The penultimate week of the regular European Tour season is upon us as all the main men of the circuit have two weeks left to get themselves inside that top 60 for the Race To Dubai.
Perhaps more importantly, many players will be vying to be inside the top 110, as they will be guaranteed their card for next season. Many names that have featured for us over the year are currently in perilous positions and I trust we are all praying for them before devouring our dinners – James Kingston (108th), Lee ‘Slatts’ Slattery (100th), Mark Tullo (115th), Simon ‘Shakey Wakey’ Wakefield (133rd), Fredrik Andersson ‘lose your’ Hed (135th) and Espen Kofstad (139th) to name but a few.
All these stalwarts will be off to the golfing paradise of Vilamoura this week for the Portugal Masters.
The Oceânico Victoria Golf Club will play host and is over a picturesque setting with undulating fairways, 4 lakes and many strategically placed bunkers.
It is not one of the most challenging courses on tour (as the previous scores suggest) and because of the generous fairways, bombers tend to have an advantage as they can wield their forearms and let rip. Standing at 7,209 yards, the par 71 is not the longest either, but as always finding the greens will be the most crucial aspect this week.
There is an ‘Americany’ feel to the layout, designed by Arnold Palmer, which is traditionally known to suit the longer hitters in the game.
However, this week we really feel many stats are thrown out the window because it will all be out bottle and desire to get as high up those rankings as possible – let alone keeping your card for another year.
The shot makers and guys who holed their putts will be near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday, so with all this in mind we have concocted a cheeky set up for this weeks picks.
Shane Lowry (28/1 BetVictor)
Race to Dubai Ranking: 28
It’s always a bit of a gamble backing last year’s winner but we just cannot stay away from the Irishman this week. He’s been playing very consistent in recent weeks and his putting in particular has been outstanding. After a rest last week he will be fresh going to Portugal off the back of his 3rd place at the Alfred Dunhill Championship. And over three different courses in Scotland, he ranked 2nd in putts per GIR and 1st in putts per round. Now that is dangerous considering Lowry walked away with this last year being 1st in putts per GIR and 3rd putts per round over the four days in Portugal.
Lowry has firmly booked his place in Dubai so there will be no worries there but there is the slight chance he can still sneak into the top 10, and he will be well aware.
Francesco Molinari (25/1 various)
Race To Dubai: 33rd
We were quietly surprised to see Francesco Molinari start out at 28s this week, after finding himself in the low-mid teens for many tournaments throughout the year.
Especially when you think Martin Kaymer is as low as he is…
Ultimately, Molinari has not had the greatest year by his high standards and this has been reflected in his results. 4 top 10s is simply not good enough and what has been discouraging is how his iron play have not been what we all know they can be. However, in his last few outings there have been signs of a resurgent Italian, desperately trying to force his way through the masses and finding the approach shots he is renowned for.
At the Seve Trophy he battled his way through the first 2 days, unlucky to only pick up a half, whilst on the Saturday he seemed hindered be another disappointing Olesen performance.
But on the Sunday he came up against an on-fire Chris Wood and surged to a 3&2 victory, showing his true class once again. The week previous at his home course, where the pressure was akin to a Gladiatorial death match, he solidly finished T16 after delighting the crowds on the opening 2 days.
He was 3rd in driving accuracy and 17th in GIR that week and if he can get his putter going there is no reason he cant shoot well here. He has turned up in Portugal before, recording two T2 in 2010 and 2009, never missing the cut and having T38 as his lowest finish. That is not bad now is it?
Alvaro Quiros (50/1 Stan James)
Race to Dubai Ranking: 106
Injury free and wide fairways, what more could the big hitting Spaniard want. Coming to a course where conditions will be similar to that in his native Spain, the juices are sure to be flowing. And he won on this track in 2008!
It’s been a long hard road recovering from various injuries for Quiros but in recent weeks we have seen glimpses of what we all know he can do. The final component that needs to be added is that all important consistency. Other than a missed cut last year, his form in Portugal has always been consistent, only finishing outside the top 20 once. He does have his Race to Dubai ranking hanging around his neck this week too, with him currently lying just 4 places inside the top 110 all of whom gain their cards for the tour in 2014. This will surely give him great inspiration to have a big week.
With all our other bets there is a sensible feel to them. But with Quiros, he could quite easily miss the cut and be drinking sangria with his family across the border before the third round has even commenced. BUT he could quite easily win this as well. Just keep thinking about those wide fairways and the fact that the Spaniard topped the driving distance charts 4 out of the last 6 years. Swing away Alvaro.
Chris Wood (50/1 Ladbrokes)
Race to Dubai Ranking: 25
The lanky Englishman as you might know is a real favourite of ours at DownThe18th. And it was heart-breaking to see him lose for the first time EVER in the Seve trophy last week. (He had only played it once before though..) None the less, we felt he played really consistently and was just out played in the matches he lost. When you actually look at the quality of golfers at similar prices, Wood really does stand out. People may question his form but he has recorded two top 10’s in his last five starts.
He comes to this course having only played it twice and recorded a 10th place in one of those back in 2008. And quite honestly he comes here a different man now having won his first European Tour title in January of this year. Shane Lowry proved last year putting is key on this course considering the width of the fairway, and Wood ranked 1st in putts per GIR and 4th in putts per round at the Alfred Dunhill. At 50/1 you cannot go wrong with Big Chris.
Pablo Larrazabal (55/1 StanJames)
Race To Dubai: 38th
Our favourite, enigmatic and temperamental Spaniard. No not Sergio Garcia, but his sidekick Pablo Larrazabal. We have had many turbulent days following Pablo, as he amazes you with shots you thought impossible, before losing his head and carding a ‘Sunday Medals on your local course’ round of 90.
That was a slight exaggeration, but the point is he has got the hallmarks of a golfing schizophrenic when it comes to his temperament and in all honesty, we love him.
During the middle part of the year (when we were backing him quite a bit) he went on a run of 7 top 20s in 8 outings, before a couple of missed. He then went to the Irish Open and fell to pieces in a final round 75 to finish 4th and from there missed 6 cuts in a row.
However, a random resurgence at the KLM Open where he finished T9 will give him confidence, especially because he shot a 65 and 2 66s. Whilst a 63 on his last performance in Scotland on his way to a T17 finish hopefully proves that he is back.
He can shoot very low when his game is on and has the perfect attributes to match the challenge here – never missed a cut. Long off the tee and iron play as flamboyant as anyone.
If he finds greens, he finds birdies. Trust us.
Tom Lewis (First Round Leader 50/1 StanJames)
Alfred Dunhill – T1, Lyoness Open – T1, Johnnie Walker Championship – 2 shots off the lead, BMW International Open – 2 shots off lead, KLM Open – 3 shots off the lead.
That is the astonishing form of Tom Lewis after the first round during this year. He has turned up several times on the Thursday and then completely evaporated into the wilderness over the following days. (Barring the Alfred Dunhill, where he finished T3)
So, we thought we would be slightly cheeky and dip into the first round leader market for the young Englishman. He has previous course form here as well, which was rather interesting – he won 2 years ago – and Alfred Dunhill was his last outing. In theory he should be feeling confident coming here and this could be a great way to start the week!