With HaoTong Li making it three consecutive 100/1 winners on the European Tour and the unfancied Brian Stuard - who was 500/1 in places pre-event last week - winning over in the States, it's been a tricky few weeks for golf betting. A return to Morocco this week and a poor field might not be the tonic we're after, particularly when you throw in a change of course to the mix, however with a few pointers to go on let's see if we can turn things around this week.
Also this week, Steve Bamford previews the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Royal Golf Dar Es Salam, Rabat, Morocco. Designer: Trent Jones Senior, 1971; Course Type: Classical, Parkland; Par: 72; Length: 7,487 yards; Water Hazards: 3; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu Greens: Bentgrass, 10' on the stimp.
Course Overview. The Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam is a 7,487 yard par 72 Robert Trent Jones Senior design carved at the King's request from the forest of Zaers back in 1971. The brief was to create a layout 'fit for a King' from the 1,000 acres at his disposal and that's what Trent Jones did, ultimately producing 45 holes across 3 separate courses to cater for golfers of various standards.
A classical layout by design, this tree-lined track features numerous dog-legs, extensive bunkering and the customary Trent Jones upturned saucer-style greens. Different varieties of trees with a whole array of exotic fruit flank the fairways and Roman ruins between the 11th and 12th holes add to this unique test. Some of the par 4s and par 5s are on the borderline for shorter players after renovations to the course since we last saw it which has added around 150 yards overall: the par has been reduced from 73 to 72 with the 8th now playing as a 496 yard par 4 whereas a number of other holes have been lengthened, however it's the par 3s that are likely to prove the most testing aspect to this course with 3 of them measuring over 200 yards plus there's the signature 9th hole where players need to clear the pond from 188 yards and find the tiny island green to avoid bogey or worse.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Trophee Hassan II that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event. Please note, this week's track was used for 3 rounds of the 2010 event won by Rhys Davies; 2011-2015 tournaments were held on a different course in Agadir: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available. Impressive Valderrama winner Andrew 'Beef' Johnston heads this week's predictor model with Benjamin Hebert and Dylan Frittelli completing the top 3.
Winners & Prices. 2015: Richie Ramsay, 80/1; 2014: Alejandro Canizares, 66/1; 2013: Marcel Siem, 40/1; 2012: Michael Hoey, 80/1; 2011: David Horsey, 80/1; 2010: Rhys Davies, 35/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Rabat is here. The tournament should enjoy mild conditions with temperatures in the low-to-mid 70s Fahrenheit and after the chance of rain early in the tournament, Friday and Saturday should be dry before the risk of rain and a more significant breeze (up to 40 km/h) threatens to make Sunday a tricky final day.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. No official data was recorded for the 2010 event won by Rhys Davies, so the only real indication we have statistically comes from the 2001 Moroccan Open won here by a then young Ian Poulter:
Fairways are fairly average here and an element of control is preferable, although with dog-legs a plenty those players who can move the ball comfortably both ways are at an advantage in my view. The greens here are relatively small and approach shots need to be accurate to avoid the run-off areas, so it's no surprise to see three of the top 6 GIR performances coming from players who finished in the paying places back in 2001.
Looking at the most recent winners on this track, Ian Poulter is a tidy player from tee-to-green who can be exceptional with the putter when he's on form. Rhys Davies, whose 25-under winning total in 2010 featured three rounds on this course, was renowned as one of the best putters in the world before losing his form and confidence with the flat stick in recent times. Neither are particularly long off the tee, however changes to the course since we last saw it have stretched the layout to nigh-on 7,500 yards and, with the Kikuyu fairways offering less roll, I suspect the shorter hitters might find this week's test a little on the long side, particularly if it rains. Ultimately though, for me this event will be won and lost from the 2nd shot inwards, so someone who's in control of their irons right now who can produce a strong week on the greens could well be lifting the trophy come Sunday.
My selections as follows:
Predictor No.1 selection Andrew Johnston is a watching brief for me this week after his Valderrama heroics, although if his mind is back on the game after his celebrations back home then he could well feature here this week. At a similar price though I'm backing Benjamin Hebert to follow in Beef's footsteps and break his European Tour duck here this week in Morocco. The talented 29 year-old has 6 Challenge Tour victories to his name so clearly isn't shy when it comes to converting a winning opportunity, however it's taken a while - perhaps too long - for him to find his feet at the higher European Tour level. The signs are though that he's not very far away at all and this weak field here presents a great opportunity on a course where few hold much advantage in terms of experience and, with just 1 missed cut from his last 17 European Tour events, he's playing the most consistent golf of his career at this level right now.
The Frenchman possesses the raw credentials I'm looking for this week - although not the longest off the tee, he's still well capable of averaging 290+ yards on most courses and combined with decent accuracy that's a potent combination on this track. It's Hebert's GIR numbers that really get him the nod though - he currently ranks 5th on the European Tour on that count which is the best in this field and last week's 84.7% of greens hit (8th in the field) is the perfect preparation for this tricky assignment where finding the dancefloors is imperative to success. 4th at the Dunhill Links last autumn, 3rd at Leopard Creek and top 10s in Perth and Thailand in the past few weeks single him out as a player who can perform on a variety of layouts and course styles and once he finally breaks through at this level I'd expect him to quickly establish himself as a multiple European Tour winner with the potential to move on to bigger and better things.
Alejandro Canizares and Alex Levy head the market at around 14/1 each, however the additional length here puts me off the Spaniard a little this week and the Frenchman was complaining of fatigue after competing for three challenging weeks on the trot. Gregory Havret was the closest to my team, however again he might find this layout a little on the long side this week, which leads me ultimately to Dylan Frittelli who has a potent combination of accuracy and sufficient power to compete around this track in Morocco. The Joburg native, who schooled in Texas, plies his trade primarily on the Sunshine and Challenge Tours, however he's been threatening to add to his only professional win - the 2013 Karnten Open on the Challenge Tour - for some time now. 11th at Leopard Creek and 14 at the Tshwane Open prove he's not been overawed at co-sanctioned level and a play-off defeat to Nathan Holman at the Australian PGA Championship in tough final day conditions was closer still and given the right course and field depth I'm sure he's capable of getting into contention and potentially over the line. Five top-11 finishes from his last six outings across all Tours suggests he's in strong enough form to compete at this level and the straight-hitting South African should find this course plays to his strengths.
With a lot of players in this field having spent the past fortnight in China, siding with a rested player who'd shown some good form in Spain is a strategy I'm happy to employ and Michael Lorenzo-Vera fits the bill nicely. Perhaps the Frenchman's 6th place finish at Valderrama shouldn't have come too much as a surprise given that his best efforts of 2015 came at the technical test that is the Open de France (6th) before finishing 5th at the classical layout at Woburn, so contending again this week on a challenging, tree-lined course shouldn't be too much of a stretch of the imagination. The 31 year-old ranked 3rd for GIR in Spain which is no mean feat on that layout and with a little more finesse around the greens he could have pushed Andrew Johnston right to the end down the stretch. Statistically he's hard to justify over a more prolonged period of time given his erratic form which includes far more missed cuts and poor performances than good ones, however his positive form over the years on the Challenge Tour has tended to come in short, sharp bursts and he's well capable of following up one decent effort with another before going off the boil once again. Without the weariness that some of those who took in both China events will be feeling right now, perhaps this is a good week for him to contend once again.
With the abundance of 3-figure winners of late, I'm chancing my arm with a pair of small stake longshots to complete this week's team.
First up, Daniel Brooks who I backed at the Shenzhen International a fortnight ago to no avail but whose stats have been trending nicely since. The 29 year-old was struggling with illness during the Middle East swing and felt that his missed cut in Thailand and tie for 31st in India didn't really do justice to how well he'd been playing - he tied 4th for ball-striking in India which is no mean feat on that layout - and progressive form of 51st and 39th in China over the past fortnight suggests his game is slowly moving forwards. What really caught my eye though is that the Englishman hit over 90% of greens last week in Beijing to lead the field in that category and if he can keep that going this week on a course which demands accurate iron-play then adding to his 2014 Madeira Island Open victory isn't out of the realms of possibility in my view. Brooks ranks 9th for one putts on the European Tour in 2016 and if he can combine that stat with another week of high GIR then he could be the latest addition to the 3-figure winner club.
It hasn't quite happened yet for Jamie McLeary at European Tour level and, at 35 years of age, perhaps time is starting to work against him if he's going to ever break through at this grade, however the layout here is a good fit to the Scot's game and with the competition here hardly fierce, I'm happy to take a chance given the long price on offer. Twice a winner on the Challenge Tour in 2009 and 2015, McLeary is a rare breed of 295+ hitter who can keep the ball in play off the tee more often than most of his peers. Recent form is far from sparkling as you'd expect given his price - MC/29/WD/MC/45 over his past 5 events hardly sets the pulse racing - however hidden within that are two leading performances for Total Driving at both Perth and Shenzhen coupled with top-10 ball-striking performances and all-round ranking at both events. When on form the Edinburgh resident can also putt very nicely indeed - he ranked 3rd in the field for putts per GIR (1.60) at the Tshwane Open on his way to 7th place earlier this term and 7th on the same count (1.69) in Perth. Yes, it's an ask for him to put it all together, however he's done so before twice at Challenge Tour level and with Sunday's inclement forecast playing into the hands of the more hardy ball-strikers, perhaps this will be his week to shine.
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