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After last week's Paul Lawrie Match Play and the largely irrelevant Fiji International, some semblance of normality returns to the schedule this week as we head back to the Danish town of Farsø and the Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort for the fourth 'Made In Denmark' event.
A young Thomas Bjorn won his first professional event around these parts on the Challenge Tour way back in 1995 before a 2012 renovation saw every green re-laid with A4 bentgrass and every bunker re-modelled, so only those who have played over the last 3 renewals will have any practical experience of the track in its current guise with the notable exception of Lucas Bjerregaard who's attached to the club. However after 3 years we're certainly starting to see patterns in the results here which is encouraging for this week's task at hand.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the first event of the Fed Ex Playoffs - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Backtee Course, Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort, Farsø, Denmark. Designer: Jan Cedermolm, re-designed by Philip Spogaard, 2012; Par: 71; Fairways: Bentgrass/Festuca; Rough: Rye/Festuca; Greens: A4 Bentgrass; Stimp: 11ft.
Course Overview. From its tips the Backtee Course can stretch to nearly 7,400 yards for its par of 71, however the tournament yardage last year was just 6,851 yards which meant less of a penalty for the shorter hitters 12 months ago and organisers have the choice of 5 tee boxes on each hole to flex the yardage as they see fit.
An exposed, inland track with water in play on 5 of the holes and linksy in style, the main defence is the breeze in what is often a windy part of the world - the forecast is for moderately breezy (10-15 mph) conditions at times and any wind tends to be accentuated on this type of exposed track, however at those levels the course should still encourage a reasonably low score. In terms of the layout itself, 5 of the par-4s measure under 400 yards plus there's a 128 yard par-3, however the par-5 11th measures well over 600 yards making it a 3-shotter for the vast majority of the field. The par-5 4th and 6th holes played by far the easiest of the 18 last year and produced 57 eagles between them over the course of the 4 days. The greens are excellent quality bentgrass that run very true and they tend to favour the better putters on Tour.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Made In Denmark that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Current/Event Form 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: Thomas Pieters, 2015: 12/1; David Horsey, 80/1; 2014: Marc Warren, 30/1. 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 Farsø is here. A mixture of sunshine and occasional showers this week with temperatures reaching a pleasant 70 Fahrenheit or thereabouts in the afternoons. Thursday is likely to see the breeziest conditions with winds in the 20-25 km/h region which will make this a reasonable test before calming somewhat over the weekend.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the winners from the last 3 years in this event gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
From what we've seen over the past 3 renewals, Driving Accuracy is seemingly less important than some tracks and the course neither alienates the shorter hitters nor overly favours the bombers - the common denominator from the stats above is primarily the ability to putt well on these slick bentgrass greens. The first two Made In Denmark events hinted at this angle, however last year's renewal rubber-stamped the assertion that putting is absolutely critical here as the top 5 players for putts per round finished inside the top 5 overall and they also ranked 2nd, 1st, 15th, 8th and 2nd respectively for putts per GIR.
Marc Warren arrived here 3 years ago in decent form having finished 3rd at the Scottish Open, 39th at the Open Championship then a creditable 15th at the US PGA Championship. He'd been putting consistently well for a few weeks, ranking inside the top-20 for putts per GIR on each of his last 4 starts and found enough greens on the week in windy conditions to compile a winning score. David Horsey's form the year after was less obvious having recorded 4 top-20 finishes in the season, however he too had been putting reasonably well recording 3 top-20 putting performances out of his most recent 4 cuts made. Thomas Pieters was 2nd favourite for this title 12 months ago having arrived after finishes of 4th at The Olympics and 2nd the week before when defending in the Czech Republic and his chance was a fairly obvious one.
The three Made In Denmark events we've witnessed so far have all pretty much boiled down to who's putted best on the week and I see little reason to oppose that angle this week. The fact that one of the best putters on Tour, Bradley Dredge, has course form of 2/6/2 tells us everything we need to know and I'd expect the better putters to gravitate to the top once again this week.
My selections are as follows:
Defending champion Thomas Pieters heads the betting here this week in Denmark and with some significant justification. At 27th in the OWGR, the Belgian is by far the highest ranked player in the field and with high-profile finishes season including 5th at the WGC Mexico Championship, 4th at Augusta and 4th a fortnight ago at Firestone, it's hard to argue against him being the most likely victor here. Winning hasn't come quite so easy though for the 25 year-old since he added his 3rd and most recent European Tour title here 12 months ago and at single-figure quotes I'm willing to swerve him despite his fairly obvious chance. At a few points longer in the betting sits Soren Kjledsen who's flown straight over from North Carolina having finished 16th at last week's Wyndham Championship and, despite 3 consecutive top-15 finishes here, I can't contemplate him at the miserly price on offer. The ever-erratic Thorbjorn Olesen and an out-of-sorts Martin Kaymer follow and personally I'm happy to keep delving down the list to find this week's winner. The first name I'm stopping at is Paul Dunne who has the flat stick finesse to take his first European Tour title here this week.
Those of you who read my previews each week will know that I've backed the Irishman a few times this season when I've felt his game is ready for another concerted effort at grabbing his first European Tour title and although the best he's produced for me so far is a play-off defeat to Edoardo Molinari in Morocco, I'm happy to get back on board this week after a positive showing in the Paul Lawrie Match Play. Impressive wins over Nathan Holman (5-under through 13) and Jens Fahrbring (4-under through 15) got him through to the round of 16 where he ultimately lost in extra holes - having shot -4 through 18 - by calling a penalty on himself against Alejandro Canizares. A tough way to go out of course, however his game looked in pretty good shape and crucially his putter hadn't lost any of the heat that we've seen so far in a season that sees him sit 4th on Tour for putts per GIR and 3rd for putts per round.
An exposed track such as this is perfect terrain for the Greystones golfer to pick up his first title and given that the 3 winners here have averaged a little over 50% of fairways hit between them combined, his long game weaknesses shouldn't be exposed anywhere near as much as some of the more challenging layouts on Tour. That's great news for a player who's very much one of the more capable players on and around the greens and if he's putting for birdie as opposed to par on a more regular basis here this week then I suspect we'll see another contending performance. 10th here on debut last season where he hit a huge (for him) 77.8% of greens in regulation suggests that the course suits his eye perfectly and a repeat of that with a decent week on the greens should see him go very close indeed. RESULT: T14
Although we're only entering the 4th Made In Denmark event here at the Himmerland Resort, the results from the first 3 renewals certainly suggest that some players get on with the layout far more than others. Bradley Dredge is sure to be well-backed by course form students this week having produced three successive top-6 finishes here on the Backtee Course, however at 25/1 there's not a great deal of juice in his price given that he seriously struggles to get over the line and hasn't won on the European Tour for over a decade now. Soren Kjeldsen and David Lipsky both have 3 top-15 finishes here from 3 attempts; similarly Rikard Karlberg and Benjamin Hebert both have 2 top-15 finishes from 2 attempts, however I'm backing a former winner here this week in the shape of David Horsey who's shown enough form in the past few months to suggest that a 5th European Tour victory isn't very far away.
61st for putts per GIR and 24th for putts per round for the 2017 season may not sound like the kind of putting numbers I was asking for in the preamble I grant you, however it's worth considering that those positions have been ever-improving following a very slow start to the year that saw 4 missed cuts from his first 5 events and he's said on twitter recently that his golf game's 'as good as it's ever been' which bodes well ahead of an event on a course that he's previously conquered. 3 top-10 finishes in his last 9 European Tour events and a best effort of 2nd at the Lyoness Open in June on a course that doesn't play to his strengths tells me that his game is in pretty good shape and having rested since The Open he'll be as fresh as a daisy this week - 3 of his 4 wins came off the back of at least a week's break and his most recent win here was after 3 weeks off. RESULT: 2nd
A couple of players who impressed last week in Germany complete my team this week. First up I'm sticking with Johan Carlsson who provided me with a skinny profit overall from last week's preview. The Swede played some outstanding golf last week - indeed at one point he went 66 holes without being behind in a match - before eventually coming unstuck against Marcel Siem who was 8-under though 16 holes in the semi-final. There was no disgrace in that effort though and as if to underline how well we has playing he beat Alejandro Canizares 3&2 in the consolation match courtesy of a 7-under burst through his final 7 holes. Of course for him to do well this week he's got to shake last week's disappointment off and come out fighting again, however the 30 year-old is certainly fit and hungry enough to get straight back in the saddle this week. Similar to Horsey, 40th on Tour for Putts Per GIR can be explained by the fact that he had an awful start to 2017 missing 6 straight cuts one point, however he's been in far better form overall since then in terms of both results and putting form with a field-leading 1.54 Putts Per GIR at Wentworth, 1.67 at the Lyoness Open (6th in the field) and 1.66 in Scotland (4th in the field) on his last strokeplay start. Similar to last week, his course form isn't remotely encouraging with 45/MC/MC recorded from his 3 attempts here, however with his game in excellent shape I'm expecting a big personal best here that could well translate to an each-way payout or better. RESULT: MC
Finally I'm taking a small punt on Chris Paisley who bowed out at the Quarter-Final stage to Alejandro Canizares last week after some excellent golf had seen him beat Scott Jamieson, Nathan Kimsey and Ashun Wu to secure a place in Saturday afternoon's matches. Clearly enthused that his game is in decent shape despite his extremely narrow defeat to the Spaniard, Paisley also likes the Made In Denmark - describing it on twitter as 'probably the most fun event of the year' - and arrives here with two solid efforts to his name of 35th and 34th over the past 2 years respectively where he first mastered the tee-to-green demands in 2015, ranking 3rd for total driving and 1st for ball-striking, then he got his head around the greens 12 months ago, ranking 5th for putting. With his game progressing nicely after a barren spell of 6 missed cuts from Wentworth onwards, if the putter is firing again this week - which it certainly can do as it's his biggest asset in my view when he's playing well - then seeing him feature here at a long price wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. From 5 starts in Denmark across all events he's never finished outside of the top-35 with 5th at the 2012 ECCO Tour Championship being his best effort to date in this part of the world. RESULT: Tied 3rd
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