After three events in South Africa, and two WGC’s in America, in recent weeks, we head to Morocco for the Trophee Hassan II, an event that has been part of the European Tour since 2010.
For the third time, in it’s four-year, European Tour history, the Trophee Hassan II, will be returning to Golf Du Palais Royal, and many regard it as one of the best courses on Tour.
Golf du Palais Royal is a 6,951 yard, par 72, so by no means is it a long course, but there are plenty of challenges to keep the players busy this week.
One of the biggest contributing factors in recent years has been the wind, which becomes a problem, especially when trying to find the heavily guarded greens. The greens are not big, and with deep bunkers surrounding the edge of the putting surface, you will need to take your chances should you be successful in finding them.
This task will be made a lot easier, should you keep it in the fairway this week. Although the fairways are very accessible, trouble awaits in the rough, especially as you will have a lot less control of your ball, when aiming for a small landing zone.
I haven’t even considered distance this week, and instead will be focusing my attention on accuracy, both from the tee, and into the greens, and also putting.
Last year’s winner Marcel Siem finished 10th in Putts per Round, and 11th in Putts per GIR, whilst runner-up David Horsey finished 1st and 2nd respectively. To complete the trend, Mikko Ilonen also shared 2nd with Horsey, was 2nd in Putts per Round, and 1st in Putts per Green, so it looks as though good play with the flat stick is key.
Course form will be worth noting this week, as there are players who tend to play well each time they return to this prestigious venue, but they have been chalked up short enough in the market.
The market leaders for this event, come as no surprise, as two recent winners George Coetzee and Ross Fisher head the betting at 16/1. Next up are 18/1 shots David Horsey, and Mikko Ilonen, who as aforementioned both finished 2nd to Siem last year, with Horsey also a former winner at this track in 2011.
It’s 25/1 and bigger the rest, and there is no doubt in my mind there is value elsewhere, despite these players all making obvious claims.
One thing is for sure, this course will be in pristine condition, and players will relish the opportunity of playing on the Royal grounds.
Here are my selections for the 2014 Trophee Hassan II
Pablo Larrazabal 25/1 (General) 2pts e/w: After capturing his 3rd European Tour victory earlier this season, Larrazabal will be keen to make 2014 his biggest season yet.
He won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, one of the biggest events of the year, on the European Tour schedule, and I see absolutely no reason why he cannot add to that, with a win here. If he can add a win here, he will put himself in a very good position going forward, both in the Race to Dubai, and possibly even a spot on European team at the Ryder Cup.
His course form is solid here, finishing 4th, 9th and 44th in his last three attempts here in Morocco, and I can definitely see that continuing this time around.
Larrazabal currently ranks 2nd in Putts per Round, and 4th in Putts per GIR on the European Tour so far this season, and that could be vital this week. As aforementioned, those that putt well after finding these challenging greens, often find themselves at the top of the leaderboard and if he can keep the putter warm, he should navigate the course successfully once again.
He has not been in the best form, since getting his win in January, but he will be delighted to return to a track he obviously enjoys and this could be the week where we see the best of the Spaniard once again.
Although he is not the most accurate player on Tour, he is making amends on the greens so far this season, and his Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation stats have not effected him here in the past on this course, so I am happy to give him a chance to prove how much he loves this course.
He has been making very positive noises on Twitter this week, when earlier today (Tuesday) he tweeted saying ” It is a joke how good is the golf course we are playing this week here in Morocco… The best of the year…”
This confirms his love for the course, and also, suggests to me that he is ready for a positive week. He’s not a player I would normally get involved with at 25/1, but with his great course form, and recent win, I found it very hard to leave him out.
Gregory Bourdy 55/1 (Bet365) 1pt e/w: Gregory Bourdy is one player I keep in mind, for a test like the one Golf du Palais Royal with throw up this week, and at the price I am willing to take a chance he performs well here, for the 2nd time.
In 2011, the Frenchman finished 19th here, and despite missing his following two cuts on this course, I believe he could put in another good performance here.
He won the ISPS Wales Handa Open last season, an event that also tests players’ performance in the wind, and should the wind pick up here, over the weekend, I could see Bourdy dealing as well, if not better than most in the conditions.
Another event that Bourdy has won is the Portuguese Open, an event also won by Michael Hoey, who won this event in 2012, so it may well be a course, over the years that Bourdy can go well at.
Bourdy currently ranks 5th in Driving Accuracy and 7th in Putts per GIR, so if he can find greens with the same regularity as he did last season, he may well contend here.
Since returning from injury six weeks ago, Bourdy has recorded two top-20 finishes, so he looks to be on the right track, and I do think this challenge will suit. He is a proven winner, which is more than can be said for the majority of the field this week, and that stand him in good stead.
If he is in contention over the weekend, I fully expect him to cope well, and convert chances presented to him. He will be keen to keep up the good form, French players have been showing in recent months, most notably Victor Dubuisson, and that may be another factor that spurs him on here.
Carlos Del Moral 125/1 (StanJames) 0.5pt e/w: Carlos Del Moral has made an up and down start to his 2014 season on the European Tour, but his 4th at the Tshwane Open two weeks ago was particularly promising, and hopefully he carries on the good play here.
He has been putting pretty well this year, currently sitting 15th in Putts per Round, and 31st in Putts per GIR, so if he can improve his play from tee-to-green, he should contend a lot more often.
However we have seen, as aforementioned players such as Pablo Larrazabal play well here, despite not being particularly accurate, and should he take advantage of the generous fairways on offer this week, his putting should help him grind out a good score.
Last time out, when finishing 4th at the Tshwane Open, he finished 5th in Greens in Regulation, and 42nd in Driving Accuracy, and similar figures this week, will not hamper his chances this time out.
He should be full of confidence after his best finish to date, and after watching him win, back-to-back in Tour qualifiers last year, we know he has what it takes to get over the line.
At 125/1 I thought it was worth chancing that he repeats his good performance from a fortnight ago, and hopefully he can show a bit more of what he’s made of here.
Valspar Championship tips (PGA Tour)
Despite not having time to do a full preview, I am confident that I have some solid picks for this week’s Valspar Championship, and I hope these players can go well at Copperhead.
Luke Donald 22/1 (Boylesports) 2pts e/w: For me Luke Donald could well of been favourite for this event , and had he of performed even slightly better last week, he may well of done. He was disappointing last week, failing to capitalise on his good play just one week before, when finishing 8th at the Honda Classic.
In Donald’s defence it was one bad round, which many had at Trump National last week, that cost him dearly, as he found himself T25, when he could of finished a whole lot better. The signs are there though, the Chuck Cook swing changes are looking good, and I really can see another win coming for Donald.
This is why I have stuck with him this week, despite him being under half the price, something I was originally reluctant to do. When you look at his record here at Copperhead it’s actually phenomenal, and for that reason I have bitten the bullet and taken the chance on him, even at a relatively short price.
In three apperances at this event, the Englishman has finished 4th (2013), 1st (2012) and 6th (2010), a great feat and something I am hoping is going to continue. I cannot see him not contending this week, especially given his good finish at the Honda, and his general performance last week. His 82 in the 2nd round of the WGC Cadillac was bad, there’s no denying that, but the course was particularly punishing, and it definitely look more an off-day than anything else for him, in that 2nd round.
He will be looking to get back to winning ways, stay on the right track all year, in order to secure his play in the Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles. This will definitely be in the back of mind, as there possibly now, more competition for places than ever, should be not make the team on merit.
Simply put, he is rock solid around Copperhead, and I don’t expect that to change. It would of been nice to get a slightly better price on him, but the improvement in his game has been obvious in the past two weeks, and I can’t imagine too many would want to necessarily oppose him, especially around here.
K.J Choi 50/1 (Betfred, SkyBet, ToteSport) 1pt e/w: K.J Choi has been very solid here at Copperhead Golf Course, and is one, of just two players to have multiple wins here. Choi won the event when it was called the Tampa Bay Classic in 2002, and in 2006 when it was known as the Chrysler Championship.
He has also finished 6th and 2nd since his two wins here , and when finishing runner-up to Jim Furyk in 2010, he missed out on a play-off by just one stroke.
He has missed the cut on just three occasions, and withdrawn once, despite playing in all but one editions of this event, since it’s inaugural staging in 2000, and finished 21st on his last attempt.
This is obviously a course he loves, and couple that with his good current form, and you have what looks to be a solid 50/1 shot. He has five top-20s this year, including three top-15s, and also a runner-up finish at the Farmers Insurance Open, with his most recent finish being a T12 at the Honda Classic.
He is both a course and Tour veteran, and a good one at that. He currently has 8 Tour victories to his name, and if he going to get another win, despite not winning since 2011, you would feel this event, and this course is one of his very best opportunities.
Russell Knox 66/1 (Betfred & ToteSport) 1pt e/w: We saw the very best of Russell Knox’s game last week, something he’s been threatening to do, ever since shooting a 59 last year on the Web.com Tour, and he looks like a player ready to win.
Knox has been very impressive so far in 2014, despite losing out in a play-off at the Honda Classic two weeks ago. He could quite easily of sulked about his play-off loss afterwards, but he in his interview, he seemed in good spirits, and credited his own hard work for his performance over the course of the week.
Apart from his good play at PGA National, Knox also played well at the Humana Challenge T13 and the Farmers Insurance Open, at Torrey Pines, finishing T10.
Just looking at which courses his good finishes have come at this season, both PGA National and Torrey Pines, he certainly gives the impression he is comfortable with tough courses, and plots his away around the course, something he will need to do again here at Copperhead.
He is very good tee-to-green, and although he’s only seen the course once prior to this week, I do think it’s somewhere he can play well.
Knox played here, on his first start on the PGA Tour back in 2011, and missed the cut, but he’s certainly improved since. He wisely spent time on the Web.com Tour, and that seems to of helped with his progress, and I do think he is a PGA Tour winner in the making.
Despite being 28 already, he looks to have a good future ahead of him, and he will be looking to establish himself as regular face on the PGA Tour. He should feel fairly comfortable in his surroundings, being a Florida resident, and that may be another thing that works in his favour.
I tipped him at 100/1 at Pebble Beach and the fact he’s only shortened to 66/1, despite finishing 2nd on his last start, definitely made my decision to pick him this week, a whole lot easier.
Total Points Staked this week: 17
Profit/Loss for 2013: + 189.95
It was another frustrating week of golf, last week, made worse by the fact that Tiger gave us a glimmer of hope with his 3rd round 66, only to struggle with his back, again in round 4. I am hoping this week will be profitable, as we look for a positive week once again, in what has, for the most part been a good start to the year. I ran out of time this week for two full previews, but I am happy with the picks, and I confident they can all contend in their respective events.
Remember you can get in touch via Twitter, as always @TJacobsGolf