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A frustrating end in Denmark last week with overnight leader and 40/1 selection David Horsey pulling level with the impressive Julian Suri before eventually producing a triple-bogey on the 72nd hole as he searched for the birdie that would have forced a play-off. Still decent profit with 200/1 shot Chris Paisley also placing in 3rd and we head to the outskirts of Prague and the 4th renewal of the D+D Real Czech Masters at the Albatross Golf Resort in decent spirits.
Ryder Cup qualification kicks off for the Europeans this week and a few of those hopeful of making Thomas Bjorn's team are teeing it up here in the Czech Republic, headlined by 8/1 favourite Thomas Pieters. Jordan Smith (14/1), Matt Fitpatrick (16/1) and Lee Westwood (22/1) will all harbour ambitions of making the grade over the next 12 months and will be looking for a head start in the qualification rankings with some of the bigger names playing Stateside this week.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the second event in the FedEx Cup Playoffs - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Albatross Golf Resort, Prague, Czech Republic. Designer: Keith Preston, 2010; Par: 72; Length: 7,467 yards; Fairways: Bentgrass/Fescue; Rough: Rye; Greens: A1/A4 Bentgrass; Stimp: 12ft.
Course Overview. The course, which is located on the South-Western outskirts of Prague, is a 7,467 yard par 72 with exposed fairways and large bentgrass greens designed to cater for the tourist trade first and foremost with 4 or 5 teeing areas on each hole. Fairways are fairly generous and the main challenges with the driver are carefully placed bunkers: precision isn't the primary requirement here in my opinion, despite organisers attempting to strengthen the course by nipping in the landing areas prior to the inaugural event a few years ago.
The first and 12th are par-5s that will present scoring opportunities to the bombers who can get their drives away; back-to-back par 5s around the turn are perhaps a little too long at over 600 yards each, however the par-4 6th can be played from the forward tee which would bring the front edge of the green into play with the driver and 2 eagles were recorded on that hole 12 months ago. Other holes on the course demand a little respect and this is a layout where a variety of playing styles may well feature at the top of Sunday's leaderboard with water is in play on 7 holes and more substantially towards the end of the 18.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's D+D Real Czech Masters that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | Tournament Top 20 Finishes | First Round Leader Stats
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2016: Paul Peterson, 250/1; 2015: Thomas Pieters, 80/1; 2014: Jamie Donaldson, 12/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 6 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Prague is here. Hot and sunny on Thursday with temperatures peaking at 90 Fahrenheit, however that's the end of the good news as the breezier, cloudier weather is expected to take over from Friday onwards with temperatures taking a marked drop by 20 degrees or more.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the 3 winners here since 2014 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
An exposed track with fairly wide fairways and large greens doesn't give away many clues with even the more wayward players hitting reasonable numbers on both accounts, however to score here a tidy enough long game which maximises GIR is probably key. Scrambling isn't particularly difficult either so it's likely to come down to greens hit and putts made this week, however with cooler temperatures and the potential for rain from Friday onwards, the longer hitters may well stand the best chance of scoring around here this year.
Despite not being the longest of players from off the tee, only one player bettered Paul Peterson's 8-under total on the par 5s here last year and he made a total of 21 birdies and just 6 bogeys on the week overall. Similarly Thomas Pieters and Jamie Donaldson both excelled on the par 5s when they won - both led the field in that respect in their winning efforts - and attacking the birdie holes whilst defending on the trickier par 4s and the tougher par 3s looks the best method to getting into contention around these parts.
None of our winners had what you'd describe as blistering form coming into the event here in Prague: Jamie Donaldson arrived at the Albatross Golf Resort 3 years ago with 4-event form of MC/MC/37/24, albeit the final 3 events were Major/WGC/Major; Thomas Pieters was similarly non-descript with incoming form of MC/60/33/35 before winning here and then again on his next start in Holland a fortnight later. Last year's 250/1 shock winner Paul Peterson was playing on the Asian Tour predominantly alongside the occasional co-sanctioned event and although he'd recorded a 3rd place finish the previous month at the Queen's Cup, his efforts when competing at this level were far from encouraging:
With only 3 years' of history here at the Albatross Golf Resort to review, the course form of our winners (or lack of prior to winning) is tenuous to say the least and basing any decisions solely on what's happened here since 2015 may well be a mistake.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
This may well be the start of Ryder Cup qualification here in the Czech Republic with a smattering of European hopefuls at the top of the betting, however at the prices on offer I'm happy to dig a little deeper down the list for profit this week. Thomas Pieters is the clear favourite this year having been pipped by 250/1 shot Paul Peterson 12 months ago and that result in itself demonstrates how fickle this game can be when backing short-priced favourites. Jordan Smith is a recent winner and produced an excellent top-10 finish at the US PGA Championship, however at a best price of 14/1 at the time of writing he's rapidly becoming unbackable in the each-way market. Matt Fitzpatrick has a strong record here but has been bemoaning the state of his game lately and Martin Kaymer pulled out of the season's final Major with a shoulder injury and didn't show a great deal of form last week on his return to action. Former winner Jamie Donaldson and Ryder Cup team-mate Lee Westwood hold a little more appeal at 22/1 or thereabouts, however I'll take a chance on young Englishman Callum Shinkwin at a far more attractive price.
Winning isn't easy in professional golf, let alone capturing your first significant title, and how Callum reacts to his 72nd hole bogey at the Scottish Open and subsequent play-off defeat to Rafael Cabrera-Bello remains to be seen, however as we've witnessed so often before, players can and do bounce back. A missed cut the following week at the Open Championship was the last time we saw the 24 year-old in action, however the outpouring of support for the Hertfordshire lad following his Scottish exploits will undoubtedly help repair the wounds from what should have been his maiden European Tour title and I'm happy to take the chance that it will make him a stronger player in the long run.
A few weeks at home and with the massive support of friends and family spurring him on, this week's drop in class on a course which should suit his game could be just the tonic he needs. MC/51 here over the past 2 seasons may not overly excite, however rounds of 68 and 70 on Friday and Saturday last year shows he can play this course and he ranked 4th overall for GIR on the week with a massive 80.4% of putting surfaces found in regulation. At 31st on the European Tour's Driving Distance rankings with an average of nigh-on 302 yards, Shinkwin has the firepower to tackle the Albatross and now has the knowledge he can get himself into a winning position at this level - the next step is to take the chance once presented to him. RESULT: T9
A pair of mid-priced players to back up Shinkwin. Firstly I'm backing Haydn Porteous who, like Shinkwin, should be well-suited to this track but to date hasn't produced the goods here from 2 starts. 7th on the Driving Distance charts for this year's European Tour with an average of 309 yards will give him an advantage on the scoring holes here and whilst Paul Peterson proved that length isn't the be-all and end-all last season, it's certainly a viable route to success here in Prague. The 23 year-old grabbed his maiden European Tour title at home at the Joburg Open last year on another lengthy track (albeit at altitude) and although his form since has been patchy with as many weekends off as he's received a pay-cheque of any description, there have been strong signs of late that his long game is back on track and that makes him dangerous here this week. 2nd for Total Driving and 8th for Ball-Striking at Le Golf National is no mean feat for any golfer and he's continued that kind of form into recent starts when finishing 11th at Sun City on the Sunshine Tour (8th and 7th for Total Driving and Ball Striking respectively) and 6th last week in Denmark (4th and 5th on the same counts). A decent week on the greens here in the Czech Republic may well see the South African secure his 2nd European Tour title. RESULT: Winner
Last year's victory here for Paul Peterson demonstrated another way to tame this layout in Prague and whilst I'd still favour power overall, there's still scope for an accurate ball-striker to make the frame and contend here. Ashley Chesters was on my shortlist, however perhaps he is a little too short from off the tee for this week and preference goes to Austin Connelly who possesses a few more yards off the tee plus a similar level of accuracy from the limited events we've seen him compete in so far. The 20 year-old, who holds dual citizenship in the USA and Canada, enjoyed a sparkling amateur career before heading to the Canadian PGA Tour where he finished 7th in the Order Of Merit last year. Top 10 finishes at the World Super 6 and Nordea Masters have followed his European Tour qualifying school effort which earned him conditional status on Tour this year, however it was his effort at Royal Birkdale which put him on the radar for many golf punters when rounds of 67, 72 and 66 earned him a spot in the penultimate Sunday group alongside Brooks Koepka. Connelly, who shares the same swing coach as eventual winner Jordan Spieth, shot a final round 74 to finish in a tie for 14th, however the prize money puts him in with a fighting chance of gaining a full European Tour card for 2018 if he can dig out one final big effort over the next few weeks and this week presents a decent opportunity in a relatively weak field. A nightmare second round in Fiji saw him miss the cut on his return to action after a short break, however rounds of 68, 71, 69 and 68 last week in Denmark was far more promising and further improvement here this week is more than possible. RESULT: MC
A pair of longer shots to finish this week, both of whom have impressed at different points this season:
First up, Alexander Knappe who has the raw credentials to compete on this track on competitive debut. The 28 year-old was born and raised in Germany before spending a year playing college golf in Texas and then turning professional and, having worked his way through the EDP Tour, Sunshine Tour and Challenge Tour, he's now a fully-fledged European Tour player courtesy of finishing 3rd on last year's Road To Oman behind Jordan Smith and Bernd Ritthammer. 2 victories, 2 second place finishes and 2 third place finishes was Knappe's final tally on Europe's second tier Tour and although adjustment to the top flight hasn't been easy, there are strong signs of late that he's getting to grips with golf at this level. A 300+ yard driver of the golf ball who can putt very nicely is always going to produce decent finishes when his ball-striking allows and after a mid-season string of 8 consecutive missed cuts his game started to turn around with finishes of 26th at the Scottish Open, 12th at the European Open and a quarter-final finish at the Paul Lawrie Match Play in his homeland. A missed cut followed his Match Play effort last week in Denmark, however given his price and generally improving game I'm happy to ignore that and focus more on some excellent golf of late that saw him beat Lasse Jensen, Victor Dubuisson and Tom Lewis before being narrowly defeated 2&1 by eventual winner Adrian Otaegui. Both wins last year came on exposed tracks with plenty of water in play and having seen fellow graduates Jordan Smith and Dylan Frittelli win at European Tour level this season, he'll know that the adding his name to that list isn't out of the question here. RESULT: MC
As exciting at the World Super 6 was in Perth earlier this year, I'd have much rather that Phachara Khongwatmai hadn't been quite so impressive as it made for a far less comfortable finish than I'd have hoped with eventual winner Brett Rumford backed pre-event. In the end the more experienced man won through and validated the form he'd shown in the earlier strokeplay rounds, however that wasn't before Khongwatmai's name was etched in many a notebook for future reference. Aggressive from off the tee, accurate with his approaches and impressive on the dancefloor sums up the 18 year-old's game and it's a surprise that he's not pushed on since that effort in February which was the culmination of a spell of form that saw him finish inside the top-4 on five occasions in just nine starts. 12th on his last start at the Fiji International may well be the start of another run of form though as his iron-play was back on song (77.8% greens in regulation) and any kind of spark with the putter could spell danger to the rest of the field here this week at a long price. With the accolade of youngest winner of a professional title likely to prove a tough record to beat (he won the Sing Hua Hin Open on the ASEAN PGA Tour in July 2013 aged just 14), Khongwatmai is clearly a talented lad and it would be no surprise to me to see the young Thai capture a European Tour title in the near future. RESULT: 68th
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