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Our annual trip to the beautiful Crans-Sur-Sierre golf club in the Swiss Alps is next on the agenda and the event has succeeded in attracting a reasonable field this year, albeit nowhere near the quality of last year's renewal which saw Thomas Bjorn secure back-to-back victories with a magnificent final round 62 to win by 4 from Martin Kaymer, with Rory McIlroy a shot further back. Paul Lawrie arrives here with the chance to emulate the Dane's achievement following his excellent victory at Gleneagles, however whether Bjorn can defend the title (which he hasn't done before in his career) or Lawrie can win 2 weeks running (again, unprecedented for him) remains to be seen. Peter Hanson heads most bookies' lists following his 7th place finish at Kiawah, however 16/1 about a player who converts such a relatively small amount of chances doesn't sit easy with me. Time to look for some value!
With Ryder Cup qualification done and dusted, the focus on many minds here will either be to fight a way into a top-60 position in the Race To Dubai or, if they're a little further down the pecking order, accumulating sufficient Euros to retain their playing privileges for 2013. With €350,000 going to the winner this week it's a great chance for some of the attendees to grab a decent cheque and start looking forward to either Dubai or next season's campaign.
The course is a short par 71 at just 6,800 yards played at altitude (+10% on each shot generally) and in the warm Swiss weather - length off the tee will not be a factor for any player this week. The course is a tree-lined, undulating test with tiny bent/poa greens guarded by bunkers and run-off areas. Crans is a second-shot course where finding the putting surface is imperative to put together a score low enough to succeed here. With 4 par 5s and 3 reachable (to the brave or foolish!) par 4s, there's scope for heavy scoring and a lot of fun this week given the benign weather forecast - expect 20-under or better to be required if the forecast is correct.
Ultimately you need to find the greens and putt very well to succeed here, plus previous experience of the course is of great benefit as it's not your run-of-the-mill birdie fest - players need to plot a clever route around the course for those scoring opportunities to present themselves in abundance. Players who perform better on shorter set-ups also tend to excel here and an excellent touch around the greens is required to stay in contention. My selections are as follows:
If you look at recent form stats alone you could easily disregard Gonzo - his last 5 events read MC/31/54/55/62 - however I'm really excited about the Spaniard's chances this week. Those last 3 events were The Open, WGC Bridgestone and US PGA Championship so those performances weren't completely unexpected given the step up in class - in fact he acquitted himself rather well at Kiawah to shoot an opening 67 which left him one off the lead before the conditions toughened. This will feel like a walk in the park compared to the pressure-cooker environment of recent times and, with no lingering thoughts about Ryder Cup qualification, Fernandez-Castano can come here and play with the kind of freedom required to take this title on his 7th attempt at Crans.
The 31 year old is generally a tidy player who hits a lot of greens - ideal for this course - however his putting can sometimes go completely AWOL. That aspect has been much stronger in 2012 as he ranks 31st for putts per GIR and he's already amassed over €1/2 million this term including an excellent 2nd at Celtic Manor and 3rd in Germany, thanks primarily to some improved putting performances. At 2nd on Tour for sand saves he's got the short game required to excel around here and whilst he's not short off the tee, the shorter setup will suit him - his last victory came in Singapore largely due to his 2nd round 61 (10-under) on the 6,600 yard Tanjong course. He's finished 6th, 21st and 18th on his last 3 completed visits to Crans and can clearly play the course - with no expectation this week I think that Gonzo could find the birdies required to accumulate a winning score around these parts at a tasty 50/1. RESULT: T76
With a form line of 5/2 over his last 2 events and a course that will suit his accurate play of late, I'm very surprised that 80/1 is available for the 6 time European Tour winner, who also has 2 Open Championship top 5s to his credit. The 2011 French Open Championship famously broke his leg after jumping into a lake to celebrate his title - an injury which literally crippled the remainder of his 2011 season. 2012 started with 10 consecutive missed cuts after he finished joint last at the Volvo Golf Champions, however he was never going to stay in the doldrums forever and his Scottish Open performance -where he ranked 4th for driving accuracy and 11th for GIR - was followed by a contending week in Austria where he ranked 8th for accuracy and 3rd for GIR and, it's safe to say, he's now back to full health and form. The Frenchman has a couple of top-25s to his name here over the years despite only playing this event a handful of times, and he'll be keen to get back into the saddle after a month's break as the World's elite battled over in the US. If he can pick up his game where he left off in Austria then there's no reason why we shouldn't see Levet in the mix again this week. RESULT: T27
This is a course which suits Rumford as one of the best exponents of the short game in the World, and it was interesting to see the 2007 winner of this event bounce back to form in Scotland last week after a disappointing first half to 2012. That runners-up finish to Paul Lawrie has secured the Australian's playing rights for 2013 and he arrives here with no pressure whatsoever and in control of his ball from tee-to-green for the first time for a few months if truth be told. His putting in Scotland was typically excellent (3rd for putts per GIR) and should he make a decent percentage of greens in regulation this week then he'll score heavily as he looks to add a 4th European Tour title to his trophy cabinet this week. The 35 year old hasn't missed a cut here for 10 years and has shot 62, 64 (twice) and 9 more rounds of 66-68 in that time - he loves it around these parts and, when playing well as he did at Gleneagles, must be respected in this company. RESULT: T19
I'll give the Dane another chance this week after he missed the cut in Scotland safe in the knowledge that his game can click back at any time and, when it does, he typically finds himself in contention - particularly on shorter tracks with bentgrass-based putting surfaces. Kjeldsen's last win (2007) came at the relatively short (7,100 yard par 72) setup in Seville that was also used for this year's Spanish Open in which he finished 2nd behind Francesco Molinari - that form carries further weight given the bent/poa greens that will be a similar speed to this week. The lower scoring here will be more in Kjeldsen's favour who (Valderrama aside) has tended to perform best in the lower-scoring events over the years - 15-under for 5th place at Castle Stuart is a case in point. Soren finished 4th here in 2006 and was inside the top 10 after the first 2 rounds last season before finally fading on Sunday - again with no pressure to perform he can reinforce his position on the plane to Dubai with a decent finish here this week. RESULT: MC
Last year's 3rd place finisher is my final selection, although I did also come close to picking Englishman Robert Coles as a more outlandish longshot at 200/1 generally. Jaco is a tough player to get right on the European Tour, however with 10 Sunshine Tour victories to his credit he's clearly a capable golfer and one who excels on shorter formats and bentgrass-based surfaces. The South African has finished 4th each of the last 2 seasons at the 6,700 yard East London course which is always a low-scoring affair; 7th at Aloha GC this season (6,900 yard par 72) and 2nd at last season's Trophee Hassan II (6,800 yard par 72) also leap off the page. He's most comfortable when a low score needs to be made - 6 of his Sunshine Tour wins were at -15 or lower, 5 of those from just 3 rounds - and with just one more payday required for a 2013 European Tour card I'd expect Van Zyl to perform this week on a course which he clearly took a shine to on debut. RESULT: T14
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