Trophée Hassan II: Nacho ready to get of the mark

Golfer Nacho Elvira
Nacho Elvira - ready to get off the mark

After the US Masters and a week off, the European Tour returns this week as we head to Morocco for the Trophée Hassan II and our man has the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start here...

"I couldn’t ignore the four-time Challenge Tour winner and bang in form Spaniard, Nacho Elvira. He’s come close to getting off the mark on the European Tour a number of times (most notably here!) and I was happy to have a tiny nibble at 38.037/1 given he’s been playing so well of late."

Tournament History

First staged back in 1971, the Trophée Hassan II began life as a limited field invitation only tournament, unsanctioned by any official tour.

It remained an unofficial event for a small but select field for almost 40 years before the format changed completely in 2010 and it became a full field European Tour event.

Venue

The Red Course, Royal Golf Dar Es Salem, Rabat, Morocco

Course Details

Par 72, 7,557 yards
Stroke index in 2018 - 73.83

After five straight years at the Golf du Palais, the tournament moved back to Royal Golf Dar Es Salem in 2016 so we're returning to the Red Course for the fourth year in-a-row.

Royal Golf Dar Es Salem was the venue in 2010, when the event was a pro-am and, 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. It was also 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 now defunct Moroccan Open on the European Tour in 1987, 1992, 1996 and 2001 so we've got some very old course form to peruse but I doubt it's worth anything given alterations to the course were made before they returned to the venue in 2016. Rhys Davies won the 2010 edition, when both courses were used in 2010, with a 25-under-par total but the three winners here since 2016 have failed to better -9 so it's definitely a tough enough test now.

Like the old venue, Golf du Palais, Royal Golf Dar Es Salem is a Robert Trent-Jones design. Its Kikuyu fairways are of an average width and tree-lined and the greens are undulating and they were brand new last year. Following the 2017 tournament, Course architect James Duncan was brought in to renovate all 18 putting surfaces and according to the European Tour website the greens were enlarged, creating additional pin placement opportunities, and adding internal contours to place a premium on strategy, approach play, recovery and the short game. And given the winner, Alex Levy, ranked second for Scrambling and 13th for Greens In Regulation, Duncan may have been correct.

Duncan was also quoted as saying. "We built new greens on the basis of Mr. Jones' sketches and renovated all the bunkers while extensive improvements were also made to the irrigation and drainage systems on the course. The course is revered for its difficulty. We hope to have maintained this reputation during the renovation while also having made the golf course more flexible, beautiful and enjoyable."

The greens have been historically set at around 11 on the stimpmeter and water is in-play on three holes - nine, 12 and 17.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 11:30 on Thursday morning

Last Five Winners

2018 - Alexander Levy -8
2017 - Edoardo Molinari -9 (playoff)
2016 - Jeunghun Wang -5 (playoff)
2015 - Richie Ramsay -10
2014 - Alejandro Canizares -19

What Will it Take to Win the Trophée Hassan II?

Although tree-lined and with historically tricky rough, Driving Accuracy hasn't been a vital stat over the last three years and neither has Driving Distance. Levy ranked 17th for DD and only 53rd for DA last year.

There were no stats produced in 2010, when the course was last used before the 2016 edition, but Greens In Regulation was the most important stat way back in 2001, at the Moroccan Open and after the course changes, that was again the case 12 months ago. Back in 2001, the winner, Ian Poulter, only ranked 23rd for GIR but everyone else inside the top-12 ranked inside the top-12 for that stat so accurate iron play was the key then, and after a couple of years where putting was the key indicator, GIR was again the key stat.

Levy (pictured below) ranked 13th, Alvaro Quiros in second, ranked second for GIR and nobody hit more greens that Andrea Pavan who finished tied for third.

Given Levy ranked second for Scrambling and the 2017 winner, Edoardo Molinari, ranked first for Scrambling, that's clearly an important stat too and it was his inability to get up-and-down with regularity that ultimately cost the runner-up, Quiros, last year.

The Spaniard ranked 15th for driving Distance, ninth for Driving Accuracy, second for Greens in Regulation and he ranked 14th for Putting Average. He also made more birdies than anyone else but he only ranked 67th for Scrambling and that cost him the title.

ALEXANDER LEVY new 1280.jpg

Is There an Angle In?

Nothing stands out strongly here and we certainly can't pin our hopes on one nation. I used to feel the South Africans might be advantaged here given their familiarity with Kikuyu grass but we're yet to see a South African win since the tournament became a European Tour event in 2010 and all nine editions have been won by someone representing a different nationality. I haven't been able to establish any possible course correlations either but I'd definitely favour current form, or should I say, fairly recent current form, over course form.

The 2016 playoff protagonists, Jeunghun Wang and Nacho Elvira, had both missed the cut prior to this event but they had both shown signs of life before that. Wang had finished second in India and eighth in Japan before his missed cut in China and Elvira had finished eighth at the Shenzhen International before he too missed out on weekend employment at the China Open.

None of the front three had played for a month before the 2018 tournament but Edoardo Molinari had finished an eye-catching 11th at the Indian Open in his penultimate start and although they'd both missed cuts in their starts immediately preceding their placed efforts here, both the runner-up, Paul Dunne, and the third, Paul Waring, had finished placed in South Africa in their previous outings.

Last year's winner, Levy, was very lightly-raced and he'd only played in the WGC Match Play (and not successfully) in the eight weeks prior to winning here but he'd been in great nick before that with form figures reading 7-4-55-4.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

In the first two editions here since the course changed, outsiders fared well with the four playoff protagonists all going off at big prices. Molinari and Dunne were matched at 360.0359/1 and 60.059/1 before the off in 2017 and in 2016, Wang was a 55.054/1 shot and Elvira a 140.0139/1 chance. Quiros came close to becoming the third big-priced winner in-a-row but it wasn't to be and Levy was a well fancied 24.023/1 shot.

In-Play Tactics

This used to be a course that suited frontrunners but the last three editions have been won by someone overcoming a slow start or coming from just off the pace.

Levy was matched at 120.0119/1 in-running last year after a very slow start that nearly proved catastrophic. Starting at the 10th hole, the Frenchman double-bogeyed his very first hole of the week and he was three-over par with just three to play on day one before he finished birdie-eagle-par to close to within five of the lead.

Dunne had led by two strokes with a round to go before succumbing to Molinari in extra time in 2017 but the Italian had trailed by four through 54 holes and the two playoff protagonists in 2016 had trailed by three and four strokes after three rounds.

Coincidentally, both the 2016 and 2017 winners shot 74s to drop back before rallying to win. Molinari fell from fifth to 20th with a poor second round and Wang fell from second to fifth with a 74 in round three a year earlier.

Molinari recorded an eagle on the par five 18th in 2017 but it's the hardest of the long holes and no pushover par five. That was the only eagle of the day and there were only three recorded there all week in both of the last two editions but that's definitely the easiest hole coming in.

The par four 13th and 16th holes ranked the joint second hardest on the course last year, the par three 15th ranked the fifth hardest and averaged 3.23 and the par three 17th is no pushover either.

Market Leaders

Joost Luiten's tied 63rd at the Texas Open last time out wasn't anything to write home about but he's having a very solid 2019 so far. A missed cut at the Dubai Desert Classic was sandwiched by a third in Abu Dhabi and a sixth in Saudi Arabia and those efforts were followed by a very good 10th at the WGC-Mexico Championship and a respectable 12th in Oman.

Luiten was 14th here back in 2010 and he's finished 13th and ninth in the last two editions so it's difficult to pick holes in the highest ranked player in the field in search of his seventh European Tour title.

Jorge Campillo has current form figures that read 2-2-20-3 so he emphatically ticks the current form box but he hasn't played especially well here as yet - 19th in 2017 and 46th last year. He's also starting to get very expensive to follow as he looks increasingly jittery in-contention.

The defending champ, Alex Levy, looks a better proposition at a slightly bigger price but we haven't seen him anywhere since he withdrew after eight holes of round two at the Oman Open. I haven't been able to establish if there was a significant reason for the withdrawal but having briefly hit the front on day one, he was going backwards at a rapid rate of knots on day two, having bogeyed five of the eight holes played. Prior to that he'd finished fifth in the inaugural Saudi International so who knows which Levy will turn up on Thursday?

Selections

It's unusual for me to back anyone looking for their first European Tour title at a relatively short price but I couldn't ignore the four-time Challenge Tour winner and bang in form Spaniard, Nacho Elvira. He's come close to getting off the mark on the European Tour a number of times (most notably here!) and I was happy to have a tiny nibble at 38.037/1 given he's been playing so well of late.

I was a little surprised to be able to back American, Kurt Kitayama, at 55.054/1 yesterday, given he's won twice this season already, and I've also backed promising Spaniard, Adri Arnaus, and veteran Englishman, Oliver Wilson. Both have some very fine recent form and Wilson looked especially big given he's ranked first and fourth for Scrambling in each of his last two starts (second in Qatar and 52nd in Kenya).

The only other player I've backed is New Zealander, Josh Geary, whose recent stats looked perfect for this week's test.

Selections:
Nacho Elvira @ 38.037/1
Kurt Kitayama @ 55.054/1
Adri Arnaus @ 65.064/1
Josh Geary @ 110.0109/1
Oliver Wilson @ 160.0159/1

I'll be back shortly with my Zurich Classic of New Orleans preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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