The Race To Dubai Final Series kicks off this week and the eligibility criteria has been causing some confusion. The format doesn't simulate the Playoff events over in the US. Indeed, we will see many of the US stars tee it up in the next couple of weeks on the European Tour before the final top 60 in the Race To Dubai standings face off in the season ending DP World Tour Championship.
The top 60 available players from the top 100 in the world rankings / 110 in Race to Dubai, 4 invites and 14 selected players by the Chinese golf association will make up a 78 man field. European tour players no longer have to play two from three Final Series events to qualify for the season finale in Dubai.
Leading the market this week is Justin Rose - 9.00 - with the withdrawal of Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson for personal reasons. Third in the betting, Joost Luiten - 21.00 - has been at the course early for practice and he's tweeted this week that it's playing long and tough.
The Course - Lake Malaren
A largely exposed Jack Nicklaus design, playing over 7,600 yards to a par of 72, Lake Malaren is predominantly forgiving from the tee - a feature of many of Jack's courses. Emphasis is placed mainly on second shots into some difficult pin positions on slick contoured greens - the main defence of the course. Risk and reward will be a big theme during the week as players take on sandy areas, bunkers and numerous water hazards in search of birdies and eagles. The course by all accounts is playing soft and long giving the advantage firmly to the big hitters who can throw some darts at the flag sticks. Wind is often a factor around here.
Three from the pack
The outstanding candidate from the front end of the betting for me here is Victor Dubuisson - 17.00 or 4.50. The Frenchman shot to prominence around this time last year when taking down the Final Series' Turkish Airlines Open, and after a stellar Ryder Cup, Vic has followed up with a T5 in the Volvo Matchplay and rounded up his tournament in Perth last week with a 66 for a solo second. Averaging 305 yards off the tee in 2014, we should see the man lying 6th in the Race To Dubai challenging again here.
There are a number of players I fancy to go well around the 40/1 mark but two guys with just as much reason to be optimistic that I like are priced a lot bigger. Rafa Cabrera Bello - 67.00 or 13.00 - shows progressive form of 35-8 at Lake Malaren, shooting a Friday-Saturday 68-67 in 2013. The Spaniard was T12 in the shortened event in Portugal a few weeks back but opened up with a low round 64 on a similar styled length course. With a premium on tee to green play, Rafa's efficient distance and accuracy combination together with a greens hit clip of 74% - to leave him sixth in the GIR stat - should stand him in good stead this week.
Pricing golf events is a funny game and based on Ross Fisher's recent form, a quote of 81.00 or 16.00 the place has been derived. What the bare stats of a T33 in Portugal don't tell you is that the event was reduced to 36 holes and that some bad luck on Fisher's last few holes literally cost him five shots: If not for this we'd be looking at a price half the size. I mentioned in that preview that Ross had returned to the winners enclosure earlier in the season at the Tshwane Open - an event played on one of the longest courses around, and he can again use that length from the tee, and high ball flight to his advantage.
Having alluded to the fact that Jack Nicklaus designs often place emphasis on the "second shot" I keep being drawn back to Thomas Aiken - 126.0 or 23.0 - this week. Although a little more difficult, the Oceanico course in Vilamoura, Portugal may give pointers as to who could go well given the length and set up of the venue. Thomas shot 66-67 for a T12 here and then kept it ticking over with a top 25 in South Africa. What sticks out the most though is Thomas sitting 1st in GIR% on tour this season, and like I said, on a course where approach shot accuracy is key, the 31 year old could be your dark horse