The European Tour visits Mauritius for a fifth time this week and our man has the lowdown with his comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"This year’s Qatar Masters winner, Justin Harding, trading at odds-on to win this event last year at Anahita and he crept into contention at Leopard Creek on Sunday before a double-bogey at the 14th scuppered his chances but he looks to have a live chance here on the strength of his tied seventh last week."
This is the fifth renewal of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open - an event tri-sanctioned between the European, Asian and Sunshine Tours.
The first two editions were staged in May but there was no tournament on the 2017 European Tour schedule. The event switched to its current November slot in 2017 (which counted as a 2018 tournament) and for the third year in-a-row, the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open is the second event of the new European Tour season.
The tournament alternates between two venues. The Four Seasons Golf Club at Anahita hosted the event in May 2016 and again last November and this year it returns to its original venue - the Heritage Resorts, Domaine de Bel Ombre - for a third time.
The Heritage Course, Domaine de Bel Ombre, Mauritius
Par 71, 6,986 yards
Stroke index in 2017 when played over 7,036 yards- 71.01
At just a shade under 7,000 yards, the Peter Matkovich-designed Heritage Course is a short wind-affected course with water in play on the seventh, ninth, 11th, 13th and 18th holes.
The Indian Ocean is in view on ten of the 18 holes and the fairways are generous. Here's what Scott Hend had to say about the venue prior to the 2015 renewal: "Some greens are tricky here and the grass is a bit different to what we are normally used to. But the ball is rolling fine. You can score out here. There are two drivable par fours and the par fives are reachable. It's out there to be had. You just have to get the ball under the hole."
Live on Sky all four days, starting at 08:30 on Thursday
First Four Winners
2015 - George Coetzee -13 (playoff)
2016 - Jeunghun Wang -6 (Four Seasons)
2017 - Dylan Frittelli -16
2018 - Kurt Kitayama -20 (Four Seasons)
What Will it Take to Win the AfrAsia Mauritius Open?
With only two previous renewals at the venue, we shouldn't give the stats too much credence - especially when they don't appear to reveal much anyway.
Scott Hend, who always blasts it miles, was the only player in the top-ten to rank inside the top-20 for Driving Distance and accuracy wasn't essential either in the first edition held here. The two playoff protagonists, George Coetzee and Thorbjørn Olesen, ranked 50th and 70th for Driving Accuracy.
Neither of driving metrics appeared to be crucial last time either. The tow playoff protagonists, Dylan Frittelli and Arjun Atwal, ranked 43rd and 40th for DD and 28th and 16th for DA.
Greens In Regulation wasn't even a key stat in 2015 with the front two ranking 42nd and 39th but Frittelli and the man who finished alone in third, Romain Langasque, were tied at the top of the GIR stats in 2017. The playoff protagonists putted well in 2015 and they also played the par fours better than anyone else. Coetzee ranked first for both Putting Average and Par 4 Scoring and Olesen ranked second for those two stats but it was a slightly different story two years ago.
The first four home ranked tied fifth, tied ninth, tied fifth and second for Par 4 Scoring and Atwal ranked first for PA but Frittelli managed to get across the line despite averaging in excess of 30 putts a day for the week and it's very unusual for anyone to win putting that poorly. He ranked 35th for PA.
In short, despite it being wide open in appearance, I'd slightly favour accuracy off the tee to power (although neither crucial) and it appears you either have to find greens relentlessly or putt really well. Maybe things will become a bit clearer after this year's edition.
Is There an Angle In?
The forecast doesn't suggest that we'll encounter any extremely windy conditions - just an ever present breeze - but given its coastal location, that's bound to be a factor and again, that's possibly why the South Africans fare well here. It may be a bit of a sweeping generalisation but South Africans do tend to be exceptionally good in windy conditions.
From a course correlation perspective, I like the Qatar Masters as a possible angle in and that goes for both venues really. In the first edition here, the playoff was contested by two players that have both finished second in Qatar (Coetzee twice) and even though the last two playoff protagonists have only played Qatar three times between them and without much success, the form is there (albeit only just). Frittelli was only two off the lead when he finished 48th in his only appearance back in 2017 and Atwal sat sixth with a round to go when 20th way back in 2005.
Doha is a wide, exposed, wind affected track so it stands to reason that form there should stand up nicely here. And finally, I just wonder whether form at the now defunct Rocco Forte Open in Sicily might prove to be a decent guide. Staged only four times at the coastal Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, it definitely appears to correlate with Doha and the runner-up here in 2015, Olesen, won the event back in 2012.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
It's no surprise to see that South Africans fare well in Mauritius as it's a popular tourist destination for them and a number of players have connections with the island. Scott Hend mentioned how tricky the greens were to read so those that grew up putting on grainy unpredictable putting surfaces should hold a slight advantage over the others and with Coetzee and Frittelli winning the first two editions here that appears to be the case.
Coetzee went off favourite in 2015 and Frittelli was a 44.043/1 chance two years ago.
George Coetzee trailed by five in a tied for 32nd after round one and he still trailed by four at halfway before eventually converting a one stroke lead. Olesen led through rounds one and two before dropping a stroke behind Coetzee through 54 holes and it was a similar tale in 2017.
Atwal was four clear after opening up with a round of 62 and he was still a shot in front at halfway and tied for the lead with South Africa's Louis De Jager with a round to go before losing out in extra time to Frittelli, who like Coetzee two years earlier, had crept into the running. He too trailed by five after round one and he trailed by just a stroke after rounds two and three.
If you're planning to bet in-running, the course has a tough start and a tricky finish. The par five second was the second easiest on the course last time but holes one, three and four ranked as the first, third and fifth hardest and scores are generally made on the middle section between holes seven and 14. The eighth is a tough par four but that's preceded by a simple enough par five (averaged 4.66 in 2017) and followed by a run of six holes that ranked 13th, 12th, 11th, 14th tenth and 18th two years ago. The par five 14th only averaged 4.48.
After that, 15, 16 and 17 ranked as the sixth, seventh and second hardest holes in 2017 (all averaging over-par) but once through that run, the final hole, a par five, ranked 15th toughest, averaging 4.78.
The Belgian pair - Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry - head the market but neither makes much appeal. Pieters was last seen when finishing sixth at the DP World Tour Championship and Detry showed promise in the Nedbank Golf Challenge last month, where he finished third, but he too was last sighted in Dubai, where he finished down the field in 28th. Both are playing here for the first time and I'm more than happy to bypass the pair.
The 2015 winner, George Coetzee, who also finished ninth here two years ago, is an arguably more plausible candidate but he was absolutely bang in form when he won here in 2015 and that's not the case this time around - although he did win in South Africa five weeks ago on the Sunshine Tour.
Frenchman, Romain Langasque, is yet to win on the European Tour (has won once on the Challenge Tour) and he's been in no better than ordinary form of late so he's a very short price at around 20.019/1 on account of his third place finish here two years ago and although he played well last week, Zander Lombard, who's also yet to win on the European Tour, looks plenty short enough too at the same price. I backed him in this here two years ago at 80.079/1 and he missed the cut. I'm in no rush to take a quarter the odds this time around.
This year's Qatar Masters winner, Justin Harding, trading at odds-on to win this event last year at Anahita and he crept into contention at Leopard Creek on Sunday before a double-bogey at the 14th scuppered his chances but he looks to have a live chance here on the strength of his tied seventh last week.
I do like an overaction and that's what we have with both Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Brandon Stone, who went off last week as the first and second in the market at Leopard Creek.
Having started at the 10th hole on Thursday, Bezuidenhout started slowly before making a nine at the par five 18th and that effectively cost him any chance of victory. He didn't recover brilliantly but he did finish the event well, playing the back-nine in four-under-par and I suspect he'll be raring to go to put things right this week. I really like Bezuidenhout and I think he has a big future so I'm happy to take a small chance at 24.023/1. He missed the cut here two years ago but that was his seventh weekend off in ten starts so he was hardly on fire and his second in Qatar in March is eye catching.
Stone makes for a frustrating punting vehicle. He often appears to lose interest at the drop of hat and when the chips are down he nearly always responds poorly so it was no surprise to see him go AWOL in last week's ultra-tough conditions at Leopard Creek. He's a very high-quality player though and a quite brilliant wind exponent so I'm quite happy to take a small chance on him too at 36.035/1. Which is about 20 points bigger than he was backed down to last week after his second-place finish in Portugal in his subsequent start.
Justin Harding @ 23.022/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ 24.023/1
Brandon Stone @ 36.035/1
I'll be back on Thursday with the In-Play Blog after the first round of the Hero Challenge (previewed here) which starts tomorrow.
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