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A low-key affair in Austria is our task this week ahead of next week's US Open at Erin Hills. The Lyoness Open has hopped around a bit in terms of its schedule in the past - from September in 2011 to July in 2012 where it immediately followed the Open Championship, however this will be the fifth year in succession that it's preceded golf's second Major and that, along with a purse of just €1m, means that a fairly weak field has assembled in Austria, headlined by home favourite and former winner Bernd Wiesberger. With the Monday withdrawal of Chris Wood from the event to preserve his OWGR ranking, Wiesberger's price has shortened to a paltry 5/1 at best at the time of writing which puts into context the level of competition that the World No.29 faces here this week.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the FedEx St Jude Classic at TPC Southwind - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Diamond CC, Atzenbrugg, Near Vienna, Austria. Designer: Jeremy Pern, 2000; Par: 72; Length: 7,417 yards; Water Hazards: 13; Fairways: Poa/Rye; Rough: Poa/Rye; Greens: Bent/Poa, 10.6' on the stimp.
Course Overview. The course at the Diamond Country Club is located 20 miles west of Vienna in Atzenbrugg and is a relatively flat and exposed par 72 that now measures 7,417 yards after a few changes in recent years. Half of the holes here feature water - including 2 par-3 holes to island greens - and the premium around Diamond CC is very much on finding greens in regulation after a successful tee shot into the fairway; anything else will leave players struggling for par with tough scrambling conditions around the putting surfaces.
The greens at Diamond CC are amongst the best on the European Tour and the mildly undulating bent/poa surfaces offer a little respite to those who are less adept with the putter. For me this tournament will be primarily about who can hit the most greens in regulation and find some confidence with the flat stick to make the birdies required to hit a score in the middle teens under par, give or take a few shots. Hitting greens will be far, far easier from the fairway here and whilst the card would suggest that longer hitters may enjoy the layout most, finding the short grass from the tee is still important and will demand a level of strategy from all players on a number of holes.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Lyoness Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2016: Ashun Wu, 160/1; 2015: Chris Wood, 12/1; 2014: Mikael Lundberg, 250/1; 2013: Joost Luiten, 25/1; 2012: Bernd Wiesberger, 25/1; 2011: Kenneth Ferrie, 55/1; 2010: Jose Manuel Lara, 66/1. 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 the area is here. Temperatures in the 80s Fahrenheit and light winds will help scoring levels this year for the players in attendance, which should in turn lead to a lower winning score than some recent years.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 7 winners since the event switched to the Diamond CC gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
In those years where calmer conditions have blessed the event, players who can maximise strokes gained as a result of their tee-to-green performance have tended to prevail. Putters need to be warm without being red hot and a decent second-shot performance coupled with a putting average in the 1.7 region may well be enough for the winner here this week. Scoring on the par 5s is fairly critical and circa 25 birdies may well be required to win this week, so making the most of those 16 looks at the par 5s could prove to be pivotal.
Incoming Form: In terms of recent results prior to victory, Ashun Wu had been solid if unspectacular with 8 out of 10 cuts made in 2016 and a best of 16th prior to victory. In 2015, Chris Wood arrived off the back of a top-20 in Ireland that followed a decent 4th place finish at Wentworth. In 2014, Mikael Lundberg had shown little incoming form of note with 28th at the Spanish Open two events before being his best finish of a what had been a poor season up to that point. Kenneth Ferrie had finished 8th at Gleneagles on his penultimate start which was his best result for some time and Jose Manuel Lara had finished 4th the week before in Holland - his best effort for over a year. Joost Luiten and Bernd Wiesberger were both more obvious winners, Luiten had finished inside the top-11 on three occasions in recent events and Wiesberger had won the Ballantine's Championship earlier that year.
Course Form (back to 2010): None of the winners here had a massive amount of experience of Diamond CC prior to victory, however shorter-priced winners Wiesberger, Luiten and Wood had all finished 12th or better on their one and only start here; coupled with their season-long form they were each fairly obvious winners.
For me, this task is primarily about tee-to-green excellence, maximising GIR and making sufficient putts on these excellent surfaces to get over the line. Those players with some positive experience of Diamond CC will have a better idea of what's required, however as Ashun Wu proved last year, debutants can still contend and ultimately win. Next week's US Open may well be on the mind of the select few who'll head directly to Erin Hills with bookies favourite Bernd Wiesberger heading that list, however for most of the field that's not an issue this week.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
All things considered, my selections are as follows:
We have a similar predicament to last week here at the Lyoness Open - a very strong case can be made for the market leaders to dominate in Austria, as it could with Stenson and Noren in Sweden last week, however golf betting isn't as simple as that and backing players as short as 5/1 in the case of Bernd Wiesberger here might not be the correct answer. Renato Paratore's win on Sunday at a whopping 150/1 proved once again that even the most robust of favourites can be overturned in this game and World No.29 Wiesberger, as strong as his claims may be to win another Lyoness Open title here in Vienna, is certainly no shoo-in. His win here in 2012 came at a different point in the schedule with no Majors to distract the mind and although he did finish 2nd here prior to the US Open a couple of years later, his pre-Major efforts have generally been far more low-key now that he's stepped up a few notches in the pecking order and knows that his true focus needs to be on the bigger prizes in golf. Can he win? Of course he can, and if he does then good luck to him, however he's not a bet for me this week at the price on offer.
With Joost Luiten sitting just too far away from the OWGR top 60 to qualify for the US Open even with victory here and his usually dependable long game not firing on all cylinders at present, he also makes little appeal at 11/1. Instead I'm looking quite a bit further down the list for this week's team and shining like a beacon is Tom Lewis whose long game performance in recent weeks has got me very interested. 6th for Total Driving and 4th for Ball-Striking at the Open de Portugal (finished 18th) and 4th/3rd on the same two measurements a week later in Sicily suggests that he's growing in confidence once again and may finally pick up on the promise he showed when winning the Portugal Masters on only his 6th start as a professional. 3 weeks prior to that victory he'd finished 10th here at Diamond CC and subsequent efforts of 30th (2013) and 26th (2016) - both times when he's otherwise been fighting to even make a weekend generally - suggests to me that he likes this layout very much and when he's striking the ball as well as he is at present then it suits his game very nicely indeed.
The Portugal Masters victory in itself may provide a further clue this week. Another exposed track with excellent greens and water in play everywhere you look, it's interesting to note that Chris Wood has 3 top-10 finishes there including 2nd in 2015, Joost Luiten has also finished as runner-up there in 2010 and Bernd Wiesberger has finished 3rd and 4th there too over the years.
Save for a third round 78 last week in Sweden, Tom would have finished far closer to the lead than his eventual 41st place, however that's helped keep a lid on his price and I'm happy to take on the market leaders with the Welwyn Garden City man here this week.
With the top two in the betting aside, the quality here soon thins out and a number of mid-priced players have a decent chance of getting into contention here this week. One player that I've been keeping a watchful eye on recently is Paul Waring and with a 2nd (Joburg Open) and 3rd (Trophee Hassan II) place finish to his name already in 2017, he's rewarded each-way backers twice in his last 6 starts and looks well capable of grabbing a maiden professional title before too long.
Invariably when the Merseyside man produces a contending performance it's because he's had a strong week from tee-to-green: 3rd at last year's Malaysian Open was fuelled by 1st place rankings for both Total Driving and Ball-Striking; 7th at the Hong Kong Open was similar (3rd & 2nd on the same two measures) and his most recent contending effort, in Morrocco where he finished a shot outside of the play-off, was again powered by 3rd for Total Driving and 2nd for Ball-Striking. It does seem pretty much all or nothing with the 32 year-old as plenty of missed cuts flank his best efforts, however with a 5th place finish here at Diamond CC under his belt (2013) and as per Tom Lewis more corresponding form in Portugal (3rd 2013), this may well be one of the weeks where it all clicks and he finds himself at the right end of the leaderboard on Sunday.
A couple of longer priced players who could run into an each-way place to finish my team this week. First up, Miguel Tabuena who, like last week's winner Renato Paratore, is a promising young talent who's well capable of winning a European Tour event. The 22 year-old has already secured 8 titles on the Philippine Golf Tour - his first achieved in 2012 at the tender age of 17 - plus a maiden Asian Tour title in 2015 where he held off the likes of Jeunghun Wang at the Philippine Open and there's plenty more to come I'm sure. Despite his diminutive size and slender frame, the Manila man can easily average over 300 yards from off the tee and is pretty accurate too having averaged over 75% of fairways hit on 5 of his last 6 global starts. 5th on his last effort on the Asian Tour at the Yeangder Heritage featured driving accuracy of 82.1% and GIR of 77.8%, which is ideal for Diamond CC, and he has form at European Tour level having finished in a tie for 2nd at last year's Maybank Championship in Malaysia behind Marcus Fraser. A weak field here presents another opportunity for the young man to produce a strong result and with two top-5 finishes in his last five starts I'm happy to take a punt that he'll take to this track on his competitive debut.
Sticking to my theme of players who are performing well from tee-to-green, Gaganjeet Bhullar completes my foursome this week. Whilst compatriot Anirban Lahiri has progressed to the PGA Tour with some success in recent times, Bhullar has had to content himself with performing predominantly on the Asian Tour where he's already amassed 7 victories including twice at the back end of 2016. Essentially it's been his performances when presented with a European Tour start that have prevented him from progressing much further career-wise so far, however 10th at the 2014 Abu Dhabi Championship and 2nd at the 2013 Avantha Masters (admittedly on home soil) do offer some hope that he'll progress past that hurdle at some point and with 3 paid weekends here at Diamond CC and an all-round ranking of 6th last time he played in 2014, if there's a European track that's likely to appeal to his game then this is it. Long and straight is the order of the day for the 29 year-old who's finished inside the top-5 for driving accuracy on each of his last 7 starts where he's made the weekend. 2nd at the Thailand Open on his last start also featured a career-best recorded putting average of 1.54 and with that missing piece of the jigsaw seemingly in place he could be an interesting outsider here this week given that he's the type of player who tends to string a few decent performances together when on song.
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