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Last week's Made In Denmark provided us with some cracking entertainment throughout and none more so than on Sunday when 40/1 selection Matt Wallace produced a mesmerising run of 8 birdies in 11 holes to make the 4 man play-off, before dispatching his opponents with a further 2 birdies over the extra holes. The Englishman had talked in interview about wanting to make Thomas Bjorn's wildcard decision, that will happen this Wednesday, far from straightforward and he's undoubtedly given the European captain the headache he promised with his performance when his back was against the wall. That's 3 wins this season now for Wallace and 10 in 70 starts as a professional at all levels and I, for one, feel he's shown the necessary guile and determination to earn himself a pick.
On to this week then and we make our annual pilgrimage to the Swiss Alps and the beautiful Crans-Sur-Sierre Golf Club. Matthew Fitzpatrick, who made a valiant effort to leapfrog Thorbjorn Olesen for the 8th and final automatic Ryder Cup spot with a bogey-free 12-under weekend in Denmark, defends his title here this week and rates as the clear favourite with the bookmakers at around 12/1. Thomas Pieters also tees it up once again this week, however with all eyes on Bjorn's televised announcement on Wednesday, any lingering hope that the European pair have of securing a captain's pick may well be dashed before they tee off this week. Matt Wallace also plays this week and it will be interesting to see how the trio respond if Thomas's decision does happen to affect any one of them - we shall see.
In addition to those already mentioned, we also have the likes of Charl Schwartzel who's been showing flashes of form for a few weeks now, Lee Westwood who was one of the play-off losers in Denmark, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Andy Sullivan and Ross Fisher amongst a number of high-quality names that gives this field an exciting look.
Crans-Sur-Sierre GC, Crans Montana, Switzerland. Designer: Fremantle and Gedge, 1908 with Ballesteros re-design 1999; Par: 70; Length: 6,848 yards; Fairways: Poa/Rye; Rough: Poa/Rye; Greens: Bent/Poa, 10'6" on the stimp.
Course Overview. This quirky sub-7,000 yard, par 70 is played at altitude in the Swiss Alps. The course is a tree-lined, undulating test with tiny bent/poa greens guarded by bunkers and run-off areas which have been toughened up further following tweaks completed before each of the last few renewals. Four of the par-4s measure less than 400 yards whereas two stretch over 500 yards, plus there are five par-3s between 175 and 235 yards, however with the undulation changes and altitude the holes don't necessarily play as the card suggests.
The front-9 contains three of the sub-400 yard par-4s from the stretch from the 5th to 7th, however it's the final hole of that trio that presents the best opportunity for the brave who take on the green, with 234 birdies and 17 eagles recorded there 12 months ago. Back-to-back reachable par-5s at the 14th and 15th reaped nearly 400 birdies and 35 eagles last year and taking advantage of these scoring holes whilst navigating safely around the remainder of the course is how the more aggressive types might prevail.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Omega European Masters 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. 2017: Matthew Fitzpatrick, 30/1; 2016: Alexander Noren, 18/1; 2015: Danny Willett, 16/1; 2014: David Lipsky, 125/1; 2013: Thomas Bjorn, 40/1; 2012, Richie Ramsay, 80/1; 2011; Thomas Bjorn, 55/1; 2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez, 18/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 8 years based on the 2017 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Crans Montana is here. A mixture of sunshine and showers this week with a chance of rain each of the four tournament days. Temperatures will be pleasant enough in the high 60s Fahrenheit and winds will be light throughout.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 8 winners at Crans gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
Historically there have been 2 differing approaches to success here at Crans - either playing a conservative, high GIR game and putting well enough on the week to get the job done (Els 2003, Dredge 2006, Luquin 2008, Noren 2009, Bjorn 2011, Ramsay 2012, Bjorn 2013, Lipsky 2014 and Willett in 2015 succeeded in this fashion); alternatively relying on an outstanding short game is the other route to victory as ably demonstrated by Karlsson (2002), Donald (2004), Rumford (2007), Jimenez (2010) and Noren (2016). Only Garcia in 2005 and Fitzpatrick last year really displayed a more balanced pattern of stats on the week, however both are excellent ball-strikers first and foremost.
Incoming Form: 5 of the last 8 winners here arrived with a top-6 finish recorded in their previous event and all had a top-10 finish in their last 10 starts at the very least, so some solid recent form looks preferable. All winners had also recorded a minimum of one top-3 finish in the season or, in the case of Noren, Bjorn and Jimenez, a victory on Tour:
Event Form (1996 Onwards):
A positive record on this track is generally a good sign given its quirky nature and this is the type of event that tends to see a similar set of players feature year-in, year-out, however both David Lipsky and Richie Ramsay arrived here with patchy course form at best so it's certainly not the be-all and end-all.
Those with either a high GIR game or excellent short game can succeed here, however it's clear that despite its length this course favours neither the longer nor shorter hitters. Whilst the eventual champions in recent times haven't been exceptionally long drivers of the golf ball, that fact could have had an entirely different spin on it had Scott Hend converted either of his play-off chances over the past 2 renewals and with the likes of Pelle Edberg (2015) and Brooks Koepka (2014) also contending in the recent past, it's clear that this isn't necessarily a course that fits a single style of play.
My selections are as follows:
Lucas Bjerregaard 2pts EW 33/1 with Get a £30 bonus* for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 places, 1/5 odds)
I must admit, I've always found this event a tough nut to crack. In my mind it's a layout that suits more controlled players who can plot their way around the mountain, adjusting for the elevation changes and altitude, and ultimately giving themselves enough birdie opportunities to compile a winning score. Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick is a case in point this week and he backed up course form of MC/2/7 heading into last year's event with a fourth European Tour victory, however that could have been so different if Scott Hend had have taken his chances in the play-off. Fact is, the course presents scoring opportunities to aggressive players on a number of holes and if those holes are capitalised upon then I have no doubt that a different type of player can contend and succeed around these parts.
Talking of Fitzpatrick - and perhaps more so Thomas Pieters and Matt Wallace - Wednesday's announcement by Thomas Bjorn of his wildcard picks will undoubtedly be unsettling as the trio prepare for this week's event. The consensus tends to be that all three could well miss out on a place, a decision that would be particularly tough for last week's winner Wallace who could have done nothing more to stake his claim, and I'm not willing to take a chance on any of them given the emotional rollercoaster that will ensue regardless of whether they make the team or not. I am going to change tack from previous years though and go with a more powerful option as my main bet this week in the shape of the long-hitting Dane Lucas Bjerrergaard.
We've seen from the historical data that high GIR is the preferable route to success here at Crans and when on his game Lucas churns our greens hit for fun. 81.9% GIR (4th in the field) last week in Denmark on another short, tree-lined track is an excellent warm-up for this week's task and that performance backed up a sequence of 9 consecutive top-25 GIR performances when he's made the weekend. Also on show last week from the 27 year-old was a field-leading par-4 scoring performance which is also of critical importance here on a track where compiling a score on the short par-4s is paramount.
The reigning Portugal Masters champion will be defending his maiden European Tour title in a fortnight's time and he's seemingly rounding into form just in time, however before he gets there he might just peak this week after producing a personal best 9th here 12 months ago. Bjerregaard's form tends to come in patches and he converted that chance at the Victoria Golf Club last year with top-10 finishes wedged either side; a run of four top-6 finishes in five events in the late spring failed to produce another win despite some excellent play, however after a quiet period finishes of 9th and 6th over the past 2 weeks suggests that he's ready to pounce once again.
A power-packed game is ideal for many modern tracks, however Lucas has proven that he can adapt to the more classical and quirky tests that the European Tour produces on the schedule. Results including 5th at the 2014 Hong Kong Open, 4th at the Perth Invitational a week later, 3rd at the 2015 Italian Open, 2nd at the 2015 Hong Kong Open, 9th here last year and 3rd at Wentworth this year all suggest that he's versatile enough to plot his way around some of the trickier holes here whilst packing the power to take on some of the short par-4s and the two attackable par-5s on the back 9. RESULT: 2nd, lost play-off.
Of the players who I think could also feature this week, Richie Ramsay interests me most. He'll take a different route to taming this layout than the likes of Bjerregaard, however with a victory here in 2012 to his name and further top-10 finishes in 2014 (where he led at the halfway point) and 2015, it's clear that the Scot knows how to manage this layout and even when finishing 30th last year he still topped GIR on the week and closed with a round of 64 which tied the best effort on the day.
Going back to when he triumphed here in 2012, Richie had experienced a very similar season to this in that he'd produced a solitary early-season top-10 finish (2nd at the Ballantine's Championship) before finding a little bit of long game form immediately prior to arriving here in Switzerland, back then resulting in a 6th place finish at the Johnnie Walker Championship where he was top-10 for both driving accuracy and GIR. 6th at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year is the 35 year-old's best result of 2018, however after a tough stretch he's seemingly found some form with his long game and 12th last week in Denmark offers a lot of encouragement. 2nd for Driving Accuracy and 7th for GIR at Silkeborg back up the assertion that the Aberdeen-born golfer has been making on twitter that his long game's in great shape and if the extra focus that he's been placing on his short game and putting comes to fruition this week then the price on offer could look very generous indeed for the 3-time European Tour winner. RESULT: MC
Lee Slattery 1pt EW 80/1 with New customers get £25 in free bets: 18+, T&Cs apply***. (6 places EW, 1/5 odds):
Darren Fichardt 1pt EW 125/1 with New customers get £25 in free bets: 18+, T&Cs apply***. (6 places EW, 1/5 odds):
A couple of experienced Crans campaigners complete my team this week - between them the pair have racked up 25 appearances here at Crans over the years, plus both finished in a tie for 6th here 12 months ago:
First up Lee Slattery who's been showing enough form of late to warrant an investment. 10th at the Nordea Masters and 4th at the Czech Masters backed up some of the early-season promise we saw at the Italian Open where a 3rd-round 62 had given the 40 year-old a 1-shot lead heading into the final day of the season's 2nd Rolex Series event. A final round 67 was hardly disastrous, but he couldn't quite keep up the blistering pace set by eventual winner Thorborn Olesen and he eventually finished 3rd. Some strong form nevertheless from the Southport man and opening rounds of 64 and 65 at those two more recent aforementioned events have helped him produce some nice results as he sits just inside the top-50 in the Race to Dubai as we head towards the business end of the season. 14th here in 2012, where he finished with a round of 64, 9th in 2014 and 6th last year suggest that he can play the course just fine, however that effort 12 months ago doesn't tell the whole story as he'd opened with a round of 75 after watching the arrival of his second child on Facetime after his wife had gone into labour while he was preparing to play here at Crans. Slattery's last European Tour win came in this very week in the calendar back in 2015 at the Russian Open and he was also 2nd in the Rolex Trophy in Switzerland back on the Challenge Tour in 2004. RESULT: T51
Finally I'm taking a punt on South African Darren Fichardt. Like Slattery, the 5-time European Tour winner finished 6th here last year, however it was achieved in an entirely different fashion as he opened his week up with rounds of 65 and 63 to sit in 2nd place heading into the weekend. A Saturday round of 74 ultimately put paid to the 43 year-old's title aspirations, however 6th represented his best finish here at Crans from 14 starts, topping his 2004 effort where he'd finished 10th. Lots of experience of this quirky track then and he's proven he can score heavily around these parts too which is no bad thing, however it's his more recent form on the Sunshine Tour that interests me most. Yes it's a step down from the European Tour, however the Centurion man has proven as recently as last year that he's capable of winning at this level when he secured the Joburg Open and aside from a few of the big names at the top of the betting, this isn't a massive amount different to that. Victory at the SA Tour Championship in March was Fichardt's 16th Sunshine Tour victory and came courtesy of a sublime all-round performance; he then came close to adding to that tally on his last start just over a week ago when a flying final round of 62 got him into a 4-way play-off at the Wild Coast Sun Challenge, eventual won by Vaughn Groenewald. He hit 87% of greens in regulation that week and if he can keep that performance with his irons running into this week then he could threaten a place at a long price. RESULT: T8
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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