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Frustration last week with 54-hole leader and 22/1 headline selection Paul Dunne treading water on Sunday to finish 2nd behind home favourite Jon Rahm in Madrid. A good each-way return feels a little like we've been short-changed as the Irishman played some excellent golf before struggling a little as the event reached the business end of proceedings. The 25 year-old returns to action immediately this week and has been installed as the clear favourite to win his second European Tour event having lost out in a play-off to the fast-finishing Edoardo Molinari when also carrying our money 12 months ago - can he improve on both of those efforts this week?
This event in Morocco has been part of the European Tour schedule since 2010 and with 2 courses in use for this event since its inauguration, it's important to note that we're returning to the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam track outside of Rabat that hosted 3 rounds in 2010 and all 4 rounds for the past 2 years. Some updates have been made on and around the greens here in Rabat over the past year with all of the 18 greens having been rebuilt and the bunkering renovated, however suffice it to say that the challenge faced by the players is unlikely to have changed dramatically and it will still be a tough test.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Valero Texas Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Red Course, Royal Golf Dar Es Salam, Rabat, Morocco. Designer: Trent Jones Senior, 1971 with Duncan renovation, 2017; Course Type: Classical, Parkland; Par: 73; Length: 7,615 yards; Water Hazards: 3; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu.
Course Overview. The Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam is a 7,615 yard par 73 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.
With the fairway bunkering having become little more than 'flat pads of sand' over the years and the course simply lengthened and tightened in order to make it more of a challenge, James Duncan was brought in to make the layout more strategically interesting. Fairways have been widened a little on some holes, bunkers renovated and new ones added, plus using the original Trent Jones drawings all 18 greens have been fully updated and in some cases enlarged. How this changes the challenge of the course remains to be seen, however the tree-lined tee-to-green challenge remains and the with the yardage still stretching over 7,600 yards, it will undoubtedly prove to be a tough course.
The par 3s tend to prove the most testing aspect to this track 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. With 5 par-5s on the card, a player's performance on the longer holes is critical to their success with the top 3 last year playing them in 29-under par in total for the week, however players will need to back that up with a solid performance on the par 3s and par 4s to stand a chance of contending on Sunday.
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 and again for all 4 rounds in 2016 and 2017; 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.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Edoardo Molinari, 150/1; 2016: Jeunghun Wang, 50/1; 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 8 years based on the 2017 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Rabat is here. The tournament should enjoy mild conditions with temperatures in the high 70s Fahrenheit before cooling down a few degrees over the weekend with the outside chance of rain on Saturday. Otherwise it will be mostly sunny with light winds picking up just a little to maybe 10-15 mph each afternoon.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. The stats achieved by the top-3 finishers here from the past 2 seasons gives us a little insight into this week's test:
No official stats were published for eventual winner Jeunghun Wang in 2016.
One aspect that sticks out from both years' stats is that even the leading contenders missed an abnormally high number of fairways and greens which put the emphasis very much on how players fared on and around the putting surfaces. The changes made over the past 12 months may change that dynamic slightly, however I'd still err on the side of short-game expertise here this week, particularly as the old greens were relatively receptive last year after pre-event rain and this year it's been dry. Coupled with new greens which are usually pretty firm until they fully bed in, I'd expect players to be missing a lot of greens once again this year unless we happen to get a lot of rain overnight on Friday.
Looking at the most recent winners on this track, Ian Poulter (Moroccan Open, 2001) 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. 2016 winner Jeunghun Wang, who putted exceptionally well on his way to victory, ranked 6th for the full season in both the Putts Per GIR and Total Putts categories on the European Tour for 2016 and last year's winner Edoardo Molinari has always been seen as the brother with the far superior short game as he held off Paul Dunne who's without doubt an exceptional putter.
None of those four winners are particularly long off the tee which suggests that length isn't the be-all and end-all on this layout, however at over 7,600 yards the course would certainly appear to favour the longer hitters in terms of specification. Again, the course renovations may swing the pendulum back in the favour of the longer hitters a little with slightly wider fairways, however I'm going to stick to my guns here and maintain that this week's test will be won or lost on and around the greens.
Incoming Form: Incoming form of all winners of this event since 2010 is mixed with the likes of Davies, Canizares and Wang all having recorded recent top-5 finishes prior to winning. Richie Ramsay, however, had been in poor form prior to victory in 2015 and last year's winner Edoardo Molinari had only shown glimpses of form in between a lot of missed cuts:
Event Form. Given that we've only got a few year's worth of history and much of that was at the other course in Agadir, event history is fairly sparse and should be considered accordingly:
A long, classical track that will present the players with a decent challenge leads me to a team of players who are more adept than most on and around the greens, as minimising bogeys could well be the key here this week. Whether the changes materially affect the playability of the course remains to be seen, however it's likely to still present a tough test to the players and those with patience and the ability to take advantage of good shots and recover from missed greens are favoured over those possessing raw power first and foremost.
My final selections are as follows:
Having backed Paul Dunne here 12 months ago when only an improbable birdie-eagle finish from Edoardo Molinari prevented him from winning what would have been at the time his maiden European Tour victory, as well as last week when he led for 3 rounds before finishing 2nd to the world class Jon Rahm in Spain, it would be incredibly disappointing for him to win this week and me to not have been on board. This isn't a sentimental bet though as the bookies are quite justified in making the Irishman clear favourite for this week and without a player like Rahm ahead of him in the betting, it's more than conceivable that he builds on his recent form once again and secures his second piece of silverware on Tour.
The changes to the course which will have effectively widened it from off the tee and put more emphasis on performance on and around the greens, can only help a player like Dunne who has the potential to go a long, long way in world golf if he can find just a touch more consistency from off the tee. What he sometimes lacks in accuracy though is more than made up for with his prowess on the greens and the key for me is that the freshly-laid and pristine putting surfaces here in Morocco will be a far cry from the lumpy and inconsistent surfaces that the players endured last week and it's not much of a stretch to suggest that the 25 year-old could shave another few percentage points off of his already impressive putting average here this week.
Dunne, who has turned down a top-10 exemption to play this week's Valero Texas Open on the PGA Tour which carries a much higher prize fund and world ranking points in favour of playing here in Morocco, won Open Championship qualifying at the tree-lined Marquess Course at Woburn for three consecutive years between 2014-16 and clearly when a course suits his eye he's capable of producing repeat performances which bodes well for this week. Paul led the field for putting here last year and if the putter's hot again this week then he'll take all the beating here in Rabat. RESULT: MC
Whether you believe that the OWGR is an entirely fair reflection of a golfer's standing relative to his peers given the difference in standard between the PGA Tour, European Tour and the lower grade tours from around the world is a matter of opinion, however if you'd have ranked last week's RBC Heritage field by OWGR relative to their odds then eventual winner Satoshi Kodaira would have stuck out like a sore thumb at 250/1. Ranked 46th in the world prior to victory and having arrived after a level-par effort at Augusta National over four rounds, the Japanese star nicked the title from Si-Woo Kim with a 25-foot birdie on the third extra hole as the South Korean's ability to putt deserted him.
Following the same logic leads us to Yusaku Miyazato who, at 61st in the OWGR, ranks second in the field to Thomas Pieters yet he's available at a massive 100/1. Like his compatriot Kodaira, Miyazato has accumulated his ranking points on the Japanese golf circuit and with 4 wins in 2017 he's clearly been playing some great golf, particularly on and around the greens. After finishing 9th at the Perth Super 6, the 37 year-old struggled with the step up in class at the WGC Mexico Championship, WGC Match Play and at Augusta, however a step back to European Tour level last week in Spain produced a 12th place finish and that's encouraging ahead of a week that's certainly no better in terms of quality. At his best, the man from Japan can find plenty of fairways and greens, plus last week he ranked 6th for scrambling by getting up and down 70% of the time - a quality that could prove to be important once again this week. RESULT: T13
Wade Ormsby 1pt EW 100/1 with Get a £/€20 risk-free bet*** for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 EW, 1/5 odds):
I'm sticking further down the list for my final selections. Andy Sullivan was sorely tempting this week given the form that he showed in rounds 2 and 3 last week in Spain, however if everything goes to plan and Paul Dunne is triumphant, then I want players who will give me a decent each-way return for my money.
First up Wade Ormsby who's been largely discounted by the bookmakers despite having already picked up a victory on this wrap-around 2017/18 European Tour season and who has the tidy long game and strong short game to suggest he can succeed around these parts. 5th at Valderrama behind Sergio Garcia is a good indicator for this week in my view, plus that aforementioned win - his first on the European Tour - achieved on the tight, tricky track at Fanling in Hong Kong is also a decent tick in the box for this week. The Australian closed his 2017 campaign down with a third consecutive top-10 finish at his home PGA Championship behind Cameron Smith, so it was a bit of a surprise to see him start 2018 so slowly with three straight missed cuts. 26th at the World Super 6, where he missed the knockout stages by a single shot, showed some promise though as he ranked 2nd for Driving Accuracy and he improved on that precision at the WGC Mexico Championship where he led the field for accuracy from off the tee despite finishing 50th overall. 25th on his last start at the Indian Open also showed some promise as he broke 1.7 putts per GIR for the first time in nigh-on 6 months and with a few weeks rest he could well hit the ground running here - indeed that win in Hong Kong came immediately after a month away from competition. 5th & 9th in this event in the past when it was played in Agadir is mildly encouraging and 34th on course debut 12 months ago featured scrambling and putts per round rankings of 2nd in the field on both counts. RESULT: T52
A player whose performance really caught the eye last week was Brett Rumford and I was pleasantly surprised to see a 3-figure price about the Australian here this week. I backed Rummy at the World Super 6 in Perth where he led after the first round only to contrive to miss the Match Play from the final group as he and Lee Westwood chased each other down the leaderboard, however he loves that track at Lake Karrinyup and the Red Course carries similar characteristics, particularly now it's been widened a little from off the tee. The thing that encouraged me most about last week's effort in Spain was that the 40 year-old hit 81.9% of greens in regulation and we know that's not his game by any stretch of the imagination as he typically relies on his incredible short game to see him round a course. Two top-25 finishes in 3 attempts at the alternative track for this event over the years is a good starting point and although he's making his course debut here this year, I can see him enjoying the layout which should remind him a little of home. Amongst Rumford's 6 European Tour victories you'll find a 2013 success at the 7,600 yard Binhai Lake course in China and although he's not the longest off the tee here by any stretch of the imagination, he's clearly proven that he's capable of overcoming that handicap in the past when the course has favoured those with a stellar short game. RESULT: MC
Finally I'm taking a punt on Italian Andrea Pavan who's stepped up a gear since finishing 2nd behind the talented Sam Horsfield at Q-School to secure his European Tour card for 2018. The 28 year-old has 4 Challenge Tour wins to his name, included in which was a 2011 San Domenico Grand Final success where he beat Tommy Fleetwood to jump up to the European Tour in 2012 for the first time. It's been a challenging few years as the Rome-born player has flitted between the top and second tier and 3 missed cuts from 3 attempts in this event doesn't look great. However, he's maturing as a player nowadays and 4 top-21 finishes from his last 5 European Tour starts suggests that he's finally finding his feet at this level and perhaps a contending performance isn't too far away now. All aspects of his game have impressed at times over the past few months: 2nd for Driving Accuracy at the Italian Open on another tree-lined track suggests he can control his ball in these kinds of surroundings, 3rd for putting and 1st for putts per GIR in Mauritius is an encouraging flat stick performance and 2nd for GIR last week in Spain, bettered only by John Rahm, would suggest that his irons are in great shape at present. Pavan also led the field for bogey avoidance last week, dropping just 3 shots over 4 rounds, where he closed with an excellent round of 66 to finish 21st overall. Clearly under the radar from a bookmaker perspective but playing the kind of golf to suggest that he could contend for a title sooner rather than later. RESULT: T3
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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