Tension mounts for final round of MCB Tour Championship 2013

Golf journalist Matt Cooper is reporting on the final day of the MCB Tour Championship 2013 at Constance Belle Mare Plage, Mauritius. As play begins, here’s how things are looking.

Legend golf course, Constance Belle Mare Plage

Legend golf course, Mauritius

It would be foolish to entirely discount all but the top two on the leaderboard, but it does seem likely that the winner will come from the final group and the battle is an intriguing one.

Leading the tournament by three shots on 11-under-par is Englishman Paul Wesselingh, a three-time winner on tour this year and the current holder of top spot in the Order of Merit.
 
Up against him, on eight-under-par and three shots clear of third, is Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie, an eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner and eight-time Ryder Cup player.
 
Follow Matt Cooper on Twitter @MattCooperGolf

A special golfing week in Mauritius on the Legend and Links courses

“We’ve been coming for years,” said my Constance Hotels & Resorts Pro-Am partner David pointing to the third member of our team, Patrice. “We love it here. You’ll see why over the next two days.”
Links at Constance Belle Mare Plage

Links course

 
Behind us, on day one of the tournament, was the driving range and first fairway at the Links course, Constance Belle Mare Plage. High on the hill we could see the rolling terrain, covered with rainforest, through which the course twists and turns.
 
This week is a special one for the resort and the golf courses. In addition to welcoming the world’s finest senior golfers for the MCB Tour Championship, amateur golfers from across the globe fly in to enjoy the Air Mauritius Trophy and/or the Pro-Am itself.
 
For David and Patrice, who are from London and Paris, their annual participation in the Pro-Am is the highlight of their golfing year – a week of fun competition which creates a buzz amongst guests at the hotel. “Everyone talks about the golf at night and congregates round the scores to see how they’re doing,” explains David, “it’s a brilliant atmosphere.”
 
“We also love the fact that Belle Mare Plage has two courses,” he adds. “That makes it stand out from the other resorts on the island because we can always get a tee time and aren’t restricted to one layout.”
 
They were right about one thing: as we made our way down our first fairway I immediately knew I liked the Links course. Undulating fairways creep between huge lumps of volcanic rock, water hazards and thick indigenous rainforest. 
Links course, Constance Belle Mare Plage

Patrice rushes to see where David’s ball has gone on Links

The course, designed by Rodney Wright and Peter Alliss, calls for shot-making and it works for all levels of golfers: short hitters can plot their way round, big-hitters have the opportunity to take risks and gun for par-fives in two, or short par-four greens in one.
 
After concluding our day, David and Patrice, plus Marc Farry, our professional who also has a golf academy at the resort, grinned and told me I’d enjoy round two even more. “The Legend course is going to suit you,” they laughed and I wondered if they weren’t just flattering me a little too much.
 
It turns out they weren’t: the Legends course hosts the MCB Tour Championship this week and it’s little wonder that David Frost and Tom Lehman have excelled there. The course rewards an accurate long game – which is precisely why my team-mates suspected that my pit-a-pat drives and fairway woods would work well.
Legend golf course, Constance Belle Mare Plage

Legend golf course

 
It sounds a little peculiar – given that the trees are heavy with fruit and spices, and the foliage alive with vibrant tropical colours – but the track reminds me of a classic English tree-lined parkland venue (albeit the Bermuda grass greens are very different, as is the temperature and humidity!).
 
Most of the tee shots are hit down narrow funnels and if the course has one advantage over the Links it is that there are fewer blind shots. Only once does the course open up and when it does so, it does so in style when the dramatic 17th tee presents a wide panoramic view across a cove, over which you hit to a small par-three green.
 
David’s and Patrice’s enthusiasm for the courses and the competition, plus my liking for the Legends challenge, and a second pro (Spain’s Juan Quiros) whose fun attitude lifted our spirits in the heat, all contributed to earning us a top ten finish in the Pro-Am.
 
“See you next year?” asked Patrice with a smile. You know what? I quite fancy trying to make the top five in 2014.
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Colin Montgomerie at the MCB Tour Championship 2013

There is something about Mauritius which makes me think of old-time explorers, ones who came across the island after weeks at sea and were awed by the beautiful beaches, steep mountains and lush trees.

MCB Tour Championship 2013 - Colin Montgomerie tee's off

MCB Tour Championship 2013 – Colin Montgomerie tee’s off

When locals point into those trees at the fruit and spices I can pluck from their branches I genuinely feel like a 16th century traveller, one who might have been awed by the possibilities of trekking inland to discover the local wildlife.

Perhaps that’s why I found myself, on day one of the MCB Tour Championship, excited by the prospect of trailing one of golf’s most famous creatures. No, not the famous golfing Tiger, but an animal whose reputation also goes beyond the game and is built on not only a unique talent, but a personality and facial expressions that are unmistakeably his.

There are plenty of golfers who hide behind wraparound sunglasses and underneath caps. They are rarely excited, rarely reveal their frustrations. Indeed they take great pride in the fact that you cannot tell if they have just made birdie or bogey.

Colin Montgomerie is not one of those golfers.

In fact he has more quirks and idiosyncrasies than entire fields put together. Consider, for example, that habit he has of taking two steps forward in a sentence and one step back – he repeats words like he’s a YouTube video being buffered. It’s extraordinary and uniquely Monty.

He is, as the British say, a bit like Marmite (you either love or hate him). But the fact he inspires passionate responses is good for the game. Better that than 156 automatons standing on the tee.

And on day one at Constance Belle Mare Plage’s Legends course, Monty was, well, not quite in his element (it was too hot for that), but he gave the crowd what they came to see.

He opened with a birdie three at the first hole, but he completed it only after patiently, and with good humour, asking for a few of the fans not to take photos at the wrong moment. On the next tee he repeated the request and laughed: “You don’t want to make my caddie angry.”

Montgomerie & his caddie plan the approach

Montgomerie & his caddie plan the approach

Behind the second green he stopped for a few seconds with fans to watch the deer scurry through the bushes, a peculiarly Christmassy scene in the middle of the Indian Ocean. On the fourth tee he took shade in the trees and joked with the crowds about the boiling temperatures.

It was classic Monty: he’s genuinely quite funny when he interacts with the public, he was also pulling all those over-the-top dramatic facial expressions he likes (and which have a sort of cartoon-like honesty) and his famously languid swing was arrowing the ball at the flag. By the eighth he was five-under-par and leading the tournament.

But on the ninth green he was looking hot and the fact he was distracted by a banging noise coming the clubhouse suggested he was getting bothered. More classic Monty.

On the 13th he hit an approach shot into the trees and followed it with a tee shot on the 14th into the woods. Suddenly it was not Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, but Monty the red faced golfer. (He wasn’t the only one, though – there were red faces everywhere.)

He had chances to recover those dropped shots. But he missed an eight foot birdie putt on the 17th and three-putted from 18 feet having made the par-five final green in two blows.

This is not quite the Monty of old however. He said in the tournament press conference that when the “gun goes off we’re all as competitive as ever”, but he didn’t stomp away from the 18th green this time. His shoulders were slumped, he scrunched his face up and raised his eyebrows in a typically expansive show of bemusement. No-one rushed to ask for his post-round thoughts, but no-one was scared of him either, as they have been in the past.

And he’s only four shots back. He drew the biggest gallery today and is sure to for the rest of the week. It’s still not out of the question that he’ll be in contention come Sunday afternoon – and the back nine on the final day is a habitat Monty is right at home in, even the more cuddly version.

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“On the golf course I have two legs” – An interview with Manuel de los Santos

The annual Dunhill Links Championship is one of the highlights of the European Tour season. It takes place on three great golf courses in and around St Andrews (the home of golf) and it features not only the finest players on tour, but also movie stars, comedians, musicians and sportsmen (plus a handful of businessmen no-one has heard of).

Manuel de los Santos - “On the golf course I have two legs”

Manuel de los Santos

But back in 2009 a very different amateur took part in the event and immediately caught the attention of the watching fans, both on the courses and on television. His name was Manuel de los Santos, he hails from the Dominican Republic and he plays golf with only one leg.

Despite his disability Manuel plays to a handicap of four, thanks to powerful hitting and a delicate touch around the greens.

This week in the run up to the MCB Tour Championship, Manuel has played in both the Air Mauritius Trophy and the Constance Hotels Pro-am, after qualifying via an event in Reunion which he won with his playing partner George Necs.

The prize for that win included transport from Reunion, but Manuel lives in Paris. When MCB and Constance Hotels & Resorts discovered this, they upgraded the prize, a generous offer which has proved popular, not only with the hotel staff – who have followed his group around the course all week – but with locals too.

“It is amazing,” Manuel told me. “I was playing on the Links course and a girl came up to me. She told me that people in the local towns were saying a man plays golf on one leg and so she had to come to see it with her own eyes. I was very pleased to show her!”

It’s pretty clear that Manuel not only inspires other people, but is inspired himself by their interest. And the young girl is not alone: Manuel has many fans across the world, including Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who has given Manuel a 20-minute long-game lesson.

These remarkable encounters were far beyond his imagination ten years ago when, as a promising baseball player, he was hit by a car whilst on his motorbike. Waking from a coma four days later he discovered his left leg had been amputated.

He relocated to Paris with his wife Elena and one night watched the golf movie ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’. Next day he visited a driving range and was hooked: he had found something he could throw his heart into; which offered the prospect of improvement, competition and achievement.

“It also gives me a release,” he said after the first round of the pro-am. “Out on the course, when I am playing golf, I feel peace.”

In addition to travelling the world he competes on the European Disabled Golf Association Tour and hopes one day, like all other disabled golfers, that the sport is included in the Paralympics (there is currently a divergence between disabled golf categories and those of the Paralympic organisation).

He also loves the effect his story has on others. His wife Elena said: “Manuel is very competitive on the golf course, but it is also very important to him to let people know that we can all have our problems and yet all is not lost.”

His latest trip has offered yet more proof of what golf has given him. He and Elena are grateful to MCB and Constance Hotels for the chance to play, but also the opportunity to meet fellow golfers in the tournaments, the staff who have supported him and that young girl who wanted to witness his talent first-hand. “I love golf and I like these courses,” he said, “but those experiences are special.”

Manuel says he has a simple philosophy: “Out on the golf course I have two legs, off it I have one.”

He smiles, shakes my hand and says in farewell: “Remember, my friend – golf is my second leg.”

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Golf Infographic: The Road to Mauritius – MCB Tour Championship 2013

Infographic: The Road to Mauritius MCB Tour Championship 2013

Click on the image above to view the full infographic. When the infographic loads, hover over it and click to enlarge.

As the countdown begins to this year’s MCB Tour Championship at Constance Belle Mare Plage, Mauritius on 13-15 December, we’ve created this golf infographic to tell the story of The Road to Mauritius.

Using stats from the events in this year’s European Senior Tour, and ahead of the season finale in Mauritius next weekend, we’ve got the lowdown on who’s who at the 2013 MCB Tour Championship.

Find out who we predict the key players will be. How did they get there? And what challenges will they face as they play for the title of tournament champion, for the Order of Merit, and the Rookie of the Year crown.