The Trophee Hassan II was first staged in 1971 but it was just limited field invitation event for almost 40 years. It wasn't sanctioned by any official tours and there was no TV coverage but in 2010 the format changed completely and it became a full field European Tour event.
Golf du Palais Royal, Agadir, Morocco.
Par 72, 6,951 yards, stroke average in 2014 - 73.25
In addition to the last four renewals of this event, (the 2010 edition was played at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam) the Golf du Palais Royal also hosted the Moroccan Open six times in the 1990's. It's an undulating, variable Robert Trent Jones design with small greens, surrounded by deep bunkering, running at around 10.5 on the stimpmeter. Some fairways are tree-lined and some exposed and generously wide. Water is in play on five holes.
It's a tricky track, close to the Atlantic Ocean, and it's made decidedly more difficult when the wind blows. All the players speak really highly of the venue and here's what England's John Parry said about it a few years ago.
"While many of the holes are tree lined with a parkland feel, there is one stretch which runs along the coast that has dunes and is definitely more links style. Being alongside the Atlantic, the whole course can be exposed to very difficult crosswinds. In such a lovely and spectacular setting it's impossible to do anything but look forward to the week ahead."
Although the opening hole, a par 5, offers up a nice gentle start, the front nine is much the harder of the two and last year it averaged over a stroke over par, whereas the back nine averaged almost a stroke under par.
The course has been lengthened slightly since last year's renewal with a new back tee on 15th (+22m) and extended back tees on the 9th (+11m) and the 17th (+12m).
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First Five Winners
2014 - Alejandro Canizares -19
2013 - Marcel Siem -17
2012 - Michael Hoey - 17
2011 - David Horsey -13 (playoff)
2010 - Rhys Davies -25
What Will it Take to Win The Trophee Hassan II?
Full stats were only published for the last two renewals so it would be dangerous to draw too many conclusions from such a small sample size but for the record, the last two winners have ranked 7th and 1st for Greens in Regulation and they both ranked inside the top-10 for Putting. And there's further evidence that they're the key stats if we analyse last year's places further - four of the first seven ranked either tied first or tied fourth for greens hit and the top-10 all ranked inside the top-25. There was also further evidence that putting well is imperative, with three of the first four home ranked inside the top-five for Putting.
Is There an Angle In?
I highlighted how important the draw could be at the Texas Open this week (previewed here) and it could be very important here too. Keep an eye on the weather forecast as which side of the draw you're drawn could prove pivotal. In last year's renewal, the early starters on day one enjoyed an advantage of 1.69 over the first two days but the year before an afternoon start in round one proved advantageous to the tune of 1.49 strokes over rounds one and two.
Last year I highlighted a number of courses that should correlate nicely with this track and they're all worth mentioning again. East London, home of the Africa Open, Royal Portrush, which hosted the Irish Open back in 2012, Oitavos Dunes in Portugal, once the home of the now defunct Estoril Open, all have form lines tying-in with Golf du Palais Royal, and Lake Karrinyup, home of the Perth International, is another tree-lined and wind-affected course.
They're all worth looking at but the one I really like now is Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club, host of the Russian Open over the last two years. The two winners at Tseleevo have been Michael Hoey and David Horsey, and Damien McGrane, beaten by Horsey in last year's playoff in Russia was also runner-up to Hoey here.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The last four winners here have all been fairly decent. They'd all won at least once on the European Tour before tasting success here but what's really noteworthy is that they were all quite badly out of form.
David Horsey's form figures in 2011, prior to victory here, read MC-53-13-76-59-51, Hoey's read 33-48-12-MC-33 in 2012, Marcel Siem was without a single top-25 finish in six starts in 2013 and last year's winner, Canizares, had figures reading 49-5-54-66. Current form is always a very big plus but it's clearly not essential here.
Had Hoey not performed a minor miracle to win here three years ago I'd be confidently claiming that this is very much a frontrunners course. The last two winners have done so wire-to wire and when Horsey won in 2011, he won a playoff contested by three men that had been on the premises throughout. Horsey hadn't been outside the front five and was tied for the lead with a round to go, Rhys Davies has sat second after round one and led thereafter and Jaco Van Zyl had been fifth after day one and third after round three.
Hoey somehow won after trailing by nine strokes after round one and eight after round two thanks to back-to-back 65s on the weekend, so it is possible to come from off the pace but I really do think that was a freak result and I'll be concentrating on the early pacesetters this year.
Although the back nine is a couple of strokes easier than the front nine, the 18th is not an easy hole. It's been the second toughest hole on the course over the last two years and it ranked the toughest in 2012. It's always sensible to take some profit if you have the leader late on and they're trading short but if they're in the final group here with a one stroke lead I'd definitely advise laying some back.
In what looks a very open heat, South Africa's George Coetzee, who should be full of confidence following his win at the Tshwane Open at his home course two weeks ago, is the only player trading at less than 24.023/1.
When he won the Joburg Open in 2013, he fell over the line but for the first time in his career he looked reasonably comfortable in-the-mix in Pretoria. Tied for the lead for much of the back nine, he knew he needed a birdie over the closing stretch to win and duly obliged and he followed that up with a respectable third in the Investec Cup on Sunday.
That victory in Pretoria could inspire him to get to the next level but one swallow doth not a summer make and I'd like to see him deliver away from home before considering him at the sort of price he's trading at this week, especially when considering the added pressure of needing to win to get into the US Masters field. He does like the course though - he was fourth on debut in 2011 and 11th last year.
Andy Sullivan's form has understandably dipped since he won his second title in six starts at the Joberg Open, but he's another with solid course form. He finished tied for 17th on debut in 2012, missed the cut in 2013, and finished runner-up last year. Sullivan needs to finish second alone or win to get into the US Masters but that might be a big ask after two missed cuts and I'm happy to dismiss him.
A similar Augusta scenario is faced by Alex Levy, who needs a tied second or better to get in, but I don't fancy him at the prices either. He's finished 35th and 37th in his two starts here to date and he doesn't appear to be in any sort of form either, so he's fairly easy to bypass at the price.
Emiliano Grillo finished 11th here on debut in 2013 and has played well at courses that correlate well with this one but he's still yet to win and that's a significant negative. He traded at long odds-on in Puerto Rico a couple of weeks ago before missing from a few feet on the 72nd hole and it may just take him a while to shrug that off.
Former winner, David Horsey, obviously loves the course but he's been backed right down to a silly price now given how much he struggles in-contention and of the market leaders, the man that opened up as clear second favourite before drifting, Marcel Siem, looks far and away the best option.
Marcel Siem needs to win to get into the US Masters but I don't think that added pressure will faze him one iota. After he won here in 2013, he travelled over to the States to play in the Texas Open, in attempt to get to Augusta, and he played really well, eventually finishing 10th after an opening round of 76. Had he been invited to play in the Shell Houston Open the following week, he may well have sneaked a place in the field but in the end he narrowly missed out.
Siem is in much better form than the bare figures show. He ranked the 6th best putter for the week when he finished 18th at the AT&T Pebble Beach National on the PGA Tour and he ranked third for putting at the WGC - Cadillac Championship last time out, where his final round of 67 was bettered by no one.
He's a classy performer now with proven bottle, he's already a course winner, he's putting seriously well, and he has the added incentive of a place at Augusta. I think he's the man to beat this week and I'd have him ahead of everyone else in the market, with the possible exception of the in-form Coetzee.
Two-time European Tour winner, Julien Quesne, looked fractionally over-priced at 65.064/1 given he was 9th in this in 2013 and that he finished 8th at the Africa Open just a few weeks ago. He missed the cut at the Tshwane Open the following week but he hadn't been in-contention anywhere in a while and a reaction to his performance at East London wasn't totally surprising. This is just his sort of test and we know he has the tools to get the job done should he get in-the-mix so I thought he was worth backing and after that, it's a couple of picks from left field...
Scott Jamieson really should have won the Volvo Golf Champions at short, linksy Durban Country Club in 2013 and he also traded at odds-on in the Russian Open last year so although he's never played well here, the venue should suit him and we already know it suits the woefully out of form Matteo Manassero.
The Italian finished 6th here on his only previous visit in 2012 so the course fits his eye but I concede, he needs to find rapid improvement from somewhere to figure. With confidence at an all time low, Manny has missed his last five cuts and he's yet to better 72 all year. He's on the floor and it's sad to see and I really hope he can bounce back but if he is going to get back to form, this could just be the place. He certainly fits the out of form class act identikit mentioned above but if the truth be told I've had a very small wager in hope rather than expectation.
Marcel Siem @ 28.027/1
Julien Quesne @ 65.064/1
Scott Jamieson @ 200.0199/1
Matteo Manassero @ 280.0279/1
I'll be back on Friday with my In-Play Blog.
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