The European Tour’s three-tournament Final Series starts this week with the Turkish Airlines Open.
The leading 70 players on the Race to Dubai are all exempt although there are some glaring gaps.
Is a rethink required if this really does want to be the Tour’s equivalent of the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup Playoffs, a far from perfect conclusion itself?
Or is this just a very current, localised problem after McIlroy and Patrick Reed pulled out late, the Northern Irishman saying “I think it’s obvious” following recent car bombings and rocket attacks on the resort city of Antalya where the tournament takes please.
The field, which is boosted to 78 players by going further down the rankings, will have to tackle a new course this week as the tournament switches from the Montgomerie Maxx to the Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort.
That’s not good news for Victor Dubuisson, who won two of the three editions at the former venue, the inaugural tournament in 2013 and last year’s shootout after a birdie-birdie finish.
Previous winners and top 5 finishers – all at the Montgomerie Maxx
The Course – Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort
Here’s what the official tournament site says: “Nestled on an immaculate white sand beach overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort is an unparalleled private resort paradise in Belek-Antalya.” Turkey’s “first heathland inspired golf course” is set on undulating sand hills and inspired by the classic heathland courses found in the UK. The par 72 measures 7,127 yards from the championship tees and the holes flow through a pine forest. “Just like the traditional heathland courses, a tactical approach is required, and finding the correct side of the fairway from which to attack the green is often more important than distance off the tee,” we’re informed. The greens are described as large, undulating and fast while many have multiple plateaus.
Note: The course staged a Challenge Tour event in 2010. It was won in 11-under by England’s Charlie Ford while there were two familiar names in the top 10 – Branden Grace (not playing) and Bernd Wiesberger.
The first edition of this event was hit by heavy rain and t-storms but the forecast is for sunshine all week. Some cloud may mask it on occasion but temperatures are in the 70s all week and winds are fairly modest.
The Leading Contenders
Wiesberger knows this week’s course having finished T8 when it staged the Turkish Airlines Challenge six years ago. His score of -6 (69-70-70-73) was five shy of the play-off. Fast forward to the present and the Austrian has four top seven finishes from his last five starts although his latest outing only resulted in T35 at the WGC-HSBC Champions after his putter went cold again.
Following some patchy form and a poor Ryder Cup, Sullivan got back to his smiling best with second place in defense of his Portugal Masters title. That included a second-round 61 and a closing 65 while his greens in reg figures were 90.3% (1st). The Englishman played in two of the Turkish Airlines Opens at the Montgomerie Maxx, finishing down the field last year but posting T4 after three excellent rounds and a poor one in 2014.
Hatton has backed up his breakthrough first win at the money-spinning Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with T9 in the British Masters and T23 at the WGC-HSBC Champions. He also showed his liking for the big events with T5 (Open) and T10 (PGA) in the year’s final two majors. At No. 5 on the Race to Dubai, he’s the second highest ranked player taking part. His previous experience in this event shows T26 and T19 at the former venue.
Only 45th on this year’s Race to Dubai after previous finishes of 24-19-26, at least Fleetwood has done his best work in the second half of the season. In fact, narrow it done further to the last couple of months following two top 10s and three further top 15s. Despite the odd good round, he couldn’t finish higher than T32 on three starts at the Montgomerie Maxx so he’ll be one of those in the field quite happy to be tackling a new course.
The Korean just hasn’t been able to get anything going in the last two weeks, finishing mid-division at the PGA TOUR’s CIMB Classic (T39) and way down the field (T63) in the WGC-HSBC Champions. However, he did post a European Tour top three at the KLM Open in September and finished T4 in this event last year at the Montgomerie Maxx.
After losing top spot to Henrik Stenson, Willett has an immediate chance to return to the head of the Race to Dubai standings in the Swede’s absence. However, since his forgettable Ryder Cup debut, the Masters champion’s seven rounds read 73-73-76-74-78-75-75. That equates to a missed cut at the Alfred Dunhill and 75th in the WGC-HSBC. He pulled out of the British Masters with a bad back in between so gamers need to tread carefully despite his incentive and previous event form of 11-4-63.
The Englishman put his Ryder Cup nightmare behind him with a fine third place at the British Masters and also had three good rounds in China last week, a Saturday 77 meaning he had to settle for T29 at the WGC-HSBC Champions. Westwood took part in all three runnings of this event when it was held at the Montgomerie Maxx and had form figures of 29-8-11. The heathland style of this week’s track should certainly be familiar to him.
One of the form players in the field after following up a second place on the Asian Tour’s Macau Open with T3 in the PGA TOUR’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia. His putter has been red hot in both events so that must make him a danger to everyone. The only ever Indian player to have a top five in a major (last year’s PGA Championship), this will be his first start in Turkey.
Levy cracked the top 20 in both his starts at the Montgomerie Maxx (T18 last year after opening 69-65 and T11 in 2014) so has some decent memories of this event. After a difficult season, he really found a groove through September and October, registering a win at the European Open, T4 at the British Masters and T7 at the Italian Open. He cooled in China last week, ending T58 at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
With three top 10s in his last nine starts and six overall this season, the Dane has worked his way up to 19th in the Race to Dubai. A slow start at the WGC-HSBC meant a closing 68 was only good enough for T40 but he should enjoy this week’s strategic test. Kjeldsen returns to tournament in which he posted T11 at the Montgomerie Maxx last year.
The Next Rung
Jaidee, ranked 20th on the Race to Dubai, has connected five worldwide top 30s now after just doing enough to keep that streak going with T30 in China last week. A winner at the Open de France in July, he’s played in all three editions of this event although without much success. Despite shooting in the 60s in his first two rounds each time, he’s not posted a top 20 (26-36-29). He’ll hope the switch in venue will make a difference.
Another who should enjoy a strategic test on a course with nods to English heathland layouts. ‘Beef’ posted a top 10 in this event last year and arrives back as one of golf’s newest cult heroes. And, of course, he can play a bit too. A winner in ultra-tough conditions at Valderrama earlier this year, he also secured a PGA TOUR card after a top four finish at the Web.com’s Boise Open in September.
For 36 holes, Bland’s superb run of consistency (six top 20s, three of those top 10s) looked set to continue in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China last week but after twin 68s put him in the top five at halfway he fell back to T30. Still, this remains the season of his life and the experienced Englishman should be confident of improving on the T16 he posted in this event last year.
The South African carded a 65 in both the editions of this event he took part in on the Montgomerie Maxx but couldn’t surround them with other good laps and finished T36 and T60 respectively. Also T60 in China last week, Sterne had headed to the WGC-HSBC with a T9 at the British Masters and a T2 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship under his belt. Wind further back and he has five top 15s in his last 11 European Tour starts.
Another in this week’s field who has found his best golf over the last few months. Horsey began his late-season push by connecting top fives in the KLM Open and Italian Open and has since added T11 at the Alfred Dunhill, T12 at the British Masters and T22 in Portugal. All that has taken him to 53rd on the Race to Dubai when it looked as if he had little chance of making it to the season-ender in Dubai (top 60). Horsey didn’t beat T36 in three starts at the Montgomerie Maxx.
The Scot hung up a 65 on his final lap at the Montgomerie Maxx to take T7 in this event in 2013 but it’s his current renaissance that will be most attractive to gamers. Warren landed a serious purse when making the top five in his home Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and he’s followed it with T22 and T12 since. Also T20 in Italy in September, he could represent value to gamers/bettors.
The big Thai has slipped down the world rankings to 74th after peaking at 37th following a top 15 at Augusta National but that’s not to say his form has totally fallen away. He secured top fives in the BMW International Open and The Olympics and added T12 in the British Masters on his latest start after a Sunday 65. Adding to his appeal is third place in this tournament last year.
The Aussie leads the Asian Tour of Merit despite making the European Tour his home now. He’s been making a splash since the start of September, a second place at the European Masters triggering a run of four top 10s in eight starts. Three were top fours. Despite his big hitting, he can still flourish on different layouts so don’t rule out a big show in his first start in the event.
There are flashes from the Belgian (a third-round 63 in Portugal the latest) but he’s managed only one top 20 in his last eight starts (T13 at the 54-hole European Open in Germany). He hit 83.3% of greens in regulation at the Portugal Masters but poor putting meant he could only deliver T50th. That’s the same position he occupied on his debut in this event in 2013 while it was very similar (T52) on his only other start last year.
Well, where did that come from? While some thought the two-time Open champion could be a shrewd investment for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, he flopped there but then put three MCs behind him by winning a birdie-fest in sunny Portugal. His numbers were ridiculous for that first European Tour win in eight years, Harrington tweeting: “96% scrambling this week. 25 chances to get up and down around the greens, took 51 shots. 2 chip ins and a holed bunker shot.” He was T50 in his only start in this event in 2013.
At his best, he’s a Ryder Cup contender but the Dane has been in woeful form since taking second place at June’s BMW International Open. At least there was some better stuff from him when T50 in Portugal last time (69-67-71-67) while he knows this week’s track having taken T43 there in the 2010 Turkish Airlines Challenge.
After heroically saving his Tour card with a final-round 64 and T10 in the Portugal Masters, Fisher will have a free swing at this and that could make him dangerous. T60 in only start in this event.
It’s been a strong rookie campaign for the young Englishman and he reeled off a fifth top 20 of the campaign with T17 in Portugal on his latest start. He also has good memories of this part of the globe after finishing third in Europe’s second-tier Turkish Airlines Challenge last year.
One of the few in the field with course experience having teed it up in the 2010 Turkish Airlines Challenge at Carya. He came T28 which was a decent knock and adding to that is his T9 in this event last year. T12 in the British Masters two starts ago.
Always capable of popping up with a big finish. The Frenchman was T5 (R3 62) on his debut in this tournament in 2013 and shot 66-65-70-68 to take T22 at the Portugal Masters.
The veteran Scot should like this test and he’ll have some restored confidence, especially with the putter, after he posted T5 at the Portugal Masters on his latest appearance. T44 in this event in 2013.
The mini revival has stalled again after four missed cuts in five but his last five round scores are 69-71-72-68-68 so something good may be coming soon from the Italian. Not a factor (T44, T55) in this event on previous starts.
The Dane is of extra interest due to finishing T14 when this week’s course staged the 2010 Turkish Airlines Challenge. A runner-up in the Nordea Masters in June, he was T11 in the Alfred Dunhill last month.
Could have something sneaky up his sleeve having played four rounds on this course in 2010 although he only finished T49. Has three top 15s in his last six European Tour starts.
Who’s On The Team?
With scant course form to go on, this is a tricky week although it will help gamers that Bernd Wiesberger is the only man in the field with a previous top 10 at the new venue.
It wouldn’t hurt to have a few English players on board given that one won here last time and the course is designed with heathland courses in England in mind.
One To Swerve
The obvious big name to leave out would be Danny Willett after his poor form and recent injury.