The European Tour hops from Spain to Portugal for the second leg of the Iberian Swing this week so read Steve's comprehensive Portugal Masters preview here...
"Steven Brown was an almost unconsidered [320.0] shot before the off last year but outsiders have a great record in the event. Lee Westwood, 11 years ago, is the only well-fancied winner in the event’s entire 13-year history."
First staged in 2007, and won by England's Steve Webster, the Portugal Masters is now an established event on the European Tour. It's always been staged at the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course (formally known as the Oceânico Victoria) and this will be the 14th renewal. We've seen numerous dramatic finishes but in 13 previous editions, there's never been a playoff.
Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, Vilamoura, Portugal.
Par 71, 7,191 yards
Stroke index in 2019 - 70.23
The Arnold Palmer-designed Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course opened in 2004 and it staged the World Cup of Golf a year later, when Wales just edged out Sweden in a weather-shortened tournament.
An exposed course with water in play on seven holes - it's been the venue for this tournament from day one. The well-bunkered fairways are fairly generous in width and the bentgrass greens are slightly larger than average and undulating. The rough is often minimal and not very punishing but there were a few changes to the track before last year's renewal and the course played slightly tougher.
A stronger, more resilient strain of Bermuda grass was grown in the rough, as well as to areas around the greens.
This is what the European Tour website said about the changes last year: "these changes will allow greenkeeping staff to alter the line of the fairways more easily, and present the course in tournament-ready condition."
A number of new trees were added to three holes (2nd, 5th & 10th) which are "intended to prevent the longest hitters from cutting the corners of doglegs, and this will have an even greater bearing as the trees mature in the years ahead." There has also been the re-positioning of a number of bunkers.
Despite the changes, it's still a very straightforward resort course that the pros usually devour and there were three eight-under-par 63s shot last year. The 2015 and 2016 winners, Andy Sullivan and Padraig Harrington, amassed 23-under-par winning scores and in 2014 Alex Levy won in 18-under but they only played two rounds! Martin Kaymer shot 61 in the opening round of the very first staging, Scott Jamieson shot 60 in round three eight years ago, Nicolas Colsaerts opened up the 2015 renewal with a 60 before Levy shot 61 in round two, and in 2018 at Vilamoura, we witnessed the European Tour's first ever sub-60 round when Oliver Fisher posted a 59 in round two.
Prior to the 2012 edition the rough was changed to Bermuda and the third hole was changed from a par five to a par four.
Live on Sky all four days, beginning on Thursday at 11:00
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Steven Brown -17 [320.0]
2018 - Tom Lewis -22 [80.0]
2017 - Lucas Bjerregaard -20 [70.0]
2016 - Padraig Harrington -23 [110.0]
2015 - Any Sullivan -23 [55.0]
What Will it Take to Win the Portugal Masters?
The four winners before Brown last year ranked 12th, 15th, 25th and 11th for Driving Distance and I'd slightly favour length over accuracy off the tee but it's certainly not essential. Brown only ranked 46th and David Lynn won here seven years ago ranking just 67th for DD so a lack of length can clearly be overcome.
Accuracy off the tee is certainly not essential either and the first four home last year ranked tied 30th, tied 30th, 20th and 43rd for Driving Accuracy. The 2018 winner, Tom Lewis, ranked only 69th for DA.
Although the two players tied for second last year, Brandon Stone and Justin Walters, ranked first and third for Greens In Regulation, and the two players tied for second in 2018, Lucas Herbert and Eddie Pepperell, ranked first and second, GIR hasn't been a really essential stat and in the 13 years we've been coming here, only four winners have ranked inside the top ten for GIR. Lucas Bjerregaard ranked fourth in 2017, Andy Sullivan ranked fifth in 2015, Lee Westwood ranked second in 2009 and Lewis ranked fourth when he won here for the first time in 2011.
Brown only ranked 39th for GIR last year and Harrington managed to win four years ago ranking just 67th but and the average ranking of the 13 winners is still only 21.69 so good iron play is clearly important but arguably not as important as scrambling and putting.
Brown ranked number one for Scrambling last year, Lewis ranked sixth in 2018, and although the winner, Lucas Bjerregaard, only ranked 33rd three years ago, five of the six winners before him ranked first or second for that stat. In addition to Scrambling, the most important stats to focus on are Birdie Average, Par 4 Scoring and Putting Average.
The three winners before Brown only ranked third, fifth and second for Par 4 Scoring but he topped that stat last year and the three winners between 2013 and 2015 all played the par fours better than anyone else as well. Brown only ranked 13th for Birdie Average but Walters and Stone (tied second) ranked one and two and eight of the 13 winners to date have made more birdies than anyone else. The two winners before Brown ranked number one for birdies made and Mikko Korhonen (tied third) was the only player in the field to record more birdies than Harrington in 2016.
We can look at the figures all we want but this is basically a birdie-fest and a putting contest. Brown, Bjerregaard, Harrington and Alex Levy have all won here in the last six years ranking first for Putting Average and the last eight winners in-a-row have all ranked inside the top seven for that stat. Brown also ranked number one for Strokes Gained Putting.
Is There an Angle In?
Two courses that appear to correlate nicely are the Emirates, home of the Dubai Desert Classic, and Doha, the venue for the Qatar Masters up until this year.
Steven Brown missed the cut in Dubai in January but the tournament was won by Lucas Herbert, who was second here two years ago, with the two-time Vilamoura winner, Tom Lewis, two strokes back in third. Harrington hasn't played there for a long time but he was second there back in 2001, the 2015 winner, Sullivan, has finished second, fourth and sixth in three of the last six Dubai Desert Classics and he finished ninth in Qatar on debut in 2013 and 11th last year.
The 2014 winner, Levy, was fourth in Dubai in 2018 and the runner-up here six years ago, Colsaerts, like Sullivan, has top-tens at both tracks and five of the first seven winners here had plenty of form at both venues too.
The 2013 winner, Lynn, who has since retired, was third in Dubai and he had back-to-back top-11 finishes in Qatar. In 2013 and 2014, the inaugural event winner, Webster, finished fourth and fifth in Qatar and seventh and fifth in Dubai. The 2009 winner, Westwood, has been runner-up at the Dubai Desert Classic three times and has twice finished inside the top-five in Qatar. Richard Green, successful here seven years ago, has also won the Dubai Desert Classic and he has two top-four finishes in Qatar, and Alvaro Quiros, who was, and may still be, based at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, has won all three events.
Links form stands up really well and two of the last eight winners are Open Champions - Harrington (2016) and Shane Lowry (2012).
Is There an Identikit Winner?
This event was played in October last year and as it so often is, it was the last chance for players to secure their playing privileges for the following season. That won't apply this year but Brown certainly made the best of his final opportunity. He began the week ranked 150th on the Race to Dubai standings and he hadn't bettered a round of 68 all season in any event. Unsurprisingly, he was an almost unconsidered [320.0] shot before the off but outsiders have a great record in the event. Lee Westwood, 11 years ago, is the only well-fancied winner in the event's entire 13-year history.
Lewis was matched at [80.0] before the off in 2018, Bjerregaard was a [70.0] chance in 2017, Harrington was matched at [130.0] in 2016, Sullivan was a [55.0] chance in 2015 and Levy went off at around [80.0] the year before. Lynn was matched at [120.0] in 2013, Shane Lowry was another [80.0] chance in 2012 and I was lucky enough to back Tom Lewis 12 months before that at a whooping [160.0].
Richard Green in 2010 and Steve Webster in 2007 were big outsiders and Alvaro Quiros, in 2008, was yet another winner to go off at [80.0] so don't be afraid to back a few outsiders this week. And if they're young and English you could be on the right track. As many as seven of the 13 winners to date have been English and six of the last nine winners have been in their 20s. Brown was getting on a bit at 32.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Steven Brown - trailing by three [19.5]
2018 - Tom Lewis - trailing by two [3.95]
2017 - Lucas Bjerregaard - led by one stroke [4.7]
2016 - Padraig Harrington - trailing by one [6.0]
2015 - Andy Sullivan - led by five strokes [1.2]
If we disregard the misleading curtailed 36-hole event of six years ago, seven of the other 12 winners were within three of the lead after round one but it's certainly possible to get away with a slow start. Although only tied seventh after round one, the inaugural winner, Steve Webster, trailed by five strokes after the opening round, the 2010 and 2011 winners both trailed by six and the last two winners have both started slowly too. Brown sat tied for 35th and six off the lead after an opening 69 and Lewis came from miles back in 2018 after a pedestrian 72 saw him sit tied for 110th and nine shots adrift!
Sullivan won wire-to-wire in a canter five years ago and David Lynn is the only other first round leader to claim the trophy but he was one of numerous winners to come from some way off the pace after three rounds...
Having tied for the lead after rounds one and two, Lynn dropped to six off the pace and a tie for 16th after a disappointing 73 in round three but he shot 63 to win by one and the two winners before him had both trailed by four with a round to go. Green had been an incredible seven adrift before going on to win by two strokes in 2010, although somewhat bizarrely, Brown, who sat tied for 16th and six off the lead last year, is the only winner to trail by more than five strokes at halfway.
If you're betting in-running, the final four holes offer up two good birdie chances and two tough holes. The drivable par four 15th and the par five 17th are chances to pick up a stroke or two but the par three 16th isn't straight forward and the finishing hole is tough - especially off the tee - and a par there is always a good score.
Lucas Herbert found water on 18 two years ago, having been matched at a low of [1.37], when for the third year in-a-row, only the par four seventh hole had played harder than the 18th. The seventh was again the hardest hole on the course last year but the 16th and the 6th (both par threes) played tougher than the finishing hole last year.
World number 16, Tommy Fleetwood, is a surprise late entrant that doesn't represent any value. Most of next week's US Open competitors are either in America or making their way there but Tommy's probably opted for this last minute warm up at an easy course to try and improve his general form.
He fell away at the US PGA Championship after halfway, eventually finishing 29th but that's still his best result since he finished third at the Honda Classic back in March. His course form figures read an uninspiring MC-26-12-22-37 and he won't be carrying any of my cash at [7.0] in an event where fancied runners don't tend to perform.
With course form figures reading 3-6-21-31-7-20-14, South Africa's George Coetzee is an interesting runner, given he won on the Sunshine Tour at the weekend, a week after finishing second there. He's clearly in fine fettle and he does love the venue but he's only once won outside of South Africa (won a playoff at the Mauritius Open five years ago) and he's not the most reliable in-contention.
I've always thought that this would be the perfect venue for China's Haotong Li but he's not in the greatest of form and in two previous visits he's only finished 25th and 27th. He's an incredible talent and he was quite superb when he got the better of Rory McIlroy at the aforementioned Dubai Desert Classic two years ago but he has a propensity to do something daft at the drop of a hat and he'll often flitter away a few strokes when you least expect him to. Great chance, but can he be trusted not to drop a clanger or three?
Ryan Fox looks plenty short enough given how poorly he's been putting of late and given his course form figures read MC-27-31, and the only one that remotely interests me towards the head of the market is Marcus Kinhult. The Swede missed the cut last week but I can forgive anyone that given how brutally tough Valderrama played and he was creeping into form before that with a 15th in the Wales Open and a 13th in the UK Championship. His sole success to date came on a links track, at the British Masters last year, he was third at Doha two years ago and he finished fourth here on his only appearance in 2018.
I may add a few more picks when the market has matured and if I do, I'll tweet any additional selections but for now I'm going with just two - Guido Migliozzi and Brandon Stone.
Migliozzi caught the eye last year on debut when he eventually finished 14th having started the event with an uninspiring 71. Rounds of 68, 69 and 65 followed and after his sixth placed finish at Valderrama on Sunday, where he ranked 10th for Scrambling and second for Putting Average, I thought he was well worth chancing at around the [60.0] mark. He's only 23 and he's already won twice on the European Tour and this is only his 46th appearance.
Stone was a bit disappointing at the English Championship last month when he fell away to finish sixth behind Andy Sullivan, having been matched at just [3.0] during round three. He was an unlucky loser when he bumped into an inspired Sami Valimaki in Oman in March and he was matched at just [1.33] in this event last year before a woeful back nine saw him beaten by one (played the last eight holes in two-over-par) so with a slight twist of fate, he could easily have won more than his three European Tour titles. He's a bit frustrating to follow as he can go from red-hot to ice cold very quickly but I thought he too was value at around [70.0].
Guido Migliozzi @ [65.0]
Brandon Stone @ [70.0]
I'll be back tomorrow with the Safeway Open preview and this week's De-brief, after the completion of the Tour Championship this evening.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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