The inaugural Paul Lawrie Match Play event (previewed here) is the main dish on the European Tour this week but the rescheduled Madeira Islands Open makes for a tasty side order. Originally due to be played back in March, the event was eventually cancelled when high winds just refused to abate.
Mark James won the inaugural Madeira Islands Open in 1993 so this will be the 23rd edition and it will be a poignant one after last year's debacle. The event itself was slightly farcical, with fog reducing it to just 36 holes, but it was also tragic, with extremely popular Zimbabwean caddie, Iain McGregor, caddying for Scotland's Alastair Forsyth, dying of a heart attack on the 9th hole. There was much criticism that the event wasn't cancelled altogether and it's going to be an emotional return for many this week with "Zim Mac" very much in their thoughts. The event is co-sanctioned between the Challenge and European Tours.
Clube de Golf Santo da Serra, Santo da Serra, Madeira, Portugal
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 three years in 2009 before returning here in 2012.
Santo da Serra is a short, hilly, wind-exposed, cliff-top track with generous fairways and tricky, sloppy, slow greens. 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.
There are some stunning views but due to the terrain, a full TV crew never makes it to the venue and we only ever get highlights if we're lucky!
No TV coverage - see above.
Last Five Winners
2009 - Daniel Brooks -9 (36 holes)
2013 - Peter Uihlein -15
2012 - Ricardo Santos - 22
2011 - Michael Hoey -10 (Porto Santo Golfe)
2010 - James Morrison -20 (Porto Santo Golfe)
What Will it Take to Win The Madeira Islands Open?
Hitting plenty of greens in regulation has always been one of the secrets to success at Santo da Serra but there's definitely been a shift of late in favour of the big-hitters. The 2007 winner here, Daniel Vancsik, hits it miles off the tee and since the event returned here in 2012 the three winners have ranked 1st, 1st and 5th for driving distance but putting is still very important. The last four course winners have all ranked inside the top-three for putting.
It can get really breezy here so an ability to stay patient and play in strong winds is imperative, although, thankfully, after what happened in March, the forecast doesn't look that bad at this early stage. There will be an ever-present breeze all week but it's not forecast to be anywhere near as bad as it was four months ago.
Is There an Angle In?
Previous course form is a significant plus. I'm reluctant to consider last year's 36-hole result as representative but for the record, Daniel Brooks had missed the cut here twice before winning so he had at least seen the venue. The classy Peter Uihlein, who perhaps hasn't kicked on as well as expected, won here on debut in 2013 but prior to that, the vast majority of winners had already played well here before.
The 2012 winner, Ricardo Santos, had made the cut three times without contending and Alastair Forsyth, successful in 2008, had finished 30th and 28th in his previous two course visits. Vancsik hadn't made a cut at Santo da Serra in three visits prior to his victory but again, he had at least played here before and seven of the eight winners prior to Vancsik had finished inside the top-25 here previously.
I don't think there's anyone in the field playing as well as Uihlein was two years ago, or showing the amount of promise he was showing, and I'd be very wary of backing any of the how many 46 debutants in the field.
When studying the form for the 2010 Madrid Masters, held at Club de Campo, I noticed that when the course had been last used, for the 2007 Open de Madrid Valle Romano, that the leaderboard was littered with players that had previously played well here. As many as four of the top 13 had all won the Madeira Islands Open (Daniel Vancsik, Christopher Hanell, Jean Van De Velde, and Santiago Luna) and there were others that had finished high up in '07 with form at the Santo da Serra. Of how much use such dated form is -is highly debatable but anyway, here are the 2007 and 2010 leaderboards from Club de Campo. I remember the 2007 event very well. Vancsik threw it away during round four and it was the first time brand new pro, Rory McIlroy had properly gotten himself into contention.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
This used to be an event dominated by the older more experienced pros but young aggressive big-hitters have won three of the last five renewals here. With the forecast suggesting tough blustery conditions I'd favour the vets again this time around and the chances are they'll be from the UK or Ireland. All the British Isles are represented on the list of Madeira Islands Open winners and I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if we get another added this year.
Not counting last year's event, looking back to 1998, all 13 course winners have been inside the top-ten at halfway so making up ground is far from easy. And neither is converting a lead...
The last three third round leaders have all failed and two of them spectacularly so - Carlos Del Moral was beaten by six strokes in 2012, having led by three, and Hennie Otto eventually lost a playoff to Forsyth in 2008, having began the final round five strokes in front. And it's not just the third round leaders that get to fluff their lines...
Morden Orum Madsen traded at odds-on before double-bogeying the final hole in 2013 and in 2012, in addition to Moral, who was matched at 1.351/3; Andreas Harto was also matched at just 1.68/13 before eventual winner Santos came through to win.
I'd backed both Moral and Harto before the off in 2012, at 60.059/1 and 130.0129/1 respectively and luckily I had the good sense to lay them both back at odds-on in-running. This is a tricky place to play under pressure and mistakes are easily made so if you have a pick in front during round four, make sure take some profit if you can.
With two wins already under his belt, 23-year-old Challenge Tour star Ricardo Gouveia now looks to win in his homeland for the first time. Having finished runner-up in Slovakia just one week after triumphing in Germany, the rising Portuguese star will arrive in Madeira full of hope and expectation but he hasn't played in either of the last two events on the Challenge Tour and he looks short enough to keep the hot streak going.
Rhys Davies and Ryan Fox, winners of the last two Challenge Tour events are vying for second favouritism with in-form Englishman John Parry, but none of them look like value to me. Davies and Parry have finished inside the top-five here before but Fox is playing the venue for the first time.
Having analysed the previous Madeira Islands Opens at Santo da Serra in depth, I set about finding a big-hitting Brit with course form that I knew could handle windy conditions and the man to tick all the boxes is Peter Whiteford. The Kirkcaldy man isn't in the greatest of form but he was my selection back in March and he started well until the event was cancelled so I thought he was worth chancing again in what is a really tricky tournament.
He's won three times on the Challenge Tour and he very nearly broke his European Tour duck when he traded odds-on at the Ballantine's Championship in Korea two years ago - where a strong breeze was a constant hassle all week. He's played here twice before, finishing tied for 24th on both occasions, and he's sneaky long off the tee.
I took 50/1 about him in March and he hadn't played for four months then so I'm happy to go with him this week at 66's.
Peter Whiteford @ 66/1 (Sportsbook)
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