This week’s Portugal Masters is not the final tournament of the regular European Tour season (as it often has been in the past), but there is only the Dubai Championship to come and therefore the action at Dom Pedro is laced with potential beyond the usual winner-takes-all narrative.
It’s a curiosity of this individual sport that it demands a weekly diet of 156-start-just-one-golfer-wins but, when that equation is tweaked, the storylines emerge from all directions and the excitement expands.
This week the Challenge Tour Grand Final takes place and 15 tour cards for next year are up for grabs – the final round of that event is a frantic and brilliant watch. Ditto Qualifying tournaments for the Open, US Open and the Tour itself.
And, of course, the quest for playing rights next season means that, during this next fortnight, players will be competing for more than the thrill of lifting the trophy and down the years Dom Pedro has witnessed all the agony and ecstasy associated with that adventure.
Back in 2016 Eddie Pepperell made double bogey on his 36th hole to miss the cut and lose his card, all of that less than 24 hours after he thrashed a 64 to lie tied second overnight.
Justin Walters experienced the opposite emotions in 2013, finishing second when nothing less would do, to retain his playing rights, shortly after his mother died. Six years later he would repeat the drama, this time playing in memory of his father, again finishing second, again making sure he had a card for the next season.
Card chasing wields a strange power. Some will buckle under the pressure, others find a strength in a pursuit so different to the one they undertake most weeks.
Among those in need of something special this week – who also boast good course form – are Lucas Bjerregaard, Eddie Pepperell, Alvaro Quiros and Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez, but that course form and need for a big week has been factored into their prices.
Instead, my eye is first drawn to a man who has a different quest in mind: a return to the DP World Tour Championship.
Joakim Lagergren currently sits at 48th in the Race to Dubai so a strong week should cement his place there and he should have every confidence that he has it in him.
In recent weeks he has put in his best performance (if not best finishing position) at Wentworth (he’d never previously been within 10 blows of the 54-hole lead; this year he was four back ahead of landing T27th), he flirted with the first page of the leaderboard in the Open de Espana, and his Valderrama effort was much Wentworth (his second best result in six visits, but the most time spent in the top 40).
Amid all of that he finished tied second at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, a tournament that is more or less his personal pension plan because in his previous five visits he’d made four cuts finishing tied third, T12th and tied fourth twice.
There are plenty who doubt the power of course form and a double bind with it can be that some golfers carry it a little like a heavy weight – they are all too aware of the possibilities.
It is not just at the Dunhill that Lagergren has shown he thrives knowing a track suits him. He was tied fifth last year at Galgorm Castle, a course he had won on in the past, at the Challenge Tour, and he was a winner at Verdura where in his only previous start he’d made an impression in the first round.
Now he returns to Dom Pedro where he was T17th in 2016, T14th in 2019 and tied third last year.
Second pick Mikko Korhonen is just the other side of the top 50 to Lagergren so a big week is also required and, once again, he’ll have plenty of hope that it is within his grasp.
The Finn is always in my thoughts for this week owing to a feeling that Diamond CC winners really enjoy themselves here at Dom Pedro. Joost Luiten, Chris Wood, Mikko Korhonen, Bernd Wiesberger and Marc Warren have all notched top threes in this week’s event and lots of Dom Pedro winners have thrived in Austria.
It’s also the case that last year’s winner of this event, George Coetzee, is absolutely gun at Pretoria Country Club, having three wins and a second in his last six starts; Korhonen has played that track three times and was tied second and tied third in his last two visits.
Then, rather more straightforwardly, there is his course form: five starts, five cuts made, tied ninth on debut, third in 2016 (when tied for the 54-hole lead), T12th in 2019 (when fifth heading into the final lap).
Final pick is asking a lot of a man with no European Tour victory to his name, but if Julien Guerrier is to clear that hurdle now might be the time.
The Frenchman lies 103rd in the rankings so looks set to retain his card for just a second time in his career and perhaps that will allow him to play with a little freedom this week.
He’s in fine form, spending all week in-contention at the Open de Espana before finishing tied third.
A week later he grabbed the solo first round lead at Valderrama with a 67, hung around most of the week before drifting to T25th on Sunday. It was his best effort at the course and this week is right up his street.
His Dom Pedro debut came in 2018 when a final lap of 65 confirmed T34th and last year he got off to a flier, carding 62-66 to hold a five shot halfway lead.
He closed 75-72, the rare experience of being top of a leaderboard making him a little giddy. But he can build on that tied eighth.
That experience, and his recent exploits, will have taught him plenty.