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STOP PRESS! Ladbrokes are offering 6 places each way at the Portugal Masters this week, the only firm to be doing so at the time of writing. To check out Ladbrokes prices for the Portugal Masters click here.
Back to the Algarve for the 5th consecutive year to the Oceanico Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura and it's encouraging to see this event continue to grow in stature as the quality of entrants continues to grow year on year. With 5 Major champions and 20 Ryder Cup starts in attendance, we're promised another week of top quality golf as the battle for Dubai qualification, 2012 playing rights and Ryder Cup qualification all start to enter the minds of the 126 players in attendance this week.
With a relatively short field, it's encouraging that Ladbrokes have chosen to extend their each way terms to places for this event (and the McGladrey Classic in the US) - that's throwing the gauntlet down to the other bookies! To check out Ladbrokes current prices - and qualify for a £50 free bet - simply click here.
The Oceanico Victoria course suits longer, more aggressive players who can handle the fast (by European standards), undulating bentgrass greens. The Arnold Palmer design is pretty flat and exposed with water in play on 7 holes and numerous fairway bunkers to contend with, however it's not overly difficult by today's standards and a score of 20 under par or better is likely to be required to be in with a sniff come Sunday afternoon. 5 years worth of growth for the scattered trees and shrubs won't overly scare the players and aggressive birdie-making is the order of the day to succeed around here.
The 4 previous winners - Webster, Quiros, Westwood and Green - had all won European Tour tournaments in their career before winning this event, plus they had recorded 3 or more top 10s that season, including at least 1 in their previous 5 starts. If this trend is to continue then you can scrub a fair few players off of the list before you even start your analysis. For me, I'm looking for players who fit this trend plus have strong putts per GIR stats for the season and a history of excelling on bentgrass greens.
At the top of the betting we have 2010 PGA Champion Martin Kaymer (10/1 with Paddy Power) who at anywhere near his best should blow this field away, however he's not been close to his best since Abu Dhabi in all truth. Second favourite is Francesco Molinari who shot a pair of 62s in between a pair of 74s here last year - he could well go close at 16/1, again with Paddy Power. Personally though I think a few players further down the field hold more appeal. My final 4 are as follows:
I make now excuses for making the South African my top selection for the second consecutive week and, after last week's 50/1 EW payout, let's invest some of that profit again on Thomas in Portugal. Having notched his first win earlier this term in Barcelona and having racked up 6 further top 10s in 2012, Thomas fits the bill perfectly here and could well walk away with title number 2 on Sunday afternoon.
Last week's 5th place was a good effort from Aiken who, in truth, made a few mistakes too many on the week carding six five times in total, however 19 birdies and 4 eagles on the week is perfect form for Vilamoura as aggressive play is of paramount performance to compete here. Despite those bogeys, the 28 year old only needed 105 putts to get around the Madrid course (5th on the week), averaging less than 1.6 putts per GIR (2nd) and bentgrass-based surfaces are sure to suit the South African as his results in recent seasons have proven. In Madrid he averaged 314 yards off the tee and has the firepower to attack this course - all in all I think the South African has the full package here, buoyed by the fact that he's just sneaked into the World's top 100 players by virtue of last week's effort. RESULT: T23
The Swede is another young player who ticks all the boxes here and cannot be left off the staking plan. Let's get the basics confirmed - 3 wins on tour, 6 top 10s this season (including his 2 victories) and a top 10 in Crans on his start before last means that he fits the description of a winner here perfectly. 23rd on Tour for driving distance (297 yards), 19th for Putts per GIR (1.75) and 8th for one-putts all adds up to a player who has the right kind of attacking game to achieve the requisite score to lift the trophy around these parts.
10th in the Race to Dubai tells you everything you need to know about his form - he's on fire in 2012! If his 9 under total at Celtic Manor isn't enough to impress you on his way to victory, then his 20-under total after 3 rounds in Stockholm before the weather turned nasty was 11 shots ahead of his nearest rival and truly a class apart from the rest of the field. Both of those were on bentgrass-based surfaces and I see no reason at all to suggest that Noren won't be in the mix here once again this week. RESULT: T29
Whilst I do most of my betting online nowadays, once in a while I do like to pass some cash across the counter to my local bookie when there's a longshot I fancy...well, this morning I left my local bookmaker brandishing a slip with Pablo Martin's name on it and a huge 200/1 price! I was seriously toying with putting Pablo up as my top selection, however I'm still willing to give him a full point each way this week and here's why:
A previous European Tour winner (3 times in total, once as an amateur in Portugal back in 2007), Martin has 3 top 10s to his name this season and finished 4th in Stockholm behind Alex Noren 4 starts back. He also loves bentgrass putting surfaces with all of his career top 10s coming on bent-based greens, including 6th place here last year. At 51st on Tour for driving distance (290) and 16th for putts per GIR (1.76), Pablo is another who you could easily argue has the ideal game to succeed here.
Last year's 6th place performance needs a bit more explaining - he led by 3 going into the final round before extending that to 4 shots on Sunday where he reached 20-under. Eventually the pressure told and he lost 4 shots in his final 6 holes to eventually finish 3 shots off the lead. The Spaniard will feel that the tournament owes him and this week could see some kind of redemption at an incredible price...RESULT: M/C
Aussie Rumford is the only one of my selections who doesn't have the season/recent results to pass the pre-inspection, however I think that he has the desire and right kind of improving form to compete here, plus he's one of the best putters out there who is capable of putting in the kind of birdie bursts required to hit a competitive score here. At 120th on the Race To Dubai and no playing exemption to fall back upon, Brett knows that the time to perform is right now if he's going to secure employment for 2012.
I've already mentioned Rumford's putting - at 6th on Tour for putts per GIR he's certainly up there with the very best. Interestingly he wasn't putting at his very best last week in Madrid, yet still managed to eke out a top 15 finish after a prominent first 3 days. That was primarily down to a poor Sunday performance, however he'll benefit from that as it was his first really prominent display since Soeul at the start of May. If he can get the flat stick working again all 4 days in Portugal then an each-way payout is a distinct possibility. RESULT: M/C
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 20:00BST 11.10.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.