There's another birdie fest in store as we make our annual visit to the Oceanico Victoria at Vilamoura.
Being a resort type layout, going low is the brief in a relaxed environment. Coincidence or not, one of the most laid back men on tour - David Lynn - 91.00 - will defend after a closing 63 was enough to get the job done in 2013. Players will be looking to secure their tour cards for 2015 now and others will be looking to get themselves firmly into that coveted top 60 spot to advance to the big one in Dubai.
Leading the market are the very much in-form duo of Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry, both at 15.00 in the betting - Shane having won this event in 2012. It's Francesco Molinari - 21.00 - who is the man to beat for me though. The Italian has hit numerous low rounds here at Oceanico Victoria in recent years including two 62s in 2010 and he's on record as saying the course really "fits his eye".
The course - Oceanico Victoria
This year sees the course again playing to a reduced par 71 and the resort style Vilamoura track also had it's primary rough switched to Bermuda grass in 2012, but that hasn't affected the scoring too much. We generally see low numbers in Portugal on a completely exposed track stretching over 7,200 yards which the professionals concede is suited to the bigger hitters. Greens are large and undulating and bunkers line the course although there isn't too much in terms of a defence. If the wind gets up, water may come into play more on 7 affected holes but we usually see benign conditions here. Tackling the lengthy par threes is arguably the biggest test, while good lag putting is key when you're slightly errant with approaches on the large surfaces.
Three from the pack
Ross Fisher - 31.00 or 7.00 - is another man with an affinity for the Oceanico track. Bearing many similarities with Copperleaf GC in terms of the 'grip it n' rip it' exposed style set up and similar expected finishing totals, this is the course where Fisher returned to the winners enclosure earlier in the season. In my opinion, this isn't a coincidence. Ross has a handful of top 10s to his name here in Vilamoura and currently his game is simmering with a third round 65 last week showing signs of top form.
George Coetzee - 34.00 or 7.50 - is another player who likes to take courses on from the tee and go flag hunting so a 6th and a 3rd place from two starts here may not surprise. Coetzee has been playing very sparingly of late but a run of birdies through rounds 2 and 3 at the Alfred Dunhill Links has him back on the radar. A poor final round still saw the south African record a top 25 finish. The man with the fastest swing in the west should be an ideal candidate for an exposed resort style layout. Step up Alexander Levy - 71.00 or 15.00 - who, like Coetzee finished T25th after a poor Sunday, and also seemed about to burst into top gear in Scotland. Levy got a bit upset with himself when he couldn't hole a putt on the Saturday and fell away. There's no better course for the Frenchman to bounce back on for me. He will be debuting at Vilamoura, but averaging 300 yards from the tee, hitting 70% of GIR and with a putting mean of 29.78, expect the Frenchman to go well.
Matthew Baldwin - 151.0 or 26.00 - took to twitter last week to declare his game in the best shape ever despite what the bottom line stats say. I've decided to believe him ahead of an event and course where he's shown progressive 37-15 form in two starts.
Justin Walters - 200.0 or 36.00 - is once again my main rank outsider though. The big man shot a 2nd round 63 here last year en route to a tour card earning 2nd place finish. Walters declared he had a great feel for and read on the greens and he holed most of the putts he looked at. In a recent interview he said he's in a much better place mentally and is really looking forward to teeing it up again at Vilamoura. Signs are there that his game is in good shape after a practice round 61 at Loch Lomond and a first round last week that included 8 birdies.