Theoretically, finding the winner of this week?s Mallorca Classic shouldn?t be too difficult. In its four year history, the venue at Pula GC has developed the reputation as quite a specialised track which has produced a high quality winner every year. Niclas Fasth at 40/1 was by far the biggest price compared to SERGIO GARCIA, Jose-Maria Olazabal and MIGUEL-ANGEL JIMINEZ who were all vying for favouritism when winning this title.
Pula, a short par-70, rated the hardest course in Europe last year. Wind is a major factor, and accuracy from tee to green essential along with a quality short game. No doubt the combination of these factors largely explains the tendency to produce quality winners.
The only snag is that by far the two likeliest winners are extremely prohibitive prices. Garcia starts as the shortest priced favourite on the European Tour since Tiger Woods played in the Middle-East back in February, while Fasth is in single figures this year.
In fairness, Garcia?s course record is nothing short of superb. In three previous visits he?s won once and finished runner-up on the other two occasions. Its hard to get enthusiastic about 9/2 for a player who has blown so many winning chances over the past year, but everything at Pula plays to his strengths and he always seems to produce somewhere near his best in Spain. Reluctantly and against my inclination to wait for a better price in-running, I?ve included him in the staking plan.
Fasth needs to retain his title to keep his Order of Merit hopes alive and his odds have probably been shortened as a consequence. The Swede has looked bound to notch another win soon for months, only to manufacture an untimely disaster hole every time. At a quarter of last year?s odds he may well win, but doesn?t represent pre-tournament betting value.
Given that three of the previous four winners were Spaniards, and other home stars like Jose-Manuel Lara have stellar records on this course, I?d rather back up Garcia with the two next best Spanish hopes, Jiminez and GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO. Jiminez has won and finished 8th in two tries at Pula, and must go close as long as last week?s poor effort in Portugal was just a blip. His previous two tournaments had produced decent finishes, 15th in the Dunhill Links – a tournament he rarely prospers in – and 4th at The Belfry.
Castano will surely end up following in the footsteps of his illustrious compatriots and represent Europe in the Ryder Cup. Four of his last five starts have produced top-20 finishes with his latest effort a fortnight ago in Madrid considerably better than 14th place suggests. In that event, he twice put a series of good numbers together to loom large on the leaderboard only to ruin it all with one bad hole.
PAUL BROADHURST has shown a particular liking for Pula in the past, making the top-7 three times from four attempts. He looked to be coming back into form over the weekend after a late-summer break from golf for domestic purposes. This excellent wind player certainly has the ideal game to cope with these tough conditions and must enter calculations at 40/1.
In the past, an early tee-time on day one has proved to be a considerable advantage here. Two outsiders who could benefit from such an early start are GRAEME STORM and JOHN BICKERTON. Storm has been in cracking form all season on courses where accuracy is at a premium. He looks perfectly capable of adding to his maiden victory in the French Open, and has previously shown a liking for Pula, finishing 11th here two years ago.
Bickerton also finished 11th on his only previous visit to Pula. He should always be respected in this part of the world, having won the 2005 Open de Canarias and finishing 2nd in the Spanish Open the following year. Moreover, Bickerton tends to thrive on courses that reward his accurate game, which he has shown in abundance in recent weeks.