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As the build-up to The Masters continues over in the United States, here in Europe we have a low-key, low-grade event for the second string (well third string if we're being a little less kind) to get their teeth into with the annual Madeira Islands Open that's co-sanctioned between the European Tour and the Challenge Tour. These type of events are huge opportunities for up-and-coming players to gain instant access to the full European Tour schedule as well as former top-tier contenders who have slipped out of the limelight in recent times, however the quality is far from great.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews this week's action over at the Arnold Palmer Invitational - you can read his preview here.
Clube de Golf do Santo da Serra. Designer: Trent Jones Jr, 1991; Course Type: Coastal; Par: 72; Length: 6,826 yards; Fairways: Bent/Poa/Rye; Rough: Rye/Poa; Greens: Bent/Poa, 10' on the stimp; 2014 scoring average: 73.67; Rd1: 74.60, Rd2: 71.75 (2 rounds completed).
Course Overview. The course at Santo da Serra is a short 6,826 yard par 72 that sits on top of a mountain featuring reasonably generous fairways, significant elevation changes and small, undulating bent/poa greens. The Trent Jones Jnr creation relies on coastal winds from the Atlantic to protect it from the modern professional as in calm conditions these players can take the course apart - with 4 reachable par 5s for the longer hitters and 7 sub-400 yard par 4s, the bombers can seriously overpower this track when it's benign. It's worth noting if you're looking at the course history stats that the 2009-2011 events were held on the nearby Porto Santo course so you may wish to give those results less credence.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Madeira Islands Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: 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. Spaniard Carlos Pigem tops this week's model from last year's runner-up Scott Henry and the (relatively) in-form Swede Joakim Lagergren. Previous course winners Bradley Dredge and Ricardo Santos complete the top 5 this week.
Winners & Prices. 2014: Daniel Brooks, 66/1; 2013: Peter Uihlein, 25/1; 2012: Ricardo Santos, 80/1; 2011: Michael Hoey, 40/1; 2010: James Morrison, 50/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the completed 2014 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Madeira is here. This week is expected to bring fairly cool conditions with temperatures in the low 60s Fahrenheit and the chance of rain every day. The breeze is set to be a moderate feature for this event with wind speeds of 15-25 km/h forecast throughout the 4 days.
Bookmaker Offers. Boylesports continue their 2nd and 3rd place cashback (up to €50 currency or equivalent) offer - for full details click here.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 3 winners here on this track gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Whilst the altitude here skews the driving distance stats a little if you're comparing across tournaments, it's also worth noting that last year's 1st and 2nd place finishers ranked inside the top 5 for driving distance; Uihlein in 2013 was the longest driver of the week (Madsen in 2nd place was also 2nd in DD); Santos in 2012 also led the driving distance stats on the week. Scoring on the par 5s is a pre-requisite here, however the winner and close contenders will also likely score on the par 4s so the ability to score and putt well is also required.
The European Tour's other previously co-sanctioned event with the Challenge Tour at St Omer has produced winners at 100/1, 50/1, 200/1, 66/1 and 50/1 up until the 2013 renewal plus last year's inaugural NH Collection Open, again at this level, was won by 200/1 shot Marco Crespi. Not the best results for favourite-backers it has to be said.
My selections are as follows:
I must admit, I started my research for this event with a view to picking 2 or 3 players at most due to the quality of the field and a lack of tangible recent and/or course form for the bulk of this field, however in the end I've had to reign back a little from backing too many players. Favouritism in these low-grade events is often a poisoned chalice as the winners' odds from recent years suggest - the weight of expectation may be too much for some of these players to bear and of those at the very top of the betting only Justin Walters holds any significant appeal to me. A little further down the list, however, we find Carlos Pigem and, for me, the Spaniard is a decent prospect at around double the price of Walters with most firms.
Barcelona man Pigem may still be a maiden at European Tour level as well as the Asian Tour where he's spent much of his short professional career, however with less than 50 events under his belt that's not anything for him to be overly concerned with - particularly as he's recorded 5 top-10 finishes in all competitions since the start of March last year. A sponsor's invitate gets him into the field here having banked over €70k in Malaysia (42nd), Thailand (7th) and India (24th) on his last 3 starts and that stretch represents his best career finishes on the European Tour in far stronger company then this for the most part.
Averaging over 300 yards off the tee so far in 2015 (25th on Tour) and having hit over 70% of Greens In Regulation for those events combined is pretty good going relative to the bulk of attendees here and 4th for putting on his last start in India is encouraging too. 17 birdies on the tight track in India was only bettered by a handful of players and rounds of 65 and 66 in Thailand the week before also highlights the 24 year-old as a player in decent form who could well find a breakthrough at this level on a course that should suit his game. RESULT: Event Cancelled
Whereas my headline selection Carlos Pigem is making his Madiera debut (not that a lack of previous experience prevented Peter Uihlein winning 2 years ago), young Swede Joakim Lagergren has tangible course form with a 4th place finish here in 2012 which was his best career result at the time and presented his first taste of being part of the final group on a Sunday at this level. It wasn't to be that week for the then 20 year-old, however to his credit he finished 6th a few weeks later at the far more competitive Nordea Masters with the likes of Westwood, Garcia, Fisher, Hanson and Ilonen ahead of him and, in the intervening 3 years, he's secured his first Challenge Tour victory (Ireland Open Challenge, 2014) to add to his 4 lower-league victories as a professional.
11th for driving distance in 2012 on the European Tour from 17 events bears him out as long enough off the tee to feature as a potential winner given the stats from the last 3 renewals pointing in that same direction, however it's his recent performances on the two shorter tracks in India (finished 3rd) and at East London (13th) that gets him the nod here. In a field of poor to non-existent recent form, those two results shine like a beacon and coupled with some tangible course form he's got to be backed here this week in my opinion. RESULT: Event Cancelled
Last year's event was another of these farcical stop/start 2 round affairs, however Glaswegian Scott Henry showed some real guile and determination to force a play-off with Daniel Brooks by making birdie on the final 3 holes. It wasn't to be for the long-hitting Scot when he bogeyed the first extra hole to finally succumb, however he went into the notebook as a potential European Tour winner in the right circumstances and he'll be keen to put the record straight this time around. The 28 year-old's only other top-5 finish of the season came at AA Saint Omer GC in France on the Challenge Tour, an event which had formerly been an identical grade to this week's event, and this appears to be the kind of level where Henry is most likely to make his breakthrough.
The 2012 Kazakhstan Open champion over on the Challenge Tour leads this field in terms of driving distance and can make mincemeat of the par 5s and short par 4s here, giving him a decent advantage over most here. He opened his last event with a 66 on the shorter of the two tracks at the Joburg Open before slowly drifting down the leaderboard and this is much easier in terms of his opposition. RESULT: Event Cancelled
A couple of small speculative punts on two players who have shown a bit of form lately to get them the nod here in a weak field.
Big Ben Evans has been on the fringes of the European Tour for the last few years with 9 top-10 finishes on the Challenge Tour, however there are signs of late that he may be ready to finally push up to this level on a regular basis and if there was ever a week to attack, this has to be it. The 28 year-old's best finish at European Tour level came on this track on debut in 2008 when he closed with a best-of-the-day 66 to share 10th place, however it's his 3 top-6 finishes in his final 7 Challenge Tour events of 2014 coupled with prominent performances in India (finished 12th) and Joburg (opened with rounds of 67 & 68) that suggests he's in the right kind of form to compete here in this grade. Top 10 performances in term of driving accuracy and GIR in India shows that his long game is in check at the moment and a sub-1.7 putting performance in Joburg bodes well for this 300+ yard driver of the golf ball. RESULT: Event Cancelled
Paul Maddy came into the world of professional golf quite late in comparison to many of today's young starlets, however the 33 year-old is finally making up for lost time having recorded his best European Tour finishes in recent times with a 5th place finish at the South African Open and a 13th place finish at the quirky Africa Open on his penultimate start. Accuracy is more the Englishman's game as opposed to brute force (3rd on that count at East London GC with 85% of fairways hit), however he's still able to put the ball out well beyond 300 yards when the situation demands and he seems to have a pretty solid all-round game with no discernable flaw that I can see. Having grabbed his card through Qualifying School last autumn, the former EuroPro Tour Order Of Merit winner has a great chance of retaining it for 2016 if he can build on the bright start he's made to this campaign. This low level of competition would seem to be a decent opportunity to bank some more Euros before the season's bigger events start on the European Tour. RESULT: Event Cancelled
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