Race to Dubai: Open de Andalucia (CdS)

Race to Dubai:   Open du Andalucia Costa del Sol

With four months having passed since the European Tour last played on its home continent and a month since our last proper European Tour (only) event, we thought it time to pack up the Speedo’s and the sun tan lotion, put down the latest James Lee Burke novel, end the practice of napping and stop the afternoon drinking to make an effort to return home and to work. And wouldn’t you know! It’s off to the Costa del Sol we go; home of the year round sun, afternoon siesta, tapas and sangria on tap!! It’s the first of five visits to Spain in 2012 and so bienvenida Espanola!

Date:                     15th to 18th March 2012

Venue:                 Aloha Golf Club, Andalucia, Spain

Three miles inland from the millionaire’s playground of Puerto Banus lies Nuevo Andalucia. And for one week only this small eucalyptus infused corner of Spain turns into the European Tours very own millionaire’s playground. Now this is not a long course, but what it lacks in length, it certainly makes up for with trees that creep tight to the fairway sides and truly unique greens with subtle borrows requiring deft touches and Seve-esque soft hands.

Yards:                   6,881 yards

Par:                        Par 72

Field:                   

While many of the worlds’ top ranking big guns remain playing or practicing in Florida, the field here in Spain is still filled with quality players past, present and future. Five major champions tee it up on Thursday for their chance to make a dent in the 1 Million Euro fund by capturing the relatively underwhelming €166,660 first prize. They include Canadian Southpaw Mike Weir (227/1), PGA Champion and one time golfer Rich Beem (284/1), the omni-present-but-rarely-noticed Michael Campbell (569/1), arthritic legend Jose Maria Olazabel (142/1) and 1999 Qatar Masters Champion – one Pa. Lawrie (42/1 – all BetFair).

Consider…:

…and while we are on the subject, let’s not forget that Lawrie (28/1 with Sporting Bet) defends in Andalucia. Rewind 12 Months and he was staring at zero wins in 9 yrs & a steady ranking of 256th in World. This week he’s 45th and courtesy of one of the best 4 months of solid European Tour play is currently in the Ryder Cup team! He’s now a very solid player – accurate from the tee, solid with his irons and fast becoming a quality putter to boot. One of the favourites’ this week.

Let’s also look at tournament host – Miguel Angel Jimenez (28/1 with Coral) – Aloha Golf Club member and all round dark horse. Given how quiet he has been on the Tour, I would not put it past him to award himself his own cheque come Sunday evening. Finally, there’s Olazabel (142/1 with BetFair) – not the longest hitter on the Big Tour but given this course is 600 yards shorter than most, Jose Maria is back in the pack and with his deft touch around the greens is a sneaky outsider tip.

Ones to watch:

An outstanding each way bet can be found in Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano – recently recovered from a long term injury, the Spaniard can lay claim to a finish inside the top 30 in each of his last eight starts. Generous odds of 26/1 with BetFair make this a simple second option.

Still under 20 years of age, young gun Matteo Mannesaro is one to watch this week. Starting with odds of 25/1 (with 888Sport) that put him amongst the favourites – his season has not yet kick started into full Azurrispeed but as a flair and confidence golfer – the lack of big names in the field mean that there is likely few to take the limelight as much as him this weekend.

Ones to win:

7 top ten finishes and an overall 24th place in the Race to Dubai suggest that Joost Luiten (33/1 with Ladbrokes) is a young player with a game on the up – especially after victory in Singapore at the tail end of last season. The Netherlands number one player has enjoyed a steady start in 2012 but must fancy his chances in a quality field where there is a notable absence of the global golfing superstars.

The Belfry’s very own poster boy Robert Rock is my hotly tipped winner for this week – currently sitting in 7th position on the Race to Dubai, and with one win under his belt already, the 34 year old floppy haired Tiger slayer is enjoying some inspiring form so far this season and putting as well as he ever has. Watch the 25/1 (SkyBet) odds take a tumble with a steady first round score – then watch as he applies the pressure down the stretch.

Trick shot:

Tommy Fleetwood is 9/1 with William Hill to finish in the top ten – he had 6 across both European and Challenge Tour in 2011!

Raphael Jacquelin is 18/1 with ToteSport in a place finish on Sunday.

Race to Dubai: Avantha Masters 2012

Race to Dubai:   Avantha Masters 

After a testing three week Middle East swing, much of Europe’s big hitting high fliers of the European Tour head for a break. Those who now play globally, head directly to Arizona for a practice week ahead of the Accenture World Matchplay. So, you could say it is without the usual suspects, but with longer odds, it makes it even more rewarding.

Date:                     16th – 19th February 2012

Venue:                 DLFG&CC, New Delhi, India

The dramatic Aravali range forms a magnificent backdrop for the stretches of lush turf, rolling fairways, meticulously manicured greens and fairways that compliment the flowers and streams that meander through this quiet paradise. It’s Augusta – only in India. Water is in spectacular abundance – be it in the form of a delightfully cascading waterfall on the 17th or the five lakes that add serenity all their own to the natural beauty of the course so it’s very American.

Yards:                   7,156 yards

Par:                        Par 72

Field:                   

Only ten of the top 60 from the European Tour are competing this weekend and there are 35 Tour winners with 64 event titles between them – the most successful of which is Richard Sterne (but recent return from back injury likely removes his chances of taking the sacred cow come Sunday) (46/1). However, the most recent is Joost Luiten (18/1 with BetVictor) who having knocked on the door towards the tail end of 2011, succeeded in landing the Iskander Johor Open and looks likely to compete at this new higher level more in 2012. However, also joining the field are US born one time Major winners in John Daly (79/1) and now European Tour convert and expert from “just off the green with a hybrid” – it’s Todd Hamilton (314/1 – All with BetDaq)!

Consider…:

The European Tour bridesmaids – who in the absence of the sponsor saturated limelight stealing tweeters stand a great chance of making the breakthrough at events just as this and include Scot Jamieson (42/1), Soren Hansen (49/1), Gareth Maybin (59/1) and Rhys Davis (88/1).  However, if its longer odds you like, look at these three spicy options that may curry favour; Zaw Moe (431/1), Berry Henson (266/1) and the gloriously titled Shanker Das (969/1 – all with BetDaq) – who really should be right down the courts tomorrow to have that changed if he knew what was good for him.

Ones to watch:

Shiv Sanker Prasad, known to all as SSP (Chowrasia) (66/1 at BoyleSports), used to sneak on to the historic Calcutta Golf Course before starting a career in golf as a caddie. Latterly he was persuaded to plough a furrow on the Asian and European Tours as a golfer with two victories to his name. SSP won this event in 2011 and is a firm favourite to place highly again this year. His putter is working as well as it ever has, even if length is not his strongest point. SSP is not one to win.

Great Dane Thorbjorn Oleson (33/1 with Bet365) has made the transition from also ran professional to a quality and oft-in-contention golfer – and did so frequently within 2011 en route to a whopping 640,000 Euros salary from just 30 events. Is one of the players expected to be in contention this week and with relatively attractive odds given his status this week, is surely worth an each way flutter?

Ones to win:

With six top ten finishes in  32 events and a pay check of just shy of 1 Million Euros in 2011, Aberdeen’s former favourite golfer (now that Paul Lawrie’s is firing on all cylinders!) Richie Ramsay (37/1 with BetDaq) is one stepping into contention this week.  With greater statistics in greens in regulation clear to all, his season is yet to see the rewards from the efforts of all of his off season “work” which includes reducing salt and vinegar condiment use on deep fried pizza and trying not to start a fight with Rangers supporters should they meet. His golf is set to improve even if his waistline isn’t.

Welsh born but Macclesfield surviving, Jamie Donaldson (20/1 at SkyBet) is one of the favourites this week after a career best 38th in the Race to Dubai after seven top ten finishes and a third in 2011. Shooting lower than ever already this season and with steady and improving results in his few consecutive outings since December last year, the lack of a top quality field should allow the red dragon to add some a significant win to the three challenge wins already on his Pro golfer CV.

Trick shot:

Richie Ramsay at 9/1 with Ladbrokes as top finishing GB and Ireland competitor.

Thorbjorn Oleson to be first round leader with 40/1 from BetFred.

Jenks out!

Race to Dubai: Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Race to Dubai:   Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Assalamu alikum! Here we are back in the UAE for The Omega Dubai Desert Classic. This tournament was born in 1989 when the European Tour visited Asia for the first time. Look at it now – we can’t actually get away from the place and it’s not even in Europe!

Date:                     9th – 12th February 2012

Venue:                 Emirates GC, Dubai, UAE

The flagship course at Emirates Golf Club, The Majilis is a challenging championship par 72, 7,301-yard layout designed by architect Karl Litten, the original 18 holes were built in and around the dunes of a beautiful site on the edge of the city of Dubai – it was the first all grass championship golf course in the Middle East when it opened in 88!

Yards:                   7,301 yards

Par:                        Par 72

Field:                   

This week there’s a welcome return to some of the games’ best players who have been using the perfect UAE weather to perfect their game in time for this tournament. It also includes some significant experience from stateside including Fred Couples (94/1), Mark O’Meara (189/1) and US Walker Cup star in the making – Peter Uihlein (189/1 – all BetFair).

However, no one is currently on form like perma-odd shortening Paul Lawrie (28/1 with BetFair) – he has amassed 1 Million Euros since mid December in winnings and currently lies third in the Race to Dubai after a sensational 1st place in the Commercialbank Qatar Masters – a tournament he won 13 years ago in the same year he triumphed in the little known Open Championship!

Consider…:

Unlike in Qatar – the weather will be on the side of all of the players and the locals will be keen to see an exciting finish similar to Middle Eastern delights the Majilis course has delivered on many occasions previously. However, here’s hoping the interested locals will bring more billionaires and belly dancers than bombers and leave explosions of any sort strictly to the professionals coming from the sand traps!

Ones to watch:

Alvaro Quiros (19/1 with BetFair) again! In 2011, Spain’s Quiros was tied 65th after an opening round of 73, staged one of the biggest comebacks in the history of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, to win the tournament at 11 under. He was eight shots behind the leader after 36 holes. He’s getting back into the swing of things now and his enormous length will prove of some sizeable advantage this time around as his average drive is blowing in a desert storm at 324 yards!

World number 75, George Coetzee (31/1 with BetFair), is enjoying a hectic but satisfying schedule across both African and Middle Eastern regions since an off season focus on specific practice has delivered rewards meaning a career high 17th position in the R2D. In particular, an improvement in driving accuracy and putting have been the key factors to his ever developing game that he hopes will blow sand in the faces of his golfing colleagues giving them all the hump.

Ones to win:

Hoping to win the coveted decorated but grotesquely smelly camel ride is Peter Hanson (21/1 with BetFair) of Sweden who with three top fives in his last four outings is playing some fantastic competitive golf. Benefitting in 2012 from a little more length from the tee and a white hot putter – providing both of these key elements are on fire, he will surely be leaving the Desert Classic Competitors eating dust.

World Number three Rory McIlroy (24/5 with BetFair) looks tasty yet again as each of the last six outings on the European Tour have netted him six figure winnings and include – at their very worst, an 11th place. On a course he loves, Rors will be looking to retake the 2nd world ranking spot, enjoying further success in the desert after a recent second place in Abu Dhabi. Hopefully the return to the scene of one of his three victories will motivate the youngster as all eyes look to him to fulfill his Middle Eastern promise.

Trick shot:

A winning margin of 4 strokes here at the Emirates will return 34/5 with BetFair.

Jenks out!

(In case it wasn’t hugely obvious, all odds this week have been brought to you by our friends at BetFair)

Race to Dubai: Commercialbank Qatar Masters

Race to Dubai:   Commercialbank Qatar Master presented by Dolphin Energy

Off we trot around the globe, only this week slightly further up the Arabian gulf for the second of the three event swing in the desert at yet another predictably lush oasis with artificial lakes and an over opulent clubhouse. So, let’s start with slating the title; it’s the European Tours longest titled event – bigger that the Saint-Omer Open presented by Neuflize Odier Bungener Courvoisier (shortened to OBC); it then has one of the longest holes in European Tour golf at 639 yards it’s unsurprisingly a par 5; and even without golf’s CFZ – Mr. Woods, is a pretty well attended outing.

Date:                     2nd – 5th February 2012

Venue:                 Doha GC, Doha, Qatar

This course is described as having teeth – especially when the wind picks up! It measures some 7,388 yards, has eight artificial lakes weaving their way along most of the holes and, with the addition of a punishing rough made up of desert sand, rocks, trees, shrubs and long grass and cleverly bunkered fairways that twist and turn, the utmost accuracy will be of crucial importance. Although uniquely different, this classic links course was designed by Peter Harradine, the same man responsible for the one at Abu Dhabi where last week Robert Rock tamed the Tiger.

Yards:                   7,388 yards

Par:                        Par 72

Field:                   

Headlining the event this week is World Number Two Lee Westwood (10/1 at BlueSq) who is joined by Number Four Kaymer (147/10 at BetFair) and TPC Champion KJ Choi (39/1 at BetDaq). Add a sprinkling of our friendly competitors from across the pond in World Number 10, Jason Day (35/1 at BetFair), Ryder Cup cry baby Hunter Mahon (25/1 at SkyBet) and former US PGA Champion and very low shooting (58 in the 1998 Omega PGA Championship Pro-Am) Shaun Micheel (512/1 at BetFair) and you are squinting into the sun at an interesting golfing shoot out in the desert.

Consider…:

However, there will only be a European winner – if you will permit me to stereotype for a moment. Americans don’t appear to have what it takes to get past the potential security threat of the exceptionally functional keffiyeh’s and the physical (stereotyped) similarity to the amazing self detonating bombers of the surrounding regions. That said, picking one winner from 120 without the American participants is still the challenge we face…

Ones to watch:

This swashbuckling Spaniard showed resurgence to his very best form in the fall of 2011 not least his demolition of fellow tour pros winning by a staggering 11 shots over his home course. It is Sergio Garcia (141/10 at BetDaq) this week who continues to deliver in the sun and fight to regain his rightful Ryder Cup place – and not just drive the Captains golf cart when September comes. A regular top ten finisher in the gulf, including here last year, watch out for continued form from El Nino while he has the wind in his sails…

Three times a winner in 2011 including those unexpected back to back wins in Scotland and Switzerland my glass eye gazes firmly at reigning champion Thomas Bjorn (25/1 at Bodog and BetVictor) as one who will be worth watching this week. Following a career best season, Bjorn delivered an equally inspired performance to tie in third place in Abu Dhabi and looks set to continue a highly productive swing in the Middle East.

Ones to win:

Still struggling to lose the dreadful mid-Atlantic twang but playing exciting competitive golf is Florida’s favourite club wrecker – Ulsterman Graeme MacDowell (18/1 at Coral). With three top three finishes in his last 6 outings he was aided enormously by a hole in one, a holed chip and a ricochet off the grandstand to six feet on 18 in the last 6 holes in Abu Dhabi – MacDowell is a fiery competitor and well used to appearing near the top from seemingly nowhere.

Reigning Dubai World Champion and former Commercialbank Qatar Masters winner Alvaro Quiros (18/1 at Bet365) is again one to win this week – the Middle East is a happy hunting ground for the 28 year-old Spaniard with three of his six European Tour titles having been won in the Gulf, including a triumph here three years ago. Having also finished runner-up on each of his last two visits to the $2.5 million tournament, King Quiros starts as one of the favourites.

Trick shots:

Retief Goosen at 20/1 (Ladbrokes) to be first round leader come Thursday night – he’s been one stroke off this in three of his last four outings. And look at Scott Jamieson at 20/1 (also Ladbrokes) for a just getting a top ten finish – he had five from 31 starts in 2011!

Jenks out!

Race to Dubai: Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

Race to Dubai:   Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

Date:                     26th – 29th January 2012

Congratulations Luke Donald! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Chinese New Year and the briefest of mentions of all the other good things worth celebrating since the last Race to Dubai post back in mid December last year. It seems so long ago but we can confirm we are well rested, well watered and counting with more fingers than Paul Daniels can, know that the quantity of Quality Street tins consumed confirms we have also been well fed.

And, so back to work…

We have arrived at the fourth event in the 2012 Race to Dubai calendar and after a few warming-up weeks in the glorious Southern Hemisphere and specifically three fabulous golfing locations in South Africa. This week, all eyes head to the desert and the real start of the Greatest Show on Earth – it’s the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Raising the curtain on the seventh star studded visit to the Middle East demonstrating the true international allure of the DP World Tour Championship.

Venue:                 Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Abu Dhabi, UAE

An oasis of tranquility carved out of the desert, Abu Dhabi Golf Club offers one of the most luxurious golf resort experiences in the Middle East. Its par-72, 7,334-yard Championship course provides a tough-but-fair challenge with 18 holes of lush fairways, strategically placed bunkers and generous greens.

Overlooking the golf course is the impressive clubhouse, built in the shape of a nazi-esque falcon with its wings outstretched. As you look across the lakes from the far end of the course, the Clubhouse somewhat dominates the scene not least providing a frightening backdrop at the business end of your round at the testing 567 yard par 5 18th.

Yards:                   7,334 yards

Par:                        Par 72

Field:                   

Three current reigning Major Champions head the 2012 line-up, with Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel (30/1 – Bet365), US Open Champion Rory McIlroy (7/1 at Ladbrokes) and Open Champion Darren Clarke (237/1 with Betfair) all competing for the lion’s share of the US$2.7 million prize fund at Abu Dhabi Golf Club where a cheque for 450,000 Euros awaits the winner.

The trio will be joined by World Number One Luke Donald (14/1 at Ladbrokes) and three other players that have reached the summit of the sport’s rankings: golfer of the month for November/December Martin Kaymer (another 7/1 at Ladbrokes), the defending champion and three-time Falcon trophy winner, Englishman Lee Westwood (64/5 at BetFair), and Abu Dhabi’s biggest debutant, sucked in by the mere mention of a “swing in the desert”; one Tiger Woods of America ((/1 at Ladbrokes), a 14-time Major Champion.

The field also comprises those at (long) odds with themselves including SSP Chowrasia (at 1,250/1 with Bet365), Stuart Fee (at 2,500/1 with Ladbrokes) and Ahmed Al Musharrekh (5,000/1 with SkyBet). And oh – how the mighty fall! While you are at it observe former Open Champion Todd Hamilton (at 1,000/1 with Bet365)

Consider…:

After three “home events” it is the South Africans who cannot be overlooked as they have all been on form and have all been in contention – especially the new boy on the scene – Brandon Grace (61/1 at BetFair). Only the second player ever to follow their first Tour win with another culminating in two wins and a 14th place from three events since January. That’s the tour card secured; daylight already in the Race to Dubai and you would be hard pushed not to see him at the DP World Tour Championships in December!! How’s that for a start to the year for you?

Then we have the young brigade who are made up of Matteo Mannesaro (208/1 at BetFair) and Tom Lewis (151/1 also BetFair) who have proven their credentials with three tour wins last year between them with Lewis’ coming on only his third outing as a pro!

Don’t overlook Lawrie (275/1 with BetFair) – who finished the season so strongly at the Dubai World Championship in December securing a career best top 20 Race to Dubai finish – and Westwood – who’s deadly pre-Christmas form meant two wins in three outings and the retaking of the vital World Number 2 spot from Rors.

Ones to watch:

Rusty by his own admission, but with a stunning victory in December in these very climes, and with plenty of time to take a good hard look at himself after a largely disappointing 2011 season (until the last outing!) its Alvaro Quiros (33/1 at William Hill) who provides offers of hope, huge distance and excitement on the course – if he stays within its boundaries.

If he has come half way around the world with offers of romantic liaisons and late evening trysts in the desert, then I am afraid he will be sourly disappointed. But on matters golf, and even without a proper win (only winning his own invitational event met the mark in 2011) since 2009, it’s a certain Eldrick Tiger Woods (9/1 at Ladbrokes) that generates interest in the event, excites the players and confirming via Twitter (as he did) that he is fit and ready to play, makes watching this event an absolute requirement.

Ones to win:

The son of a green keeper – which in my book, means they can really play golf (and I mean really play!) – Robert Karllson (59/1 at BetDaq) likes golf, Gulf style having won the Dubai World Championship and the Qatar Masters in recent seasons. The Swedish beanpole is a consistent performer with a new found length in 2012. His new Adams Golf driver has apparently added 18 yards to his already decent distance with the long stick from the tee.

While denting his confidence from a bogey finish last weekend leaving him out of the play off – young gun Nicolas Colsaerts (75/1 at BetFair) looks set to quickly shake the badness off with more consistent golf that saw a very steady season and his maiden Tour victory in 2011. A better and more steady golfer in every way – distance, putting, putts per round and greater accuracy – it seems everyone is taking a leaf from Luke Donald’s book!

Trick shot:

Robert Rock as first round leader punt at 100/1 (StanJames) looks great after his low scoring Sunday at Fancourt as does the likelihood of a play off at 5/2 (SKYBet).

Jenks out!