We?ve got a particularly tricky week in store, with two new tournaments played on courses where we have no previous course form to work from. In Portugal, low scoring is widely predicted at the Victoria Club, Vilamoura. A flat, exposed course looks reliant on a combination of wind and undulating, fast greens for its defences. The latter characteristic suggests to me that the key to success is going to be quality approach play, normally a recipe for producing a top-class winner.
The market is headed by JUSTIN ROSE, closely followed by recent winners Lee Westwood and Nick Dougherty. Those wins by the latter pair were overdue, but nowhere near as much as a victory for Rose would be. Since winning the Mastercard Masters in Australia last winter, Rose has established himself as one of the main contenders for the ?Best Bar Woods? crown with a stream of top efforts across the Atlantic. Now back in Europe for the end of the campaign and bidding for the Order of Merit, I expect he?ll take some beating. I?m happy to overlook last week?s first-round exit at Wentworth, when his putting was simply too bad to be true.
Its probably only a matter of time before teenage sensation RORY MCILROY is challenging for European top dog status. I?m aware of the risk of jumping on a bandwagon, but he looks more convincing with each week that passes. Andrew Chandler has described Mcllroy as the best he?s ever seen at 18, and its hard to argue with that analysis although Sergio Garcia springs to mind. Then again, Garcia was winning almost immediately and that doesn?t look beyond Mcllroy. The quality of his iron play is shown in the fact that after just 16 rounds, he ranks first in par-3 performance. Having contended strongly two weeks in a row, it may be worth taking 33/1 now because prices like that could soon become a thing of the past.
South African RICHARD STERNE has performed well in Portugal at much earlier stages of his European Tour development. From four visits up to 2005, he twice made the top-6, so I?m hoping a return to sunnier conditions than experienced in Britain lately will spark a return to the outstanding form Sterne showed in the first half of the season. He was barely out of the frame up until July, and on his first tournament after injury he managed an encouraging 9th in Germany. This test certainly looks more suitable than the Dunhill Links where he disappointed (not for the first time) on his latest start.
Finally in Portugal, a couple of speculative bets at 80/1 and 100/1 respectively. Portugal was the scene of ROBERT JAN-DERKSEN?s most recent win in 2005, and I?m expecting this excellent long-iron player to come into his own round this course. He certainly hasn?t had a bad summer, making the top-25 on his last two starts and would have claimed a third career title in Russia were it not for the amazing performance of Per-Ulrich Johanssen.
And in addition to the outstanding Mcllroy, I?m going with another outstanding prospect, ROSS FISHER, at 100/1. Fisher opened his European Tour account in Holland just a couple of months ago, which will surely be the first win of many. Though very inconsistent still, Fisher tends to save his best for ?second-shot? courses which I?m expecting to be the case in Vilamoura. In any case, 100/1 is surely too big for such a talented recent winner.