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After the disappointment of Lucas Bjerregaard missing out at Crans in the play-off, we more than made up for it last week with Ashun Wu converting at a massive 125/1 in Holland. It was a cracking performance from the Chinese star, sealed by an outstanding approach shot to the 72nd hole which ultimately provided the deciding birdie with Chris Wood 3-putting from long range on the same hole. More of the same this week would be very nice indeed!
This week we return to the Victoria Clube de Golfe for the 11th consecutive year for the Portugal Masters - a slight change in name to the course last year shouldn't put punters off as this is the same event being held on the same Arnold Palmer track as we've seen on the European Tour circuit since the tournament began. A strong field has assembled here this year with 6 players rating as 20/1 or shorter - namely Thorbjorn Olesen, Lucas Bjerregaard, Chris Wood, Eddie Pepperell, Shane Lowry and Charl Schwartzel - and with the likes of Sergio Garcia, Andy Sullivan and Matt Wallace just behind them in the betting, there's certainly an air of quality about this week.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford wraps up the FedEx Cup Playoffs, you can read his Tour Championship preview here.
Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, Vilamoura, Portugal. Designer: Arnold Palmer, 2004; Course Type: Resort; Par: 71; Length: 7,146 yards; Fairways: Bermuda; Rough: Rye/Bermuda; Greens: L93 Bentgrass/Poa; Stimp: 10.5ft.
Course Overview. The Victoria course tends to be set up to suit the more aggressive players who can handle the fast, undulating bent/poa greens, however a premium still remains on finding the vast majority of greens in regulation to be in position to make a decent enough score. The 7,146 yard, par 71 Arnold Palmer design is pretty flat and exposed with water in play on 7 holes and a number of strategically-placed fairway bunkers to contend with, however it's not overly difficult by today's standards and a score of 18-under par or better is likely to be required to be in with a sniff come Sunday afternoon. A few years' worth of growth for the scattered trees and shrubs won't overly scare the players and birdie-making is the order of the day to succeed around here with a fairly good weather forecast allowing for low scores.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Portugal Masters 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.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Lucas Bjerregaard, 66/1; 2016: Padraig Harrington, 100/1; 2015: Andy Sullivan, 50/1; 2014: Alexander Levy, 70/1; 2013: David Lynn, 80/1; 2012: Shane Lowry, 66/1; 2011: Tom Lewis, 100/1; 2010: Richard Green, 50/1 . For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 8 years click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Vilamoura is here. A settled four days are expected with dry and largely sunny weather and temperatures reaching the low 80s Fahrenheit in the afternoons. The breeze will be generally a light to moderate 10mph, plus it does tend to pick up a little in the afternoons here which often isn't always evident from the forecast.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 8 winners of this event gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
In lower-scoring years the winner has generally dominated on the par 4s. Bjerregaard was -9 for the par 4s, Harrington was -14, Sullivan was -13, Levy was -11 over two rounds, Lynn -10, Lewis -7 and Green -9. With winners like Lynn and Green in the past 8 years, long hitters don't seemingly hold all the cards here at Vilamoura, instead finding a high number of greens in regulation and performing fantastically on and around the greens seems to be the way forward - although I'd still err a little on the side of power personally.
Incoming Form: 5 of the past 8 winners here had recorded a win (Sullivan, Levy) or a runner-up finish (Lynn, Lowry, Green) in that season to date so had been clearly knocking at the door at various points that year; even Harrington with his pretty non-descript incoming form had finished 13th at the US PGA Championship which was a few levels higher than this. With winning scores ranging from 50/1 to 100/1 over the past 7 years, this event doesn't seem to overly favour those at the very top of the betting - not unusual for resort-style tests where a hot putter is often the key component when the dust settles:
Event Form: Overly positive form at the Victoria doesn't look essential despite both Padraig Harrington and David Lynn having recorded a 3rd place finish prior to their success and Lucas Bjerregaard arriving with consecutive top-12 finishes here. Alex Levy and Tom Lewis were both playing here competitively for the first time when they won and the other 3 winners since 2010 had hardly set the world alight on their previous attempts before lifting the trophy:
This Arnold Palmer design is a resort course first and foremost with wide fairways and light rough to encourage the longer hitters to attack. It's interesting to note though that both Richard Green and David Lynn aren't the most aggressive of players and both have prevailed here since 2010, so it's clear that there's more than one way to succeed around here. However, in general, I'd favour the more aggressive types who can attack through a combination of strong Total Driving performance coupled with a good week on and around the greens.
My selections are as follows:
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The top of the market is packed with viable candidates this week, none more so than defending champion Lucas Bjerregaard. It's been difficult to shift myself away from him this week given how he's played recently and his clear liking for this course, however recent history here suggests that the winner comes from a little further down the list. Winners' prices ranging from 50/1 to 100/1 since 2010 here sows the seeds of doubt when looking at those at the top of the betting and although inevitably that trend is going break at some point in time, I'm happy to look beyond the favourites for this week's selections.
Lucas looked understandably dejected after his play-off defeat to Matt Fitzpatrick in Switzerland and that combined with the pressure of defending may just impact his game here. Last week's runner-up Chris Wood will also need to pick himself up quickly if he's going to contend and outright favourite Thorbjorn Olesen may have his mind more on next week than this with the Ryder Cup looming. Sergio Garcia is an interesting addition to the field, however he, like Olesen, will be the focus of the media attention with Le Golf National beckoning and the Spaniard's debut here in Portugal isn't assured to be positive.
Looking back at the stats produced by last year's eventual winner Lucas Bjerregaard immediately prior to his success, it's clear that he'd found form with his long game and with his Total Driving performances in particular. If that's a repeatable blueprint for success here then Jordan Smith has to come into the reckoning at a far longer price than those at the top of the market. Progressive form of 36/20/10 has been fuelled by excellent Total Driving performances ranking him 6th, 20th and 1st in the field in that respect over those same three events and that could prove critical when looking to compile a score on the more attackable holes around the Victoria Golf Club.
Last year's victory at the European Open is noteworthy in that he beat former Portugal Masters champion Alex Levy in a play-off to secure the win and overall that gives him 5 professional wins from 92 starts at all levels. The only potential negative that I can find with Smith is that he's playing this track competitively for the first time, however it's a straightforward layout that doesn't need masses of experience in my view and with Tom Lewis and the aforementioned Levy having won here on debut in recent times, I don't see that as a huge issue. Instead, with his long game in good health, his short game looking good having ranked 3rd for scrambling last week, and with the putter behaving at present - 3 consecutive events of 1.75 putts per GIR is excellent for him - I think he's got a real chance of contending here this week. 60th on the Race to Dubai is also a huge motivator as he'll be looking to maintain and improve that position over the next few weeks with Dubai looming not too far in the distance. RESULT: T27
There are a fair few players on the European Tour at present who would surprise nobody should they gain their breakthrough victory in the near future and, for me, Nacho Elvira is right up there on that list. The Spaniard has been knocking on the door more than ever of late and it should be just a matter of time before he adds to his 4 Challenge Tour wins with a well-deserved title at the upper tier. The 31 year-old's closest finish came at the 2016 Trophee Hassan II where only a magical performance from Jeunghun Wang's putter prevented him winning his first title back then; notably former Portugal Masters champion Alex Levy won on that same course in Rabat earlier this year, so although the courses are quite different in composition, perhaps that's a small indicator for this week. 3rd at the Spanish Open behind John Rahm, 9th at the BMW International Open behind Matt Wallace and most recently 4th at Crans behind Matt Fitzpatrick are all creditable performances in the recent past and I suspect that he'd be a few points shorter had he not missed the cut last week in Holland at an event that he perennially struggles in.
Last year's formula for Lucas Bjerregaard was simple in that a strong recent performance coupled with a decent record here at Vilamoura suggested he'd go well and the rest was history; event form for Nacho is comparable in that he's finished 21st, 9th and 7th from 4 attempts and notably he's putted far beyond his long-term average on each of those occasions (1.64, 1.62 and 1.68 putts per GIR respectively) to suggest that he gets on with the greens here very well indeed. His putting also picked up on that aforementioned effort in Switzerland, ranking 4th in the field, to encourage me further and if he can couple his excellent ball-striking and high GIR game to a strong week on the greens here once again then another personal best performance - and potentially that elusive maiden European Tour title - could be on the cards. RESULT: T73
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Two long-priced European Tour maidens to complete this week's team. First up Jonathan Thomson who's impressed of late and may well build on his 25th place finish here last year which was, at the time, just his second start on the European Tour. 'Jigger' won his first title on just his fourth start on the Europro Tour back in 2016 and with 4 further top-3 finishes at that level, it was clear that the 22 year-old was capable of competing at a higher level - something he proved by battling through Q-School to gain his European Tour card. Battling is something that the Rotherham giant has had to do a lot in his life having overcome Leukaemia as a youngster, however he's still got a fight on his hands if he's going to retain his playing privileges for 2019 as he currently sits at 143rd on the Race to Dubai despite having produced 2 very prominent performances over the past 3 weeks. Firstly he flew out of the blocks in Denmark with an opening round of 64 before eventually succumbing to an unstoppable Matt Wallace in the 4-man play-off, then last week went out in a tie for 2nd heading into Sunday before falling away. A missed cut at Crans wedged in between isn't anything remotely concerning given the vagaries of that layout and this track on the Algarve suits his long hitting and excellent putting far, far better than that quirky track. 22 birdies last week in Holland was the second-best effort on show in that respect and that bodes well for another challenge this week having gathered useful experience from the near misses of the past few weeks. Thomson lists his interests as 'having a pint' and I dare so it won't be too long before he's toasting his maiden European Tour success. RESULT: MC
Another exciting maiden is Frenchman Julien Guerrier who can make an impact here on course debut. Twice a winner on the Challenge Tour last year - including an impressive 6-shot victory at the Irish Challenge on a course of similar length to this - the 33 year-old has been increasingly getting to grips with life at the higher level of the European Tour and, at 92nd on the Race To Dubai, can now start thinking more about qualifying for the high-value events at the end of the season rather than looking over his shoulder - indeed Ashun Wu started last week in a very similar position and we saw what happened there. 3rd at the Madeira Islands Open in 2014 ranked as Guerrier's best European Tour finish until he matched that earlier this season on another coastal track at the Oman Open where he'd led after 54 holes, and he was prominent again at the Sicilian Open where he held the halfway lead before dropping back to 6th on Sunday evening. He's getting ever closer to a breakthrough success and this, for me, is the kind of straightforward track that he should take an instant liking to, especially seeing as his 309 yard average drives will give him a better chance than many of scoring on the holes where aggression can pay dividends here. His best putting performances have come on the better bentgrass-based putting surfaces on Tour and 3rd for putting average at the Czech Masters matched an identical performance from earlier in the season at the Volvo China Open. Worth taking a chance on at the price on offer in my view. RESULT: T34
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