Graeme McDowell said at the Ryder Cup that Victor Dubuisson was currently one of the best young players in the world. The Frenchman returns to the scene of his greatest achievement for this week’s Turkish Airlines Open on the European Tour. The penultimate event of the Final Series has attracted a good field but nothing compared to the projected line up at the DP World Tour Championship, the season finale next week.
The tournament in Turkey is the third of the four that make up the post season play-offs that are similar in nature to the FedEx Cup on the US Tour. Whereas the winner of the FedEx Cup earns a $10 million bonus the play-offs in Europe offer prize money to the top 15 players in the final standings in the Race to Dubai. Rory McIlroy is virtually uncatchable in that market and is one of the stellar players heading for Dubai.
Nine of the winning European Ryder Cup team are contesting the Turkish Airlines Open and the prize fund is still huge compared to some of the minor events in Europe. There is little course form to asses as this is just the second year in the history of the event and the host course is again the Montgomerie Maxx Royal in Antalya. At 7,132 yards the course is short by modern standards and puts a premium on accuracy over distance.
The challenging course was designed by the player of that name who won the European Order of Merit eight times and the Ryder Cup as a player and captain. Colin Montgomerie never won a major on the regular tour or an event in the States but has now achieved both distinctions on the Senior’s tour. His course is 39 miles east of Antalya on the Turkish Mediterranean coast.
The fairways are of average width and quite contoured. Montgomerie’s best chance of winning a regular major was in the US Open, played on tough courses that reward hitting the greens in the correct number of shots. The rough is in three levels of cut and those missing the fairway will find it difficult to salvage pars. The greens are bent grass in nature, quite large and undulating with a reading of 10 on the stimpmeter.
The course that was opened in 2008 has five par fives and five par threes. The front nine holes are above average in length and the back nine are shorter and tighter. The course is generally tree-lined and there are water hazards on eight holes. The big hitters will have an advantage on the long holes but overall the straight players have a comparative advantage.
Overall the course is challenging and demanding much like Monty’s personality and there are plenty of strategic options. The designer has a complex character and that is reflected in a layout that could not be described as straight forward. However, the quality of the venue is fitting for a tournament of this standing and a quality player should be the winner. Though not always in big money events the cream often rises to the top.
Twelve months ago that did not seem to be the case when Dubuisson won as a relatively unheralded player but he beat an excellent field. The French Ryder Cup player won by two shots from Jamie Donaldson and other players in the top ten included Justin Rose, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter. Subsequently Dubuisson reached the final of this year’s world match play and made a significant contribution to the Ryder Cup cause.
Dubuisson is one of several French players who are making a name for themselves on the European Tour ahead of the 2018 Ryder Cup in their own country. Romain Wattel and Alexander Levy will be hoping to be part of the side that faces the Americans at Le Golf National near Paris in four years time. Gregory Board and Raphael Jacquelin are not quite in that class but a home Ryder Cup could inspire them to take their games to a new level.
Dubuisson is the standout player in that group and the only Frenchman to play in the Ryder Cup. He made his first appearance in a major this season other than the 2010 Open Championship, made the cut in all but the Masters and finished in the top ten in the US Open and PGA Championship. He also made the top 30 in the Open at Hoylake so is clearly competitive at this level. Dubuisson earned a card for the 2015 US PGA Tour so now has plenty of options as he takes his career forward.
Despite McIlroy being by far the best golfer in the world the Race to Dubai is still undecided ahead of the last two qualifying tournaments. The Open and US PGA champion has a huge lead but is not playing this week so there is a window of opportunity for Donaldson, Sergio Garcia and Marcel Siem. Those three players must win both remaining events to overhaul the world number one and he still has to finish down the field in Dubai next week to give them an opening.
Thirty three players have won back to back tournaments on the European Tour and twice that has been done in the final two events in the annual schedule but not since 1976. The Tour has become more competitive in the intervening years. McIlroy needs to finish fifth or better in the finale and then the others could not win more points than him even if they did win in Turkey and Dubai. A betting man would probably bet a million that McIlroy prevails but there is still a slight chance he could be denied.
Wattel is the only player in the field in the top 50 for driving distance, greens in regulation and putts per round which reflects a solid all round game. It is rare for a player to excel in both a distance and accuracy discipline and Wattel’s form on the greens adds to his overall profile. A year ago a young French player emerged from the supporting cast to beat the leading men and history would repeat itself this week in Turkey if Wattel confirms the impression that he is a potential Ryder Cup player and regular tournament winner.