Coetzee to finally take a bow
George Coetzee is Ben Coley's headline pick for this week's Portugal Masters from Oceanico Victoria.
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Arnold Palmer's Oceanico Victoria plays host to the sixth edition of the Portugal Masters this week, and young Englishman Tom Lewis will defend his title.
Lewis secured victory in stunning fashion 12 months ago, adding his name to the list of players who made birdies in abundance on this lengthy par-72 layout.
Well bunkered and guarded by water, it's very much a modern course that reminds me aesthetically of those often visited in the Middle East, and it's no surprise to hear most players acknowledge that longer hitters do have an advantage.
Indeed, 2009 winner Alvaro Quiros, who excels in the desert, rather typifies what it takes to succeed and although he doesn't look a contender on the form he's shown this injury-hit season, players of a similar mould may dominate the leaderboard come Sunday.
No doubt like so many, the name that leaps off the page here is George Coetzee, for the simple reason that he shot 62 to finish fifth at St Andrews on Sunday and was third on his course debut here last year.
However, those facts alone wouldn't allow me to back him at the odds available. After all, he was one missed putt from missing the cut in the Alfred Dunhill Links, and one low round shouldn't be allowed to hide previously modest play.
But one word kept coming back to me as I thought about his prospects this week, and that word is inspiration.
Some won't acknowledge it, but to my mind there is absolutely no doubt that the difference between a solid week and a winning one can often come down to a factor outside the obvious, such as inspiration, motivation, or whatever else you want to call it.
When I dug into the Omega European Masters, I decided Richie Ramsay might take to the layout. But it was when I discovered he'd had a lengthy discussion with Rory McIlroy about how to move to the next level that I became convinced he was worth a bet.
Shortly after the two had spoken, McIlroy went on to win the PGA Championship in stunning fashion, as former US Amateur champion Ramsay watched on from home.
Then came Gleneagles, Ramsay's first event for a month and one won by fellow Scot Paul Lawrie, with Ramsay among those outpointed on the final day. To my mind, it's no coincidence that he was able to step up and win the very next week.
So, back to Coetzee, and it struck me that Branden Grace's exploits might be all he needs to get over the line. Then I found Coetzee's interview with reporters soon after his final round on Sunday.
"I don't know what's going on in (Grace's) head," Coetzee reflected. "I'd definitely like to just go under the scalp of him and go look and find out what's going on in his head because he's certainly figured out this game and it's showing; he's been playing unbelievable.
"And obviously it's great inspiration to see that someone who I've played with and beaten a lot over the years is doing that well. It just goes to show and proves my point that I should be doing a little better but moreover it's always nice to see your mate doing well."
Although winless on the European Tour, Coetzee's last Sunshine Tour win came in the Telkom PGA Championship, when he traded blows with Grace before proving strongest on Sunday.
Seeing his compatriot lap him to win no fewer than four European Tour titles just has to spur Coetzee on, and if he can play himself into contention it may be as simple as thinking 'if Branden can do it, so I can I' as he steps onto the 10th tee on Sunday.
Ask Charl Schwartzel what enabled him to go from multiple to Major winner and he'll certainly reference the Open Championship success of Louis Oosthuizen, and Coetzee really should be the next one of a golden generation of South Africans to win.
Remember, this has already been a year for first-time winners who had long had the talent. Jason Dufner is perhaps the best example, but what about Jamie Donaldson? Is it a coincidence that his first win came a week after Danny Willett gained his? Perhaps not.
A couple of years ago, Graeme McDowell said that the top players tend to arrive in Portugal 'running on fumes', so it's a further boost that Coetzee had six weeks off prior to finishing 12th on home soil, then fifth last week. Grace had a similar advantage last week, having told reporters that he'd gone home after the PGA Championship to recharge the batteries.
So Coetzee should be fresh and fired up, we know he likes the layout, and his form in Dubai also suggests that wide open fairways on these lengthy modern tracks play to his strengths - that 62 came at St Andrews, the epitome of a track that offers width off the tee.
He has a question to answer when it comes to getting over the line, but I'm willing to take the chance that inspiration might be the missing piece of the puzzle.
How seriously you take my next selection may depend on how far you personally think he's come, but for my money Francesco Molinari deserves to be shorter than the 16/1 on offer this week.
Speaking as one of Thorbjorn Olesen's biggest fans, there's no way the young Dane should be a similar price to WGC winner Francesco Molinari, who has a superb record here and just won the half point that ensured Ryder Cup victory for Europe, albeit it was Martin Kaymer who truly got the job done.
Both Kaymer and Molinari should be inspired by their achievements, but Molinari is the one who arrives in hot form regardless of what happened at Medinah, and he's comfortably the most likely winner of this event.
Since the start of the season, Francesco's sole missed cut came at Sawgrass, the week after he won the Open de Espana with a stunning final round to further underline his ball-striking prowess.
He very nearly repeated that trick in the Open de France only to find Marcel Siem in atypically ruthless form, and the very next week went on to lose a play-off for the Scottish Open.
Some might say that is the problem, that he doesn't win often, but I expect Molinari to win more than once in 16 starts on the right course, and Oceanico Victoria is exactly that.
"I'm looking forward to it because it's always an excellent week," he told europeantour.com. "It's obviously a course I like because I've had some very good results there and I have been unlucky not to win at least once. Hopefully I can put that right this time.
"It's just a great event. Particularly at this time of year the weather in most of Europe cannot be relied upon to be good, but there it seems the sun always shines.
"The course is always in great condition too. It's actually usually set up for longer hitters than ball strikers, but I like the greens and see the lines well, so I usually hole a fair amount of putts.
"It's just a week where I feel very comfortable. I love the hotel and the setting, so hopefully this year will be another good result for me. It's a good week to take the family. If there is such a thing as an easy, relaxed week on The European Tour, this is it."
As we saw with Ryan Moore last week, having friends and family nearby can be a massive plus for certain players, and given that Molinari's first win came in his home open, it's fair to put him in that category.
Indeed, that Italian Open triumph also came on an Arnold Palmer-designed course and his record here at Oceanico Victoria suggests he really likes how they set up.
Francesco has played in all five renewals of the Portugal Masters, with a scoring average of 68.75, and has twice finished second. In 2009, he opened with a round of 63 only to be beaten by a resurgent Lee Westwood, while a year later he shot two incredible rounds of 62, only to undo that work with a pair of 74s.
Molinari feels the course owes him one, and the way he played against Tiger Woods at Medinah suggests to me that he's taken the next step up the ladder. He really is one of the world's best now, and I don't expect him to buckle under pressure in this type of event.
Given that everything else suits and he's not been in the heat of battle at the Dunhill, he's very much the man to beat and I expected a shorter price, as much as I expect him to contend on Sunday.
Next on my list is Pablo Martin, who so very nearly won this title in 2010 only to drop four shots on the final six holes.
That was an agonising episode for Betting Zone followers, as my colleague David John had made a strong case for him at 200/1, the same price we can have this time.
It was a case based around his 2009 effort at the course, which saw him finish 37th despite a closing 77, and the fact that the first of three European Tour wins came in the Estoril Open de Portugal.
Given that he's won South Africa's Alfred Dunhill Championship twice, it's quite clear that he repeats form at certain venues, underlined by the fact that this season's best effort came in the Nordea Masters, where he'd finished fourth in 2011.
Now, it must be said that he's been in generally shocking form all year, but Martin can find it from nowhere and there was enough in last week's share of 63rd to suggest he's not far away.
Indeed, at the end of August his friend and compatriot Pablo Larrazabal told Twitter followers to keep an eye on him, and at 200/1 on a course that he clearly loves we'll go one step further and back him to small stakes.
Back at the sensible end of the market, Alex Noren is very hard to leave out while Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Danny Willett make obvious appeal.
But with Molinari and Coetzee on-side already, I'm going to cast the net wider for my final two selections.
Scott Jamieson strikes me as overpriced at 125/1 and at 61st in the Race To Dubai standings, he has the added incentive of securing a spot in Dubai.
The Scot has found it hard to remain consistent since arriving on Tour at the start of last year, but that's not stopped him being a relatively regular contender when conditions are right.
And although he missed the cut here last year, I think a low-scoring, wide course that allows him to unleash the driver should be perfect and he's definitely in better form this time around.
Three starts ago he finished fourth in the KLM Open, followed by 27th in the Italian Open and a more than respectable 34th in the Alfred Dunhill Links last week.
That final result would read 15th had he not triple-bogeyed the 17th on Sunday, but in truth it was Carnoustie which cost him a top 10 finish and having shot 77 there in 2011, it simply doesn't look to be a course that suits him.
Jamieson was fourth in the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year - an event won by Quiros in 2011 and Rafael Cabrera-Bello (2nd in last year's Portugal Masters) this time around.
Add a third in last year's BMW International Open, once more on a layout that shares certain similarities with this week's, and I think we'll see a vastly improved display.
Some pundits suggested that had Lewis not won here last year, Jamieson would've been the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie Of The Year, so he's got that extra incentive too.
He ranks 22nd for putts per greens in regulation this year, and if he rolls it well again this week he could go close to adding his name to the list of first-time winners in 2012.
Others to keep an eye on in first round leader markets and for speculative big-price punts are James Kingston and Hennie Otto, while Lee Slattery looks a fit for this on paper and is finally in the sort of form that should see him improve upon a very poor course record.
But I'm drawn to Mikael Lundberg and he completes the staking plan at 250/1.
It's important to acknowledge that he's got a poor course record, having never made a cut here, but he's never really arrived in good shape before. This time, six of his last 10 starts have resulted in top-30 finishes; he's placed in the Irish Open, and, crucially, tied for fourth in Madeira in the spring.
That effort points towards his love for playing golf in this part of the world, and if you go back to 2009 you'll see that he also finished fourth in the Estoril Open de Portugal.
Lundberg has won four times as a professional and given that two of those came in Russia, there's yet more proof that certain parts of the world tend to see him produce his best golf.
He's fourth for putts per greens in regulation this season and, at 120th on the Race To Dubai, he'll recognise the importance of producing the goods in Portugal once again.
It's a speculative punt, but one worth taking at the odds.