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This week's return to strokeplay on the European Tour is a low-key event in Austria - the miserly prize fund of just €1m has failed to attract most of the top names in European golf and many have opted to take the week off instead. Having said that, the headline acts are Ryder Cup duo Miguel Angel Jimenez and Padraig Harrington and naturally they top the betting at around 12/1 joint favourites with most bookies. In truth, neither is in scintillating form, however either could easily take this prize if they can show enough of the form which has produced 32 European Tour wins between them in the past. Perhaps a desire to get their 2012 Ryder Cup qualification campaigns off to a strong start has attracted the pair, however for Harrington in particular I'd suggest this is more of a trial run of recent swing changes ahead of next week's Dunhill Links event which is sure to attract a much, much better field.
Also included in the field are 2 new professionals who were part of the victorious Walker Cup side - Paul Cutler and Tom Lewis - both of whom split opinion with the bookies. Cutler is as short as 45/1 with some layers, although you can currently pick him up for 80/1 with Paddy Power; likewise Lewis is as short as 28/1 but is available at a much healthier 40/1, again with Paddy Power.
The course was new to the main European Tour last season so any event history prior to Jose Manuel Lara's win here last year should be considered as interesting fact as opposed to anything more useful. Accuracy off the tee is the key component here with water in play on 9 of the holes as well as out-of-bounds to contend with on both sides of the tough finishing hole, amongst others. The 7,242 yard par 72 features 4 par 5s, a couple of short par 4s and 2 par 3s to island greens. Lara led the field in terms of fairways found last year, plus backed that up with 7th in GIR and a strong putting week on his way to a 17-under total. Expect similar stats to be at the head of affairs this week.
The regular season is moving into its final stretch now and qualification for the season finale in Dubai will be on the minds of a few this week, however more pertinent given the field will be those looking to take this chance to put themselves well inside to top 115 and a step closer to securing their playing privileges next season....those players on the bubble could well raise their game in Austria.
My 10 points are as follows:
Luiten is one of the most eligible players not to have won a European Tour event so far, however with 2 Challenge Tour victories and another Alps Tour win under his belt in his short professional career, he does know how to get the job done and the Dutchman should be backed here to finally break his duck. The 25 year old has the right mix of attributes to win this event with a strong tee-to-green game and the ability to score heavily when the opportunity arises. With the relatively weak field assembled around him, this week presents a huge opportunity for Luiten in my view.
Last year's winner Jose Manuel Lara entered the week off the back of a 4th place finish in Holland; Luiten finished 6th a fortnight ago in front of his home crowd so if strong recent form is a factor then that's the first box ticked. All of last year's top 5 tend to excel on coursed with bentgrass greens, so Luiten's form on bent should also be noted - top 6 finishes in Joburg, Portugal and Valderrama last season as well as top 20's at Wentworth last year and Morocco this year and last suggest that Joost is very much at home on the surface and should thrive here. If can find the putts that were missing on Sunday at Hilversum on his last start then I see no reason why Joost Luiten won't be picking up his first European Tour trophy this week, even if his price is pretty miserly! RESULT: 3rd
Padraig Harrington will no doubt be the Irishman in the media focus before the start of the Austrian Open - having slipped down to 81st in the World rankings and currently sitting 87th in the Race To Dubai, the 3-time Major Champion is in danger of missing out on some top events if he can't find some big results quickly. However, for me, it could be compatriot Damien McGrane who is the leading contender from the Emerald Isle come Sunday evening.
McGrane's 6th place finish here last year suggests he likes the course - indeed were it not for a poor Friday round of 76 he could easily have walked away with the tournament last year following a 12-under weekend. Like Luiten, McGrane's history is littered with strong performances on bentgrass greens, the most recent of which was in the Czech Republic a month ago for a 9th place finish. 1 win on Tour (China 2008, again on bent) is a poor return for a player of McGrane's quality, however this could be a great chance for number 2 if top selection Luiten fails to deliver. RESULT: M/C
Drysdale is my first of 3 players who is perilously close to the 115 mark on the Race To Dubai and, at 107th, it's time for David to put clear daylight between himself and those who are out to eat his lunch! 5th place in Czech Republic last month was his best result of the season and now's the time for him to take some positivity into this week as he attempts to win his first European Tour event after 15 seasons as a professional.
The Scot's strong tee-to-green strength will suit the Diamond Country Club well and a return to bentgrass greens will suit him down to the ground as his best results of 2011 have all come on that type of putting surface with an 8th place finish behind Pablo Martin in South Africa at the start of the campaign and 13th in Joburg to compliment his aforementioned 5th at Prosper G&CC. May well be fighting for the each way places at best, however that's not to be sniffed at with 80/1 on offer only from Ladbrokes at the time of writing. RESULT: T36
Elson is the first of my 3-figure longshots this week and at 109th on the Race To Dubai he knows that this is a massive chance to cement his position on the European Tour next season with full playing rights - in fact anything inside the top 10 should be just about enough for the 30 year old from Chertsey.
Elson tends to come alive on these lower-grade events with a 2nd place finish in Madeira and 12th at the St Omer Open earlier this term, however top 5 finishes also in Joburg and Sicily suggest that he's actually a bit better than that and certainly worth a punt at 150/1 with some bookies. He's one of the better putters on Tour and easily capable of shooting the kind of score required to get into a contending position here provided he can keep the ball in play off the tee...RESULT: M/C
My final speculative selection is Lloyd Saltman, not to be confused with brother Elliot who was recently banned from the European Tour. LLoyd was part of the 2007 Walker Cup team that included the likes of Rory McIlroy, David Horsey, Rhys Davies and John Parry - whilst he hasn't hit anywhere near the heights of those players, he does have the raw skill to compete at this kind of level in Austria.
His best 3 finishes this term have all come on similar surfaces to this with 4th in Madiera, 11th in Morocco and 20th in Joburg jumping off the page. At 126th on the Race To Dubai, Saltman knows that it's now or never if he's going to retain his playing privileges into 2012 - expect a much improved performance from the Scot. RESULT: T45
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:50BST 20.9.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.