Portugal Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
WITH the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National just around the corner, Sergio Garcia finally returns to action at the Portugal Masters and will hope to prove that he has rediscovered his form. The Spaniard has suffered a catastrophic season, missing the cut in all four majors and failing to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
There were eyebrows raised when Thomas Bjorn gave Garcia a wild card, saying that going into the Ryder Cup without him would be like a football team going onto the pitch without a captain. Bjorn said that Garcia is an inspiration in the team room. There are those who will believe that should be Bjorn’s job and that if Garcia really does have so much to offer then he could have done it just as well as a non-playing vice-captain.
For his part, Garcia insists that he has been working hard on his game and that he will be ready. So why didn’t he play in the Czech Masters, the Made in Denmark or the European Masters? He can silence all the critics with a solid performance in Portugal, where he is playing for the first time. He said: “I’m pleased to be able to add the Portugal Masters to my schedule for the first time. There are an exciting few weeks ahead and I’m looking forward to playing in front of the crowds in Vilamoura and getting the juices going before I travel to Paris for the Ryder Cup.” The fairytale ending would be a Garcia victory. For Bjorn, the nightmare would be to see Garcia miss the cut.
The tournament was won in 2011 by Tom Lewis, in 2012 by Shane Lowry, in 2013 by David Lynn, in 2014 by Alexander Levy, in 2015 by Andy Sullivan, in 2016 by Padraig Harrington and last year by the impressive Danish golfer Lucas Bjerregaard.
The tournament is being held at the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course for the 12th year on the trot. Garcia, Harrington and 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett lead an impressive field. Three-time Major champion Harrington is returning to familiar territory as he aims to take the title for a second time following his victory in 2016. Willett, who preceded Garcia with his 2016 victory at Augusta National, will return to the golfing mecca of Vilamoura for his seventh appearance later this month.
Bjerregaard will defend his title and Ryder Cup debutant Thorbjorn Olesen is also in Portugal alongside previous winners Levy, Lowry and Sullivan, as well as China’s number one golfer Li Haotong, eight-time European Tour winner Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand and Englishman Matt Wallace, who sealed his third European Tour title of the year in Denmark last week.
Garcia secured his maiden Major title at Augusta National in 2017 during a stellar year in which he claimed a further two titles and won the European Tour’s Hilton Golfer of the Year award.
Harrington, one of Bjorn’s vice-captains, proved that he can still play a bit when he came within a whisker of winning the Czech Masters. The double Open champion won the 2016 Portugal Masters in impressive fashion, securing his first European Tour title in eight years with a closing bogey-free 65 to get to 23 under par for a one shot victory over Sullivan.
Harrington will bid to secure his 16th European Tour title in the week before he travels to Paris. He said: “I always enjoy coming to the Portugal Masters, and I was very pleased to add the title to my list of tournament victories two years ago.”
But perhaps the man to keep an eye on is Willett. He is emerging from a dreadful run of injuries and shocking form. The five-time European Tour winner has an impressive record at the event, with three top-10 finishes in his previous six appearances. Willett said: “I really enjoyed coming back to Portugal last year after a gap of a few years so it was a tournament that I was keen to add to my schedule again. I’ve played well at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in the past so I’m looking forward to another positive week.”
Willett’s game fell off a cliff after his memorable victory at Augusta and it began to look as if there was never going to be a way back for him. Crucially, he is finally free of the back pain that blighted his 2017 and he is swinging the club freely again. Yes there have been missed cuts, but he also enjoyed top-10 finishes at the Italian Open and Irish Open and played well at The Open Championship. He is playing with a degree of confidence again and it can surely only be a matter of time before he wins again.
Garcia wasn’t the only world-class golfer who failed to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs. South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, a man who possesses one of the best swings on the planet, was also sent packing and has returned to the European Tour in search of his game. The former Masters champion will be playing in Portugal and if he can hole a few putts he will fancy his chances of being in the mix on Sunday.
Levy is another who will step on to the first tee feeling that he has a point to prove - to himself as much as to anybody else. He made it clear that, as a passionate Frenchman, his only goal for 2018 was to make Bjorn’s team. He started the season well enough but failed to kick on. It is a real shame that he will not be in action at Le Golf National because he is the sort of character who would have got the crowd going. He is also a golfer who is capable of producing fabulous runs of scoring; in other words, the perfect four ball partner. But it was not to be.
Sullivan was a member of the 2016 team and is another who has flattered to deceive this year, but he loves this part of the world, having achieved some of his best results in Portugal and Spain.
Alexander Levy. Plays with a smile on his face
Lucas Bjerregaard. Looking to make a stout defence
Sergio Garcia. More in hope than expectation
Alexander Levy. Great fun to watch
Lucas Bjerregaard. Hugely underrated
Sergio Garcia. Looking for some form - any form
Danny Willett. On the way back
Andy Sullivan. Looking to draw on positive memories
Charl Schwartzel. One of golf’s serial under-achievers
Shane Lowry. Not far away from his very best
Thorbjorn Olesen. Tuning up for the most important three days of his life
Eddie Pepperell. Looking for big finish to a great year
Andrew Johnston. Beef looks to put a gloss finish on an almost season
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