Just three weeks to go in the European Tour’s 2019 Race to Dubai and if the DP World Tour Championship is like the final straight, and next week’s Nedbank Challenge the final bend, this week’s Turkish Airlines Open resembles the back straight.
After three years at Carya the tournament returns to its original venue. It’s the same golfing resort town of Belek, but a short way along the coast to the Montgomerie Maxx Royal.
As the name suggests the track was designed by Colin Montgomerie and when it hosted between 2013 and 2015 it was notable for being a course Victor Dubuisson adored – in fact he won both the first and third editions.
The field is good without being entirely stellar. Justin Rose is looking for a three-peat, Shane Lowry seeks to regain top spot in the rankings, Bernd Wiesberger will aim to hold him off and those ranked outside the top 40 will be looking for solid weeks – only the top 50 after next week progress to the Dubai finale.
The card (par-72 at 7,132-yards) is a little quirky, featuring three par-3s and two par-5s on the front nine, then two par-3s and three par-5s on the way home. Not only are there, therefore, just the ten par-4s, but on the back nine three of them are short ones, the tenth is 362-yards, the 15th 337-yards and the 17th 392-yards. The land features sandy ridges and pine forest, but the trees frame holes rather than interfere with play. Montgomerie designed the track alongside the European Golf Design team and three of their other projects have hosted the Tour – The Dutch held the KLM Open for three years from 2016, the Royal in Bahrain the 2011 Volvo Champions and Carton House three Irish Opens (2005, 2006, 2013).
Past winners, scores and stats
2015 -22 Victor Dubuisson (DD: 25, DA: 37, GIR: 37, Scr: 11, PA: 2, AR: 8)
2014 -17 Brooks Koepka (DD: 3, DA: 48, GIR: 5, Scr: 37, PA: 12, AR: 4)
2013 -24 Victor Dubuisson (DD: 15, DA: 52, GIR: 5, Scr: 2, PA: 13, AR: 3)
Notes: As Richard Bland noted (see below) conditions were tougher in 2014. That is reflected above and beyond the stats of the winners. In 2013 and 2015 the top finishers tended to have hot putters, but that wasn’t the case in 2014.
Chris Wood (2015): "We said the first couple of days' practice, it's not just a bomber's course. The fairways are reasonably generous, but you still need to hit in position."
Jaco Van Zyl (2015): "Greens are really good but there's a lot of grain. You hit fairways and greens, it seems very easy. But as soon as you're a little bit off, you're going to get busy."
Richard Bland (2015): "It's set up a lot different from last year. I think the preparations of the course are different, last year we played brutal rough. You missed the fairway and you were hacking it out sideways. Now, you can kind of get away with it a little bit more. So you would expect the scoring to be lower."
Temperatures around 80 and during the first three days little but sunshine. On Sunday, however, there is a chance of rain. No significant wind is forecast.
The Leading Contenders
It’s been a strange period for the Englishman, making just two top tens, and not one top five, in nine starts since he was T3 in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He was T28 last week in China, but his Italian Open effort says much about his current form: a R3 78 followed by a R4 64. He was third on the course in 2013 and is, of course, seeking a hat-trick of wins in the tournament.
Last week he closed with two 69s and a 66 after opening with a 72, for T8 in the WGC-HSBC Champions. It was his 11th top 25 in 13 starts and fifth top ten. He is 21-for-25 in regular European Tour events (and missed his first two cuts). He also has nine top 30s in his last 12 such events. This week will be his debut in the tournament and in the country.
The feisty Englishman is in a nice trot of form that might be ready to take a step up in levels. He was T15 in the Dunhill Links, T18 at the Italian Open, T6 in the CJ Cup and then finished 68-65 to claim T14 last week in China. He has finished T19 and T26 at the course and T10-T16 in his last two tournament outings.
The Austrian lumbered to T49 in last week’s World Golf Championship event, something of a theme in his career because he’s yet to fully fire at that level or in the majors. However, he continues to pile on the wins at European Tour level, the latest the Italian Open. He was T7 at the course in 2013, but added T52-T50 afterward.
He made top 20s in the BMW PGA Championship, Dunhill Links and Zozo Championship, each time after poor first rounds. But in the Italian Open he missed the cut and was T43 last week in China. His course form is going in the right direction (44-25-8) and he has finished T8-T14 in the last two years at Carya.
The Englishman endured a disastrous second round last week in Shanghai, scoring 84 after opening with a 69. He recovered to close 70-69. That suggests that the form which saw him finish top ten in both the Italian Open and Portugal Masters is not yet done with. He’s not played the course before, but has three tournament starts however he is yet to land a top 20.
A brilliant rookie campaign has not slowed down for the Scottish leftie. Top 30s in the BMW PGA Championship and Dunhill Links have been followed by T4 in the Italian Open and then T17 last week in his WGC debut at Sheshan International. He’s never played the tournament or course, but he was T42 in a Challenge Tour event in Turkey last year.
Is there a touch of fatigue creeping in for the South African? He checked off six top 20s on the bounce through July, August and September, including a first ET win, but since then he has made T10 in the Italian Open, but missed cuts at the Dunhill Links and Open de France, then managed only T38 last week in China.
The Italian has put up decent defenses of his Open and BMW PGA Championship titles in the latter half of the year (T11 and T14), but otherwise, he has struggled, not logging another top 20. He had to fight for T22 last week in China after opening with a 74 and now returns to a course where he finished T25 in both 2013 and 2014.
The Belgian didn’t play last week in China which may be some benefit in terms of travel over the next three weeks. He missed three cuts on the bounce in early summer but since then has played nine weekends in a row. He was T26 on the course in 2015 and has finished top 20 in the tournament the last two years.