It's grip it n' rip it time again on the European Tour as we head to one of my favourite events on the schedule. Perhaps we got a little lucky at last year's Portugal Masters when Alexander Levy blitzed the field in an event reduced to just 36 holes due to heavy rain, but the long hitter theme remains. In saying that, the way Alex was owning the course, he could have made history should the tournament have went the distance.
Scoring was extra low in 2014 due to the soft conditions and it generally is here at the Oceanico Resort but totals have been tempered a little in recent seasons. In 2012, a Bermuda strain replaced the fibre, and the roughage has been overseeded with Rye now too, adding a bit of defence to the track. The long grass generally still isn't overly penal though and low numbers will continue to be the brief. Step up the bombers: recent leaderboards will show a strong bias towards big hitters and greens in regulation stats. Conditions are usually benign here and low numbers are the order of the day.
We have joint market leaders in the shape of Bernd Wiesberger and Martin Kaymer at 13.00. The former comes here off the back of a 3ft missed putt on 18 at St. Andrews two weeks ago that would have seen him post a number to put serious pressure on eventual Dunhill Links winner Thorbjorn Olesen. On paper, the Austrian has the ideal game for Vilamoura. Tommy Fleetwood - 26.00 - looks to be hitting top gear and I really like him in Portugal. His price is very fair, while others I really like in the first market bracket are Tyrell Hatton - 31.00 - and Ross Fisher - 41.00 - who has a stellar record on the track in question.
The course - Oceanico Victoria GC
Playing just in excess of 7,200 yards to a par 71, many pros have conceded this is a track where the big hitters have a notable advantage. Par 5s will be reachable from the tournament tees largely just for those long from the tips while the par 3s are especially testing for those not gifted in the length department. Key though is on approaches into large, undulating greens, and with generous landing areas from the tees, the bombers can take advantage of high trajectory approaches into the targets.
Surfaces are set to run just 10.5 on the stimp and as the top 10 stats back up, putting is not a premium here; the birdies come mainly from quality aggressive approaches. Lakes feature throughout this exposed layout but if the wind keeps away, water trouble doesn't feature too often. The course is lined with sand but these resort bunkers won't pose too much of a problem to the pros either. Expect to see low numbers again with the potential for a 59.
Three from the pack
Half the price of 2014 maybe but Alex levy - 31.00 or 7.00 - is the standout after he demolished the track on his debut last year. Alex was averaging 300 yards from the tee last season coming into this event and he was simmering form wise without the putter firing. It's the same this year with regards to round-by-round totals. The Frenchman has been playing yoyo golf the last few weeks and even enjoyed a stretch at Woburn where he was -6 through five holes, carding four birdies and an eagle on the Saturday. That's what he can produce and now he faces a course that suits after his confidence building top 20 at the British Masters.
The Portugal Masters test is one I have down as requiring very similar attributes to the Albatross Golf Resort that hosted the Czech masters. We had success with Thomas Pieters - 31.00 Or 7.00 - there and he ticks every single box here. Pieters is a fast rising star and proved he wasn't just a one dimensional player when he won his second event (back-to-back) in a three week span at Kennemer - the short links style track at the KLM Open. Pieters can be forgiven for running out of a little gas but a closing 68 at Woburn on Sunday says he still has a little in the tank and Oceanico Victoria could prove a nice venue to use it up. The Belgian is averaging 303 yards off the tee in 2015 and doesn't seem to have a notable weakness in his game.
Birdie machine Kristoffer Broberg - 46.00 or 10.00 - likes an odd mistake but the red numbers should far outweigh the blue and black this week in Portugal. This is a man who knows how to win with four victories on the Challenge Tour and he's hitting the top of his form with five top 25s including three top 10s in his last eight strokeplay events. He was T17 at Woburn notching 17 birdies and an eagle; Broberg is capable of long birdie streaks and can go super low - a prerequisite around here. The Swede averages 291 yards in driving distance and has hit 72% of greens this season.
Nicolas Colsaerts - 61.00 or 13.00 - has been on the radar since an opening 9-under par at the Italian Open. He seems to have stepped up after his compatriot Pieters has taken over as the no. 1 Belgian. Colsaerts had previous form in Italy and the Sicilian region and tends to play well repeatedly in certain locations. This is one of them. "Nico" was the only man in touch with Levy last year in Portugal and indeed he opened with a 60. The original Belgian bomber shows progressive form here of 44-15-2 and is averaging 306 yards from the tee this year with a tremendous GIR clip of 74.31%. What odds a Belgian head-to-head down the stretch with Pieters on Sunday?