Portugal Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
The clock is well and truly ticking, with this week’s Portugal Masters being the last regular event of the 2018-19 European Tour season, meaning it offers the final chance for a host of golfers to either force their way into the top 110 in the Race to Dubai or to do enough to keep their positions. Those who fail to do so face a soul-destroying trip to Qualifying School. There are also others things to play for, with the top 60 golfers after the Ned Bank Challenge heading for the DP World Tour Championship, where great riches and rewards are on offer.
The likes of Bernd Wiesberger, Jon Rahm and Shane Lowry are focused only on the big prizes, but this is an anxious time for a host of golfers, more of which later.
Two former world number ones arrive in Portugal with very different targets. Martin Kaymer, who won the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2010 and U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2014, will make his first appearance at the Portugal Masters since 2015. The German, who has played in four Ryder Cups, has four top-20 finishes this season and is looking to secure his place in the final three events on the 2019 Race to Dubai. Who would ever have thought it?
Ahead of the French Open, the German found himself in 79th position in the Race to Dubai, with his world ranking a lowly 119th. A decent week in France saw him climb to 70th. He is trying to put a brave face on things. “This is an event I’ve always enjoyed playing,” said Kaymer. “The move to October has given me the opportunity to add it to my schedule again. I’ve had some encouraging results this season, but it’s my goal to make the last three tournaments on the Race to Dubai, so Portugal gives me a great opportunity to take some momentum into those events.”
Lee Westwood is another who topped the rankings but appeared to be on the slide until he won the Nedbank Challenge last year. And he topped that by finishing in fourth place at The Open Championship at Royal Portrush in July, a result that meant he has no such worries about making it to Dubai. The veteran Englishman admits that his primary reason for playing in Portugal is to prepare himself for the upcoming defence of that title in South Africa.
Westwood will be making his first appearance at the event ten years after winning what was his 30th professional title and he is joined by Andy Sullivan, who secured secured his third European Tour title at Dom Pedro Victoria in 2015 when he finished nine strokes clear of the chasing pack.
In 2009, Westwood ended a two-year wait for a European Tour victory as he finished two strokes ahead of Francesco Molinari after carding his third six under par round of the tournament for a 23 under par total. The win sparked a rich vein of form which saw him win the Race to Dubai that same season and then become the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1994 to become World Number One the following year.
“I have some happy memories of Dom Pedro Victoria after winning there in 2009,” said Westwood, who had 26 top-ten finishes between his 2007 British Masters title and his Portugal Masters victory. “There had been a few close calls between those two wins, so I was really pleased to get over the line in Portugal.
"A lot of players talk about how this tournament has gone from strength to strength over the last few years; I’m looking forward to coming back and seeing how the tournament has grown. It also gives me a great opportunity to tune-up ahead of my defence of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, so I’m excited for the week.”
Sullivan, who was a teammate of Westwood’s at The 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, was denied back-to-back Portugal Masters titles in 2016 when he finished just one stroke behind champion Padraig Harrington. “The Portugal Masters is an event I always look for when the schedule is released,” said Sullivan. “It’s a great event and it’s always nice to return to a course where you’ve won before. I always bring my family to the event as they love it as much as I do – and it never hurts to have some extra support whilst competing. This tournament gives us an opportunity to start building some momentum ahead of the final three events of the year. I really want to end the season strongly and this event provides the platform for that.”
Matt Wallace is another Englishman with great memories of Portugal after securing the first of his four European Tour titles at the Open de Portugal in 2017. The Englishman reached a career-high position of 23rd in the world ranking earlier this season and is currently fifth in the Race to Dubai and is looking for a big finish to his season. He has failed to win but has produced a series of superb results both in Europe and on American soil. There have been six top-10 finishes, including two runners-up spots and he also finished third in the US PGA Championship and 12th at the US Open - it has been a pretty impressive body of work, but Wallace sets incredibly high standards for himself and is desperate to win his sixth title before the year is out. He is also a golfer who is pretty hard on himself and landed on hot water earlier in the year for the treatment of his caddy - this is not how he wants to be known.
“Portugal is a very special place for me,” said Wallace. “Winning for the first time on the European Tour there a few years ago was huge for me and I’m proud of how I’ve developed as a golfer since then. There’s still so much to play for in the last few events of the season and I’m really looking forward to it.”
He certainly has developed as a golfer. His stroke average this year is 69.65 and his driving distance average is an impressive 305 yards. He is also one of those players who, when he gets hot with the putter, gets really hot.
Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington is also in the field, determined to show the youngsters there is still life in the old dog. “I’m really looking forward to coming back to Dom Pedro Victoria,” said Harrington. “It’s a golf course which suits me, and it’s always nice to return to a venue where you have won before. We might be nearing the end of the season, but there’s still a lot for everyone to play for. It should be an exciting week.”
Ricardo Gouveia and Pedro Figueiredo will fly the flag for Portugal as the two highest-ranked national players in the field.
It was at this tournament three years ago that Eddie Pepperell missed the cut after a disaster at the 18th hole - a result that cost him his card. Pepperell was devastated but reacted in the right way. He quickly won back his playing privileges and has since gone on to win twice on the European Tour and surge up the world rankings. He hasn’t had a great season, struggling with injury, but will want to go out with a bang. And then there is the defending champion, Tom Lewis. A massive talent as a teenager, he turned professional and quickly won for the first time but then lost way and ended up stumbling around on the Challenge Tour. But then, from nowhere, he won in Portugal last year and continued his excellent form into 2019. He topped it all off by gaining his card for the PGA Tour for the 2019-20 season.
So who are the players facing the toughest weeks of their career? Former tournament winners James Morrison and Victor Dubuisson are just inside the top 110 and will be hoping to remain there, while former Ryder Cup player Nicolas Colsaerts put things right by winning the French Open last week. However, Englishman Lee Slattery needs a big week to keep his playing rights. Surprisingly, Paul Dunne goes into the week in 118th place. The Irishman is clearly one of the most gifted young players on the European Tour but he has struggled since winning the British Masters back in 2017.
Matt Wallace. Due another victory
Lee Westwood. Never write him off
Andy Sullivan. Feisty character
Matt Wallace. Loves Portugal
Lee Westwood. Life in the old dog yet
Andy Sullivan. Has been showing good form
Ricardo Gouveia. Will have huge local support
Tom Lewis. Finally fulfilling all that potential
Alexander Levy. Fast becoming a French enigma
Martin Kaymer. Fresh from a decent week in France
Eddie Pepperell. Would love to win here
Lucas Bjerregaard. Now a truly world-class golfer
Jordan Smith. Capable of going really low
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