The Turkish Airlines Open returns to the Regnum Carya Resort in Belek for a third time this week, featuring as the first of three lucrative Rolex Series events, which close out the European Tour's 2018 Race to Dubai.
The headline story surrounds Justin Rose, who is seeking to not only defend the Turkish Airlines Open title, but also to retrieve the world number one spot, which he held for just one week last month. The subplot concerns the rankings.
This week and next (at the Nedbank Challenge) tour members are desperate to force their way into the top 60 and thereby earn an invitation to the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
Regnum Carya is one of many courses and resorts which have sprung up from nowhere on this short stretch of the southern Turkish coast. It is sand-based, features hundreds of heather plants and was inspired by the heathland courses of Surrey, Berkshire and North Hampshire. Perhaps that's why Rose (who grew up playing those tracks) thrived here?
The case for another Justin Rose win is strong. In addition to the motivation of furthering his return to the top of the world rankings, he stated straight after finishing third in last week's WGC-HSBC Champions: "I've never successfully defended a tournament. That's the goal for this run to the end of the year."
Course form? He not only won here 12 months ago, he shot 64-65 on the weekend to do so. Tournament form? His only other start in the event was in 2013 when he was third. Current form? Over the last six months he averages 67.18 per round, which is 0.85 better than second ranked Tommy Fleetwood or 3.4 strokes per 72 hole tournament.
The case against is rather more simplistic and starts with repetition: he's never defended a tournament. You could also argue that, at the price at least, his form is actually against him, in the sense that although he has ten top ten finishes in his last 12 starts only one of them (the very first) was a win.
Those persuaded that this week will be lucky number 13 can back him outright at 9/2 with Bet365. The more cautious might note six of those 12 results were top fives and Paddy Power offer 11/10 that he adds another.
Last week Kiradech Aphibarnrat collected his first top five finish since the BMW PGA Championship in May, and it was a smart reminder of his potential, because it was also his fourth World Golf Championship top five in his last six starts at that level.
The second boost to his confidence is a return to Turkey, as he has a fine record in the tournament and on the course. On event debut in 2013 he opened with a 66 to be tied fifth before drifting the rest of the week. No such problems when he returned two years later and contended throughout 72 holes, before landing third.
He struggled on first acquaintance with Carya in 2016, posting a first round 72, but responded with a second round 67 and eventually recorded T25th. Last year he improved on that, finishing sixth having opened 66-67-66 to tie the 54-hole lead. His career record shows a fondness for hot streaks, and the four-time European Tour winner is worth supporting at 25/1 with Coral.
A little over 18 months ago the name Tapio Pulkkanen registered with only the most devoted fans of the Challenge Tour. In three years on that circuit, the Finn had landed just one top 25. Something needed to change and it did. He spent a winter training in Florida, focussing his energy on his wedge game, rather than the big-hitting he already trusted.
His first start on returning to Europe was the Turkish Airlines Challenge and he smashed a Thursday 62 for a three-shot lead. He would end that week second, but the worm had turned. By season's end he had topped the rankings and, four weeks ago, he confirmed retention of his European Tour card with a top five finish in the Dunhill Links Championship.
There's absolutely no doubt that he is capable of big numbers, but he can also go very low, with no less than six scores of 65 or less to his name this season. He received a late call-up to this event, having originally been on the reserve list and the course where he hit that 62 is just around the corner. If memories of that day and what happened next inspire him Ladbrokes's 150/1 for a first round lead might prove profitable.
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