The European Tour is in Portugal this week for the Madeira Islands Open—Portugal—BPI. With many of the circuit’s best at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, or taking a well-earned week off, this event provides an opportunity for the lower-ranked players.
This is a counting event towards both the European Tour and the Challenge Tour circuits. It would be fair to class this as a second-tier event on the European Tour and, as such, there’s an eclectic selection of players on the start sheet—some experienced, others who are just starting out as professionals. Most in the field though have a similar objective this week: To secure or solidify their position on the European Tour.
Those already with playing rights for 2015 will be looking to build their prize money for the year—€100,000 goes to the winner this week. The likes of young Italian Renato Paratore or experienced Englishman Richard Finch will have this in mind. Others are looking to use the event as an opportunity to earn more starts with a good performance, or to move up the Challenge Tour rankings. There are 45 regular Challenge Tour players in the field this week.
This tournament has been part of the European Tour schedule since 1993 and former winners include France’s Jean Van de Velde and Peter Uihlein of the USA. Last year’s event was reduced to 36-holes because of poor weather. Englishman Daniel Brooks’ tournament victory was overshadowed by the sad death of Alastair Forsyth’s caddy Iain McGregor mid-way through the final round.
Four things to watch for at the Madeira Islands Open this week:
1. Ricardo Santos. The Portuguese player is a former winner of this event (back in 2012) and he will start this week as one of the favourites. He hasn’t been on stellar form in recent months, but four solid rounds in last week’s Tshwane Open should give him great confidence as he returns to a site of former glory.
2. The course. Set in the foothills of the towering mountains that span the island of Madeira, Santo da Serra first welcomed golfers in the 1930s. At that time play was over a rough and ready nine-hole course. It wasn’t until 1991 that Robert Trent Jones Snr laid out two of the three nine-hole loops currently in play at Santo da Serra. Perched precariously on the cliff-tops, this is a notoriously tricky track that provides little margin for error. The winner will play an accurate and strategic game this week.
3. Renato Paratore. This event has a history of producing first-time European Tour winners—10 since the inaugural event. The 18-year-old Italian has shown himself to be one of the most exciting talents on the 2015 circuit. After earning playing rights at Q School last November, the youngster made his first seven cuts on Tour. This tournament could be the perfect stage for Paratore to pay a first visit to the winner’s circle.
4. The weather. The forecast for the week is pretty desperate. Heavy rain is predicted all four of the tournament days. Some sort of disruption looks inevitable and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the event is reduced, as happened last year.