The European Tour Fantasy Race heads from a strangely warm Scotland to more conventionally sunny climes this week, and Spain’s capital city, for the Bankia Madrid Masters.
Victory in the event 18 months ago kick started a remarkable run for Luke Donald which has seen him climb to the top of the world order with three wins this year, and he returns as defending champion looking to extend his lead at the top of the Race to Dubai.
The event, now in its fourth year, has yet to produce a home winner but looking to put that right is the longest hitter on The European Tour, and the leading Spaniard in the Official World Rankings, Alvaro Quiros. Having won every season since his first win at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in 2008, he continued this impressive run, and his love affair with the Gulf Swing, by taking the Omega Dubai Desert Classic title in February of this year – which included a hole-in-one in the final round. Since then it has been a disappointing season, with a solitary top ten coming at the Volvo World Match Play Championship in May, culminating in Quiros having to miss the Vivendi Seve Trophy with a wrist injury. He has history in this tournament though, finishing in a tie for fourth in 2008 and a tie for tenth last year, and that alongside the boost of home support this week could see this affable Spaniard back in the winner’s circle.
Also looking to lift some silverware this week will be Sweden’s Peter Hanson, who hasn’t won since the Czech Open last August, and although he has come close this year – Volvo Golf Champions (second) and the Saab Wales Open (fourth) – he is yet to cross the line and take a title so in 2011. However, he does have form on Spanish soil, having won the 2010 Iberdrola Open Cala Millor Mallorca and the 2005 Jazztel Open de España en Andalucía. With this in mind, this quiet Swede could make some noise come Sunday afternoon.
Another sneaky Spanish form horse this week could be 2011 Open de Andalucía de Golf by Turkish Airlines champion Paul Lawrie. Alongside his win on Spanish soil earlier this year, he followed that up with fifth place finishes at the Open de España and Iberdrola Open in consecutive weeks. Put that with his first career victory coming at the 1996 Catalan Open and it turns out that Paul Lawrie may enjoy sunny Spain as much as he enjoys his occasionally inclement homeland, and could be in the victory shake-up this weekend.
With Scotland in mind, why not turn our attention to Lawrie’s compatriot Marc Warren, who is just coming off the back of his best finish of 2011 – a tie for fifth place at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. It has been a tricky few years for the thirty-year-old since winning in Scandinavia and then at home in Gleneagles in 2006 and 2007 respectively, resulting in him losing his card at the end of last year. However, the second half of this year has seen Warren play much more like we were used to a few seasons ago – 11th at Gleneagles, 21st in Austria and his fifth place this weekend acting as proof of that. Put this with the knowledge that he has now secured his playing privileges for 2012 and there would be little surprise if he rode this wave of improvement all the way to the title this week.
Finally, if you fancy a little bit more of a long shot this week, then South Africa’s Jaco van Zyl would certainly fit that category quite nicely. Having only ever played a handful of events in any one year - mostly in his homeland – this season has proven to be a real watershed for the man from Johannesburg, racking up four top tens and three other top 20s so far in 2011. The best of these came at the Trophée Hassan II where he lost in a play-off to David Horsey, and coming off a third in Crans and a ninth at St Andrew’s this is a man in form and certainly capable of picking up the ‘W’ this week in Spain.
You can always consult the Form Guides if you are not convinced by the above, but just make sure that you register your team or make your desired changes by this Wednesday via My European Tour and the Fantasy Race.