Morocco returns to the European Tour schedule after a nine-year absence, at the same venue that used to host their national Open. This particular event actually dates back to 1971, albeit only as an invitational restricted to small fields. There have been some high-class winners, most recently Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington, while that Moroccan Open in 2001 was won by Ian Poulter.
The new set-up involves two rounds of pro-am, with only the professionals remaining for the weekend. Two courses are used, with the Blue Course significantly easier than the Red Course, which hosts three out of the four rounds. As most top Europeans are based in the States at this stage of the season, the turnout has a distinctly second-class feel to it, with just five of the world’s top 100 in attendance, and nobody from the top 40.
Course and key stats
In addition to those Moroccan Opens, Royal Golf Dar Es Salaam hosted a Challenge Tour event in 2003. With small, undulating greens, the test is far from straightforward, especially if the wind gets up. There are no available stats from those previous events to study, but the nature of this course strongly suggests that hitting plenty of greens in regulation and good scrambling will be the key. As Jean-Francois Lucquin is a former course winner, I rather doubt putting ability is a pre-condition of success.
The rough here is kikuyu grass, which South Africans will know well, but given the global nature of the Tour these days, any advantage is likely to be minimal. Par-5 performance will certainly be more important than usual, as there are five on this par-73.
1.5pts ew PETER LAWRIE @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
After giving us a good run for our money at a big price in Malaysia, Lawrie is retained in the staking plan. That makes it two top tens from his last three starts. This layout is likely to reward Lawrie’s trademark accuracy, as it did when finishing runner-up in that 2002 Challenge Tour event here.
1.5pts ew GREGORY BOURDY @ 40/1 (BOYLESPORTS, CORAL)
Bourdy is perhaps one of the lesser-known names on the European Tour, but his form over the past few months entitles the Frenchman to enormous respect at this level. He’s won an event in each of the last three seasons, the latest of which came in the Hong Kong Open against a far stronger line-up. Eighth at the elite Dubai Desert Classic last time was another stellar effort, and if he can repeat those greens in regulation stats on this tricky course, Bourdy would be bound to contend.
1.5pts ew THOMAS BJORN @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
This bet might seem like a blast from the past, but recent efforts suggest Bjorn has rediscovered his love for the game. His last three events have all yielded top 20s, and his greens in regulation stats last time were very impressive. Whatever his problems in recent years, Bjorn is a class act with 11 top-class international titles to his name, so if he is on the way back this event is a realistic target.
1.5pts ew RICHIE RAMSAY @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
Following a glittering career as an amateur and on the Challenge Tour, Ramsay looked an excellent prospect during his rookie season, and broke his duck at European Tour level by landing the recent South African Open. His forte is impeccable tee to green accuracy, which should ensure another high finish on this course. Scotland desperately needs a new golfing star, and Ramsay looks as good a bet as anyone.
1.5pts ew GARETH MAYBIN @ 45/1 (SKYBET, 50/1 CORAL)
Regular readers will know I’ve been tipping Maybin to win ever since the start of last year’s rookie season. So far, so frustrating, as he’s had several good opportunities without covering himself in glory when trying to take advantage. Nevertheless, he’s very consistent and did show a winner’s temperament on the Challenge Tour, so I’m prepared to perservere. Maybin has only missed one of his last 16 cuts, and rewarded place backers twice in his last nine events. That’s enough to justify a bet here at up to 50/1.
0.5pts ew FABRIZIO ZANOTTI @ 200/1 (GENERAL)
Zanotti odds of 200/1 is a crazy price, given his consistent results last year. The Paraguayan made the top 25 on nearly half of all his starts, and finished a respectable 63rd on the Race to Dubai, a vastly superior record to those around the same odds. Had he managed to win the Spanish Open instead of finishing second, that would have been much higher. Furthermore, his best statistical disciplines are in the two areas I consider to be most important this week; greens in regulation and scrambling.