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Congratulations to Steve Bamford whose 28/1 headline tip Brandt Snedeker got the job done at the Wyndham Championship on Sunday following his incredible opening round of 59. That success followed Steve's Brooks Koepka selection the week before at the US PGA Championship and he heads into this week's first leg of the PGA Tour PlayOffs looking for a personal hat-trick of wins - you can read his thoughts on The Northern Trust here.
Almost a year after Ryder Cup qualification started here in the Czech Republic, this week's event marks the penultimate event of the European qualifying campaign. Despite not winning in Sweden last week, Thorbjorn Olesen moved up into the final automatic spot courtesy of his 4th place finish in Gothernburg, however with the likes of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox and Ian Poulter playing in the US and Sergio Garcia opting not to play here after failing to make the PGA Tour PlayOffs, that gives Eddie Pepperell as the highest-scoring player on the automatic qualification bubble something to aim for here this week. Tournament favourite Thomas Pieters will likely need to win here this week and next if he's going to threaten a wildcard pick from Thomas Bjorn, however in this relatively weak field he'll fancy his chances of completing the first part of his task and the bookies have priced him accordingly at a paltry 7/1 at best at the time of writing.
Albatross Golf Resort, Prague, Czech Republic. Designer: Keith Preston, 2010; Par: 72; Length: 7,467 yards; Fairways: Bentgrass/Fescue; Rough: Rye; Greens: A1/A4 Bentgrass; Stimp: 12ft.
Course Overview. The course, which is located on the South-Western outskirts of Prague at slight altitude, is a 7,467 yard par 72 with exposed fairways and large bentgrass greens designed to cater for the tourist trade first and foremost with 4 or 5 teeing areas on each hole. Fairways are fairly generous and the main challenges with the driver are carefully placed bunkers; precision isn't the primary requirement here in my opinion, despite organisers attempting to strengthen the course by nipping in the landing areas prior to the inaugural event a few years ago.
The first and 12th are par-5s that present scoring opportunities to the bombers who can get their drives away; back-to-back par 5s around the turn are perhaps a little too long at over 600 yards each, however the par-4 6th can be played from the forward tee which brings the front edge of the green into play with the driver and the hole played 3rd easiest to par 12 months ago. Other holes on the course demand a little respect and this is a layout where a variety of playing styles may well feature at the top of Sunday's leaderboard with water is in play on 7 holes and more substantially towards the end of the 18.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's D+D Real Czech Masters that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | Tournament Top 20 Finishes | First Round Leader Stats
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Haydn Porteous, 66/1; 2016: Paul Peterson, 250/1; 2015: Thomas Pieters, 80/1; 2014: Jamie Donaldson, 12/1. 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 Prague is here. Hot and sunny on Thursday with temperatures peaking at 90 Fahrenheit, however that's the end of the good news as breezier, cloudier and potentially wetter weather is expected to take over from Friday onwards with temperatures taking a marked drop by 20 degrees or more by the time we hit Sunday.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the 4 winners here since 2014 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
An exposed track with fairly wide fairways and large greens doesn't give away many clues with even the more wayward players hitting reasonable numbers on both counts, however to score here a tidy enough long game which maximises GIR is probably key. Scrambling isn't particularly difficult either so it's likely to come down to greens hit and putts made this week, however with cooler temperatures and the potential for rain from Friday onwards, the longer hitters may well stand the best chance of scoring around here this year.
Despite not being the longest of players from off the tee, only one player bettered Paul Peterson's 8-under total on the par 5s here in 2016 and he made a total of 21 birdies and just 6 bogeys on the week overall. Similarly Thomas Pieters and Jamie Donaldson both excelled on the par 5s when they won - both led the field in that respect in their winning efforts - and attacking the birdie holes whilst defending on the trickier par 4s and the tougher par 3s looks the best method to getting into contention around these parts.
Last year was a bit trickier with cooler temperatures which led to Haydn Porteous winning with a 6-under total on the par-5s and a total of 21 birdies and an eagle offset by 8 bogeys and a double for his -13 overall total. The weather forecast for this week is almost a carbon copy of 12 months ago with conditions deteriorating after a warm and sunny start on Thursday and a long course played in cooler conditions over the weekend may well produce a similar style of winner 12 months on.
Jamie Donaldson arrived at the Albatross Golf Resort 4 years ago with 4-event form of MC/MC/37/24, albeit the final 3 events were Major/WGC/Major; Thomas Pieters was similarly non-descript with incoming form of MC/60/33/35 before winning here and then again on his next start in Holland a fortnight later. 250/1 shock winner Paul Peterson was playing on the Asian Tour predominantly alongside the occasional co-sanctioned event and although he'd recorded a 3rd place finish the previous month at the Queen's Cup, his efforts when competing at this level were far from encouraging. Of the 4 winners, Haydn Porteous had shown a little more form with 11th at Sun City on the Sunshine Tour and 6th in Denmark the week before being his 2 most recent strokeplay efforts, however with Total Driving ranks of 8th and 4th from those two outings it was fairly clear that his long game was pretty sharp.
With only 4 years' of history here at the Albatross Golf Resort to review, the course form of our winners (or lack of prior to winning) is tenuous to say the least and basing any decisions solely on what's happened here since 2014 may well be a mistake. Haydn Porteous is a case in point as he'd finished 60th in 2014 and missed the cut in 2016 before winning here and I'd favour current form over course form here this week personally.
My selections are as follows:
Matt Wallace 2pts EW 28/1 with Get a £30 welcome bonus* for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 places, 1/5 odds)
The motivation for Thomas Pieters and Eddie Pepperell to win this week and edge a little closer to a Ryder Cup spot is clear to be seen and undoubtedly motivation to succeed will be high, however I don't think that Matt Wallace has given up all hope of a captain's pick just yet and given his phenomenal career win rate, who's to say that he doesn't throw his name into the hat this week by winning here? From his 68 starts at all levels, the Englishman has 9 wins and 2 of those have come on the European Tour over the past 6 months, adding to his Open de Portugal victory last May which kicked off his European Tour account following a prolific spell on the Alps Tour.
43rd on debut here 12 months ago doesn't overly concern me as a negative given what we saw from Haydn Porteous last year as he overcame a poor course record; that result followed an effort the week before in Denmark where he'd have expended a lot of mental and physical energy from a contending position, eventually finishing 6th. This time he arrives fresh from a week's rest following the US PGA Championship where he undoubtedly had the time of his life judging by his twitter updates, capped of course by his ace at the 16th on the Saturday. 19th place overall was the 28 year-old's best finish at a Major Championship and halted a run of missed cuts following his BMW International Open victory in June - as we've seen before, he has the talent to turn that spark of form into another contending performance or even a victory and I certainly don't make him around 4 times less likely to win this than favourite Thomas Pieters. RESULT: T36
Haydn Porteous 1pt EW 50/1 with Get a £30 welcome bonus* for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 places, 1/5 odds)
It's rare that I consider backing a defending champion given the additional demands on their time and also the mental challenge posed by being the 'man to beat', however I make an exception this week. 12 months ago I backed Haydn Porteous here in Prague despite course form of 60/MC largely because I felt that the layout should suit his big-hitting style of play, despite a couple of disappointing attempts here at the Albatross. Solid rounds of 70,69 and 67 put him in position and a closing round of 69 was good enough for a 2-stroke victory over Lee Slattery as the South African captured his 2nd European Tour title. His first victory at the Joburg Open the previous January gave us a few clues that he could handle a long course with a little altitude to consider and the 24 year-duly proved that link to be valid, however it was what he did immediately prior to his victory here that really caught my eye. After a run of 10 events where he finished no better than 32nd and missed as many cuts as he made, he found some confidence in his long game on a rare trip home to the Sunshine Tour where he finished 11th at the long, altitude track at Sun City. A relatively early exit followed at the Paul Lawrie Match Play, however his next strokeplay start produced a tie for 6th in Denmark where he ranked 4th for Total Driving, 5th for Ball-Striking and 1st in the All-Round category. That form continued here in the Czech Republic and he duly obliged.
12 months on and we have the potential for a perfect storm in my view. There's been no competitive trip home this year to break the sequence of mid-division finishes and missed cuts, however a holiday in Mauritius appears to have done the trick as his long game picked up immeasurably last week in Sweden where, like last year, he finished 6th in his warm-up for this event. 1st for Total Driving, 1st for Ball-Striking and 1st for All-round last week was again an eye-opener given how he'd been performing up to that point in 2018 and he heads back to Prague with a positive mindset to accompany his fond memories of this event. The conditions are set to be almost identical to last year and with the experience he gleaned from his maiden European Tour title defence in Joburg last year, where he put himself in with a chance heading into the final round of the reduced 54-hole event in 5th place, I see no reason to oppose him at the price on offer simply because he's the defending champion. RESULT: T36
Matthieu Pavon 1pt EW 66/1 with Get a £30 welcome bonus* for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 places, 1/5 odds)
JC Ritchie 1pt EW 100/1 with Get a £30 welcome bonus* for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 places, 1/5 odds)
A couple of long-hitting European Tour maidens complete my team this week. First up Matthieu Pavon who's impressed at times of late and may well find that the track here in Prague suits his game on debut. 25th at the US Open was the best performance by any of this week's attendees who took part that week and the 25 year-old has shown snippets of form since with a 10th place finish at the Irish Open where he led at the halfway mark, plus he opened the week after in Scotland with a pair of 68s before slowly drifting away. Both of those events were in far loftier company - as was the US Open of course - and after a few weeks off he eased himself back into competitive action last week at the Nordea Masters with a tie for 29th which has kept him largely off of the bookmakers' radars for this week. An opening 66 in Gothenburg and a closing 68 were noteworthy, as was his putting which at 1.59 putts per GIR which was his best recorded figures as a professional golfer. Putting isn't generally his game though and if he can couple that with the kind of Total Driving performances we saw last year that produced finishes of 3rd at the Open de Portugal, 6th at the Nordea Masters and 3rd at the Scottish Open, then he could well reward each-way backers here this week. RESULT: MC
Finally I'm taking a punt on the relatively unknown South African JC Ritchie. 92 starts as a professional have produced 2 wins so far - both on the Sunshine Tour - however it's fairly clear that his game is on a sharp upward trajectory right now. The 24 year-old is attached to Ernie Els' Copperleaf GC and the long track there, which is played with some altitude and bentgrass greens, will have provided good preparation for this week's event as he attempts it for the first time. Long, straight hitting is the key to Ritchie's game and that could well translate into a surprisingly lofty finish for a player with very limited starts on the European Tour, however given that he's risen nearly 400 spots in the OWGR since the start of the year and currently resides inside the top-200 for the first time in his career after finishes of 1st and 3rd over the past fortnight in his homeland, it shouldn't be too much of a shock really. 3rd at this season's BMW SA Open was impressive given that he produced a pair of 65s over the weekend and 13th at the Tshwane Open a few weeks later could have been so much better had he not produced a 3rd round of 74 which was flanked by rounds of 68, 67 and 67. RESULT: T24
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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