We're off to Morocco on the European Tour this week for the Trophée Hassan II - read Steve's thoughts on the challenge expected at the Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salem here...
“Beef’s game was immaculate at Valderrama and if he can return to the fray in similar form he can go really well here. I know he’s had a couple of weeks off to celebrate and that winning back-to-back is rare but missing the trip to China might be a plus and Johnston has scope. I’m not sure the same can be said of his market rivals.”
The Trophée Hassan II was first staged way back in 1971 but it was just a 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.
The Red Course, Royal Golf Dar Es Salem, Rabat, Morocco
Red Course Details
Par 72, 7,487 yards
Stroke index in 2010, when played as a 7,343 yard par 73 - 71.95
After five straight years at the Golf du Palais, which gave us a lovely bank of unique course form to work with, the organisers have moved the tournament back to Royal Golf Dar Es Salem.
In addition to being the venue in 2010, when both the Red and Blue courses were used, Royal Golf Dar Es Salem was the host site prior to the event becoming an official European Tour tournament and it was also used for the now defunct Moroccan golf Challenge on the Challenge Tour in 2002 and 2003 and for the also defunct Moroccan Open on the European Tour in 1987, 1992, 1996 and 2001.
In 2010, when the event was a pro-am, both this one and the easier Blue Course were used over the first two days of competition, with the weekend action being staged here on the Red Course. Like Golf du Palais, Royal Golf Dar Es Salem is a Robert Trent-Jones design.
Its Kikuyu fairways are described as being tree-lined and the bentgrass greens are small and undulating. In 2010 they were pretty slow - running at around 10 on the stimpmeter.
There appear to have been plenty of changes made since 2010. The course has been lengthened by around 150 yards yet the par has gone from 73 to 72 with the par five eighth hole now playing as a par four.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2015 - Richie Ramsay -10
2014 - Alejandro Canizares -19
2013 - Marcel Siem -17
2012 - Michael Hoey - 17
2011 - David Horsey -13 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win The Trophée Hassan II?
There were no stats produced in 2010 so I've gone all the way back to Ian Poulter's victory here in 2001 to look for clues. Poulter ranked 23rd for Greens In Regulation but everyone else inside the top-12 ranked inside the top-12 for GIR so on that extremely limited evidence, it looks like accurate iron play could be every important. And it looks like accuracy off the tee is more important than length too.
Poulter ranked 12th for Driving Accuracy and 58th for Driving Distance and Peter Lonard, Thomas Levet and Gary Evans all finished inside the top-six despite ranking 81st, 70th and 100th for DD.
Rhys Davies won the event here with a 25-under-par total in 2010 so even though the course has been lengthened and the par lowered, I still expect a reasonably low winning score. The runner-up, Louis Oosthuizen, shot a nine-under-par 64 on the Red Course in round three so it's clearly not the sternest of tests but it was a pro-am then, so the course would have been set up generously. I think we can expect the winning score to be closer to Poulter's 15-under-par total in 2001.
Is There an Angle In?
I won't pretend that I'm not scraping the barrel a bit here but South Africans might be worth a second glance. They grew up playing on Kikuyu and in addition to Oosty finishing second in 2010, fellow South African, Thomas Aiken, finished third.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
It has no bearing whatsoever but for the record, since becoming a European Tour event; all six winners of the event have been European. We've seen success for a Welshman, an Irishman, an Englishman, a German, a Spaniard and a Scot so maybe it's the turn of a Frenchman. Alex Levy anyone?
When Jean-Francois Lucquin won the Morocco Classic here in 2002 on the Challenge Tour, he trailed by seven strokes after round one but he sat second at halfway and he was in front after 54 holes. The other four course winners since 1996, Peter Hedblom (1996), Poulter (2001), Greig Hutcheon (2003) and Davies in 2010 were all in front at halfway suggesting this isn't going to be an easy place to make up ground.
In-form Frenchman, Alex Levy, heads the market in what really is a dire field. His main strength is his length off the tee and there's nothing in past results to suggest that will be a big advantage here so I'm more than happy to pass him up.
The 2014 winner, Alejandro Canizares, is next up and he's even easier to dismiss. He's won just twice in over 250 professional starts spanning ten years. Considering taking less than 20/1 about him playing at a different venue to the one at which he won the event is almost preposterous.
Gregory Bourdy is in reasonable form (19th, 31st and 21st in his last three outings) but again, he doesn't get my juices flowing at around 20/1 and the only one of the market leaders than looks reasonably priced is the recent Open de Espana winner, Andrew Johnston.
Beef's game was immaculate at Valderrama and if he can return to the fray in similar form he can go really well here. I know he's had a couple of weeks off to celebrate and that winning back-to-back is rare but missing the trip to China might be a plus and Johnston has scope. I'm not sure the same can be said of his market rivals.
He reminds me a bit of fellow Englishman, Andy Sullivan, in the relaxed and cheerful way he goes about his business. Now that he's got off the mark the floodgates could open and another victory so soon after his first is far from out of the question. It happened to Sullivan after all - he went on to win three times last year.
I don't like the event and I could have very easily begun the tournament without any involvement but I've picked out two to side with modestly.
As already stated, Johnston looks fairly priced and the other one I like is young South African, Christiaan Bezuidenhout. He really impressed my we when he battled alongside fellow South African youngster, Brandon Stone, at the South African Open and he might just represent a bit of value at around the 80/1 mark.
Andrew Johnston @ 25.024/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ 80.079/1
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