The European Tour rolls into it’s latest stop at the Portugal Masters this week, where Andy Sullivan is defending champion. Who’s likely to contend this year?
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As we get down to the business end of the season for the European Tour with a World Golf Championship and the Race to Dubai final series all close on the horizon, the Portugal Masters comes at a crucial juncture of the season.
For those looking to stake a claim for big pay days before the season ends, those who are battling to save their cards, or those who are fixed on making a run at the Race to Dubai overall, the Portugal Masters could prove to be make or break.
Now in its 10th staging, the Portugal Masters has developed into one of the more underrated events on the European Tour schedule as the Arnold Palmer designed course in Vilamoura has matured and come into its own over time.
The field in the Iberian Peninsula this week will be headed up by world no. 18 and last week’s winner Alex Noren, while Thomas Pieters and Andy Sullivan also offer plenty of clout following their recent Ryder Cup exploits.
Who will come out on top though? Our power rankings highlight 10 of the leading contenders at the Portugal Masters.
It says everything you need to know about Alex Noren’s chances this week that it wouldn’t really come as a big surprise if he was to pick up a trophy for the second straight week on Sunday, notching his fourth win of the season in the process.
Now up to 18th in the world and fourth in the Race To Dubai, the Swede is certain to have a new set of ambitions in his mind and another good week here would set him up perfectly for next season’s WGC event and the Final Series of the Race To Dubai thereafter.
Perhaps, fatigue could prove to be a factor a week after his win at The Grove, but with his outstanding play throughout the late summer section of the European Tour, Noren is still showing no signs of slowing down just yet.
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No. 41, Ryder Cup Star
After a star-making turn which saw him win four of his five matches at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, Pieters could have been forgiven for struggling to adjust to regular action on the European Tour, but a solid, if tired, performance at the Dunhill Links hints that he may continue his stellar season.
It’s worth remembering that a win, runner-up and fourth placed finish in the span of three weeks is what sealed Pieters’ spot on the European team, and with his confidence certainly only boosted by his play in the event, Pieters could yet kick on again in this final stretch of the European Tour schedule.
Having finished sixth at this event last year, not only does the big-hitting Belgian have the form and confidence necessary to contend this week, but also the course know how.
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No. 53, Defending Champion
Although Andy Sullivan’s first Ryder Cup experience didn’t go as well as he would have hoped, he’ll be hoping that the experience in itself could be enough to help spur his game on to new heights in the coming weeks and months.
A good place to start in that regard would be to come back to the tournament that set it all up for him last year, and put together a formidable defense of his trophy. Sullivan set a tournament record last year as he claimed victory by a margin of nine strokes after a week of imperious golf.
After a strong summer of play that helped them to seal his spot on Darren Clarke’s team, Sullivan went through something of a rough patch. With improved finishes in his last two events and plenty of good memories to call upon at this venue, there’s a good chance he could set that right this week.
The glimpses of good form have been there of late for the former Ryder Cup player who is still only 39 years old, but more often than not there has been one round that would let him down over the course of a week. Last week at The Grove, Hanson took his biggest stride towards putting that right though.
The Swede picked up his best finish and biggest pay day of the season with a fourth placed finish at the British Masters, with all four rounds coming in under-par for the veteran. With that strong result, Hanson finally has some momentum again and now the question is what can he do with it next.
Hanson hasn’t played at this event often in recent years but with a tie for 11th in 2011 and a fourth placed finish in 2009 making up his last two starts here, I certainly wouldn’t put it beyond him to have another strong finish this week.
Although Jaidee has only registered one top-10 finish this season outside of his French Open win, he’s played a lot of solid golf throughout the year and will be in with a good chance against a field lacking in proven winners.
The Thai legend has recorded top-25s in his last two events, including last week at the British Masters, and is the kind of streaky scorer who could make a mark on this course if he could get into an early rhythm.
Although Jaidee didn’t play in this event last season, this week will mark his eighth trip to the Portugal Masters overall. A 17th placed finish on his last visit in 2014 is just one of three top-20s to his name on this course too.
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No. 142, Five Straight Top-15 Finishes
25-year-old Tommy Fleetwood has already got a European Tour win to his name having won the Johnnie Walker Championship in 2013, and judging by his outstanding recent form it’s hard to understand why he hasn’t been able to add more to his collection in the time since.
Fleetwood has put together top-15 finishes in each of his last five starts dating back to the KLM Open, with last week at the British Masters marking his best finish of the bunch as he closed out in a tie for fourth.
On top of that good recent form, the Englishman has a respectable track record at Vilamoura having finished in the top-30 in each of the last three seasons. Having picked up his biggest pay day of the season last week, Fleetwood will be hoping to continue rolling on the Algarve.
Regular readers of this column will be familiar with my championing of Robert Karlsson’s resurgence in recent months, and although he missed the cut at the British Masters last week, there’s plenty of reason for the big Swede to feel comfortable when he lands on the Iberian peninsula.
Karlsson has played in this event on five previous occasions and boasts an impressive record from those starts. The former Ryder Cup star was a runner-up in both 2007 and 2010, as well as coming in in third place in 2008.
With an undisputed comfort on this Arnold Palmer designed course, Karlsson’s recent third placed finish from the European Open and seventh spot at the Czech Masters could help him to put it all together for his first tour win since 2010.
Another man with previous Ryder Cup experience who is in the process of rallying back from a big drop-off in form, Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts combination of big hitting and streaky putting means that he’s always capable of peaking at the right time.
Although that hasn’t all come together for the 33-year-old so far this year, he’s played steadily enough to make 19 cuts on the year and his last six straight. Coming to Portugal, he should have the motivation to go even better.
Colsaerts has finished in the top-20 in each of his last three visits to the Portugal Masters, most notably including a runner-up finish in 2014 when only Alex Levy could get the better of the Belgian. Colsaerts is long overdue a win having been out of the winner’s circle since 2012, maybe this could be the week to change that.
Thomas Aiken has spent most of 2016 plying his trade on the PGA Tour, where it has mostly been a struggle for him. When he has come back to the European Tour, the picture has generally been a lot brighter though.
A two-time winner on tour, Aiken has finished in the top-20 in four of his six starts on this side of the globe this season. Most notably, that included a lucrative fourth placed finish at Wentworth for the BMW PGA Championship.
In six previous visits to this event, the South African has only once failed to register a top-30 finish and he’ll be looking to improve even further on that solid track record this time out.
Before Martin Kaymer emerged as the leading light of German golf, it was Marcel Siem who seemed like the most obvious heir apparent to Bernhard Langer’s throne. With four European Tour wins to date, Siem can be satisfied with his career so far but there’s certainly still room for further success.
Siem’s season has been plagued by inconsistencies, but he has still found a way to punctuate them with a handful of notable finishes at big events. Siem was third at the China Open, fifth at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and 11th at the British Masters last week.
The German hasn’t missed a Portuguese Masters since making his debut in the event’s debut in 2007, and finished as high as fourth back in 2009. Perhaps he can continue where he left off last week.