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Omega European Masters Preview

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This week the European Tour heads to one of its most coveted stops, Crans-sur-Sierre a course right in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Such is the stunning venue, the Omega European Masters tends to attract a good quality of field, even in this September slot.

Of course you won’t be getting any players involved in the FedEx Cup play-offs on the PGA Tour over for the week, but there are some star quality all the same.

Headlining the field this week is two-time European Masters winner, Alex Noren who is the favourite to land the trophy again. Joining Noren is Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrell Hatton, Bernd Wiesberger and Matthew Fitzpatrick amongst others.

Despite the absence of one of the real stars of world golf, this is a decent field. You do of course get the likes of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose over for both the Race to Dubai play-offs and the middle-eastern swing, with the latter also enticing some PGA Tour stars, but as regular season events go this is one of the better.

The Course and what it takes to win the Omega European Masters

Crans-sur-Sierre, 6,848 Yards, Par 70

Given its short length it is no surprise that the onus this week is on accuracy as opposed to distance and the key stat this week is without doubt Greens in Regulation.

Of the last 11 winners here, seven have ranked inside the top-2 for Greens in Regulation and whilst last year’s champion, Alex Noren ranked just 26th,  runner-up Scott Hend ranked 2nd and 3rd placed Andrew Johnston ranked 4th.  David Drysdale who led the field, hitting 83.3% of greens finished in T12.

As the course is short and played at altitude, no one player is going to be beaten before the off just because they can’t hit it far off the tee, so it really does depend on your performance on the week. Generally if you rank in high in greens hit, you should have a chance to contend here.

Scrambling will be another key stat this week. You are going to miss some of these small greens, and if you are to do so, a sharp short game is going to be required. Of the last five winners, three of them have ranked inside the top-2 for Scrambling so that is another essential stat to look at this week.

Course form doesn’t look essential around Crans-sur-Sierre but course experience certainly does. Noren, Richie Ramsay and David Lipsky have all won this event without posting anything better than Ramsay’s T34 finish between them prior to their win, however what they did all have is two starts here at this course and that experience looks necessary.

Other winners in recent years have generally impressed around here before getting their win. Danny Willett and Miguel Angel Jimenez both had a pair of top-5 finishes around Crans before getting their win, whilst Thomas Bjorn finished 15th before getting two wins in three years at this spectacular course. Whilst I wouldn’t say it was a horses for courses event, I do think it pays to have at least played round here.

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Without further ado here are my picks for the Omega European Masters.

Tom Lewis 80/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w:

It seems like forever ago that Tom Lewis got his first professional win at the Portugal Masters in 2011, the same year he burst onto the scene at the Open Championship as an amateur. Since that impressive 2011 season, where he was named European Tour Rookie of the Year, Lewis has seemingly struggled for consistency, something he still has time to improve on.

Still just 26, there is every reason to believe the Englishman has his best years ahead of him and could yet turn into the player everyone expected him to be, after that memorable week at Royal St. George’s.

He has reminded us of his clear ability on several occasions since his first win, especially when 3rd at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2013 and 4th at the Shenzhen International two years later.

Last week, Lewis showed us a glimpse of this ability once again as he finished 3rd last week at the Czech Masters, ranking 6th in Greens in Regulation in the process. Lewis currently ranks 11th in Greens in Regulation according to the European Tour site this season, something that suggests he should enjoy the test this week, especially after his showing last week. On cbssports.com, Lewis is ranked 4th in Greens in Regulation, but both having hitting 73% of greens which is mightily impressive.

Three starts in this event have yielded two missed cuts but he also managed a T15 finish in 2013, and ranked 12th in Greens in Regulation on the week. If he can hit as many greens as he did last week, there is good chance he can post his career-best finish here in Switzerland.

Lewis started slowly at this event in 2013, opening 71-70 but a pair of 67’s over the weekend saw him climb the leaderboard. Should he be quicker off the mark this time around, which he hopefully will be due to the momentum from last week, there is every hope he can finish inside the top-5 for back-to-back weeks.

In 2015 Lewis opened with a decent 68 before a second-round 74 stopped him in his tracks and saw him miss the weekend, so even on a bad week here he has shown some liking for the course.

With some better form behind him in recent weeks, I see no reason why Lewis can’t post his career-best finish at this event and contend for that second European Tour win, which has eluded him for so long. At 80/1 we are taking a chance on a player that has played some good golf in recent weeks and clearly put it all together last time out, who also has the potential to do a lot more in the game.

Alexander Bjork 110/1 (Bet365) 0.5pt e/w:

Alexander Bjork has put together a solid season so far, posting top-5’s in South Africa (Tshwane Open) and France (Open de France), whilst also finishing inside the top-15 at the Abu Dhabi Championship, Shenzhen International, BMW PGA at Wentworth and the Lyoness Open in nearby, Austria.

Whilst he has not played great since that T3 in France back in July, he has now made the weekend in his last three consecutive starts, after missing a couple of cuts either side of the Scottish Open so may well be back on track.

One of those missed cuts came at the Open Championship, which would have been a whole new experience for him and as such doesn’t worry me too much.

He was T25 last week in Prague and he can improve on that this week, despite making his debut at this course. Generally debutants are a no-no for me here but such was Bjork’s impressive form earlier in the year, I think he looks a good price in a decent-but-not-great field.

According to the European Tour website he is 11th in Scrambling whilst cbssports.com have him in 2nd, either way it is again impressive. He also hits his fair share of Greens in Regulation too, ranking 59th on the European Tour website/ 20th on cbssports.com. Again whilst the rankings don’t, the percentages match up confirming he has been hitting 69% of greens on Tour this year which is plenty. If he does miss greens, which he did last week (55th in GIR) he can at least rely on his short game to get him out of trouble here.

Despite being a different test altogether, finishes of 12th and 23rd at the Rolex Trophy on the Challenge Tour over the last two years can only be seen as a bonus as they are too held in Switzerland.

Pontus Widegren 175/1 (Bet365) 0.5pt e/w:

Another Swede and another debutant, this time in the shape of Pontus Widegren who finished 3rd last week with Tom Lewis in Prague.

His ability to hit greens last week (10th in GIR) helped him on his way to his best result on the European Tour and should serve him well this week. The European Tour has him ranked 62nd in Greens in Regulation whilst cbssports.com has him at 22nd, either way he is hitting 69% of greens this season.

Widegren also looks to be playing well when missing the greens this season, ranking 9th in Scrambling according to cbssports.com or 29th on the European Tour website, getting up-and-down just over 60% of the time.

After missing four straight cuts on the European Tour earlier in the season, Widegren has now made his last four and will look to continue that at a course that plays to his strengths.

His form on the European Tour is trending in a great direction, with his last four finishes reading 59-37-23-3 starting at the BMW International Open.

It looks like confidence is starting to settle in and if that is the case, he has already proven he can contend and will look to make the step up once again, in a decent field.

His T3 last week was not his first experience in contention. Widegren held a one-shot lead at the co-sanctioned, Madeira Islands Open, going into the final day, but eventually had to settle for a 4th place finish. These experiences add up and if he can take what he has learned from them and improve because of it, there is a good chance he can get a win at this level.

175/1 about a player who finished 3rd last week already looks fair, without factoring in his good GIR and Scrambling stats and trending form. Looking at his efforts so far in his rookie year, there is a good scope for improvement and a good week here will go a long way to making that happen next season.

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At 130th and 156th respectively in the Race to Dubai rankings, both Lewis and Widegren needs big weeks to move towards the magic top-100 number, which secures their playing privileges for next season. A good finish in this event, at this time of the season is integral and with the pair finishing 3rd last week, this test might well have come at an ideal time for both.

Total Points staked this week: 3

 

Profit/Loss for 2017: -27