him favourite.
Like Burmester, Luiten also has course form although his T14 came back in 2010. His four rounds seven years ago included a 65 on Friday. Luiten has been mixing it with the elite in recent weeks with a useful T25 in the WGC-Mexico Championship and a group stage exit in the WGC-Dell Match Play. As the European Tour has been dormant, in terms of rank-and-file events, over the last month, it will give the Dutchman a sharpness edge over most of these rivals.
The South African youngster had to settle for T67 in the WGC-Mexico Championship but prior to that was T4 in the Joburg Open and T7 in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Earlier in this wraparound season he secured a second European Tour win when landing the Alfred Dunhill Championship. Like all of his compatriots this week, he should feel familiar with the Kikuya grass when he makes the trip from Southern to Northern Africa.
Fuelled by his win here last year (71-68-74-70), Wang is now a three-time champ on the European Tour and getting into all the big events. While most of his colleagues have been waiting for the regular events to start up again, Wang has been away finishing T23 at Bay Hill, playing in the WGC-Dell Match Play (group stage exit) and making a debut at the Masters. A pair of 78s at Augusta National showed he found that too much but back at Dar Es Salam he could be the man to beat again. 5th in Putts per Round this season.
The rookie slots in at 35th on the Race to Dubai in a very consistent campaign so far which shows solo third in the South African Open, T6 in Qatar and three other top 25s. There’s no outstanding stat when checking his profile other than he knows how to get the ball in the hole (27th Stroke Average). This is his first start in Morocco.
He was one of the players who didn’t want the season to take a mini break for dark weeks/WGC/Masters as he has some great momentum. From February through to March, Morrison posted T23, T12, T4 and T6 in events in Qatar, Malaysia and South Africa (2). His stats improve the closer he gets to the hole and that makes him a good fit here on his course debut. Previously T23 in the event at Golf du Palais Royal.
Jaco van Zyl
Another of the South African contingent and this is yet another chance to get that first win. So far it’s 154 starts and five second places, the latest coming in Qatar at the end of January. He performed poorly in three events after that so will hope the break has done him good. Van Zyl didn’t play at this week’s course last time but was third (another near miss!) in this event at Golf du Palais Royal in 2015.
You think the Spaniard might be inspired? Try his two tweets on Monday. “To wake up realizing it wasn’t a dream. That @TheSergioGarcia is a major champion, he is the 2017 Masters champion.” Followed by, “After 8 weeks without playing a @EuropeanTour event. Is time to go to Morocco with all Sergio’s spirit.. all about believing.” Larrazabal was only T49 at this event last year but note his third (2015) and fourth (2013) in this event at Golf du Palais Royal. Runner-up in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, he should be pumped for this.
The former Ryder Cupper has actually played here several times, taking T19 in this event in 2010 and also recording a fourth place in the 2001 Moroccan Open. After injury troubles, he’s been finding his feet again this year and has a couple of top 10s (Aussie PGA and Dubai Desert Classic). T29 at the Indian Open on his last start a month ago.
he Next Rung
Another South African prominent in the betting and fancied to enjoy himself after making the short hop north to Morocco. Sterne played at this venue way back in a European Challenge Tour event and came T12 while earlier this season he was runner-up in the Alfred Dunhill Championship. He was way down in T72 at the WGC-Mexico Championship but did at least improve on the weekend with a pair of 72s.
Yes, he’s from South Africa! Frittelli was T16 (Joburg) and T12 (Tshwane Open) when the European Tour visited his homeland recently and he followed that with T29 on the quirky layout at the Indian Open. He smashes it a long way but will need to get the putter hotter on this track where he took T31 last year.
Like all the French players, he’ll enjoy speaking his native tongue in Morocco, something pointed out by compatriot Mike Lorenzo-Vera in a special blog for this event last year. Levy is 3-for-4 in this tournament, including T34 at this course last year. We last saw him shooting all four rounds in the 60s when fourth at February’s Maybank Championship but does he do as well on tougher layouts? His three Euro Tour events were won with -19, -18 and -19.
It’s been a slow process but Manassero really does look as if he’s worthy of gamers’ attention again. After a few false starts, he’s now made six of his last seven cuts, connected two top 20s and landed T3 at the Indian Open on his last start. He’s hitting far more greens of late (18th this season) but the putter could do with warming up. The Italian was T22 here last year so likes the test.
Another Spaniard who took to twitter to hail Sergio’s Masters heroics. Campillo didn’t play at Dar Es Salam last year but was 34-11-24 in his three starts at Golf du Palais Royal. He’s banked four top 25s in seven starts this season with a peak of T2 at the Tshwane Open. The sort of event which could bring him a first European Tour success.
It’s never easy to predict what Victor may do next but, as a general rule, he’s more likely to shine when the engine has been running and he’s found some rhythm. It’s a concern, therefore, that he’s not played since a WD in the Maybank Malaysia two months ago. Class is permanent and all that but it’s a brave decision to support him on his tournament debut.
Another hugely talented Frenchman, the 21-year-old is 7-for-7 this season and hasn’t finished worse than T39. That run includes two top 20s (both in South Africa) in his last three starts. Enthusiasm is tempered by some decidedly average putting stats but it’s hard to think he can’t shine in a modest field like this. Course debut.
The Englishman was 2-8-17 at Golf du Palais Royal so probably wishes the tournament was back at its former venue, especially as he shot 78-76 to miss the cut here last year. He did manage T29 at Dar Es Salam in 2010 which paints a brighter picture, as does T8 in the Indian Open on his last start. That ended a run of 56-MC-MC-MC so he’ll hope he can find more momentum this week.
Seventh on the Road to Oman last year to gain promotion, the Swede has settled in quickly at this level. He’s cashed in all seven starts and reeled off four top 20s, the best of those solo fifth in the Tshwane Open on his latest outing. He’s 6th in Stroke Average, 19th for Greens In Regulation and 32nd in Putts Per GIR ahead of teeing it up in Morocco for the first time.
He’s not had a top 25 this season in eight starts (okay, T26 at the Maybank in Malaysia was close) but Rock is a course horse with T3 last year after 74-70-70-70 and also T7 in 2010 when firing twin 67s on Friday and Saturday. An obvious place for him to shine again.
Like Rock, he made the top five here last year. Like Rock, he’s yet to have a top 25 in 2017. He’s been starting well (67, 72, 65, 69, 67 his last five openers) but can’t turn those Thursday scores into anything special. The Italian has made five of his last six cuts so this is perhaps his chance to string four good rounds together.
It’s a surprise to see the youngster so far down the betting (150/1) even though he’s missed five of eight cuts. T20 in the Maybank four starts ago and T10 at this course last year so not without hope.
Fisher threw in a 62 in his last tournament, early March’s Tshwane Open where he took T18. Add that to T22 at this track in 2016 and a top 15 at the other venue in 2013 and he has a little bit of course, current and location form.
Another Spaniard who could just benefit from ‘The Sergio effect’. Otaegui has made five of seven cuts this season and was T22 at Dar Es Salam last year. Needs a spark after failing to register a top 50 since November.
Despite an opening 77, the Welshman scraped through to the weekend here last year although ending up in T63. He catches the attention due to T2 in the Joburg Open at the end of February and high rankings in the putting stats.
If putting is key this week, the 26-year-old Swede could come to the fore. He’s 11th in Putting Average and in fair form after T23 in Joburg on his last European Tour appearance and T37 in the SA Open two starts previous.
Who’s On The Team?
Last year, performance on the greens here stood out as a key pointer to success so I want players who can wield the flatstick with confidence.
James Morrison was playing nicely in lower key events before a break so he too makes a strong case for inclusion.
I’ll include my full six-man line-up for the European Tour’s official Fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
I never like Victor Dubuisson when he comes in cold.