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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

George Coetzee in top form for tilt at Morocco glory

Magic-wand putter can deliver another trophy

George Coetzee is rolling his rock with assurance
1 of 1

Starts 7am Thursday
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 2.30pm

Paul Dunne surrendered a final-round lead in the Spanish Open on Sunday, having to play second fiddle to the raging bull that is Jon Rahm, but the Irishman is being given great respect by bookmakers for the Hassan Trophy this week.

Dunne also took a runner-up spot in the Hassan last year, losing a playoff to Edoardo Molinari, so has the magic blend of course and current form which the layers love. A best-price of just 12-1 is unappealing, though, about a player with only one professional title to his name. The favourite can be opposed.

Palmer's top tip
George Coetzee 18-1

Madrid to Rabat is a flight of less than two hours, so players who impressed in the Spanish Open last week should not find their form destroyed by the rigours of a long journey. Given how few regulation European Tour events there have been in recent weeks, those who have just found a groove north of Morocco are favoured in the Hassan Trophy.

George Coetzee could take great heart from the way he performed in Spain. He played the front nine poorly on Thursday and Saturday, but the rest of his golf was excellent, culminating in a magnificent final-round 63 which hauled him up to fourth place.

The burly South African, fresh from winning the Tshwane Open in fine style at the start of last month, is bursting with self-belief in his putting. He knows he is one of the best in the business with the flat stick and is happy to tell anyone who cares to listen. It is a significant psychological edge. Course-management and chipping remain Coetzee's weaknesses, but the rest of his game is in tremendous fettle.

Prior to the Tshwane success, Coetzee was eighth in the Qatar Masters, and never in his career has he been more fit and confident. All four of his European Tour triumphs have come in the African continent and a fifth may be coming on Sunday.

Coetzee is making his debut at Es Salam, but that could work in his favour with extensive course changes since last year. The revised track looks right up his alley. The fairways are generous and made of receptive kikuyu grass, the type prevalent in his homeland, and the enlarged greens put more of a premium on putting.

Effortless power means the 31-year-old Pretorian can make mincemeat of the five par-fives and Coetzee looks the man to beat.

Next best
Alexander Levy 25-1

It was tempting to fill the staking plan entirely with those who got rust out of their system in Spain last week, but room must be made for Alexander Levy, who will almost certainly have been working extremely hard in practice. The Frenchman is desperate to lay a claim for a Ryder Cup debut in Paris at the end of September and he must start winning tournaments soon to do so.

Levy has taken his game to a new level since recruiting Pete Cowen as coach at the start of last year. Victory in the China Open soon followed, then a playoff defeat in the European Open.

He was superb in the Middle East at the start of this year, finishing seventh in Abu Dhabi, fourth in Dubai and fourth in Oman, and although he was eliminated at the group stage of the WGC-Match Play last time out, he took the scalp of Charley Hoffman along the way.

Two previous El Salam spins have been unspectacular – he has twice finished 34th – but expect better on a track which has been made more straightforward. Aggressive golf should be rewarded and that is Levy's forte.

Other selections
Sebastien Gros 100-1
Jordan Smith 80-1
Renato Paratore 60-1

Another ultra-attacking Frenchman can make hay on the quintet of par-fives. Sebastien Gros is one of the most powerful players on the circuit and he has been producing some awesome golf over the last couple of months.

The 28-year-old bomber, twice a winner on the Challenge Tour, finished fourth in the Tshwane, 25th in the Indian Open and 12th in the Spanish Open. He signed off in Spain with an eagle and eight birdies in a round of 64.

Jordan Smith won his maiden Challenge Tour title in north Africa – the 2016 Egyptian Challenge – and looks a big price in Morocco. After beating Levy in that European Open playoff in July, Smith seemed set for greater honours, but late-season illness derailed him.

Two narrowly missed cuts in his last two outings have seen Smith dismissed by bookmakers, but it will probably not be long before this talented all-rounder rediscovers his magic. He finished eighth in the Hassan last year and was six under par for the weekend.

Molinari is the defending champion and another Italian could take the trophy. Renato Paratore, fourth in Qatar at the end of February, was eight under par for the weekend in Spain and has found top form in time for a course he loves.

Despite arriving in miserable nick for his two previous Hassan visits, Paratore finished tenth and eighth, so the power-packed 21-year-old wizard is a serious dangerman with his A-game. The Roman won his maiden European Tour title in Sweden last summer.

Others to note
Jacques Kruyswijk
The South African giant, ninth in Spain on Sunday, is playing well enough to destroy the five par-fives. Hassan dangerman at a fancy price.

Dean Burmester
Another big-priced South African with title credentials. Hassan form of 14-48 and well suited to the layout. Punters need to forgive a final-round 76 in Spain, where he slumped to 71st of 74 runners.

Haydn Porteous
Power-packed South Africans could fill the leaderboard. This two-time European Tour champ is talented and was 13th in the Hassan last year, but he has been inactive since the first week of March.

Thomas Pieters
Arguably the best player in the field and a surprise entrant who is clearly getting worried about his Ryder Cup place. Could take a shine to the track, but is seeing it for the first time and has been in poor form.

Steve Palmer's Hassan Trophy top Asian market advice

Steve Palmer's Texas Open tournament preview

Sam Horsfield
The rising star possesses the power to litter his scorecard with birdies and the odd eagle on this layout. He flopped in Spain last week, but could easily bounce back in Morocco.

Nacho Elvira
The Madrid man is licking his wounds after blowing a golden chance of a maiden European Tour title in his home city on Sunday. A double-bogey at the 71st hole cost him dear. He was an unlucky Hassan runner-up in 2016 and should go well if he can get his head straight.

Staking plan
G Coetzee
3pts each-way 18-1 general
A Levy
2pts each-way 25-1 Coral
S Gros
1pt each-way 100-1 general
J Smith
1pt each-way 80-1 general
R Paratore
1pt each-way 60-1 Betfred

The lowdown

Course Royal Golf Dar Es Salam (Red Course), Rabat, Morocco

Prize money €2.5m (€416,660 to the winner)

Length 7,615 yards

Par 73

Field 144

Course records – 72 holes 266 Rhys Davies (2010) 18 holes 64 Louis Oosthuizen (2010), Danny Willett (2010)

Course winners taking part Rhys Davies, Jeunghun Wang, Edoardo Molinari

When to bet By 7am Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from 2.30pm Thursday

Last week - Spanish Open 1 J Rahm (4-1), 2 P Dunne (22-1), 3 N Elvira (100-1), 4 G Coetzee (25-1), T5 J Campillo (40-1), H Sturehed (1,000-1), M Warren (225-1)

Course overview From 2011 to 2015, Golf du Palais in Agadir staged this event, but in 2010, 2016 and last year Royal Golf Dar Es Salam took centre stage. There are two courses at this venue – the Red Course and the Blue Course – and in 2010 the competitors played a round at each course over the first two days before only the Red Course was used for rounds three and four. From 2016 onwards, the Red has been used exclusively.
The layout was extended from 7,487 yards to its current length last year, with the par increasing from 72 to 73, the eighth hole regaining its old par-five status. Es Salam hosted the Moroccan Open on four occasions, most recently in 2001, a tournament won by Ian Poulter.
The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and opened in 1971. It is a tree-lined track with water in play on the ninth (green surrounded by water), 12th and 17th, but receptive kikuyu fairways provide wide targets. This is a long course but the five par-fives are fairly straightforward. Three of the four par-threes are more than 200 yards long. The greens were small, but have been renovated since last year's event, increasing in size. Scoring should be better this year

Story of last year Edoardo Molinari birdied the 17th and eagled the 18th to force a playoff against Paul Dunne. The Italian needed only a par five to beat the Irishman at the first extra hole

Weather forecast Clear with light breezes for the most part

Type of player suited to challenge With plenty of yardage to cover and five par-fives for the big-hitters to attack, powerhouses have a quintet of excellent birdie chances, particularly with the greens providing more welcoming targets than ever before

Key attribute Power

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Never in his career has he been more fit and confident
E.W. Terms
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