After intimately watching all four days of this tournament last year, we can happily say this has become one of our favourite events on the European Tour. It did help picking three of the top five though. But if you didn’t know, we are connoisseurs of the iron player. What do we mean? Well, we all love watching the Bubbas and DJs out there bombing it over 350 on every hole, but is there anything better than watching a majestic display of iron play from ball strikers such as David Horsey or Craig Lee. Forget your Garcias, Mahans and Kuchars, out here in Morocco, these guys rule. And this week, accurate approach play is where it will be won and lost.
Played at the stunning Golf du Palais Royal in Agadir in Morocco, the track weighs in at a mere 6,800 yards. Keeping the ball in play, hitting the small greens and holing some putts is about the jist of it this week. But winds are also likely to get up, so players who enjoy coastal courses are ones to consider. Siem, Horsey and Larrazabal, who did well here in 2013, all consistently ranked inside the top 20 for driving accuracy, GIR and putting stats over all four days. And we’re expecting much of the same this year. So get a pen and paper out this weekend, because these boys are going to give us one hell of an iron display – we hope…
If you are one for scenery, the course is actually the ‘back garden’ of the Royal Palace and the love of Prince Moulay Rachid. There will be more than a few cheese sandwiches on offer in the canteen after the round, that is for sure.
David Horsey (20/1 Stan James)
Big Dave was already pencilled in as our number one pick for this about a month ago. He proved to us last year how much he loves the place and his iron play was naturally nothing short of sublime. It was only a red hot German that prevented him from taking this title for a second time. He finished 14th in his only other time around here, so to avoid being cliché, it’s horseys for courses this week (that will not be the last time you hear that pun).
But all personal passion and love for the Englishman aside, he is actually a perfect fit this week. He finished 10th out in South Africa five weeks ago at the Joburg and then followed it up with a stunning 3rd at the Africa Open where he missed out on the Aiken-Fisher play-off by a shot. He is also ranking 7th stroke average, 29th driving accuracy and 3rd putts per round on the tour this year. You would be mad not to chuck your money on him, trust us!
Sadly, he now finds himself at the horrendously low odds of 20/1. So an outright stake will be advised unless you have some serious paper.
Craig Lee (70/1 Stan James)
Now Craig is a less obvious pick to Horsey but his iron play is without doubt in the same bracket as our number one pick. Even though he ended up T9, it was in the early stages of this tournament that we really saw what ability the Scot had in 2013. He went on to prove this further, narrowly losing out to Thomas Bjorn in a play-off at the Omega European Masters. His current form is indifferent but when a course suits him, as this does, he is a mean prospect. 14th in 2012 was his only other appearance in Morocco, not bad at all.
His only performance of note in 2014 was at the Abu Dhabi HSBC where he held the 54-hole lead by 2 shots. But with the likes of Mickelson, McIlroy and Larrazabal chasing him down, it was understandable that a few nerves crept in. But it proves Craig is in good shape and he has a massive chance to win his first European Tour title in the Prince’s back yard.
Matthew Baldwin (35/1 Paddy Power)
The Englishman is someone who just looks solid in every aspect we look at. His course form reads 5th last year and 17th the year before. He comes to Morocco on the back of some very solid play, including a 5th place three starts ago at the Africa Open. Statistically he ranks 43rd driving accuracy and 42nd GIR which we can assure you is very solid. And then two weeks ago, when Ross Fisher took the spoils, Baldwin consistently ranked inside the top 20 for both driving accuracy and GIR.
He is someone who you often see on the first page of the leaderboard but as of yet only has 1 Challenge Tour victory to his name. It will be at a lower key tournament on the back of a WGC event such as this one where maiden titles are won. He is a really solid bet.
Edoardo Molinari (40/1 Coral)
We don’t know what it is in the Italian genes but when you look at the players produced from there, Manassero and the Molinari brothers just to name three, they are all incredible with an iron. Edoardo’s 2013 season and start of 2014 was blighted by injury but over the past couple of months he has shown the quality he has that has earned him 2 European Tour titles and a slot on the victorious European Ryder Cup team in 2010. And it is the ability that he possesses when in the middle of the fairway that makes us so confident in him this week.
His last three starts have been T10, T37 and T9 where he actually held the first round lead at the Joburg Open, when he managed the T37. So it is clear he is in great shape and he comes to Morocco having finished 6th here in 2012. The signs are ominous. We know he can drive it straight (44th driving accuracy) and on his day, this course will suit him perfectly.
Shane Lowry (70/1 Bet365)
Our final pick was looked at purely from a betting perspective. 70/1 for someone who many would class as one of the biggest names in the field we feel is too good to miss. And it isn’t just that, this type of narrow, undulating track is where the Irishman thrives. He will have grown up playing similar courses in Ireland and both of his European Tour titles have come on short-ish tracks where iron play is key. He hasn’t been to Morocco since 2012 but he did finish a very respectable 17th.
It was three missed cuts at the end of January that means Lowry finds himself at these odds but we saw promising signs a couple of weeks ago at the Tshwane Open. He was just outside the top 10 after the first round and was ranking inside the top 20 for putting stats and top 30 for driving accuracy over the final three days. It is a calculated hunch and Lowry is someone you just cannot discount from winning this.