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A new event for us to get our teeth into this week as the NBO Oman Open makes its bow on the European Tour. With a prize fund of $1.75m, which puts it on a par with next week’s Qatar Masters, a reasonable field has assembled here in the capital Muscat which sits around 250 miles to the south-east of Dubai, headlined by Alexander Levy who rates the 16/1 favourite in what looks to be a wide open affair.
As ever with a new event there are a number of unknown factors to contend with, however we do have a little help this time around as the European Challenge Tour has used this Al Mouj Golf Course for the past 5 seasons, 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.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Genesis Open – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
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.
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 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 play as the most difficult hole on the course 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.
Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s event that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well on this course: Current Form | Course 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.
Course Winners. 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 each day. The wind will be generally light with 5-10 mph expected in the afternoons, however that’s unlikely to concern the players.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Unfortunately there were no player stats captured for any of the 5 Challenge Tour events held here at Al Mouj Golf so we’re in the dark to a large degree as to the key success factors required for this week.
Incoming Form: 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.
Course Form: Of course we’re going to need to take the course form stats of our five 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. That said, it’s interesting to note that the last 3 winners had all recorded a reasonably positive effort here the year before winning which might improve the chances of some of the lesser lights in this week’s field.
With only a little over one-third of the field here having played this track before, players and punters alike will be feeling their way through this event here in Oman. The characteristics of the track are likely to give us the biggest clues to unravelling this week’s winner I feel rather than trying to pick the bones out of the results that have happened hear on the Challenge Tour over the past 5 years. With a stronger, deeper field assembled playing 3 months or so later in the year – and with a different type of pressure associated with the event as it’s a small, regular European Tour event as opposed to the Challenge Tour’s finale – I suspect the course stats should be taken with a pinch of salt. A good mix of short game exponents and more measured tee-to-green performers have appeared on the leaderboards from the past 5 years too to complicate matters.
For me this week’s placid forecast will render this wide, open course fairly defenceless against the European Tour regulars and a winning score in the region of Bernd Ritthammer’s 21-under total in 2016 may well be the kind of target score required come Sunday evening. 3 of the 4 par-5s are good scoring opportunities and with top-quality Paspalum greens awaiting those who can find the greens with regularity, this may well come down to who can find enough greens and convert enough chances to compile a contending score. In tougher conditions I can see that this course will pose plenty of questions of a player’s short game, however unless the forecast proves to be wildly inaccurate, this week’s cast should be putting for birdies rather than pars most of the time.
My selections are as follows:
Jeunghun Wang 2pts EW 33/1 with Coral
South Korean star Jeunghun Wang was very well-backed on his last start in Malaysia following a couple of strong performances in the Gulf, finishing 15th in Abu Dhabi and in the log-jam for 6th place in Dubai. Although I didn’t back him myself in Kuala Lumpur, I could see the logic given his performances coming into that event and the fact that he’d been keeping his card extremely clean throughout the previous fortnight. It wasn’t to be for the 22 year-old who ultimately couldn’t handle the greens at the Maybank Championship, however after a week off and back to a track with far better putting surfaces, I can see him bouncing back to form here this week.
Breaking down his performances in the Middle East from last month and we see a Driving Accuracy performance of 2nd, plus 1st for Scrambling in Abu Dhabi; couple that with 9th for GIR and 4th for Scrambling in Dubai and clearly his game is in pretty good shape overall. Despite finishing 62nd in Malaysia, his long game was still pretty strong with both Accuracy and GIR rankings in the top-20 on the week, it was just his putting on those challenging greens that let him down.
With a previous coastal win to his name from his Mauritius victory in 2016, plus his Qatar Masters success from last year – an event that often produces winners with a links-positive record – there’s plenty of tangible history for Wang to bring to this event. I also like the fact that he’s defending next week in Qatar as I often note how players up their game the week before a title defence, whether that’s due to the fact that the pressure’s off the week before the inevitable media commitments or players simply sharpening their game ahead of an important week – take your pick. With Asian golfers ruling the roost on the European Tour following successive victories for Haotong Li, Shubhankar Sharma and Kiradech Aphibarnrat last week, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that run extended to 4 weeks here with another title for Jeunghun Wang. RESULT: T26
Richie Ramsay 1pt EW 50/1 – W/D Pre-Event
Although this isn’t going to be a true links test for the purists, having some solid coastal and/or links form is still a positive for this week in my view and Richie Ramsay has more of that than most here in attendance. Twice a top-4 finisher at the Alfred Dunhill Links over the years, plus 2nd behind Jon Rahm at last year’s Irish Open, is more than enough for a tick in that particular box and although that’s unlikely to be the be-all and end-all this week, it’s nevertheless a strong enough indicator for me to get involved. Couple that with top-6 finishes at the 2016 Scottish Open (Castle Stuart) and 2011 Open de France at Le Golf National, which has more than a passing resemblance to an inland links, and we’re starting to build a decent case for the Scot. 8 consecutive cuts made is good, consistent form for the 34 year-old who produced a blistering final round of 64 in Dubai to finish 6th before struggling on the greens in Malaysia like so many of the other players did. When on his game, GIR is Richie’s biggest asset and impressive efforts of 88.9% and 83.3% at the Earth Course and in Abu Dhabi respectively backs up the assertion that he’s made on twitter that his game’s in a strong place right now. RESULT: WD Pre-Event
Romain Wattel 1pt EW 60/1 with Betfred
Another strong ball-striker makes my team this week in the shape of Romain Wattel. Having won just his second start as a professional on the Challenge Tour back in 2010, it’s taken a long, hard 7 years for the Frenchman to add to his trophy cabinet despite the obvious talent that he possesses, however with his impressive KLM Open victory from last autumn finally getting that European Tour monkey off of his back, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him pick up a more titles over the next few years – after all, at just 27 years of age he’s got plenty of time left to continue improving and developing. That win in Holland is relevant not only for the fact that he’s proven he can convert at this level, but also ‘The Dutch’ track used carries certain linksy features that should correlate well with this week on his course debut. When on his game it’s Wattel’s tee-to-green performance that normally features most heavily, however it’s clear to see that he’s been working hard on his putting after admitting that the last couple of years have been dreadful with the flat stick. Most tangibly he produced putting averages of 1.65 at the Scottish Open and 1.62 at Crans in the events leading up to his win in Holland – noteworthy then that his last 2 outings have seen him produce very similar numbers in Dubai and Malaysia, plus he topped total driving on his last start in Kuala Lumpur. Has a very real chance of winning this week in my view. RESULT: MC
Chris Hanson 0.5pt EW 100/1 with Betfred
A pair of longer shots to complete this week’s team. First up Chris Hanson who’s not quite put 4 rounds together yet to give him a strong chance of winning his maiden European Tour event, however there are certainly signs that he’s getting ever closer to that truly contending performance. 6th in Morrocco was the Englishman’s best result of 2017, however fast starts the Czech Masters (led by 3 after 36 holes) and the British Masters (2nd after 36 holes) promised so much more before lacklustre weekends saw him fall outside of the top-10 on both occasions. 6th then on his penultimate start in Dubai showed some promise as a final round 65 marks his best-ever Sunday performance on the European Tour and perhaps the 32 year-old finally has all of his ducks in a row ready for that week where he’s in a good position going into the weekend. Generally a strong GIR performer (20th on the European Tour for the full 2017 season), Hanson’s short game looked on point at the Emirates with a field-leading 87.5% scrambling and 1.63 putts per GIR which bodes well for this week and despite missing the 54-hole cut in Malaysia, he wasn’t overly concerned given he struggled in the conditions and on the poor greens. 8th at The Dutch at the 2016 KLM Open, where he hit a massive 86.1% GIR to lead the field that week, hints at a liking for these links-style courses and 18th at last year’s Qatar Masters is also a positive sign. RESULT: MC
Matthew Southgate 0.5pt EW 150/1 with Sportingbet
On the face of it, the headline form of Matthew Southgate looks pretty dire which goes a long way to explaining his lengthy price here this week. The Southend man took the weekend off at his opening two events of 2017 in South Africa and Abu Dhabi before picking up small cheques in Dubai (57th) and Malaysia (62nd), however if you scratch the surface I don’t think that his underlying game is as bad as it would seem from those finishes alone. Opening rounds of 68 on Thursday and Friday in Dubai put him around the top-20 going into the weekend before slipping back over the weekend and a second round of 66 in Malaysia showed some promise, as does back-to-back GIR figures nudging 80% on both occasions, however if he’s going to turn that decent ironplay into a contending performance then in all likelihood it’s going to be on a linksy track such as this. 12th and 6th at the last two Open Championships is form that most in this field will never get close to in their respective careers and 2nd behind Jon Rahm last July at Portstewart at the Irish Open also gives a further validation of his links credentials. Southgate’s history suggests that he’s very hit-or-miss and missed cuts are equally (or more) likely than a decent performance most weeks, however at the price on offer I’m happy to take a chance on him here this week on a layout that should suit. RESULT: T9