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After an exciting finish in the Czech Republic where 66/1 selection Haydn Porteous overturned a 2-shot deficit to beat Lee Slattery, we remain on European soil this week as we make our annual trip to Crans-sur-Sierre golf club in the Swiss Alps for the Omega European Masters.
As always we have a fairly strong field that's assembled here by European Tour standards with defending champion Alex Noren rating as the 10/1 favourite ahead of 12/1 shot Tommy Fleetwood; Bernd Wiesberger, Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick also add a bit of quality to the field alongside recent European Tour winners Jordan Smith, Adrian Otaegui, Julian Suri and Haydn Porteous. A decent prize fund of €2.7m for this event is no doubt partially responsible for the improvement in quality of field over recent weeks, however for many players this is a highlight of the season as they set foot on this beautiful piece of land in southern Switzerland.
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 and length off the tee hasn't been a particular advantage over the years. 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 195 birdies and 9 eagles recorded there 12 months ago. Back-to-back reachable par 5s at the 14th and 15th reaped over 400 birdies and 37 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, however this isn't a course that overly rewards that style of play and generally I'd err on the side of high GIR players and/or decent short game exponents.
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. 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 6 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Crans Montana is here. A reasonable start to the tournament with pleasant enough temperatures (low-60s Fahrenheit) and mostly sunny weather over the first two days before rain sets in over the weekend and the temperature drops markedly. Sunday could be a particularly cold and unpleasant day which the less hardy golfers might not find to their liking.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 7 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 last year. Only Garcia in 2005 really displayed a more balanced pattern of stats on the week.
Incoming Form: 5 of the last 7 winners here arrived with a top-6 finish recorded in their previous event and all had a top-10 finish in their last 6 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):
Those with either a high GIR game or excellent short game can succeed here and it's prudent to have a mix of the two types of player in the team this week in my view. 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.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
Defending champion Alex Noren heads the betting this week at around the 10/1 mark and it would be no surprise to see the Swede continue his prolific winning form as he looks to make his first Ryder Cup team while he's at the peak of his powers. Defending isn't easy though - he missed the cut on his last attempt at that feat in Scotland a couple of months back - and having got married recently his focus will have clearly been elsewhere. Tommy Fleetwood rates a 12/1 shot and at 16th in the OWGR only Noren outranks the Southport man in that respect, however since winning the Open de France his focus has been mainly on the Majors and WGCs and although he could hit the ground running here, I'd like to have seen some more positive form in recent times, although finishes of 27th, 28th and 61st in elite company is far from disastrous. To be honest, I've struggled to find a compelling enough reason to back any of those in the top dozen or so in the betting and in the end I've decided to stick with Paul Dunne who regular readers will know that I've been backing a lot of late as I feel he's very close to a breakthrough.
14th in Denmark when I backed him last was a little frustrating as opening rounds of 67/68 had put the Irishman in the penultimate Saturday group alongside SSP Chawrasia, however it didn't happen over a low-scoring weekend as he struggled to find enough fairways to put himself in scoring positions frequently enough to ultimately contend. We're still learning what makes this talented young man tick and for me this week may set up well for him on two counts, despite having missed the cut here on debut 12 months ago. The dimensions of this mountainside layout mean that Paul's driver - which is the root cause of most of his poor holes - can be left in the bag far more often than normal and instead the rest of his game, which can be sublime from the 2nd shot and in, can take over. Despite hitting just 46% of fairways in Denmark, Dunne still managed to find nigh-on three-quarters of Greens In Regulation and he's one of the very best players on the European Tour on and around the greens which is a viable route to success around these parts.
The 24 year-old came closest to winning on the European Tour at the Trophee Hassan II earlier this season when losing out in a play-off to Edoardo Molinari and although this layout is far shorter, it does share some important characteristics with its tree-lined fairways, upturned saucer-style greens and bent/poa putting surfaces and with his game in decent shape I'd expect the Irishman to contend this week having garnered a little bit of knowledge of the course from last year's brief effort. Cold and damp weather over the weekend will be off-putting to many, however the Dublin-born swinger is more equipped than most in those conditions and that could be a pivotal factor at the business end of proceedings. RESULT: T70
In my preamble I pointed out that 5 of the last 7 winners here at Crans have finished inside the top-6 on their previous start and backing a couple of players who produced lofty finishes recently isn't a bad play in my opinion.
A bogey-free closing round of 67 catapulted Tom Lewis up to 3rd place in the Czech Republic last week and whilst a 10-under total always looked unlikely to trouble the two leaders as they battled it out for the title, it was nevertheless a decent effort from the Englishman having opened the week with a round of 75. The 26 year-old produced an excellent set of statistics on the week, ranking 6th for Total Driving, 3rd for Ball-Striking, 6th for Putting Average and 1st for the All-Round categories and with his overall game in excellent shape I see no reason why he shouldn't keep that level of performance going for another week here. Despite banking over €50k last week from his effort, it's still only half of the job done if the Welwyn Garden City lad is to retain the card he earned through Q-School last autumn as at 130th in the Race To Dubai he'll need another similar finish over the next few weeks if he's going to take the easier route to playing on the European Tour in 2018. Last week's effort bodes well though, as does as a 15th place finish here at Crans in 2013 where back-to-back weekend rounds of 67 gave him a decent finishing position having made the cut on the number. It's very nearly 6 years now since Lewis got his European Tour career off to a flying start with victory at the Portugal Masters - with his all-round game in good shape perhaps this week is as good a chance as any for him to add to his tally. RESULT: T20
If it's hot incoming form that we're looking for then few here can boast better than Chris Paisley over the past few weeks. A 5th place finish at the Paul Lawrie Match Play translates to a quarter-final appearance - he eventually bowed out to Alejandro Canizares after some excellent golf had seen him beat Scott Jamieson, Nathan Kimsey and Ashun Wu to secure a place in Saturday afternoon's matches. 3rd the week after when a 200/1 shot at the Made In Denmark was even more impressive as it equalled his career-best finish on the European Tour and in the context of this week featured a field-leading 69.6% in scrambling combined with a typically strong performance with the putter at 1.67 putts per GIR. The short setup here won't be a hindrance to the Englishman who's average in length from off the tee and instead his excellent short game should be the key to success this week should he get into contention. 44th here in 2015 is his best effort on this beautiful yet quirky track and is sandwiched in-between two missed cuts, however neither Richie Ramsay nor David Lipsky arrived here with much course form before winning and the fact he's played the track a few times will undoubtedly help - indeed he ranked 6th for putting when recording his best effort around these parts so it's not all doom and gloom. Hailing from the North-East he'll be more equipped than many for the chilly weather as it comes in over the weekend and while he's in decent nick I see no reason to drop him from the team here this week at a healthy price. RESULT: MC
A couple of longer-priced players also caught my eye this week and I'll give both the benefit of the doubt given the odds on offer.
First up Matteo Manassero who's been a far more regular name on leaderboards over the past 12 months or so and given he produced a decent top-10 finish last week on a track which favours players with a bit more power to their game, I suspect that his game's in pretty good nick. It's easy to forget that the Italian is still only 24 years of age as he seems to have been on the circuit forever - certainly long enough to have made a significant impact, lost his form and now seemingly finding it again. The 4-time European Tour winner hasn't taken home any silverware since his triumph at Wentworth in 2013 and attempts to find the extra few yards that he felt would propel him to superstardom ultimately resulted in a loss of form and confidence, however there are certainly signs of late that he's finding his game once again. Wins in Spain, Malaysia, Singapore and in Surrey were fuelled by an accurate ball-striking game that was often complimented by a red-hot putter and it's been interesting to see both elements splutter into life at various points in the recent past without him being able to combine both elements on any given week. 3rd at last year's Scottish Open when he hit 84.7% of greens in regulation was the first sign we'd seen for some time that he was still competitive at this level and 3rd again at this year's Indian Open was also encouraging as he ranked inside the top dozen for driving accuracy, GIR and scrambling. He found the putter on his next outing in Morocco with a 1.64 average (finished 48th overall), however it wasn't until last week in the Czech Republic that he got close to repeating that level. Combined with a top-10 performance in terms of GIR, his 1.69 putts per GIR effort (3rd in the field including a number of nicely holed putts) was good enough for 9th place overall and he returns to Crans in improving form knowing that this quirky course suits his game as he finished 3rd here in 2010 a few weeks before securing his maiden victory at the Castello Masters. RESULT: MC
Finally, another player who struggles with the dimensions of many of the modern-day golf courses is Marcus Fraser and, like Manassero, he could appreciate this shorter setup this week. 2nd behind Richie Ramsay here in 2012 is the Australian's best effort around these parts, however a couple of top-20 finishes to compliment that effort suggests that was no fluke and further tangible form at the Hong Kong Open, which is played on another short, fiddly track is interesting as he's finished inside the top-10 there on five of his nine starts. His win in Malaysia last February was on another short, tree-lined layout and although his form has been a little patchy since which means he's unlikely to feature near the top of many statistics for the season, at the price he's an interesting punt given that he clearly can still compete at this level when the course suits. 5th at the Olympics, where for a time it looked like he might produce a shock victory after an opening round of 63, is better form than many of the players here will produce at any point in their careers and best finishes of 3rd at the Victorian PGA Championship, 5th at the Rocco Forte Open and a decent performance at the Paul Lawrie Match Play where he beat Gregory Bourdy and Max Kieffer before coming unstuck against eventual semi-finalist Johan Carlsson suggests to me that his game isn't in as bad a shape as the 7 missed cuts in his last 9 starts suggests. If Fraser does do well it will undoubtedly be due to his short-game skills and putting - with a number of winners here in the past using that route to success it wouldn't surprise me to see the 3-time European Tour winner outplay his odds this week. RESULT: T20