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A low-key affair in Austria is our task this week ahead of next week’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills. The Shot Clock Masters is the latest innovation by the European Tour as it continues to dabble with new formats and ideas to make golf more appealing to the wider audience. Slow play is a growing bugbear of many a player and commentator alike and the purpose of the Shot Clock Masters is to take the whole conversation not just a step but a huge stride forward and formally penalise players who take too long over any of their shots. Innovative? Maybe. On topic? Absolutely. However the truth is that this week’s field is decidedly poor even by some of the lower-end European Tour standards and a combination of the timing, US Open qualifying yesterday and event format has clearly taken its toll on the quality of the attendees here this week, with more Challenge Tour than European Tour players teeing it up here.
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.
Event Format. The European Tour’s official timing policy is that the first player in any group of players is given 50 seconds to play their shot; subsequent shots from players in the same group are allotted 40 seconds. These rules will be strictly enforced at the Shot Clock Masters with any player who breaks these times receiving a 1-shot penalty and a ‘red card’ against their name on the leaderboard. The only time a player can exceed these timings is by taking one of their two 2-minute ‘time outs’ that they receive at the start of each round.
Other than that, we’re essentially playing a re-badged Lyoness Open on the same track that’s been used for the event back to 2010. Despite having 4 par-5s, winning scores don’t tend to get out of hand and although it remains to be seen exactly how many penalties will be dished out this week, I would assume that scoring will suffer fairly considerably as a result of players having to play their shots quicker, or at least being acutely aware of the fact that they need to get a wriggle on.
Diamond CC, Atzenbrugg, Near Vienna, Austria. Designer: Jeremy Pern, 2000; Par: 72; Length: 7,458 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 7,458 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.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Dylan Frittelli, 40/1; 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.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s Fahrenheit and light winds will help scoring levels this week, particularly if the forecast thunder showers do arrive and soften the greens. At the time of writing, Friday and Saturday are the most likely days to see any disruption to play although it doesn’t look particularly bad at this stage.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 8 winners at 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, Dylan Frittelli had recorded a couple of runner-up finishes in the recent past before missing two consecutive cuts prior to winning last year. 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 performance, maximising GIR and making sufficient putts on these excellent surfaces to get over the line. The Shot Clock will undoubtedly have some influence here this week, although exactly how much remains to be seen. My view is that players with experience of the track may well find the event’s format less of a hindrance as they may be able to make their mind up on shots quicker based on experience, rather than rushing and making a wrong call with an approach or putt. To that end I’ve backed a small team of players here this week who have some positive memories of Diamond CC and enough of a hint of form of late to warrant backing.
My selections are as follows:
Mikko Korhonen 2pts EW 28/1 with Coral
Two players I backed to no avail last week, Dean Burmester and Erik Van Rooyen, head this week’s betting and although running the risk of a dreaded dose of weekafteritis, I can’t back either of those at the paltry prices on offer. 14/1 and 18/1 respectively at the time of writing add little room for manoeuvre and although both players have the ability to take this event, neither has enough tangible form here at Diamond CC to convince me that they’ll take to this week’s task well enough to justify the price.
One player who has more experience of this layout than most – and positive experience at that – is Mikko Korhonen who at twice the price of the favourite offers a little bit more juice in this weak field. The Finn has impressive form of 19/45/24/9/2 here at Diamond CC and has three further top-15 finishes in Austria to his name from his Challenge Tour days to suggest that he feels right at home here. After three average attempts at this track, his 2015 effort when finishing 9th behind Chris Wood showed significant promise as he ranked 4th for GIR and 1st for Scrambling, and he improved on that 12 months ago when finishing a shot behind eventual champion Dylan Frittelli after a 4-under Sunday front 9 had put him in with a great chance of grabbing a first professional title. It wasn’t to be that week, however a bright 3rd place finish at the Tshwane Open earlier this year was encouraging and progressive form of 41st (Morocco), 26th (Sicily) and 15th (Wentworth) where he ranked 10th for ball-striking and 5th for GIR bodes well ahead of this week’s challenge. Korhonen is available at 30/1 with a few firms, however I’ll take the extra places with Coral given the vagaries of this week’s event. RESULT: Winner
Richard McEvoy 1pt EW 80/1 with Coral
Another European Tour maiden with a strong record at Diamond CC is Richard McEvoy and finishes of 3rd and 5th here over the past two years are difficult to ignore given the lack of depth in this field and the price on offer. The accurate Englishman clearly enjoys this layout from off the tee as he’s ranked 4th for Driving Accuracy on both of those attempts and, in general, the course would appear to suit his game having ranked 5th and 4th for all-round performance during those two attempts. What’s interesting with Richard is that both of those efforts have come during periods of patchy form – he’d missed 3 cuts from his previous 5 starts prior to 2016 and 4 from 5 prior to last year – so a pretty much identical form line heading into this week isn’t a major concern given what we’ve seen in the past. In fact his last start on the European Tour proper resulted in a 15th place finish at the Belgian Knockout which isn’t all that bad considering the quality of player here this week and after a fortnight off he produced a 3-under total to miss out on US Open qualifying at Walton Heath. Compared to some of his peers who have played a few weeks consecutively before yesterday’s 36 holes, he’ll still be relatively fresh and of course returning to a venue where he’s performed well in the past will be a positive for the Essex man. 5th for putting over the first two rounds is an interesting stat for a player who’s far stronger with his long game than short and if he ties that into another decent ball-striking week here in Vienna then he could go close once again. RESULT: MC
Gary Stal 1pt EW 100/1 with Coral
Of the longer prices, Matthew Baldwin and Nick Cullen caught my eye, however this isn’t a week for going overboard on selections so I’ll finish with a couple of European Tour winners looking to get back to winning ways.
First up Gary Stal who will always be etched into my memory as the player who picked up the pieces after my pick Martin Kaymer imploded in Abu Dhabi in 2015. The German had a 10-shot lead early on in the final round and the engraver would have been forgiven for starting work on adding his name to the trophy, however it was to Stal’s great credit that he continued to pressurise the leader until he eventually crumbled. Whilst a different style of track in the desert, Abu Dhabi nevertheless demands the same type of high GIR game to here which we know that Stal is capable of when at his best and further encouragement can be found in the fact that the Frenchman is already a winner in Austria from his Challenge Tour days, albeit on a different track. 5 attempts at this layout here in Vienna have produced finishes of 52/25/9/6/28 to suggest that Diamond CC suits the 26 year-old’s eye and although we’re not privy to the statistics behind his Challenge Tour efforts this season, 3 top-20 finishes in his 5 lower-tier starts suggests that he’s playing decent enough golf at that level. His closing round of 66 in Switzerland on Sunday was his best round of golf since September of last year.RESULT: MC
Steve Webster 1pt EW 150/1 with Coral
Finally I’ll take a punt on seasoned campaigner Steve Webster who has 4 top-30 finishes from 5 starts here at Diamond CC. It’s been over 10 years since Webby won the second of his two European Tour titles, however there are still signs that he’s competitive enough on occasion and a decent effort in a low-key event like this on a course he’s comfortable on isn’t out of the question in my view. The 43 year-old led for 2 days at last year’s Made In Denmark, which is another low-grade event like this, before eventually finishing 3rd, however it was his 26th place finish in Sicily on his penultimate start that really caught the eye as he led a far stronger field for GIR and hit a massive 87.5% of putting surfaces over the course of the 4 days. 12th going into Sunday, a final round of 71 saw him move backwards, however there was enough encouragement in that overall performance for me to take a chance here given the price on offer on a course where, in 2011, he ranked 1st for both Driving Accuracy and GIR. RESULT: T3
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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 11:00BST 5.6.18 but naturally subject to fluctuation.