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A low-key affair in Austria this week ahead of next week's US Open at Oakmont as we look to maintain positive momentum after a profitable week in Sweden. The Lyoness Open has hopped around a bit in terms of its schedule in the past - from September in 2011 to July in 2012 where it immediately followed the Open Championship, however this will be the fourth year in succession that it's preceded golf's second Major and that, along with a reduced purse of just €1m, means that a fairly weak field has assembled in Austria, headlined by home favourite and former winner Bernd Wiesberger alongside the Flying Dutchman Joost Luiten who are virtual joint favourites at the top of the betting.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the FedEx St Jude Classic at TPC Southwind - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Diamond CC, Atzenbrugg, Near Vienna, Austria. Designer: Jeremy Pern, 2000; Par: 72; Length: 7,458 yards; Water Hazards: 13; Fairways: Poa/Rye; Rough: Poa/Rye; Greens: Bent/Poa, 10.6' on the stimp.
Course Overview. The course at the Diamond Country Club is located 20 miles west of Vienna in Atzenbrugg and is a relatively flat and exposed par 72 that now measures 7,458 yards after a few changes in recent years. Half of the holes here feature water - including 2 par-3 holes to island greens - and the premium around Diamond CC is very much on finding greens in regulation after a successful tee shot into the fairway; anything else will leave players struggling for par with tough scrambling conditions around the putting surfaces.
The greens at Diamond CC are amongst the best on the European Tour and the mildly undulating bent/poa surfaces offer a little respite to those who are less adept with the putter. For me this tournament will be primarily about who can hit the most greens in regulation and find some confidence with the flat stick to make the birdies required to hit a score in the middle teens under par, give or take a few shots. Hitting greens will be far, far easier from the fairway here and whilst the card would suggest that longer hitters may enjoy the layout most, finding the short grass from the tee is still important and will demand a level of strategy from all players on a number of holes.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Lyoness Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2015: Chris Wood, 12/1; 2014: Mikael Lundberg, 250/1; 2013: Joost Luiten, 25/1; 2012: Bernd Wiesberger, 25/1; 2011: Kenneth Ferrie, 55/1; 2010: Jose Manuel Lara, 66/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. The tournament will experience a mix of sunshine and showers with temperatures peaking in the mid 70s Fahrenheit. The breeze will pick up slightly when the showers do arrive, however that still isn't expected to be significant and during the sunny periods the wind will be negligible.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 6 winners since the event switched to the Diamond CC gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
In those years where calmer conditions have blessed the event, players who can maximise strokes gained as a result of their tee-to-green performance have tended to prevail. Putters need to be warm without being red hot and a decent second-shot performance coupled with a putting average in the 1.7 region may well be enough for the winner here this week. Scoring on the par 5s is fairly critical and circa 25 birdies may well be required to win this week, so making the most of those 16 looks at the par 5s could prove to be pivotal.
In terms of recent results prior to victory, Chris Wood arrived off the back of a top-20 in Ireland that followed a decent 4th place finish at Wentworth. In 2014, Mikael Lundberg had shown little incoming form of note with 28th at the Spanish Open two events before being his best finish of a what had been a poor season up to that point. Kenneth Ferrie had finished 8th at Gleneagles on his penultimate start which was his best result for some time and Jose Manuel Lara had finished 4th the week before in Holland - his best effort for over a year. Joost Luiten and Bernd Wiesberger were both more obvious winners, Luiten had finished inside the top-11 on three occasions in recent events and Wiesberger had won the Ballantine's Championship earlier that year.
The US Open next week creates another angle to analyse. Chris Wood's win last year wasn't enough to earn him a top-60 OWGR berth so in reality the win contained no added pressure in that respect. At the top of the betting, Chris Wood, Bernd Wiesberger and Gregory Bourdy have already qualified for Oakmont next week which means that the only player with any lingering hopes of sneaking in through the back door is Joost Luiten who needs to finish solo 2nd or better. With no status (so far) in any of the forthcoming Majors or WGCs, the Dutchman will be desperate to find a way into next week's field, although whether his desire can match his performance remains to be seen.
All things considered, my selections are as follows:
One of the players I expected to break through in 2016 was Lucas Bjerregaard following a fabulous end to last year that featured 5 top-10 finishes in an eight event stretch including a runner-up finish in Hong Kong and 3rd at the high-profile BMW Masters. The 24 year-old Dane is clearly a talented player who not only hits the ball a long way off the tee but can also find enough fairways and an awful lot of greens when playing well. Nike spotted his potential and a switch to their equipment over the winter has taken some time to bed in, however there are enough positive signs now for me to get involved here at the price on offer.
It's not all been doom and gloom as he's got to grips with the new clubs - 24th in Malaysia featured a strong 79.2% GIR performance (2nd in the field); 14th in Thailand and 3rd in China (84.7% GIR, 8th in the field) are both decent enough efforts too, however the consistency simply hasn't been there and his putting has been average at best. In truth there have been far too many missed cuts in between these finishes for my liking, however last week's top-20 finish in Sweden may well have been the turning point as he battled back from a potential missed cut after an opening round of 74 and, by his own estimation, he's now started to make some putts with a Friday round featuring just 28 blows which was bettered by two on Sunday. 3rd for Total Driving and 4th for Ball-Striking last week also point to a player who's increasingly comfortable with his new tools and ready to move forwards with his game. 3 times a winner on the Nordic Golf League following an outstanding amateur career, I suspect it's only a matter of time before he really gets going at this level and starts bagging silverware - potentially as early as this week. RESULT: MC
If an accurate tee-to-green game is the most likely recipe for success this week then Richie Ramsay's name jumps off the page. The 32 year-old finished 11th here on course debut 12 months ago when he got to grips with the tee-to-green demands of Diamond CC, recording an impressive 71.4% of fairways (5th in the field) and 81.9% of Greens (4th), which bodes well and having spent a week at home with his newly expanded family following a failed attempt at US Open qualifying, he'll be fresh and ready to attack this week's event. The 3-time European Tour winner has yet to find the heights of this time last year when recorded 6 top-15 finishes in the space of 7 events, however he's been quietly consistent in 2016 with 7 paid weekends from 8 starts and a best of 6th place in China where he hit over 80% of fairways and greens for the second week in succession.
The key to success with Richie is catching him on a week when the putter behaves, however that's one aspect of his game that's improved over time and if he can play his normal controlled tee-to-green game here this week, whilst finding the kind of flat stick form that saw him average just 1.62 putts per GIR in China, then he'll be right in the mix here this week. Last year's win in Morocco is also an interesting pointer - defending champion Chris Wood finished behind the Scot in 3rd, as did 2014 winner Mikael Lundberg - and with no distractions in terms of the US Open to contend with, Richie could well be the one who gravitates to the top end of the leaderboard in perfect golfing conditions. RESULT: MC
At a longer price I'm happy to side with Dylan Frittelli who has a potent combination of accuracy and birdie-making to compete around this track in Austria. The Joburg native, who schooled in Texas, plies his trade primarily on the Sunshine and Challenge Tours, however he's been threatening to add to his only professional win - the 2013 Karnten Open on the Challenge Tour here in Austria - for some time now. 11th at Leopard Creek and 14th at the Tshwane Open prove he's not been overawed at this kind of level and a play-off defeat to Nathan Holman at the Australian PGA Championship was closer still and, given the right course and field depth, I'm sure he's capable of getting into contention and potentially over the line. Five top-11 finishes from his last eight outings across all Tours suggests he's in strong enough form to compete at this level and the straight-hitting South African should find this course plays to his strengths following a top-3 Ball-Striking effort on his penultimate start in Morocco. RESULT: MC
The emotional scenes that we witnessed at the end of Matthew Southgate's Sunday round at the K-Club will have reminded casual golf observers and hardened punters alike that this game isn't played by a bunch of robots and that the harsh realities of life can affect us all. The 27 year-old's battle against cancer and subsequent recovery is an inspirational story, however he remained under the radar as he worked on his game with 5 missed cuts from 6 events at the start of 2016. Finishes of 19th and 22nd in China and Morocco featured vastly improved ball-striking though and that ultimately produced a 4th place finish in Ireland and a big enough cheque banked to see him secure his playing privileges for 2017 at this early stage in the season.
A missed cut at Wentworth followed, however in a far weaker field and on a more forgiving track I'm happy to give him a chance at the price on offer given that his fundamentals have looked so strong over the past few events. 4th and 8th for accuracy and GIR respectively in Morocco and 8th/12th on the same measures at the Irish Open are positive indicators for this and top-6 putting performances again in Ireland as well as previously in China suggests he's got a lot of all-round game. 11-under for the par 5s at the K-Club was impressive for a player who's not the longest off the tee by any stretch of the imagination and with the pressure off with his card safely tucked away, I wouldn't be surprised to see him produce some more positive results over the next few months. RESULT: T19
Finally I'm going to add a small saver on Joost Luiten this week. If one of the short-priced players is to win then the predictor No.1 selection is the most likely victor in my view and with Wood, Wiesberger and Bourdy already mentally preparing for Oakmont next week, Luiten will be desperate to join them on the flight over to Pennsylvania. Statistically the 30 year-old fits this track perfectly when playing well and arriving with his customary top-7 Accuracy and GIR stats from Wentworth, combining that type of effort with a low 1.7s putting performance should be enough to put him in the mix here this week should he be able to overcome the pressure of needing to perform now or never. A former winner on this track and with two runner-up finishes to his name over his past 5 events, favouritism is justified here this week and whilst the price on offer is poor it does reflect his relative chance of winning in this field. Of course if he starts badly then he may well effectively down tools, however with anything approaching a decent first two days I'd expect him to try his damnedest to win this event. RESULT: T6
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