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.
My selections are as follows:
Alexander Levy 2pts EW 28/1 with New customers: Bet £10 get £30 & 30 spins. 18+, T&Cs apply*** (6 EW, 1/5 odds)
Joost Luiten undoubtedly played some excellent golf last week in Mexico at a far, far higher level than this to warrant favouritism here in Oman and the defending champion has previously produced contending top-5 finishes when returning as the trophy holder in the past. Whether he can raise his game immediately after that effort is the question punters need to ask and at a best price of 11/1 at the time of writing I’ll reluctantly pass, however his chance is very real. Thomas Pieters sits just below the Dutchman in every bookmaker’s list, however despite a sequence of 8 successive top-30 finishes in regular Tour events, the hot-headed Belgian hasn’t broken the top-10 during that time. Again I’ll be swerving him, despite his obvious class that was once again shown when capturing the World Cup of Golf in the middle of that stretch of results.
My kneejerk reaction when I started looking at this week’s event was quite an obvious one in the shape of Alexander Levy and for me there’s just about enough juice in his price to take him here. 4th last year on his Al Mouj debut saw the Frenchman rank 2nd for GIR at a mighty 81.9% and just 5 bogeys on the week showed the increased levels of maturity that he’s adding to has game having once been classed as a one-dimensional flat track bully. 4 career victories with winning totals of between -17 and -19 would suggest that he prefers it easy, however last year’s success at the Trophee Hassan II in challenging conditions and a -8 winning total tells a different story and one of a player who’s still developing and improving with each passing season.
The increased wind over the weekend here will take its toll on some players, however Levy averages a full shot better than the field in all of his career rounds featuring winds of 20mph or more and I suspect that this added maturity and patience will set him in good stead should he find himself in position when push comes to shove this week. 5th on his last start in better company at the Saudi International bodes well for this week as the 28 year-old ranked 2nd for both putting average and total putts on the Paspalum greens; if he can combine that kind of flat stick prowess with the control and iron-play that he showed here 12 months ago, then we could be seeing that trademark smile on our screens as he lifts the trophy aloft on Sunday night. RESULT: WD
Paul Dunne 2pts EW 40/1 with New customers: Bet £10 get £30 & 30 spins. 18+, T&Cs apply*** (6 EW, 1/5 odds)
Despite running the risk of sounding like a cracked record, I’m going to back Paul Dunne once again this week who I believe is very close to a win. We know all about the Irishman’s exploits at the Open Championship in 2015 when he led going into the final day as an amateur and by holding off Rory McIlroy at the British Masters in 2017 he’s rubber-stamped his credentials as a seriously talented player with bags of potential, so much so that there were a few whispers that he might make the Ryder Cup team last autumn. That wasn’t to be of course, however at 26 years of age there’ll be plenty more opportunities for him to achieve that accolade in the future.
Aside from that aforementioned effort at St Andrews nearly 4 years ago, Dunne has further impressed at the Dunhill Links Championship (7th, 2017) and the Spanish Open (2nd to Jon Rahm, 2018) which was played on a track with some linksy features. The Greystones golfer is at his best on a track that encourages a recovery shot from a wayward drive which is so often his bugbear, however as I mentioned in my World Super 6 preview from a fortnight ago, he seems to be turning the corner in that respect. 15th for Driving Accuracy at the Vic Open and 13th for GIR in Perth a week later are excellent pointers of impending success for a player like Dunne and he very nearly produced the goods for us at Lake Karrinyup when he finished 2nd after 54 holes and 3rd in the Match Play element on the Sunday. Some of his short irons and wedges that week were outstanding and on a second-shot course such as this, that’s another really positive asset to have. Despite finishing outside the top-50 in Saudi the week prior to these two efforts, he still ranked 4th for total putts on the Paspalum greens and having gone to Dubai after his fortnight in Australia to rest up then prepare for this week’s task, he’ll be fully acclimatised and ready to attack the course here in Muscat. RESULT: T58
Callum Shinkwin 1pt EW 80/1 with Bet £/€5 get £/€20 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply** (7 EW, 1/5 odds)
Matthieu Pavon 1pt EW 100/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet* for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
A couple of longer prices to complete this week’s team. First up Callum Shinkwin who’s clearly desperate to be playing competitive golf at present. The Hertfordshire lad finished outside of the Race To Dubai top 110 last year and is having to make do with scraping into these low-grade events or attempting to qualify for bigger events, as he did successfully at the Dubai Desert Classic at the end of January. That persistence nearly reaped rewards as the 25 year-old sat in 5th place at the halfway point courtesy of opening rounds of 66/68 before falling away over the weekend. A start at the Vic Open a fortnight later saw rounds of 64 and 66 on Thursday and Saturday respectively put Callum in 2nd place heading into Sunday, before a closing 72 saw him drift down to 10th place. Disappointing finishes both times but positive progression nonetheless. Most golf punters will remember Shinkwin as the player who let a golden opportunity slip through his fingers at the 2017 Scottish Open, bogeying the final hole and eventually losing in a play-off to Rafa Cabrera-Bello, however that links form combined with a top-10 in the same event the previous year and a further top-10 finish at the inland links style Open de France all bode well for his chances this week. 3rd here at Al Mouj in 2015 on the Challenge Tour is another tick in a box and he opened with a round of 67 to sit 4th after the first day here 12 months ago before dropping away when in generally far worse form than he is 12 months down the line. RESULT: WD
Finally I’ll close this week with Matthieu Pavon. The 26 year-old has won twice in his career on the Alps Tour but is yet to break through at this level, however if and when he does get that win I suspect it will be on a links-style or coastal track. 3rd at Dundonald Links at the 2017 Scottish Open ranks as the Frenchman’s best effort so far in terms of OWGR points achieved, however 2nd behind Kurt Kitayama in December at the coastal Mauritius Open was the closest he’s come to lifting a trophy at European Tour level. 6th at the Nordea Masters in 2017 and 10th at Ballyliffin at last year’s Irish Open both also hold some good correlation and it’s clear to me that this is a style of track that suits his game better than others. Pavon has teed it up twice here in the past, finishing 3rd at the NBO Grand Final in 2016 where he led going into the final day, plus he finished 31st here in this event 12 months ago having led at the halfway point. Since finishing 2nd in Mauritius, the Toulouse man has been in generally indifferent form, missing 4 cuts out of 5 (hence his price this week), however I think he’s worth chancing here on a track that suits on the strength of his 24th place finish at the Dubai Desert Classic where he was 5th going into the weekend. A missed cut on his last start in Saudi Arabia masks the fact that he signed off with an improved round of 67 and after 3 weeks of downtime he should be ready and raring to go once again. RESULT: MC
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:30GMT 25.2.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
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