The European Tour returns after a week off and our man has four picks for the Portugal Masters so read Steve's comprehensive preview here...
"The 24-year-old Italian, Renato Paratore, is putting brilliantly, ranking sixth, second and second in each of his last three starts for Strokes Gained Putting."
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 15th renewal. We've seen numerous dramatic finishes but in 14 previous editions, there's never been a playoff.
Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, Vilamoura, Portugal.
Par 71, 7191 yards
Stroke index in 2020 - 70.71
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 the 2019 renewal and the course has played slightly tougher over the last two years.
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 prior to the 2019 edition, "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 Scotland's Liam Johnston opened up last year's event with a ten-under-par 61!
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 nine 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.
Playing this late in the year, with cooler conditions and a bit of wind, the scoring might not be super-low but this is an easy course for the pros.
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 12:00
Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - George Coetzee -16 17.5
2019 - Steven Brown -17 320.0319/1
2018 - Tom Lewis -22 80.079/1
2017 - Lucas Bjerregaard -20 70.069/1
2016 - Padraig Harrington -23 110.0109/1
2015 - Any Sullivan -23 55.054/1
What Will it Take to Win the Portugal Masters?
I'd slightly favour length over accuracy off the tee. The first two home last year, George Coetzee and Laurie Canter, ranked 15th and 10th for Driving Distance and four of the last six victors have ranked inside the top-15 for DD but the 2019 winner, Steven Brown, only ranked 46th for DD and David Lynn won here eight years ago ranking just 67th so a lack of length can clearly be overcome.
Accuracy off the tee is certainly not essential either. The first and second ranked only 48th and 32nd for Driving Accuracy last year and the first four home in 2019 ranked tied 30th, tied 30th, 20th and 43rd for D A. The 2018 winner, Tom Lewis, ranked only 69th.
Greens In Regulation hasn't been a really essential stat either and in the 14 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.
Coetzee ranked 32nd for GIR last year, Brown only ranked 39th in 2019, and Harrington managed to win five years ago ranking just 67th but and the average ranking of the 14 winners still only 22.42, good iron play is clearly important. But not as important as scrambling and putting...
Coetzee only ranked 13th for Scrambling but Brown ranked number one, Lewis ranked sixth in 2018, and although the winner, Lucas Bjerregaard, only ranked 33rd four years ago, five of the six winners before him ranked first or second for that stat.
Coetzee made more birdies than anyone last year, 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.
Coestzee ranked second for Putting Average and Brown, Bjerregaard, Harrington and Alex Levy have all won here in the last seven years ranking first for PA. The last nine winners in-a-row have all ranked inside the top seven for that stat and Coetzee and 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 old venue for the Qatar Masters up until last year.
Coetzee has a fifth and a seventh to his name in Dubai and he's twice finished second at Doha.
The 2019 runner-up here, Brandon Stone, was second to Paul Casey in Dubai in January (Casey has never player here) and last year's second, Canter, finished fourth. Last week's Bermuda Championship winner, Lucas Herbert, who was second here three years ago, won the 2019 edition in Dubai with the two-time Vilamoura winner, Tom Lewis, was two strokes back in third.
Harrington was sixth in Dubai in January and he was second there back in 2001, the 2015 Portugal Masters winner, Sullivan, has finished second, fourth and sixth in three of the last seven Dubai Desert Classics and he finished ninth in Qatar on debut in 2013 and 11th in 2019.
The 2014 winner, Levy, was fourth in Dubai in 2018 and the runner-up here seven 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, David Lynn, was third in Dubai and he had back-to-back top-11 finishes in Qatar In 2013 and 2014. The inaugural event winner, Steve Webster, has finished fourth and fifth in Qatar and seventh and fifth in Dubai, the 2009 winner, Lee 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 eight years ago, has also won the Dubai Desert Classic and he has two top-four finishes in Qatar, and finally, Alvaro Quiros, who was once based at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, has won all three events.
Links form stands up really well too and two of the last nine winners are Open Champions - Harrington (2016) and Shane Lowry (2012).
Is There an Identikit Winner?
This event was played in September last year so it wasn't seen as a last chance event but it's usually one of the final counting tournaments before the end of the season, as it is again this year, so it's one of the last opportunities players have to secure their playing privileges (provisionally the top-122 in the standings) for the following season.
Brown certainly made the most of his final opportunity two years ago given 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 320.0319/1 shot before the off but outsiders have a great record in the event anyway.
Last year's victor, George Coetzee, and Lee Westwood, 12 years ago, are the only well-fancied winners in the event's entire 14-year history.
Although the last two winners have been aged 34 and 32, six of the last ten winners have been in the 20s and seven of the 14 winners have been English.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - George Coetzee - led by one stroke 2.68/5
2019 - Steven Brown - trailing by three 19.5
2018 - Tom Lewis - trailing by two 3.953/1
2017 - Lucas Bjerregaard - led by one stroke 4.77/2
2016 - Padraig Harrington - trailing by one 6.05/1
2015 - Andy Sullivan - led by five strokes 1.21/5
If we disregard the misleading curtailed 36-hole event of seven years ago, seven of the other 13 winners were within three of the lead after round one. Coetzee trailed by five last year, but he was still inside the top-five.
Brown sat tied for 35th and six off the lead after an opening 69 two years and Lewis came from miles back in 2018 after a pedestrian 72 saw him sit tied for 110th and nine shots adrift so a slow start can be overcome.
Sullivan won wire-to-wire in a canter six 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 in 2019, 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 really tough - especially off the tee - and a par there is always a good score.
Lucas Herbert found water on 18 three years ago, having been matched at a low of 1.374/11, 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 and the 118th was the second toughest.
With both course and current form, the once very reliable Matt Wallace heads the market.
The 31year-old Englishman has course form figures reading 39-44-8 and having finished 14th at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in States, he finished fourth last time out in the ZOZO Championship in Japan.
That's very impressive form but Wallace hasn't won since 2018 (when he won three times on the European Tour) and there have been a couple of occasions when he's been disappointing in contention. Most notably last year in the Scottish Championship when he went off favourite. Wallace led by three with a round to go but he eventually finished second, beaten by four, having traded at a low of 1.374/11 in-running.
The second favourite, Laurie Canter, has been in splendid form of late and he finished runner-up here last year but he's starting to look extremely poor in-contention and I'm more than happy to swerve him.
I thought he looked ready to win after his second placed finish at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in September but prior to last week's week off on the European Tour, he threw away great opportunities at both the Andalucía Masters and the Mallorca Golf Open and he looks like one to steer clear of at a short price.
I like quite a few in this but I've restricted myself to four and my first cab off the rank is Sweden's Joakim Lagergren, who's been putting brilliantly of late.
Lagergren missed his first two cuts here but has produced form figures since reading 17-MC-14-3 and given he finished runner-up at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship a couple of weeks ago and that he was also second at the aforementioned Doha back in 2017, the fact he likes it here isn't surprising.
Another Swede, Sebastian Soderburg, is in sensational form given he's finished second in each of his last two starts. He too is putting really nicely and he was seventh here on debut in 2017.
Renato Paratore is also putting brilliantly, ranking sixth, second and second in each of his last three starts for Strokes Gained Putting. A 75 in round four at Vilamoura saw the 24-year-old Italian slip from fourth to 25th in his penultimate start but that was sandwiched by a ninth in the Open de Espana and an 11th at the Mallorca Golf Open.
His course form reads an ordinary 57-73-27-21 but he was inside the top-ten with a round to go on his last two visits and he has a bit of correlating course form too given he was fourth at Doha back in 2018. With seven places up for grabs, 66/1 with the Sportsbook looks more than fair given he's already won twice on the European Tour.
Finally, I've thrown a few pounds at the badly out of form Englishman, Andy Sullivan, at 70.069/1. He's not playing well and the putter's cold too, but he absolutely loves the venue so he's worth chancing at that price.
I'll be back shortly with my World Wide Technology Championship preview and I'll have one more pick here in the Find Me a 100 Winner column tomorrow.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter