Back to normality this week on the European Tour as we return to the Prosper Golf Resort in the Czech Republic for the 2nd consecutive year. Last year's 2-shot winner was outsider Oskar Henningsson - it was the Swede's first and only European Tour win and followed his Qualifying School win the previous autumn. He promptly pulled his swing to pieces after his win (a la Harrington) and has failed to compete since, justifying his 100/1 price to successfully defend his title this week.
The course - or should I say courses - were co-designed by Miguel Angel Jimenez and are placed in the delightful surroundings of the Beskydy Mountains. This year we're playing a concatenation of both the new and old courses, with 9 holes from each being used, however that doesn't change the premium on ball striking as being the key ingredient of a winning game around here. At a shade under 7,200 yards and with 4 par 5s in play, this hilly course will suit a long, accurate type who can avoid having to use his short game by hitting the vast majority of greens in regulation. Scrambling is tough and the greens are large and undulating, so for me it's all about keeping your ball in play from tee to green and avoiding the trees and water first and foremost.
The sub-plot here is of course the Ryder Cup qualification - with just this week and next at Gleneagles to go for the Europeans, it's now or never. Players with that firmly on their mind this week will be Jimenez (8th position on the points list at present), McGowan (11th), Hanson (15th) and Dyson (16th). A win from any of these will propel them into the automatic positions and, for Jimenez, will rubber-stamp his attendance. With Paul Casey declining to play at Gleneagles I suspect he'll be relying on a wildcard, so there truly is an opportunity here for someone to sneak in at the last minute...
So, all thing's considered, here's how I'm spending my 10 points this week:
The Belgian fits the bill perfectly on specification, hence his number 1 position on the predictor this week. Whilst his accuracy stats aren't brilliant, this is often because he's so long off the tee that he runs out of fairway - plus his length means he's going into greens with a much shorter iron or wedge, meaning his GIR stats improve massively. For me this is key.
Last year he hit top form in this part of the year, securing his 2 Challenge Tour wins in a 5 week spell...if biorhythm has anything to do with it then expect another strong week this week! Had a great spell in the spring with top 10s in China, Spain and Italy before a T12 at Celtic Manor, since then he's been off the boil before exploding back into contention in Sweden. A final 9 of 40 put paid to that effort when 33 would have sufficed for his maiden Tour victory - and with 3 par 5s on that back 9 he could, and perhaps should, have won that event. 21st in Ireland was marred by a late double bogey, otherwise that too would have looked better. If he's learned anything from those 2 efforts then expect him to be in the mix again this week come Sunday. RESULT: T20
Nacho hasn't won since his 2003 victory at Wentworth, however signs of life have been evident this season and don't be surprised to see him on the leaderboard this week. Led this tournament last year going into the final 9 before faltering with 4 straight bogeys to let the Swede through...if he can draw the positives out of that performance then he'll go close again this week. 9th on Tour for accuracy and 26th for GIR, the Spaniard's game is well suited to Prosper Golf Resort and if he can repeat the form that saw him finish in a tie for 14th at St Andrews then he'll prove hard to beat here. RESULT: M/C
The US PGA Championship may prove to be a crucial turning point for Dyson's faltering Ryder Cup hopes, just in the nick of time! 4 under at the weekend at Whistling Straits saw the Yorkshireman finish in a tie for 12th, his best at a Major since 2007, and means that a win this week or next should just about be enough to get him onto Monty's team, thanks mainly to his victory at the Alfred Dunhill Links last autumn. RESULT: T5
Having reached the World's top 50 by virtue of that victory at St Andrews, he's been on a steady slide since then. he's been trying to juggle a slimmer European Tour schedule with WGC and Majors, however he's only got 1 focus for the next fortnight - to get the win that he so dearly needs to achieve his immediate goal of representing Europe at Celtic Manor. His tee-to-green game was as strong as it has been for the best part of a year in Wisconsin and he'll relish a more level playing field this week in my view.
The winner of this season's South African Open is arguably the best tee-to-green player on show here this week and could start the tournament in some style in my view. Whether he has enough in his locker to hang on for the 4 days is a little more doubtful for me, however his closing round of 64 (joint best of the day) on his last start at Killarney was virtually flawless with just 1 missed fairway and green, plus no dropped shots - that must go in his favour.
A final round 78 here last year dropped him all the way to 32nd, when a round in the mid-60s would have won him the tournament - perhaps he can hang around this time...RESULT: T58
All odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:15BST 17.8.10 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
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