A strong international field, including in-form Englishman Ross Fisher and 2008 Harry Vardon Trophy winner Robert Karlsson, stands between defending champion Marcel Siem and a slice of history in this week’s Trophée Hassan II.
No player has successfully defended the Trophée Hassan II title since the €1.5 million tournament joined The European Tour International Schedule in 2010, but a repeat of his performance at the magnificent Golf du Palais Royal 12 months ago would give Siem every chance of becoming the first.
The German never looked back after an opening round of 64, eventually completing a wire-to-wire win by three shots from Finland’s Mikko Ilonen and the 2011 champion David Horsey.
In the process, Siem became one of five players to secure wire-to-wire victories during the 2013 season, but he was the only player to lead after each round without any ties.
Siem has played every edition of the Trophée Hassan II since 2010, and counted the tournament amongst his favourites even before his victory last year.
He explained: “Playing inside the palace walls also gives it a special feel to the week, so when you put all that together you can see why the players love the event so much. It feels like a real privilege to play the king’s course. Usually when you’re that close to the ocean you would expect the course to be linksy, so it’s got to be one of the very few tree-lined courses in the world which is right on the coastline. Every hole is a different challenge, so I love thinking my way round the course.”
In contrast to Siem, Karlsson – who will be making his 498th European Tour appearance this week – is competing in the tournament for the first time.
The Swede, who finished in a tie for eighth place in Abu Dhabi at the start of the season, arrives in Agadir on the back of a fine display in the Puerto Rico Open on the US PGA Tour, where he finished inside the top 15.
Another player currently in a rich vein of form is Fisher, who followed up his top ten finish in the recent Joburg Open by capturing his fifth European Tour title in the Tshwane Open.
Having missed out on a place in the field at last week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship, Fisher will be seeking back-to-back victories when he makes his debut in the Trophée Hassan II.
Fisher’s compatriot Horsey will also feel confident of contending yet again at Golf du Palais, having finished in a tie for third and joint tenth in his last two appearances, at the Africa Open and the Joburg Open respectively.
On his way to victory in 2011, Horsey made a hole in one on the second hole on day four, thereby becoming only the fourth player in European Tour history to record an ace in the final round and go on to win. Remarkably, Horsey is a total of 44 under par for his 16 rounds in the event since 2010.
Similarly, Rhys Davies’ record in the tournament – he won in 2010 and lost to Horsey in a play-off the following year – will also fill the Welshman with confidence.
The Trophée Hasan II, which was first played in 1971, is Morocco’s longest running sporting event. The tournament is steeped in history, with no fewer than nine Major Champions lifting the trophy: Orville Moody (1971), Billy Casper (1973, 75), Lee Trevino (1977), Vijay Singh (1991), Payne Stewart (1992, 93),
Nick Price (1995), David Toms (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007) and Ernie Els (2008).