After a short break for the WGC Mexico Championship, we’re back on the European Tour and head to the Middle East for another 2 week stretch of golf as we take in a couple of fairly small events in the shape of the Oman Open and Qatar Masters in a week’s time. With a prize fund of $1.75m, which puts it on a par with next week’s more established event, a reasonable field has assembled here in the capital Muscat which sits around 250 miles to the south-east of Dubai, headlined by defending champion Joost Luiten who rates the 11/1 favourite in what looks to be a wide open affair.
In terms of tangible course form to study for this week, although last year was the inaugural Oman Open, we do however have a little more help as the European Challenge Tour has used this Al Mouj Golf Course in the past, firstly for the NBO Golf Classic in 2013 and 2014, then latterly for the season-ending NBO Golf Classic Grand Final. Although understandably limited, we have used this data for this week’s course stats to give you an idea of the players who have experienced the track before.
Al Mouj Golf, Muscat, Oman. Designer: Greg Norman, 2012; Course Type: Links style, coastal; Par: 72; Length: 7,365 yards; Water Hazards: 10; Fairways: Paspalum SeaDwarf; Rough: Paspalum SeaDwarf; Greens: Paspalum SeaDwarf, 10′ Stimpmeter.
Course Overview. This week’s host course Al Mouj Golf is a seaside course designed by Greg Norman. Built on the beach at Muscat that flanks the Gulf of Oman before it flows into the Arabian Sea, the course is fairly links-like in style with exposed, wide fairways littered with bunkers and waste areas. Some of the holes flank the sea itself and in total 10 of the holes feature water hazards of some description, however the difficulty of the track is dictated almost entirely by the strength of the breeze with winning scores ranging from -7 to -21 on the Challenge Tour events that have been played here over recent years. Joost Luiten won the inaugural Oman Open last year at 16-under par.
The 7,365 yard layout is a conventional pair of 9s with two par-5s on both sides measuring 566, 598, 543 and 590 yards for the 3rd, 7th, 12th and 16th respectively, with the 12th playing at the easiest hole on the course. The short par-4 2nd (377 yards) is a good birdie chance – it played as the 3rd-easiest on the course 12 months ago – after a tough opening hole, and in general the front 9 players easier than the back 9. The closing 4 holes are tough with the 503 yard par-4 15th likely to dispute the most difficult hole on the course status with the 9th and the par-5 16th is a 3-shotter for most of the field, before a pair of challenging par-4s see the players home.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Course Winners. 2018, Joost Luiten (272, -16); 2017, Clement Sordet (273, -15); 2016, Bernd Ritthammer (267, -21); 2015 Ricardo Gouveia (275, -13); 2014, Max Orrin (281, -7); 2013, Roope Kakko (274, -14)
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Muscat is here. Dry, sunny conditions are expected with temperatures reaching the low-80s Fahrenheit for the first 2 days and winds in the region of 10mph. Saturday sees a weak weather front pushing through which will introduced slightly cooler and breezier conditions with average wind speeds of 20-25mph – that will certainly make a difference on this exposed track before abating slightly on Sunday.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Stats from the top-6 finishers from last year gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 1st, Joost Luiten . 297 yards (30th), 82.1% fairways (8th), 73.6% greens in regulation (30th), 36.8% scrambling (40th), 1.64 putts per GIR (1st)
- 2nd, Chris Wood. 290 yards (45th), 67.9% fairways (45th), 70.8% greens in regulation (40th), 57.1% scrambling (6th), 1.67 putts per GIR (3rd)
- 3rd, Julien Guerrier. 310 yards (9th), 69.9% fairways (42nd), 76.4% greens in regulation (14th), 52.9% scrambling (10th), 1.76 putts per GIR (16th)
- 4th, Jorge Campillo. 307 yards (12th), 80.4% fairways (13th), 76.4% greens in regulation (14th), 35.3% scrambling (44th), 1.67 putts per GIR (3rd)
- 4th, Seungsu Han. 296 yards (31st), 85.7% fairways (3rd), 70.8% greens in regulation (40th), 57.1% scrambling (6th), 1.75 putts per GIR (14th)
- 4th, Alex Levy. 317 yards (2nd), 73.2% fairways (33rd), 81.9% greens in regulation (2nd), 46.2% scrambling (20th), 1.80 putts per GIR (32nd)
Fairways are wide here and even the more wayward players were still hitting the short grass on well over half of the holes. There wasn’t a massive amount of variation with the GIR stats either which put the emphasis ultimately onto putting performance, however Joost Luiten isn’t generally one you’d consider as a upper-echelon player with the flat stick, although on the week he topped the putting charts. Luiten was the only player to break 20 birdies on the week which is fairly unusual and an approach that minimises bogeys was the preferred option 12 months ago.
Incoming Form: In last year’s Oman Open, eventual winner Joost Luiten arrived off the back of his best finish of the season on his previous start when he’d finished 11th in Malaysia; prior to that he’d pushed Sergio all the way at Valderrama at the back end of the previous year. Before that, since the Al Mouj course has hosted the season-ending Challenge Tour Grand Final, each of the three winners had a relatively recent win under their belts plus a seriously contending performance in one of their last two events. Prior to that both Max Orrin and Roope Kakko came into their respective winning weeks off of the back of a top-20 finish:
- 2018: Joost Luiten: 30/MC/12/36/32/2/16/12/44/48/MC/11
- 2017: Clement Sordet: MC/9/66/34/1/29/26/56/18/15/17/3
- 2016: Bernd Ritthammer: MC/2/36/13/19/53/1/63/42/MC/6/32
- 2015: Ricardo Gouviea: 35/20/1/2/25/3/2/MC/21/6/31/3
- 2014: Max Orrin: 50/12/57/28/MC/7/19/9/MC/MC/34/19
- 2013: Roope Kakko: 30/30/34/7/8/11/30/39/17/MC/7/12
Course Form: Of course we’re going to need to take the course form stats of our six winners with a pinch of salt this week as the regular European Tour players in the field won’t have had the same chance to play the track here in Muscat prior to last year’s event:
- 2018: Debut
- 2017: Clement Sordet: 34/22
- 2016: Bernd Ritthammer: 48/12
- 2015: Ricardo Gouviea: 9
- 2014: Max Orrin: Debut
- 2013: Roope Kakko: Debut
Some interesting pointers came out of last year’s event. Firstly, of the top-12 ranked players in the field, 6 of them finished inside the top-8 overall on the week in the shape of Levy, Han, Luiten (eventual winner), Zanotti, Wood and Campillo. Only Julien Geurrier and Robert Rock were further down the OWGR list at 207th and 242nd respectively. Of the same 8 players, Levy had previously won on Paspalum greens (2014 China Open) and Luiten, Zanotti and Campillo had all recorded top-5 finishes on the same putting surface over the years which is seldom used on the European Tour.
Wood, Levy and Luiten in particular all had good coastal records and in terms of links (or links style) performances, Chris Wood has 2 top-5 Open Championship efforts to his name and Luiten has a KLM Open victory at the Dutch, an inland links, on his CV plus a couple more top-5 finishes on similar tracks over the years. Irish Open form also seems to translate well with Wood having record 3 top-10 finishes in that event over the years as has Rock, whereas Luiten has 2 and Zanotti 1 – again this correlates well with coastal/links performances in the main.