Though the biggest European Tour names are on the other side of the Atlantic, preparing for the US Masters 2009, this week’s Euro Tour event should also provide plenty of entertainment and betting opportunities. Not only is the field competitive; of a similar standard to last week at the Open de Andalucia; but Oitavos Dunes offers a rare sighting in mainland Europe of a links course.
 
Virtually every hole here is surrounded by sand dunes, and typically the strength of the wind is the key to scoring. In 2007, amateur Pablo Martin-Benavides produced one of the all time great shocks with a -7 winning total. In contrast, -18 was the mark for last year’s renewal, with lighter winds enabling a birdie-fest. Gregory Bourdy won the event after a three man play off.
 
With the course playing very differently in each year, its not totally clear which are the most important skills. The greens are very undulating, so certainly high quality iron play and scrambling are of critical importance. But whereas driving distance was very important in 2007, it seemed irrelevant in 2008. The current weather forecast suggests around 15mph average wind speed, (not that the advance weather forecast proved of any use last week!), so my guess is somewhere between the two previous renewals and a winning total of around -14.
 
Quite correctly on the basis of his earlier season form, Louis Oosthuisen starts as favourite. His scoring and stats are clearly superior to the rest of this field, and were he to reproduce his form from the ‘Middle East Swing’, the South African would take the world of beating. However, two factors make him one to oppose in my view. Firstly, he’s been playing a very different type of golf course in the States, and produced his worst result of the season at Bay Hill. Secondly, none of that top-class form has come on links courses, on which he remains unproven.
 
Anders Hansen is another obvious one, having maintained his consistent 2009 form with 11th place in Spain. The same principle applies as last week though; I’m just not prepared to take 20/1 about a player who has only won four times throughout a long career, two of which have come only recently. The third ‘form’ selection, Thomas Aiken, has been a model of consistency recently, but like his compatriot Oosthuisen, is unproven on links and probably overdue a bad week.
 
For me, the two best bets are GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO and ALASTAIR FORSYTH. Castano grabbed a place for us here last year at 80/1, and while his odds are only a small fraction this time, he still rates a very likely contender. I actually felt disappointed with 5th last year, because his long game had been quite outstanding. Since then, he’s made amends at a huge price by winning the British Masters, proving once again that he has huge reserves of ‘bottle’. Recent form is fine too, with Sunday’s 14th place his fifth top-25 from the last seven, and usually against stronger fields than this. Castano’s world-class short game could prove a particularly useful advantage around this course.
 
Forsyth is a very experienced links player, and particularly good in the wind. No wonder then that his three previous returns on this course read an impressive 19th, 7th and 2nd. Having signalled a return to form with 5th place on Sunday; a position that could easily have been better without an untimely triple-bogey down the stretch; Forsyth looks a rock-solid contender once again.