Ben Coley provides four selections plus one from the first-round leader market ahead of this week's European Tour event in Oman.
The first edition of the Oman Open went very well from a PR perspective, in stark contrast, one might say, to the more recent Middle East addition to the European Tour schedule.
For starters, there was an enthralling final round, which began with any number of players in with a fighting chance and ended with two of the biggest punchers in the field, who also happen to be close friends, taking each other on down the stretch.
And then there were the course reviews, Eddie Pepperell labelling Al Mouj the best he's played in the Middle East, Matthew Southgate waxing lyrical about the design and others queuing up to ask why it'd taken so long to get to this Greg Norman layout on the outskirts of Oman's capital city, Muscat.
In the event itself, Joost Luiten's putter was ever so slightly hotter than Chris Wood's down the stretch - yes the putter probably did determine the outcome of this one - and he returns to defend his title having lit up Mexico City in the final round of last week's World Golf Championship.
At this level, that is to say in European Tour events absent of the circuit's very best players, Luiten is just about as reliable as they come and every one of his six titles has come under similar circumstances. If he can pick up where he left off after a day's flying, he's entitled to go very well indeed.
Wood returns with an altogether different profile, the injury-plagued Englishman teeing it up for the first time since November, but he too is always to be considered when taking a relative drop in grade, especially under the sort of conditions which suit his game. Al Mouj certainly provides those, this desert-style course with links-style landscaping lying next to the coast, playing more Qatar than Dubai; perhaps even playing more Dutch than desert, in fact.
I say that because Wood went on to finish second again in 2018, at The Dutch, where Luiten had won his second KLM Open a couple of years earlier. Primarily this is further evidence to support the earlier point - that both are classy in this company - but it also serves to remind us that both go well on exposed, perhaps more technical golf courses where conditions can vary greatly from day to day.
That was certainly the case across numerous editions of the Challenge Tour events held here, notably the 2015 season finale where Ricardo Gouveia won the title to cement his place atop the money list. The Portuguese carded rounds of 67, 67, 76 and 65 and was not alone; runner-up JB Hansen went one worse with 66, 67,76, 67 as wind caused havoc during Saturday's third round.
What's particularly interesting about this year's renewal is that there's some suggestion in the mid-range forecast that the wind could again arrive to throw a spanner in the works during moving day. Back in 2015, that meant good news for Callum Shinkwin, who climbed from 17th to first with a 68; the remarkable 66 from Haydn Porteous, which included an eight, was limited in value given that he'd been detached at halfway.
Both those players make some appeal having started the year brightly without quite capturing the imagination of the punting public, but in anticipation of the top of the market providing the winner it's Jordan Smith who gets my vote having made immediate appeal.
Smith has stalled a little over the last 18 months, but that's forgivable for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, his prior rate of progression was always going to prove impossible to maintain, but he's also struggled through a couple of injuries and illnesses which explain why he's not yet doubled his European Tour tally.
Towards the end of 2018, though, his game started to come round, 10th at The Dutch followed by third in the British Masters and 12th in the DP World Tour Championship, and it's reasonable to expect big things to follow now he's fit and firing again and having signed a deal to represent Callaway.
Smith's strong desert form includes winning in the UAE on the Challenge Tour and that success probably cost him at this course a week later, as having been in contention at halfway he faded to finish just inside the top 20. Still, it was a solid debut spin and he improved pound-for-pound to finish 26th last year, a performance which we can upgrade given prior form of MC-61-MC-69 and the two missed cuts that followed.
Sixth place in Qatar as a rookie, 11th in Abu Dhabi at the start of this season and that excellent effort in the DP World Tour Championship give Smith an excellent Middle East profile and having been out in Dubai to prepare for this, he's a strong fancy to contend.
Thomas Pieters will tempt many once more, his form dating back to the CIMB Classic last October reading 30-18-18-12-1-16-29-22-11, and he's clearly threatening to win again - the trouble is that victory came alongside a partner at the World Cup and either side of it he's managed to fall out of the places one too many times now.
The form of Matthias Schwab reads fairly similarly but he's getting better all the time and this talented young Austrian looks well suited to this test.
Granted, he missed the cut last year but just by one shot and he'd arrived on a flight from Perth, whereas 12 months on he has been able to turn down a fortnight in Australia safe in the knowledge that he'll keep his card without chasing every penny across all corners of the globe.
His recent form shows a run of 10 cuts made in succession and while there's a slight concern that he's finished ninth, 10th, 18th, 22nd (twice), 24th and 27th in this run without ever hitting the frame, the overwhelming suspicion is that he's very close to being right there when it matters most.
Schwab finished fourth in the Indian Open almost exactly a year ago, keeping similar company, and a staying-on 14th in the NBO Classic Grand Final of 2017 gives us some tangible and encouraging course form.
There's a similar case to be made for Marcus Kinhult, who was second here on the Challenge Tour and took 16th place last year, ranking 10th for greens hit and doing everything well.
Kinhult is at his best when there's not too much of an emphasis on power and the presence of so many short, straight hitters in the top 20 here last year - along with Gouveia's 2015 win - suggests it's more of a level playing field than some of the other courses we see in the Middle East.
In fact, as alluded to when discussing Wood it's probably more like Qatar than the rest, so Kinhult's third place there last year reads well along with fifth at Le Golf National, another layout where precision is required - particularly when the wind blows.
He was 18th last time out in Saudi Arabia, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson ahead, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose well behind, and while that course was by no means a monster, it clearly lent itself to a big-hitting approach with the more powerful players having far more scoring opportunities.
Here, where hitting fairways and then getting after pins which can be tucked away is the challenge, Kinhult should have more of a chance to shine and if he gets that putter rolling he's ready to go and pick up his first European Tour win.
Adri Arnaus is another big prospect who started the season nicely, a missed cut last time absolutely nothing to worry about, while there's a case to be made for the ultimate enigma that is Victor Dubuisson.
The former Ryder Cup player has struck the ball really well since returning from a lengthy break due not to any lack of ambition but rather a perforated eardrum, and if he takes another step forward from Saudi Arabia he's entitled to be right there in the mix.
At a similar price to Kinhult, Dubuisson absolutely merits a second glance but perhaps a couple more starts are needed and as a result, my final outright vote instead goes to the aforementioned JB Hansen.
Second here to Gouveia on his sole visit to Al Mouj, Hansen returns having topped the Challenge Tour rankings last year, victory in his homeland no doubt the highlight as he showed the benefits of a couple of years on the European Tour.
My feeling is he's much better equipped and certainly talented enough to properly establish himself this time and while three cuts made to start the year have been low-key, there have been plenty of positives - including a third-round 65 in Saudi Arabia which helped him climb to sixth place through 54 holes.
There wasn't much wrong with a level-par final round, either, even if it did see him left behind in stronger company than this, and this prolific birdie-maker can improve again on a course which isn't quite so big-hitter friendly.
Given that he's not the longest off the tee but still needs a little space in which to avoid the big number, Al Mouj really does look to suit and there's no real cause for concern relating to his third round back in 2015, as he was caught in the very worst of the conditions.
Hansen is in fact a solid operator in the wind, his best effort on the European Tour having been third place alongside Henrik Stenson and behind Phil Mickelson and Branden Grace at the 2013 Scottish Open, and he can show it here.
Shinkwin, Victor Perez and even desert/coastal stick Alvaro Quiros all earn a place on the shortlist along with Scottish lefty Robert MacIntyre, but I'll finish off with a bet in the first-round leader market - Jaco Van Zyl.
The South African has slowly been working his way back to where he belongs having remarkably fallen from the world's top 50 to outside the top 1000, owing to an enforced absence from October 2017 to August 2018.
It was most unfortunate timing, as second place in the 2017 Qatar Masters represented his closest call on the European Tour and he didn't do much wrong, losing to a confident Jeunghun Wang in a three-way play-off.
After returning from injury, he played well for 28th place at The Dutch and went on to sit third after the first round in Mauritius late last year, before not unexpectedly falling down to an eventual 23rd and then adding 37th the following week in the SA Open.
Returning after Christmas he didn't do a great deal for three starts running but fourth place in the Dimension Data Pro-Am last time was a welcome return to contention, final-round nerves again getting the better of him after he'd led through 36 and 54 holes.
Van Zyl started well there, shooting 65 to again lie third after the opening round, and that's a continuing theme over the last decade, during which he's sat 10th or better roughly 25 per cent of the time.
At his peak, Van Zyl enjoyed a run in which he led four times in 10 starts and he can prove a threat early on at a course which looks perfectly suitable on paper, providing of course that Saturday's 40th birthday celebrations have not taken their toll.
Posted at 1925 GMT on 25/02/19