Turkish Airlines Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
HANDS UP if you remember Victor Dubuisson winning the Turkish Airlines Open in cavalier fashion way back in 2013 - and then doing exactly the same thing again two years later? To all intents and purposes, we had witnessed the emergence of an extraordinary talent, a golfer with the same approach to the game as Seve Ballesteros. This was a man who refused to be beaten by Jason Day in the final of the WGC Matchplay in the American desert, playing an amazing range of recovery shots from the most unlikely of spots. Time and again he would salvage a half when he seemed to be dead and buried until he finally succumbed after extra holes.
Dubuisson was a member of the European team that won the Ryder Cup in such comfortable fashion at Gleneagles in 2014 and every pundit worth his salt predicted that he would be representing his continent for years to come. But here’s the thing with Dubuisson. He is an individual you might describe as being enigmatic. He doesn’t court publicity and he doesn’t enjoy it. He is not comfortable in the public eye but tournament golf is all about living your life in the spotlight. American golfer Anthony Kim was another who looked like he might be a superstar. He was sidelined by an injury but then decided that he’d earned quite enough from golf, thank you very much, and vanished into thin air. He was last heard of playing the gaming tables in Las Vegas. Like Dubuisson, he didn’t enjoy the adulation.
And so we arrive in Antalya for the latest edition of the Turkish Airlines Open, the latest Rolex Series event on the European Tour, and the penultimate event before the top 60 in the order of merit take part in the season-ending Dubai World Championship and the 2018 Race to Dubai winner is crowned. Right now, it looks like a racing certainty that Open champion Francesco Molinari will be succeeding Tommy Fleetwood, but the Englishman still has plenty to say about that, and we could yet be in for a thrilling finale.
Justin Rose will be defending the title he won 12 months ago - it was won by Dubuisson is 2013 and 2015, by Brooks Koepka in 2014, and by Thorbjorn Olesen in 2016.
Justin made three birdies in his last four holes to secure a thrilling victory at last year’s tournament at Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort, with the trophy being delivered in style by a Turkish Airlines drone. The memorable win came in a sparkling run of three victories in six tournaments in the closing weeks of 2017 for Rose, during which he very nearly caught Fleetwood. Last year’s title was a second triumph on Turkish soil for Rose, who beat a stellar field that included Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to win the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final in 2012.
The Turkish Airlines Open was played on the European Tour for the first time the following year and Rose is excited at the prospect of returning for the sixth staging of the event. The 38-year-old said: “I’m really pleased to be going back to defend at the Turkish Airlines Open. Last year was a win that I won’t forget. To shoot 64 and 65 over the weekend with a birdie at the last to get it done was a special feeling. I’ve always had a great time in Turkey, the hospitality and the facilities are second to none, and I can’t wait to get back there. It’s one of the events that all of the guys look forward to and it’s been amazing to see how much golf has grown in Turkey since I was there in 2012.”
Turkish Airlines Chief Marketing Officer Ahmet Olmutur said: “We are delighted to have Justin back at the Turkish Airlines Open this year. Turkish Airlines is extremely proud at the way that this event has established itself as one of the most important on the European Tour calendar. Last year gave us one of the most iconic moments yet and we are sure that Justin will contribute to put on another show that will excite golf fans all around the world.”
The top 88 in the Race to Dubai are guaranteed a starting place, with a few special invitations also being handed out (Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington have two of them) and with Molinari choosing to sit this one out, it gives Fleetwood a terrific chance to set up a nail biting finish to the season. Fleetwood has played a huge amount of golf on both the European Tour and PGA Tours, but has missed just one cut all season. That statistic is impressive enough, but the thing that really gets everybody’s attention is the way he contends week after week. Not only that, but whenever he does have a rare poor round he always finds a way to bounce back with a low score.
Ironically, his only missed cut came at the French Open, where he was the defending champion. The tournament was played at Le Golf National, which hosted the Ryder Cup, and, of course, Fleetwood duly returned there and collected four points out of five in partnership with Molinari.
Going into the WGC-HSBC Championship, he had enjoyed six top-10 finishes on the European Tour in 2018. There have been a further six top-20 finishes. So in 16 starts on the European Tour he has finished better than 20th on a mind-boggling 12 occasions. He missed one cut on the PGA Tour, finished second at the US Open and enjoyed 13 top-20 finishes. It is a record of consistency that is right up there with what Tiger Woods was achieving in his prime. There is, of course, one big difference - Fleetwood managed just one victory, where Woods would rattle off four or five a year without stopping to draw breath. And Fleetwood is still looking for his first major, but will surely land one before very much longer.
Tour veteran Lee Westwood has shown some encouraging form in recent weeks, and was in contention for much of the Andalucia Masters, won by Sergio Garcia. Westwood remains one of the best drivers of a golf ball in the world and hits more than his fair share of brilliant iron shots. The putter has always been his Achilles heel but there have been signs that he may have finally found something that works for him on the greens. He still looks very uncomfortable over five-footers but is once again draining more than his share of putt from the 10-20-foot range. And if he can hole enough of those, he can still win on any course against any field.
Scotland’s Russell Knox continues to juggle life on both sides of the Atlantic and is another who is looking to crown a season that left him feeling disappointed to have missed out on the Ryder Cup for a second time. Knox is one of those golfers it is all too easy to underestimate because he is so unassuming. He doesn’t hit the ball miles, he doesn’t throw temper tantrums and he doesn’t take forever to play. He just plays golf really, really well - and usually with a smile on his face. He is an easy man to like and is incredibly popular among his peers, which is always the acid test.
Sadly, there is no place in the field for Dubuisson. It is to be hoped that he will be watching on TV somewhere and that he will find his passion and his enthusiasm reignited. Tournament golf has more than its fair share of robots and automatons. It doesn’t have nearly enough characters, nearly enough creative forces. It doesn’t have enough Victor Dubuissons. Right now, the original one would be good enough for most of us.
Tommy Fleetwood. Ready to win again
Justin Rose. Will be there or thereabouts
Matt Wallace. Massive year for the Englishman
Tommy Fleetwood. Another incredible season
Justin Rose. Class act
Matt Wallace. Has become a serial winner
Lee Westwood. Don’t write off the old boy just yet
Thorbjørn Olesen. Getting better and better
Russell Knox. Looking for a big finish to the year
Thomas Pieters. Belgian looking for good finish to poor season
Joost Luiten. Back from wrist injury
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