The home contingent is headed by Miguel-Angel Jiminez, who is tournament sponsor. ‘The Mechanic’ is never easily written off at home, but those extra responsibilities as sponsor could create distractions. Its also hard to recommend Jiminez after his last two well below par efforts in the States.
Gonzalo-Fernandez Castano is another strong Spanish candidate, but has a surprisingly poor record in his homeland, failing to make a single top-5 there to date. Pablo Larrazabal, while an excellent prospect, has struggled lately. Jose-Manuel Lara did nothing special on either of his two previous visits to this course. As for course designer and national hero Olazabal, it would seem that persistent injuries have brought a premature end to his status as a world-class golfer.
Best of the home bunch could be rising star RAFAEL CABRERA-BELLO. Having made a big impact on the Challenge Tour last year, he has carried that promise over to the higher level and has yet to miss a cut this season. Four of his last five starts have yielded top-20 finishes, with 5th in Indonesia the best result. Notably, Cabrera-Bello has consistently ranked near the top of the greens in regulation stats, which is always a good guide.
In what looks a wide-open event, the likes of Robert-Jan Derksen and Raphael Jacquelin also deserve a mention. The former made the top-10 on both previous visits, and only just missed out on the staking plan, while the latter took the eye on his last couple of starts in Asia. Niclas Fasth and David Lynn both have plenty of form in this part of the world, but cannot possibly be recommended after some very poor recent form. Bradley Dredge, 12th here in 2004, hasn’t looked at his best for a while either.
Instead, I suggest going for raw potential in the form of DANNY WILLETT. While Rory McIlroy is making such a huge impact across the Atlantic, Willett may be about to make some headlines of his own. The 21 year-old from Sheffield, formerly World No.1 amateur, looks a quite outstanding prospect, who has immediately looked comfortable on the main tour. Seeing as he made the top-10 here last year whilst still an amateur, its safe to assume that he will appreciate this open layout. Top-10s in South Africa and Abu Dhabi offered a glimpse of that potential, suggesting we could very well see him winning an event of this stature soon.
Finally, while I must apologise for doing so, I’m giving the ever-unreliable NICK DOUGHERTY one more chance at what seem like very big odds of 55/1. Nick played here back in 2004, and was the only player in the field to shoot all four rounds under par. We have to forgive another frustrating missed cut last time out, but previously he looked to be coming into form with a couple of top-15s. At his best, Dougherty would be favourite in this field, and while he may be inconsistent, he usually peaks two or three times per season and this looks ideal.