After a long and protracted 2017 season, golf’s European Tour is heading for the finish line with the three final series events that make up the Race to Dubai. The top 60 players in the order of merit will head to Turkey this week for the Turkish Airlines Open, before the South African leg (the Nedbank Challenge). Finally, the road to Dubai leads to the United Arab Emirates for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
The idea is simple. The top-10 players according to the standings after the DP will share a bonus prize pool of some $5 million – nice work if you can get it. The number one ranked player earns the respect of his peers and takes home a cheque for a cool $1 million.
So while you could forgive those in the field if they did have their hearts set on putting their feet up for a few weeks after 12 months of globe-trotting, the lure of riches on this scale generally focuses the mind for another couple weeks’ worth of hard work.
What do punters need to know this week about the Turkish Airlines Open?
This week’s host course is the Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort, based in Antalya, Turkey. It plays at 7,159 yards for its Par 71, and stylistically it looks quite similar to an English heathland course, with tree-lined runways off the tee and plenty of deep-faced bunkers.
That said, this is not a difficult course to navigate, with defending champion Thorbjorn Olesen getting home with a low score of -20 last year – and that was in a low-quality field after many of the world’s elite refused to travel for safety reasons.
The greens are large, so easy to hit, but contoured – with creates ‘greens within greens’. So finding the right part of the dancefloor to make that putt easier is key this week.
With that in mind, it may also be wise to back a few longer hitters. The rough is not especially penal at Regnum Carya, and so getting your ball as close as possible off the tee leaves a shorter approach shot – certainly more agreeable than trying to get good proximity to these tough pins with a long iron.
So where is the smart money going?
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson have assumed favouritism of the market after chasing each other home at the WGC HSBC Champions last week – Rose just took the title after a scintillating final round, although to be honest neither appeals at single figure prices.
It’s very difficult to win two weeks in a row, and while it is of course possible – especially for someone of Rose’s quality – it is a statistical anomaly when it happens. Also, Regnum is a track where hitting driver is advantageous, so Stenson’s typical three-wood off the tee approach may not be the best method of attack; even if he played well here 12 months ago.
Of those at the head of the market a case can easily be made for Tommy Fleetwood (25/1), who currently leads the Road to Dubai, but there’s something about the upward curve of Bernd Wiesberger that appeals at 28/1.
The Austrian claimed the China Open earlier in the year, and while’s he’s experienced something of a fallow period since he has recently returned to form with a pair of top-10s in the last month or so. The second of those came just last week in China, where he played particularly well from tee to green, and having finished fourth here last year we are interested to see how Wiesberger kicks on with form on his side.
Best of the Rest
A defending champion will always catch the eye at 40/1, but Olesen is simply too unpredictable to back with any certainty.
This course is based in a resort, meaning that it is open to the public pretty much all year round. Consequently, conditions are easy enough and low scores are expected.
As a result we would anticipate that players in form should really enjoy themselves, so two in the mid-price category – Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Paul Dunne (both 40/1) – catch the eye.
Dunne won the British Masters at the start of October and followed up with another top-10 finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, so his current formline cannot be called into question. Aphibarnrat, meanwhile, has been one of the stars of the past few months; finishing inside the top-25 in six of his last seven starts, including a pair of top-10s. That trend suggests a fourth European Tour title could be imminent for the portly putter.
It’s always nice to have a longshot on board to add extra excitement, and somebody who should enjoy the generous conditions in Turkey is Haydn Porteous (160/1).
The South African won the Czech Masters as recently as September, and his price has drifted here due to a patch of poor form. But, he opened with a round of 66 at the WGC event in China last week, which suggests his best form isn’t far off.