Algarve sun should be shining on Lucas Bjerregaard
Danish dude looks dangerous defending champion
Sky Sports from 11.30am Thursday
The Portugal Masters is a Ryder Cup warm-up for Thorbjorn Olesen and Sergio Garcia this week – the Dane and the Spaniard will be seeking to fine tune their game before combat against the United States commences in Paris next Friday.
Olesen has less to work to do than a rusty Garcia, a late entrant who has not competed since finishing 24th in the Wyndham Championship a month ago, but neither player appeals as a Portugal betting proposition with more important matters on their mind.
Palmer's top tip
Lucas Bjerregaard 18-1
The Portugal Masters champion can be expected to provide a stout title defence over the next four days. Lucas Bjerregaard is bursting with form as he returns to his happiest hunting ground.
His compatriot Olesen may understandably be letting his focus drift forward to the Ryder Cup, but Bjerregaard is fully concentrated on claiming a second European Tour victory, something he has come close to achieving on several occasions this season.
In the last five months, Bjerregaard has posted six top-six finishes on the European Tour, including in his last two outings. His form figures are 9-6-2 after he followed up finishing as top Dane in the Made In Denmark with a playoff defeat to Matt Fitzpatrick in the European Masters.
Bjerregaard closed with a bogey-free 63 at Crans-sur-Sierre, then was beaten by a Fitzpatrick birdie in the playoff, so he could leave Switzerland knowing he did nothing wrong. The powerhouse was an unlucky loser to a high-quality player on a course which suited his opponent much more than him.
A week off reflecting on those facts will have done Bjerregaard good and there is no better tournament for him to have high hopes of going one better than Crans. The emphatic nature of his triumph 12 months ago – a four-shot romp – coupled with solid spins on the course the two years prior (ninth and 12th) mean the improving 27-year-old should probably be favourite.
Bjerregaard's swing is in fantastic order – he topped the greens in regulation stats at Crans and was fourth in the same category in Denmark – and he could leave his rivals for dust on a track which suits him much better this week. With freedom to attack off the tee at Victoria, the power-packed Dane could run riot given a half-decent week of putting.
Nacho Elvira 40-1
Three maidens can lay down a challenge to Bjerregaard, with Nacho Elvira looking the pick of them. Elvira has won four times on the Challenge Tour, one of which came across the Portuguese border in the Challenge de Madrid, and three times he has finished in the top three on the European Tour. Fourth place at Crans the week before last suggests a maiden title is close.
Victoria is an ideal track for an attacking slugger such as Elvira to make hay, underlined by finishes of ninth and seventh the last two years, and the Spaniard can take inspiration from seeing his college teammate Andrea Pavan make his breakthrough in the Czech Masters at the end of last month.
Sam Horsfield 100-1
Phachara Khongwatmai 100-1
Complete your staking plan with two talented youngsters who seem destined to claim silverware before long. Sam Horsfield, born in Manchester but raised in Florida, quickly showed he could contend for European Tour honours at the start of this year – finishing fourth in the Perth Super 6 and second in the Tshwane Open – then continued to impress in better company.
Horsfield was 14th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 15th in the BMW PGA Championship, then 24th in the Irish Open and 23rd in the Scottish Open. More recently he was tenth in the Made In Denmark and the powerful 21-year-old looks ready to knock off a low-grade event at an open, low-scoring course. Victoria, where he got a sighter with 59th place last year, seems ideal terrain under Florida-like weather. He won the European Tour Q-School last year in neighbouring Spain.
Teen terror Phachara Khongwatmai may be ready to win outside of Asia for the first time. The Thai has been putting superbly over the last month, finishing ninth in Prague, 12th in Denmark and eighth at Crans, before running out of gas in round two of the KLM Open last week. A 67 was followed by a 79 and a missed cut – he seemed to throw the towel in around the turn – but it was an understandable wobble from the whippersnapper after an intense spell on leaderboards.
The weekend off has probably freshened Khongwatmai, who finished 12th on his Victoria debut last year despite having missed the cut in five of his previous seven tournaments. The straightforward Victoria layout, and benign weather, should see the gifted but raw prodigy feast on birdies.
Others to note
The Birkenhead man won his maiden European Tour title a month ago and was third in the 2013 Portugal Masters at Victoria, but he picked up a forearm niggle and has missed his three cuts since his breakthrough.
The powerful and improving Malaysian was third in the Czech Masters last month and should take a shine to Victoria on his course debut.
The Japanese ace – brilliant in full flow – has hit form with sixth place at Crans and third in the KLM Open. Another dangerous debutant.
Smith appears to be getting his act together again, with European Tour form of 36-20-10, but, like Green and Tanihara, he is competing in this event for the first time.
The 2011 Victoria champion has failed to triumph since, but a recent drop to the Challenge Tour appears to have revived him, with a five-shot win and a third-place finish in the last fortnight.
The Midlander loves Victoria, where he won by nine shots in 2015, before finishing runner-up in his title defence.
3pts each-way 18-1 Sky Bet
2pts each-way 40-1 Sky Bet
1pt each-way 100-1 Sky Bet
1pt each-way 100-1 Ladbrokes
Course Dom Pedro Victoria, Victoria Clube de Golfe, Vilamoura, Portugal
Prize money €2m (€333,330 to the winner)
Length 7,146 yards Par 71 Field 144
Course records – 72 holes 261 Andy Sullivan (2015), Padraig Harrington (2016) 18 holes 60 Scott Jamieson (2013), Nicolas Colsaerts (2014)
Course winners taking part Steve Webster, Alvaro Quiros, Richard Green, Tom Lewis, Shane Lowry, Alexander Levy, Andy Sullivan, Padraig Harrington, Lucas Bjerregaard
When to bet By 8am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 11.30am Thursday
Last week – KLM Open 1 A Wu (125-1), 2 C Wood (25-1), T3 T Detry (40-1), H Tanihara (66-1), 5 P Harrington (60-1)
Course overview This venue has hosted this tournament since 2007. An investment of €18m in 2004 created the track, designed by Arnold Palmer, with a view to staging professional events.
The 2005 World Cup also took place there. It is a flat, exposed course which has been ludicrously straightforward for the last three winners, who all reached 20 under par or better.
The 481-yard third, the 510-yard seventh and the 463-yard 18th are the three most difficult par-fours. There are numerous water hazards and huge, undulating greens, but the fairways are wide, and players can get away with loose driving.
Changes were made to the track in 2012, with the third becoming a stiff par-four (from an easy five), and there have been only three par-fives since (the fifth, 12th and 17th).
They, along with the 315-yard, water-free, driveable par-four 15th, are fantastic birdie opportunities.
The story of last year Lucas Bjerregaard romped to a maiden European Tour victory, closing with a 65 to triumph by four shots.
Weather forecast Hot, sunny and relatively calm all week.
Type of player suited to challenge Length has always been an advantage at Victoria, with plenty of enforced carries from the tee and many holes setting up well for big-hitters.
The driveable 15th is an easy birdie for the bombers. Power, plus the touch to hole enough putts to reach the super-low annual winning score, are the ingredients for success.
Key attribute Touch/putting
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