Turkish Airlines Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Thorbjorn Olesen will defend his title at the Turkish Airlines Open, the sixth out of eight in the European Tour's prestigious Rolex Series, which has offered players the chance to earn some properly serious money. After the winning putt has been holed on Sunday, only two tournaments will remain before the curtain comes down on an outstanding season at the Dubai World Championship.
Tommy Fleetwood still leads the Race to Dubai but Sergio Garcia's recent victory in Spain has closed the gap, and the Englishman cannot afford to be complacent if he wants to finish the season as Europe's Number One.
The tournament was first played in 2013, when it was won by Victor Dubuisson, it was won in 2014 by Brooks Koepka, in 2015 by Dubuisson once again and last year Olesen.
When Dubuisson won back in 2013 it came as something of a surprise. It was his breakthrough victory and it appeared that we were watching the start of a remarkable career, especially when he went on to reach the final of the WGC World Matchplay Championship the following year, losing to Jason Day in extra holes after an extraordinary display of recovery golf. We had, it seemed, unearthed the next Seve Ballesteros, a man who could miss fairways but produce magical shots from the most unlikely of places. He went on to clinch his place in Paul McGinley's European Ryder Cup team, which won so comfortably at Gleneagles in 2014.
The Frenchman won again in 2015, and that victory was almost as surprising as his first because for months beforehand he had played like a drain. And his wretched form has continued. Only the top 100 players in the Race to Dubai at the conclusion of the Andalucia Masters progress to Turkey and at one point it looked like Dubuisson was going to finish outside that number, but he managed to squeeze in and will be hoping that a return to Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort will inspire him. But don't hold your breath.
A wonderful field will tee up in a tournament that features a prize fund of $7m, with the best part of $1m going to the winner.
The organisers thought that they had pulled off a major coup by attracting the men who won gold, silver and bronze at the Olympic Games in 2016. Justin Rose had not won since claiming gold in Rio, but he played some beautiful golf in the FedEx Cup Playoff series, knocking off top-10 finishes for fun as Justin Thomas ran away with the top prize.
Rose, fresh from winning the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, is one of the most consistent players in the world, and has been for an awfully long time. He will be reunited with silver medallist Henrik Stenson but Matt Kuchar, who won the bronze medal and gave Jordan Spieth the fright of his life during The Open at Royal Birkdale. Aside from The Open Championship,has now decided against travelling to Turkey and has withdrawn from the tournament.
Rose said: “It’s great that people are looking forward to having the three of us there and I’m sure we’ll have another good tournament and hopefully another podium finish. Winning gold in Rio was one of the highlights of my career. Seeing Henrik and Kuch always brings back good memories and it was a great experience for us to share.”
Five-time Ryder Cup player Ian Poulter is in the field, having finished second and fifth previously. This is a course that favours strategy over big hitting, and it should suit Poulter perfectly. Having turned his fortunes around in the most extraordinary way in 2017, Poulter is once again knocking on the door of the top 50 in the world rankings, and would love to crown his season with a victory. He has been playing well for weeks without being able to finish the job off. Poulter played some glorious golf during the British Masters at Close House and felt that he could have won.
He desperately wants to make Thomas Bjorn's 2018 Ryder Cup team and knows that he will need to maintain his recent form if he is to do so. “I’ve been pretty happy with my form over the last few months and I’m looking forward to getting back to Turkey,” Poulter said. “It’s always a good week on and off the course and I’m sure we’ll have plenty of fun.”
Olesen's victory in Turkey was the biggest of his career, but it came as no real shock. He is a brilliant ball striker who, on his day, can beat anybody. “Last year was huge for me. I hadn’t been playing well in the previous few months and it was massive for me to win such a big tournament. The field is looking very strong again this time around but I’ve got good memories of Turkey, the course suits my eye and hopefully I can have another good week,” he said.
Fleetwood has forced his way into the top 20 in the world rankings after a season that has included wins at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the HNA Open de France, as well as second place at the WGC-Mexico Championship. The 26-year-old said: “I’ve always enjoyed playing in Turkey and it’s going to be another big tournament as we head into the final weeks of the season. I’m a fan of the course and I’m looking forward to the week.”
If you are looking for a probably winner, don't look much further than Thomas Pieters. The Belgian is looking for a big finish to the year and has been playing on the PGA Tour, where he has more than held his own. He has no weaknesses, other than the fact that he is sometimes guilty of being too hard on himself. Pieters is a long hitter with a glorious short game - it looks like the perfect combination for this course.
To Win: Thomas Pieters. Due another win
Each Way: Justin Rose. Will be there or thereabouts
Each Way: Henrik Stenson. Has had some fitness issues
Thomas Pieters. Complete golfer
Justin Rose. As consistent as they come
Henrik Stenson. Looking for a big finish to the year
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Brilliant short game
Tommy Fleetwood. Determined to finish the season as No1
Ian Poulter. Loves this course
Marc Warren. Has found great form recently
Victor Dubuisson. Looking for inspiration
Eddie Pepperell. Could surprise a few people
Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Playing wonderful golf right now
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