Morocco is the destination for this week’s stop on the European Tour with the Trophee Hassan II taking centre stage.
The event has a fairly prestigious history with nine major champions claiming top prize since its inception in 1971, some recent winners being Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh.
It now gets full status on the main European Tour and the Robert Trent Jones venue will host a pro-am format over two courses (Red and Blue) for the opening two days and then move on to the Red for the weekend after the cut is made.
There has been plenty of form in Morocco to sift through, particularly on the Challenge Tour in recent years and a name that jumps off the page as a potential winner this week is Michael Hoey.
The Ulsterman is a progressive player having served his apprenticeship on the second tier before progressing to the top league.
He has posted wins in both of the last two seasons, the first coming in the 2008 Moroccan Classic at El Jadida.
He showed that was no fluke when he returned to the country for this event later in the year and was fourth behind Ernie Els, finishing strongly with a closing round of 66.
His results in 2010 so far have been so-so, but it is no shock to see him turn up here considering how well he has played in the country and at this venue in the past.
Another plus is the fact that Hoey struck form around about this time 12 months ago when landing the Estoril Open de Portugal and along with his victory in Morocco (May), you get the impression he starts to get himself into top gear in the spring.
Hoey would have been defending in Portugal in a couple of weeks but a rejigging of the schedule means that tournament does not take place now until June.
But I think Hoey can gain some early compensation with success here.
Hoey’s fellow Ulsterman Peter Lawrie has started 2010 well, arrives at the event in good nick and could well be in the mix come Sunday.
His finest hour came a couple of years ago when he won the Spanish Open in a play-off from Ignacio Garrido and the way he is playing at the moment suggests he could soon be adding to his haul.
Trawl back far enough in the aforementioned Challenge Tour form and you will find that Lawrie was second at this course in 2002, although well held by Jean-Francois Luquin at the line.
Lucquin takes his chance here too, but his form has been poor (missed all six cuts in 2010) and I would fancy it being Lawrie to have the stronger week.
Those wanting a less familiar name for a punt at massive odds, Jared Hack could be interesting.
The 20-year-old gets into the field on a sponsors invite due to a link-up with the eGolf Tour in the United States.
That arena looks on a par or perhaps a little stronger than the Europro Tour, but Hack does boast a decent pedigree nonetheless.
He won the eGolf Tour’s Snap Fitness Open in 2009 and was one of the most heralded junior golfers in the country prior to enrolling at the University of Central Florida.
Hack won the prestigious Western Junior Amateur in 2006 and followed it up the next year with a win in the Western Amateur, a tournament which features past champions such as Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Justin Leonard.
Hack and 2007 NCAA Champion Jamie Lovemark are the only players to win the Western Junior and Western Amateur in back-to-back years since the Western Golf Association started the national junior championship in 1914.
If Hack is on a par with Lovemark then he has a decent shot here.
The latter almost won on the PGA Tour last season and Hack looks anything but out of his depth – with Seung-yul Noh of Korea winning in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago, it is clear that the talented youngsters these days are showing less and less fear in the big events.
A fourth-place finish in Savannah at the end of February illustrates that Hack is in some sort of form and he looks worth an optimistic interest to spring a major surprise.
1.5pts e.w. Michael Hoey at 100/1 (Coral 1/4 1,2,3,4,5). Good record in Morocco and no suprise to see that continued.
1.5pts e.w. Peter Lawrie at 35/1 (Stan James 1/4 1,2,3,4,5). Good start to 2010 and fancied to make an impact once more.
1pt e.w. Jared Hack at 500/1 (bet365, Boylesports 1/4 1,2,3,4,5). Rank outsider from America but good pedigree and no forlorn hope.
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