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Back to normality this week on the European Tour as we return to the Prosper Golf Resort in the Czech Republic for the 3rd consecutive year. With most of the attendees from Atlanta Athletic Club taking a break this week, it will give the chance for some of the European Tour's lesser lights to shine in what is a relatively weak field. Almost all of the players will have had a fortnight off with the US PGA Championship coming hot on the heels of the WGC Bridgestone event, so there should be no excuses of tiredness this week for the majority of players.
The course at Prosper Golf Resort - or should I say courses - were co-designed by Miguel Angel Jimenez and are placed in the delightful surroundings of the Beskydy Mountains. Jimenez is the only player who can rightly claim a level of fatigue having flown back from Atlanta earlier in the week - given this and his tendency to underperform in the events he hosts/designed I'll be steering clear of the 18/1 favourite this week. His performance at the Open de Andalucia - which his company organises and promotes - is poor (14/55/MC) and he's finished outside of the each way places on his 2 attempts at Prosper so far.
So with the favourite out of the equation, what type of player should we be looking for? At a shade over 7,400 yards and with 4 par 5s in play, this hilly course will suit a reasonably long, accurate type who can avoid having to use his short game by hitting the vast majority of greens in regulation. Scrambling is tough and the greens are large and undulating bentgrass, so for me it's all about keeping your ball in play from tee to green and avoiding the trees and water first and foremost. Last year's 3 playoff contenders Peter Hanson, Gary Boyd and Peter Lawrie ranked 1st, 2nd and 5th on the week for greens in regulation; Hanson and Lawrie were 2nd and 9th for accuracy and Hanson and Boyd averaged over 306 yards from the tee.
Qualification for the Dubai World Championship - as well as retaining of playing privileges - will start to come into players' minds now that Major season is over, so players on the bubble could well come into the equation more and more in the coming weeks. My selections then are as follows:
Finch was widely tipped to do well in Ireland following his outstanding final round 69 in Stockholm when almost everyone else disintegrated in the wind - perhaps predictably he missed the cut! Not surprising really as that Sunday was punishing for all and having put his feet up for the last fortnight he'll be ready to pick up where he left off at Bro Hoff Slot.
There are a number of things I like about Finch this week, however primarily it's his ability to hit 75% or more greens week in, week out that will set him in good stead here. The Englishman current sits 6th on the GIR stats for the season and if you combine that with a hot putter then he'll be hard to beat. Well good news there too - in Stockholm he produced the best putting performance of all the entrants, taking just 109 putts on the week and averaging a smidgen over 1.6 putts per GIR...if he hits 75% of greens this week and keeps that putting form going then he will win.
Both of Finch's European Tour wins came off the back of a week or longer off, plus winning scores of -10 (2008 Irish Open) and -14 (2008 New Zealand Open) are in the right kind of ball-park for this week, plus both followed a strong recent top 10 finish. Finch narrowly missed out on Dubai last season, ultimately finishing 64th - at 47th currently he knows that only one more big effort is required for the number 1 predictor selection to book himself a plane ticket...RESULT: T23
Whilst Swedes have dominated this event for the last 2 seasons, Dane Hansen will be looking to keep a Scandinavian hand on the trophy with another contending performance following his much improved 5th place finish at Killarney on his last start, where he hit over 80% of greens in regulation for a timely return to form.
The former Ryder Cup star has endured a torrid time since being slapped with a massive tax bill a couple of years ago, however the 2-time European Tour winner is far too talented not to find himself in contention again in the future. Both of his wins followed a top-5 performance in one of his previous 2 starts, so his EW place in Ireland has to be considered as very positive. Despite indifferent form prior to that event he still sits inside the top 25 on Tour for greens in regulation, plus his 35th here last year was off the back of a very poor run of form and was his first look at this course - I'm expecting a much more prominent performance here this week. RESULT: M/C
Nacho ticks a lot of boxes here this week and has to make the staking plan. The 39 year old Spaniard finished alongside Hansen at Killarney on his last start and only a disappointing Saturday 72 prevented him from being right in the mix at the end. His all-round play was excellent in Ireland - he ranked 4th for driving, 2nd for putting and hit over 70% of greens - ultimately propelling him to his highest finish of the season.
At 94th on the Race To Dubai, Garrido will be looking ahead rather than behind him now - a couple of half-decent finishes will guarantee his card, however a couple of contending finishes well see him on the plane to Dubai - a much more appropriate target for the 2003 BMW PGA Champion. Garrido clearly has a liking for this course - he led here 2 years ago coming into the final 9 holes before letting it slip and ultimately finishing 4th - a couple of years on and with a positive recent result under his belt I won't be surprised to see him better that this week. RESULT: T20
Webster is another who let the 2009 Czech Open slip between his fingers - the Englishman led going into Sunday only for a final round 72 to leave him in 2nd place behind Swede Oskar Henningson. 25th last year having gone into the weekend in a good position was also disappointing, however he can clearly play this course and will be looking forward to this week.
2011 has been poor however and Webster now sits outside the top 115 on the Race To Dubai and a good €100,000+ short of retaining his card, therefore with a weak field this week presents a huge opportunity to make some headway. If he can play to his strengths (he currently sits inside the top 30 for GIR, despite his poor season) on a setup that suits him down to the ground then I can see him contending this week. RESULT: T5
Indian Bhullar is my longshot this week as I look to keep my recent run of 3-figure places going this week following last week's 100/1 EW result on Robert Karlsson. Bhullar is an interesting player who again excels with his irons (12th on Tour for GIR) and will find this course setup to his liking.
Already a winner 4 times in 2011 - once on the Challenge Tour and 3 times on the PGTI in India - 250/1 is a crazy price in my opinion and has to be taken on at small stakes for the man who already has 12 professional titles to his name at the age of just 23. Not surprisingly he leads the PGTI by a country mile at the moment, however for Bhullar the real prize would be to secure himself a place in the next echelon European Tour by capturing a title such as this and automatically securing his playing rights.
Recent form is positive - he narrowly missed out on qualifying for this year's World Cup a fortnight ago when he and partner Anibarn Lahiri made a mess of the 72nd hole having been in strong contention all the way through the event. Reverting to strokeplay this week and away from the expectation of playing on his home Tour, I think we might just see the number 5 predictor selection sneak into contention at a massive price...RESULT: T9
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:45BST 16.8.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.