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Paul Williams' tips for the 2011 Nordea Masters
Following the excitement of the Open Championship - congratulations to Darren Clarke on an outstanding victory and another huge result for Northern Ireland - we find ourselves back to normality this week as we return to Sweden for the Nordea Masters. The week after a Major is often a mixed bag with some players opting to stay local(ish!) and play another tournament before flying home to their day job; others simply disappear for the week to recharge their batteries. This makes for an interesting betting challenge as there's always the contention of whether the big names, and/or those in contention last week, will be able to get themselves up for this event both physically and mentally...
The Robert Trent Jones Jr designed course, which was touted as a potential venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup before Le Golf National recently won that honour, hosted this long-running event for the first time last year and proved to be an excellent test for the players. Built alongside a fjord and over 7,500 yards in length, the par 72 layout was eventually conquered by the previously out-of-form Swede Richard S Johnson who normally plies his trade on the US PGA Tour. With a new course levelling the playing field, Johnson ultimately triumphed with the help of his hired caddie for the week who was a single-figure handicapper at the course and knew how to navigate his way around Bro Hof Slott.
Water is in play everywhere from just off the fairway; the rough is tough and penal, the fairways narrow. The 17th is a Sawgrass-style Island green and the 18th is a slight dogleg right with water all along the right hand side....for me it's clear to see that the inspiration for this course has come from some of the finest courses on the PGA Tour - and with that comes a distinctly US style feel. 5 par 5s would, on paper, suggest that the longer hitters should be favoured, however Johnson is amongst the shortest hitters in the US so this simply isn't the case - whilst you do need to score on the par 5s (Johnson was -10 for the 5s over the week in his total of -11), the critical strengths here are quality ball-striking and minimising errors on the par 4s and 3s.
Wind was a factor last year and is expected to be again this year - particularly over the weekend - although don't expect it to be as blowy as Sandwich. With everything considered, here are my selections:
For me there's little value in taking 8/1 about favourite Dustin Johnson here - yes he played well in another Major last week and the course will play to his strengths in some aspects, however can DJ truly lift himself for this after a gruelling weekend at Sandwich? I fear not. Instead, let's get a local player on the list right up front as there'll be plenty of Swedes looking to emulate Richard S Johnson's triumph last season and keep the local fans happy.
The 39 year-old finally broke his European Tour duck last season after 245 attempts as he landed the BMW Italian Open and he's been showing signs that a second win may be just around the corner. 15th in Italy a month ago when defending his title was a positive return to form after a tough couple of months, then a fast-finishing 2nd at Castle Stuart earned him a last-gasp spot at Sandwich where he was far from disgraced, eventually playing all 4 days for his second-best Major finish.
The Swede is plenty long enough to make a bunch of birdies on the par 5s this week on his favourite bentgrass greens, plus recent positive performances in the wind will set him in good stead should the breeze pick up over the weekend. If he can keep himself out of trouble off the tee then I'd expect Andersson Hed to improve on his 11th place finish here last year and go very close this week. RESULT: T62
Streaky is a word that is overused in golf, however I can't think of a better description for the London-based Englishman as his form can come and go in a flash. My only advice is to jump on him when he's hot....that could be right now! This season's a case in point - 5 missed cuts was followed by 7 consecutive cuts made (including a 7th place finish in Soeul), which was then followed by another 4 missed cuts.
7th on his penultimate start in Paris (which he should have won) was followed by a 31st in the weather-shortened event at Castle Stuart where he shot 12 birdies in his final 28 holes....for me he's now on the upturn of form which could result in a second trophy for his cabinet. Morrison finished 8th here last year and can clearly play the course - he's got all the game when he's on form - great ball-striking and he can putt too - time to jump on board before he starts missing cuts again! RESULT: M/C
Aussie Fraser ended a 7-year wait for his second European Tour title last year when he picked up the Ballantine's Championship title on Jeju Island - a windy event that played to his strengths on bentgrass greens. This season's been slow to start for Marcus, however a 4th place finish at Wentworth was mightily impressive and his last start in Italy finished with rounds of 66-69-69 for a share of 23rd.
Putting is Fraser's biggest strength and he's often at the top end of those stats season-in, season-out; however he currently also sits 5th for driving accuracy this season and this improvement off the tee will help him out immensely this week. Keeping out of trouble from the tee, combined with a great putting performance, is exactly what the doctor ordered at Bro Hof Slott. RESULT: T56
Last year's runner up is the first of 2 long-priced players I'm backing this week. After Darren Clarke's 200/1 return for some lucky punters last week, it's time for us to find some real value out there in the field!
Similar to Morrison, Rafa's form can improve and decline at the drop of a hat - last year's 2nd place here followed a strong top 20 the event before, however prior to that he'd missed 7 cuts on the trot. All of his best efforts came on bentgrass-based putting surfaces though and a 4th place effort at the Trent-Jones Jnr designed Celtic Manor in 2008 also gives some real encouragement. Much will depend on whether the Argentinean can keep his powerful drives in play this week - if he can then he'll rip the par 5s to shreds and come close once again. RESULT: M/C
Last week's longshot Thomas Bjorn provided us with a healthy 200/1 each way payout and I think there could be more of the same from the man from Perth, Australia this week. Strange won the first event to be housed at the Twenty Ten course at Celtic Manor in 2008 (Trent Jones Jnr designed), plus the 2009 Volvo China Open on bentgrass greens. 11th in Abu Dhabi and 4th in Dubai at the start of this term promised much for Strange, however he's struggled since in all honesty despite a good opening 2 rounds at Wentworth. A missed cut at Castle Stuart needs further investigation as his second round 69 was flawless - 4 rounds of ballstriking like that and we could see another monster each way payout or better this week...RESULT: T21
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 20:15BST 19.7.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2012 Nordea Masters will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!