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It's time to raid the bookies' coffers once again this week which will have swelled considerably following Michael Hoey's 300/1 win in Scotland last week, holding off all the big guns who attracted most of the pre-tournament betting. Well, congratulations to Hoey on his 3rd European Tour win, and second of the season, however let's concentrate now on getting a result in Spain this week!
The Madrid Masters has led somewhat of a nomadic existence in the last 4 seasons as we now arrive at a fourth successive different course for this event and a switch from last year's May slot to early October. The course at El Encin is brand new having only opened in the spring, however the fact that is was designed by Robert Von Hagge is about the only similarity to last year's venue where Luke Donald triumphed by a stroke. El Encin is a long (7,561 yard) resort-style par 72 with wide fairways and large, undulating greens. Other than event promoter Gonzalo Fernandez Castano, most players won't have seen the course before so it will be a pretty level playing field for all concerned.
As with all new courses and/or events, I'd always suggest an element of caution when spending your hard-earned cash. There's just as likely to be another shock outsider who triumphs as there is the likelihood of Luke Donald retaining his Madrid Masters crown. On paper Donald is head and shoulders above the field here and a miserly 5/1 reflects that fact, however if you're looking for a 3-figure contender then don't miss my longshots tips for the Bankia Madrid Masters here: Madrid Masters Outsiders. For me, Donald isn't getting himself into winning positions as often as he should, despite his prolific run of top 10s this season. This could well be another top 10 for Luke and, at 5/1, I'm not willing to chance that!
My selections then are as follows:
7 times a winner on the Sunshine Tour, it wasn't until earlier this season - in Spain - that talented South African Thomas Aiken finally notched up his first European Tour victory by 2 shots over Anders Hansen. For a player with his undoubted promise, that win had been coming for a while and having picked and chosen just a few events to attend since then it's encouraging to see the 28 year old playing back-to-back events after a promising 10-under total at St Andrews last week. With 5 further top 10s to his name this season, Aiken currently sits inside the top 20 in the Race To Dubai and has a chance to make some serious money before 2011 is through if he puts his mind to the task.
Whilst not the straightest off the tee, Aiken can give the ball a serious thump and will be well suited to El Encin. His best efforts have tended to come on bentgrass greens and at he is one of the better putters out there when he's on his game. In a season where multiple victories have been the norm - Donald, Schwartzel, Clarke, Bjorn, Dyson, Noren and now Hoey - I won't be at all surprised to see Thomas join that illustrious club and push himself into the World's top 100 players as a result. RESULT: 5th
Willett is another player who will enjoy the width available off the tee here and this is another good chance for the 23 year-old to notch the first win of his first professional career. The former English Amateur Champion hasn't enjoyed the best of seasons as he's recovered from a restrictive rib injury that had hampered his swing, however he's now swinging freely again and recent rounds of 64 in Switzerland and 65 around the Old Course on Friday last week are signs that he's very close to being competitive once again. A win here would catapult Willett into the top 60 in the Race To Dubai and with his card secure that will allow for some aggressive play from the Sheffield man.
Willett finished 10th in Spain on just his second professional start back in 2008, plus finished 7th in this event a year later. If you look through his record you'll find that the vast majority of his top 10 performances have come on longish courses with bentgrass-based greens - his 5th place finish at last year's Open de France (another Von Hagge setup) pre-injury is also excellent form for this and I can see Willett contending here if you can string 2 or 3 of those good recent rounds together. RESULT: M/C
Since winning the Silver Medal at St Andrews back in 1995, Webster has gone on to notch professional victories in Portugal and Italy with impressive victories in 2005 & 2007. Fast forward to 2011 however and we find a player with just one top-10 to his name and, at 113th on the Race To Dubai, in dire need of a big week to help secure his playing rights for 2012.
Motivation is key in these events as we approach the business end of the season and Webster has seen an improvement of late following a 5th place finish in the Czech Republic and a solid 18th place finish at St Andrews last week. One more good result should see him home for 2012 and the chances don't come much bigger than this for Webster! He tends to play his best golf in nearby Portugal so there's every reason to feel that he can translate those positive vibes into Spain and compete this week. RESULT: T47
Like Lee Westwood, Oliver Wilson is a keen Nottingham Forest fan, however if you can put his football tweets to one side you'll find a player who feels his game is very close to a point where he'll be competitive once again following a poor 2011 - at 138th on the Race To Dubai it's getting very close to now-or-never time for Olly! 9 times a runner-up on Tour, perhaps it's an event like this - in lesser company and with plenty of room off the tee - where he can finally make his breakthrough into the winners' circle.
Having secured his biggest cheque of the season at St Andrews last weekend following 3 final rounds of 69,67 & 68, the former Ryder Cup star will arrive in Madrid in good spirits and a positive frame of mind. Amongst his better performances in 2010 you'll also find a 6th place finish at Le Golf National which translates well here, plus top 10s in this event and in nearby Portugal. Wilson putted exceptionally in Scotland, finishing 5th overall for putts per GIR, and it will only take a small improvement in greens found for him to be competitive at this level. RESULT: T18
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 20:00BST 4.10.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
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