The Race to Dubai finally reaches European soil as the Tour takes in its annual trip to Madeira. Finding the winner may not be a piece of cake but our man's given it a go so read his in-depth preview here...
“Paul Lawrie, who turned 40 back in March, has form at a number of courses that may well correlate well and he was 10th here the last time he played the course in 2008. I thought he was worth a small interest each-way at 150/1 on the Sportsbook.”
With the Players Championship, previewed here, very much the star of the show this week, the Madeira Islands Open offers up a great chance for the European Tour's lesser lights and for the Challenge Tour players to secure their cards or gain promotion with a win here. This will be the 22nd staging of this co-sanctioned event.
Clube de Golf Santo do Serra, Santo da Serra, Madeira, Portugal
Par 72 -6,826 yards
Stroke Index in 2013 - 73.04
Designed by Robert Trent Jnr and opened in 1991, Santo da Serra was the regular venue for this event until it moved to Porto Santo Golfe for just two renewals in 2009.
It's a short, hilly, wind-exposed, cliff-top track where low-scoring is possible in benign conditions (Bradley Dredge shot 60 in round three in 2003) but in windy weather it can be very tricky.
The greens are slow and run at just 9.5 on the stimpmeter.
It's a stunning location but apparently it's too logistically troublesome for a full live broadcast and the event has never been shown in full. I'm sure they'll be some highlights after the event at some stage but regrettably, there'll be no live coverage again this year.
Last Five Winners
2013 - Peter Uihlein -15
2012 - Ricardo Santos - 22
2011 - Michael Hoey -10 (Porto Santo Golfe)
2010 - James Morrison -20 (Porto Santo Golfe)
2009 - Tano Goya -6 (Porto Santo Golfe)
What will it take to win the Madeira Islands Open?
I used to be of the opinion that neither driving accuracy or driving distance really mattered here but given that two of the last four course winners (Peter Uihlein last year and Daniel Vancsik in 2007) have overpowered the course and topped the driving distance stats, I fancy I need a rethink. Especially when considering that the two players tied for second last year, Morten Orum Madsen and Mark Tullo, also ranked highly at 2nd and 12th respectfully.
Whether you're bombing it off the tee or not, finding the greens with regularity is important. The last six winners here have all ranked inside the top-20 for greens hit and the last two winners have ranked 1st or 2nd for putting.
Is there an angle in?
There are a number of coastal courses that may well correlate quite well with Santo da Serra. A perusal at past results from the Golf du Palais Royal in Morocco, home of the Trophee Hassan II, Oitavos Dunes in Portugal, which used to host the now defunct Estoril Open de Portugal, Kennemer Golf and Country Club, home of the KLM Open, Royal Portrush, which hosted the Irish Open in 2012, and Parador de El Saler, which staged the Open de Espana last April are all worth considering for clues but the two I like best are Club de Campo, which hosted the Madrid Masters in 2007 and 2010 and East London, which hosts the Africa Open each year.
I know its old form but with a few veterans in the field this week the Club de Campo form may be of some use as the correlation is certainly strong. Four of the top-13 in the 2007 Madrid Masters had won at Santo da Serra and Rhys Davies, who had finished runner-up to Luke Donald there in 2010 confounded his poor form to finish 4th here last year.
Is there an identikit winner?
This used to be a venue where experience was extremely important. Prior to Daniel Vancsik's win here in 2007, seven of the previous eight winners had posted a top-25 finish prior to winning here and although he had no form to speak of, Vancsik had still played the course a few times. When Forsyth won here in 2008, the last time it was used until 2012, he did so following a pair of top-30 finishes and the 2011 champ, Ricardo Santos, was playing the course for the 4th time.
I would favour someone with plenty of course form over one with none but its well worth pointing out that last year's winner, Peter Uihlein, was making his course debut. It's also worth highlighting that Uihlein, although currently out of form, is a former US Amateur champions and a player with much potential and I doubt very much that there are any youngsters lurking this year with anywhere near his class.
All sorts can happen late on here and its well worth laying back at least some of your bet if one of your selections goes odds-on on day four. I picked out four players here two years ago and three of them led by at least two strokes at one stage or another but none of them won. Two of them, Carlos Del Moral, backed at 60.059/1 and Andreas Harto, backed at 130.0129/1, both hit the front on day four. Del Moral was matched at just 1.351/3 on the front nine and Harto hit a low of 1.68/13. Remember, they don't actually have to win to make you a nice profit and in a low grade event like this on a tricky course, where danger lurks, laying back is very sensible.
This is by some distance the weakest event on the European Tour in many a month and it's very hard to consider backing such lowly ranked players at such short odds. The 2012 winner, Ricardo Santos, heads what is a competitive market but he looks plenty short enough to me.
John Hahn has a very similar profile to last year's winner, Peter Uihlein, in that he's a young American making his course debut. I doubt he's quite in the same league as Uihlein but he has got some form at East London, where he opened up with rounds of 65 and 61 back in February. He rallied after a poor third round to finish 3rd and although he disappointed in Singapore last week when he missed the cut, I thought he was worth trying here at a course that might just suit.
I may take another look at the market on Wednesday to see if anyone has drifted to a big enough price to catch my eye but in the meantime my only other selection is Peter Lawrie, who after a string of missed cuts, finally put in a decent performance last week in Singapore, where he finished tied for 20th. The Dubliner, who turned 40 back in March, has form at a number of courses mentioned that may well correlate well and he was 10th here the last time he played the course in 2008. I thought he was worth a small interest each-way at 150/1 on the Sportsbook.
John Hahn @ 60.059/1
Peter Lawrie @ 150/1 each-way (Sportsbook)
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter