Thanks to this convenient post-Wentworth date, the Madrid Masters has attracted a stronger line-up than we usually see in these Southern European events. In addition to all the home nation's leading players, sponsors will also be particularly delighted to welcome Sunday's runner-up Luke Donald, and fellow Race to Dubai contender Martin Kaymer. However, as Wentworth illustrated, such is the strength in depth of European golf that big names do not always guarantee an obvious leaderboard. Even if they had claims on either recent or previous course form, I doubt we'll see a less likely leading pair than Simon Khan and Fredrik Andersson-Hed all year. Anyone who took 500/1 about the former, or 200/1 about the latter, (not to mention the enormous in-running prices), deserves a medal and should quit now while they're ahead. The two previous renewals of this event produced pretty obvious winners in Ross McGowan and Charl Schwartzel, both of whom registered very low scores. That form is of little relevance now, though, as the event moves to a different venue. We have seen this course, Club de Campo Sociedad, before, when hosting the 2007 Madrid Open. The winner that year was a rank outsider, Mads Vibe Hastrup, with a score of -16. COURSE AND KEY STATS
I'll be very surprised if we see anything near McGowan's 25-under-par total from last year. There are plenty of birdies for those who find these small greens, but that is far from straightforward. In order to do so, good position on undulating fairways is required. For those that stray, disaster lurks. See for instance how Daniel Vancsik blew a comfortable lead in that 2007 event after hitting a quintuple-bogey nine. Players are unlikely to be using their drivers too often. Driving accuracy, greens in regulation and putting average are likely to be the key stats. Despite the presence of so many big names, the best value lies further down the list in my view. As we saw at Wentworth, when driving accuracy trumps sheer power, many less-regarded shorter-hitters come into the equation. For a total layout of just 14 points, we can have seven picks, all of whom meet the essential stats criteria. It surely isn't asking that much to bag the one place that would cover the entire stake. SELECTIONS 1.5pts ew GRAEME MCDOWELL @ 33/1 (GENERAL) Normally, a two-year losing streak would concern me, but as McDowell had previously looked a tenacious competitor when in contention, I'm inclined to conclude that a fifth title must arrive soon. He's been registering solid results all season, often in better fields, on both sides of the Atlantic, usually recording excellent accuracy stats in the process. For my money, McDowell is at least the equal of shorter-priced candidates like Donald, Molinari or Quiros. 1pt ew IGNACIO GARRIDO @ 50/1 (GENERAL, 55/1 BOYLESPORTS) Here's a player who's never done me a favour, but who must come into this argument with home advantage, and on the basis of recent form. Prior to last weekend's missed cut, Garrido had made six consecutive top 25s, primarily due to relentless accuracy from tee to green. Moreover, his usual disadvantage in the driving distance stakes will be irrelevant here. 1pt ew MARCUS FRASER @ 66/1 (GENERAL, 70/1 BET365) Having ended a long barren stretch with a comfortable victory at the Ballantines Championship, it will be interesting to see the effect on Marcus Fraser's confidence. The Aussie has been a consistent mid-division performer at this level for years, but one who rarely looked to enjoy the challenge of being in contention. A follow-up top 20 in Italy showed he retained good form, and this test looks ideal. Fraser finished seventh here in 2007, and rates very highly in both accuracy and putting departments. 1pt ew JOOST LUITEN @ 66/1 (GENERAL, 70/1 HILLS) Luiten has caught the eye several times recently, and looks set to reward supporters sooner or later. The Dutchman was rated a huge prospect before injury and loss of form saw him overtaken by the plethora of emerging youngsters. Seven straight cuts, including top 20s on four of his last five starts, suggest he's very much on the way back. 1pt ew JOSE-MANUEL LARA @ 80/1 (SKYBET, SPORTINGBET, HILLS) The greater emphasis on accuracy here suggests that Lara has been under-estimated in comparison to several more illustrious, yet more wayward, compatriots. So long as we ignore a missed cut at Wentworth, (which we pretty much can across the board, given the difficulty of the new layout), Lara had looked back to somewhere near his best over the previous fortnight. He made the top 20 here in 2007, too. 1pt ew JAMES MORRISON @ 90/1 (GENERAL, 100/1 BETFRED) On the basis of his form over the past couple of months, 90/1 about Morrison is absolutely huge. Four top sixes in his last seven starts is a level of form that virtually nobody in this field could boast. Of course, after the last couple of missed cuts, there was a temptation to assume that had been an unrepresentative hot streak, yet the 25-year-old bounced right back by winning Monday's US Open qualifiers at Walton Heath. Furthermore, his driving accuracy and putting stats are exemplary. 0.5pt ew RICHIE RAMSAY @ 100/1 (GENERAL) Again, triple-figures about a player who has won on the European Tour within the last six months represents good value, especially given that Ramsay is usually right near the head of the accuracy stats. This former US Amateur Open champion has been identified by this column before as a very useful prospect, and I won't be surprised if the Scot adds another title in his second full season.
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