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Another low-grade tournament this week as we return to Russia for the third year on the trot, however this time we travel to a new track on the outskirts of Moscow designed by Jack Nicklaus. Support for these events isn't great from the players and this week's field plumbs new depths with the greatest of respect to the few European Tour-standard players who lead the market. Thankfully we return to some more established events from next week with the KLM Open and Italian Open to follow, however for now let's see if we can dig some value out of this week's field.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford casts his eye over this week's action as The Playoffs continue with the Deutsche Bank Championship as the field is reduced from 125 to 100 players - you can read his preview here.
Course Overview. Jack Nicklaus has tasked with creating one of his 'Signature' golf courses over a huge 100 acre plot on the edge of Moscow and this stunning track at Skolkovo Golf Club, which has ambitions to be the best course in the country, is the result. Built around 6 lakes, this 7,025 yard layout uses a combination of the available tees to create what should be an interesting if not overly challenging test of golf. 4 par-5s and a driveable (from the forward tee) par-4 are balanced by 5 par-3s to create the par of 71. Water is in play on 7 of the holes, however the extensive bunkering is the primary defence of the course given the relatively wide landing areas. Greens are large, multi-tiered affairs which again are well-bunkered with run-off areas to punish those who don't get their approach shots right.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's M2M Russian Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event. Please note that this week's venue is new to the European Tour so event form should be considered accordingly: Current Form | Tournament Form | 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. 2014: David Horsey, 25/1; 2013: Michael Hoey, 80/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest forecast for Moscow is here. Occasional showers are expected throughout the 4 days accompanying temperatures in the mid-60s Fahrenheit. The breeze will be between 10-20 km/h for the first 2 days before increasing to around 15-25 km/h over the weekend.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Multiple European Tour winners Michael Hoey and David Horsey have taken the two Russian Open titles since the European Tour returned to the area in 2013, however drawing any conclusions from those results on an entirely different track is dangerous, despite both being designed by Jack Nicklaus. At a little over 7,000 yards for its par of 71, with a number of birdie holes and excellent greens if other Jack Nicklaus creations are anything to go by, perhaps the most telling of the pre-event comments may have come from board member Marat Bogatyrev who described this event as being one where this week's cast would be 'playing risk and reward golf to make lots of birdies and eagles' - if the wind doesn't get too out of hand over the weekend then perhaps aggression will be the key component to winning around these parts, although with no competitive history on the track we're largely playing a guessing game. This isn't a week to go mad with your betting with few clues to latch on to, so I'm going for just 3 players and a reduced overall stake of 6 points.
My selections are as follows:
Worst price of the season award must go to the early 6/1 chalked up about tournament favourite Max Keiffer when the markets opened for this event on Monday. Although he's eased out a little and some 'brave' bookies are going as long as 10/1 about the 25 year-old who failed to get past the first round at the Paul Lawrie Match Play on his last start, there are far better options out there on uncharted territory this week. I may live to eat my words of course if the German takes this title, however I personally can't justify that kind of price however talented he may be. Instead I'm going with a trio of mid-priced contenders who are capable of making the frame here this week, headlined by Jeung-hun Wang.
The South Korean starlet turns 20 next Monday and it could be a double celebration if he can capture his first European Tour title over the weekend against a depth of field that will hardly send shivers down his spine. He didn't miss a cut on the Asian Tour in 2014 and secured his maiden professional title at Mission Hills that April with a huge 10-stroke victory before narrowly missing out on the prestigious Dubai Open in December, eventually finishing 2nd behind Arjun Atwal having started the 72nd hole with a one shot lead. 3 times a runner-up in 2015 also, Wang has impressed on his limited co-sanctioned events with top-15 finishes in Malaysia and Thailand earlier in the season and arrives here fresh having rested since missing the weekend at Crans on debut and this layout would appear far more straightforward for him.
As the 19 year-old develops I'm sure we'll see far more of him on a bigger stage, however from what we've seen so far it's clear that he's an aggressive type who attacks golf courses and makes an awful lot of birdies with a putter that's very often hot. Combine that with a long game that is equally impressive - he ranked 1st for ball-striking at the Thailand Open when finishing 2nd behind KT Kim 3 events back - and I'm sure that he can compete in this kind of company at the very least when on his game. Prior to Crans he'd putted at 1.62 on both of his preceding events and if he can find that kind of form around here he's going to produce an awful lot of birdies and could go very close indeed. RESULT: MC
When looking through my stats last week at players likely to be in attendance here who have previously performed on shorter tracks, Craig Lee's name shone out like a beacon. Typically he produced a top-10 finish in the Czech Republic to put him well on the bookies' radar, however 40/1 is still worth a dabble in this field in my opinion and his current form may prove to be a timely boost ahead of this week's effort. 2nd at Crans in 2013 (6,881 yards par 71), 2nd at St Omer in 2011 (6,835 par 71), 3rd at this year's Tshwane Open (7,063 par 70) and 4th in Madeira in 2013 (6,836 par 72) represent the 38 year-old's best European Tour finishes and this week's 7,025 yard test should be right up his alley.
It's not that the Scotsman is particularly short off the tee - he's consistently a 290+ yard man - however he's the type of player who can produce a fair few birdies when the flat stick is hot and having putted second only to the impressive Thomas Pieters last week it may well pay to support him this week. 7 professional wins on the lower Tours and no silverware to show at this level in his career to date may well single Lee out as a journeyman, however he won't get many weaker fields than this to offer the chance of a breakthrough title and at 122nd on the Race to Dubai it's getting to that point in the year when 100% focus needs to be given if he's going to playing at this level once again in 2016. RESULT: T8
At this grade the difference between European, Asian and Sunshine Tour players is a little blurred and I'm willing to give Jacques Blaauw a chance this week given his consecutive top-4 finishes over the past fortnight on his home Tour. The Centurion man plies his trade on the Sunshine Tour at present where he won 3 times in 2013, however a step up to European Tour level (if indeed this week is truly a 'step up') clearly isn't beyond him as 7th at this season's co-sanctioned Joburg Open and a fast-finishing 2nd behind George Coetzee at the Tshwane Open suggests. Yes, he's unproven outside of his homeland in his career to date and some of his Challenge Tour efforts have been less than impressive, however the 29 year-old is another aggressive player who could well find this layout to his liking.
Averaging nearly 5.5 birdies per round over his last 3 outings, the putter is clearly working nicely at present and his closing 61 at the 7,063 yard Tshwane Open earlier this year proves he can string a lot of red numbers together under the right conditions. 2nd for Total Driving and 10th for Ball-Striking on his last start also suggests that his long game is in the right kind of shape for a contending performance whatever the track and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the predictor No.1 selection take this title on Sunday. RESULT: T28
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