Off to Agadir, Morocco this week as we warm up for next week's Masters at Augusta. The pro-am tournament has been played most years since 1971 however it only achieved European Tour status for the first time last year when Rhys Davies secured his maiden win on a different course in Rabat.
Historically this event (before it was on the main Tour) has attracted a handful of professionals who have graced Prince Moulay Rachid with their presence - the previous winners list is impressive: Vijay Singh, Ignacio Garrido, Colin Montgomerie, David Toms, Padraig Harrington and defending champion Ernie Els have all lifted the trophy in the past.
We haven't got much to go on this week in terms of results history other than the winners list and last year's results - analysis of previous results is understandably sparse. What we do know however is that the tournament is being played across 2 courses on Thursday and Friday and over the Robert Trent Jones Snr-designed Golf du Palais Royal course at the weekend. Both courses are short at around 6,800 yards and the premium will be on strong GIR performance judging by the winning performance of Miguel Angel Martin, who won on this course back in 1999 when it hosted the Moroccan Open. To see the final stats from that event click here: 1999 Moroccan Open
I would have loved to tip Danny Willett for this event but his recent form doesn't justify backing in my opinion as he recovers from a rib injury which has blighted his last 6 months of professional golf. Similarly, Fredrik Andersson Hed would have also made the shortlist were it not for 2 disastrous weeks in Sicily and Malaga where he shot 15 over for his 4 rounds resulting in 2 missed cuts. My tips instead are as follows:
Golf betting can be incredibly frustrating, as we proved once again last week with Lara missing out on a 66/1 EW payout by virtue of a triple-bogey 7 at his 72nd hole. One bad hole doesn't make a bad player and the remainder of his game is in great nick - plus he was extremely unlucky on that final hole last week. Anyway, with all of that to one side, I still think Lara's worth backing this week as top selection.
I talked last week about backing Lara when he's on the top of his game - he finished 4th in Holland the week before winning in Austria last season, plus had form of 3/9 before winning in Hong Kong in 2006. His current form reads 3/8 and, with a course that will play to his strengths, if he can continue his recent performances with the putter then he'll be in strong position to complete his recent improvement in form with a 3rd win on the European Tour. RESULT: M/C
The talented Dutchman is still to break his duck on the European Tour, however 25/1 about the 25 year-old suggests the bookies are convinced that a win isn't too far around the corner - who am I to disagree?
Luiten followed up his 14th place finish in this event last year with a top 6 the week after; further top 10s in Ireland, Portugal, Valderrama and Sergio's tournament in Valencia suggests he'll like the setup here on a shorter course where strategic placement and strong GIR is likely to win the day. Top 20s in 2 of his last 3 starts, including four rounds in the 60s last week, suggests Luiten is approaching some top form and I'd expect him to go close this week. RESULT: T11
Howell has taken a much earned break from the pressure of presenting on Sky Sports and decided to play a bit more golf in recent times - a great decision as he's starting to look sharp once again and in danger of adding a 5th career victory to his tally! 3 finishes inside the top 13 from his 8 starts this term is encouragement enough to consider a player who once hit the OWGR top 10.
Putting is Howell's strongest weapon and he lead the way once again last week with just 102 putts in his tie for 11th. If he can find a little bit from tee-to-green this week then he'll be at the right end of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon. RESULT: M/C
In stark contrast to David Howell, Peter Hedblom showed some much-improved form from tee-to-green last week until his final 9 holes, however in comparison he can't putt for toffee! Hedblom finished 3 shots behind Howell in a tie for 32nd following a final 9 comprising 40 strokes, however he took 18 more putts to get around than Howell. Chalk and Cheese it is, however the first 3 1/2 rounds were enough to convince me that Hedblom's worth a punt here as my ton-plus tip.
The Swede has fond (if old!) memories of Morocco as his first European Tour win came in 1996 at the Moroccan Open. That win came following a baron spell of MC/MC/55/43; his second win in Malaysia was in similar circumstances with form of 51/MC/41/54 - it's quite possible for Hedblom to find some form in a hurry and compete from seemingly out of the blue, and I have a feeling we might just see that this week...plus don't forget we get paid out as a winner if Hedblom happened to score an ace with Victor Chandler's new offer! RESULT: T44
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 13:00BST 29.3.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
Finally, we run a weekly competition on our facebook group where you can win a £25 free bet with Paddy Power simply by predicting who will win each week’s events – it’s great fun and free to join, here’s a link to the page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/254181393361