James Morrison will be one of the favourites to claim glory at this week’s Madeira Islands Open, but the defending champion is refusing to underestimate his rivals.
With The European Tour’s leading players in action at the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Finca Cortesin, this week’s event in Portugal - which is co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour - offers an inviting opportunity for others to make their mark.
Challenge Tour graduate Morrison did just that in 2010 when he held off Oliver Fisher to claim his maiden European Tour title, yet the 26 year old Englishman is expecting a stiff test this week.
“Anyone can win in any given week,” he reasoned. “Even though I’d had some decent results going into the tournament last year, probably not many people gave me much chance of winning. Yet I didn’t lose the lead from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon.
“So favourites mean very little – someone who hasn’t done anything all year could suddenly find their form, and there’s not a lot you can do about it.
“All I can do is go about my business and play as well as I can ahead of next week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. We’ve got an important couple of months coming up, so now’s the time to kick into gear.”
Having narrowly missed out on qualification for last year’s Dubai World Championship by finishing 61st in the Race to Dubai, Morrison is eager to make the season finale this time around.
A disappointing start to the season saw him miss five consecutive cuts, but his form has improved in recent weeks and he finished in a tie for seventh at the Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea.
“I changed my coach after the Gulf Swing and we took a good look at my game and sorted out a few of the underlying technical issues,” Morrison explained. “So I feel much better about my game now, because I’m now looking at the root causes and not trying to fix it with a band-aid.
“My season started in Andalucia really, and I had a few good weeks out in Asia which have really turned things around for me, so I’m very happy at the moment.”
“I’m now at the point of my career where keeping my card is no longer my main focus – I’m more interested in the World Ranking and The Race to Dubai, and the best way to go about climbing both is by winning tournaments, so that’s what I’ll be trying to do this week, as every week.
“I tasted success and failure in my first season but it was a real learning curve, and hopefully I’m now a better player for it.”
Morrison admits he is pleased to be back at the scene of his first Tour win, adding: “It feels great, I’ve got a lot of really good memories of my win here last year. It all came back to me when I drove through the gates for the first time, and hopefully we can have the same result on Sunday night.
“I played nine holes on Tuesday morning and the course seems a bit softer than last year. The tournament’s a month later this year so you would’ve thought the course would be drier, but they’ve obviously had a little bit of rain recently.
“The greens aren’t as firm and the rough’s up a little bit so it’s playing a little bit differently, but a lot of the shots are obviously still the same.”
This week’s tournament is made extra special by the fact the course at Porto Santo Golfe was designed by the legendary Seve Ballesteros, who sadly passed away earlier this month.
“It was obviously very sad to see Seve pass away. He was such a great ambassador for European golf, even though I’m probably a bit young to have seen him at his height,” Morrison said.
“Everyone in the game had such huge respect for him, and you only have to look at how strong European golf is at the moment to see what sort of legacy he’s left behind.
The course he’s designed here is fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to getting out there again.”