OMEGA EUROPEAN MASTERS
Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland is the setting for the first scoring event in the race to qualify for next year?s European Ryder Cup team. This short track, played in the mountains where the rarefied air makes the ball travel further than usual, is a longstanding fixture on the European Tour, and is a venue where previous course experience and form is of the utmost importance.
Previous leaderboards show two clear trends. Firstly, Crans always seems to produce a top-class winner. The last five have all been either world class or at least leading lights on the European Tour – Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Bradley Dredge and Robert Karlsson. Secondly, there have been regular good showings from ultra-attacking, massive hitters – Emanuelle Canonica for example. The key to good scoring at Crans is maximising the potential of the four par-5s and three short par-4s. Long-hitters are further aided by the lack of penal rough, with the course?s primary defences being firm greens, which are very tough to hold. The keys then are controlled iron play, distance off the tee and good scrambling skills. No wonder the cream generally rises to the top here.
All of this week?s four selections have good previous course form and are top-class at their best. Yet surprisingly none of NICLAS FASTH, PAUL CASEY, MICHAEL CAMPBELL and ALEX CEJKA have ever won at Crans. Fasth rates one of my most confident bets of the year at 16/1. His form this summer has been consistently out of the top drawer, particularly a win in Germany and 4th at the US Open. Its seven years since Fasth played here, but his form back then is most interesting. When 4th in 2000 and even more so when 12th in 1997, very few had even heard of the Swede, who was little more than a Challenge Tour regular. Needless to say he?s come a long way since and is ranked several hundred places higher.
Casey has strong course form credentials, finishing in the top-10 on all three visits to the course. On the world scene, he would be the one to beat though we have to overlook a shocking 80 in Sunday?s final round at Gleneagles. That weak round is the only logical reason he can be backed at 16/1 here, and given his suitability for the course we should snap up this over-reaction.
Having been mired in a slump for the best part of a year, former US Open champion Campbell may now be ready to win again on a course to which he is well suited. This notoriously streaky player managed three consecutive top-10s here from the turn of the century and has looked to be coming back to his best in recent weeks, particularly in Holland a fortnight ago. At anywhere near his best, 40/1 would be absolutely massive.
Cejka could also be interesting on a rare European outing. The German has shown his best form for a couple of years in recent appearances on the PGA Tour, ranking 6th for the crucial greens in regulation stat over the last three months. Good form usually transfers positively from the US to Europe, and there?s certainly no worries as far as the course is concerned. Between 1998 and 2002, Cejka finished in the top-6 three times at Crans.
Following the cut after Monday?s Deutsche Bank Championship, the field for the third play-off event is down to 70 minus a few withdrawals of varying importance. The Fedex Cup race now looks set for a cracking finish after a resurgent Phil Mickelson took top honours in Boston. He now holds a 2,000 point lead over Steve Stricker, and more importantly almost 5,000 over Tiger Woods. However, Mickelson?s late withdrawal here has brought several other dangerous players back into the reckoning. With 9,000 to this week?s winner and 10,600 to next week?s Tour champion, much can change.
Cog Hill has been the long-term PGA Tour venue of the Western Open, a tournament that has always managed to attract Tiger Woods and other top names without hosting anything as strong as this. Tiger has won three times from nine attempts and finished second in both the last two years, so obviously has an outstanding chance as usual. He played well enough to win on Monday, without holing very much and giving away too much ground on the first day. 6/4 is plenty short enough though, so this definitely is one of the weeks where it?s worth waiting for a better price in-running. Woods drifted to double figures over the first two days in Boston before storming back into contention.
It is still preferable to play the ?Without Woods? market again this week. This looks wide open, with doubts surrounding several of the market leaders. Ernie Els has looked back to somewhere very close to his best lately, but is at a serious disadvantage making his course debut. Jim Furyk has a course record to rival Woods, winning in 2005 and posting a top-7 finish in seven of the last eight years. Furyk however, has been well below his best on recent starts whilst carrying an injury. Vijay Singh is struggling, Sergio Garcia simply unreliable.
Steve Stricker has fond memories of Cog Hill though, winning 11 years ago and finishing 5th in 1998. Even during Stricker?s long spell in the
doledrums, he tended to reserve his best form for this course. If there?s any energy left in the tank, he should contend once again. At just 18/1 though, I?d rather back him to win the Fedex Cup at double figures on Betfair.
I suppose there is a slight doubt over JUSTIN ROSE having missed last week?s cut, but I?m prepared to forgive him one bad week as he?d been so consistent previously. For my money, he is the best player in the world yet to win on the PGA Tour and will deliver very soon. The key statistics at Cog Hill are greens in regulation, scrambling and putting. Taken across all three statistics, only Tiger Woods has been stronger than Rose this summer.
Two players hinting at a return to their best form last week were SEAN O?HAIR and ROBERT ALLENBY. Six out of O?Hair?s last seven rounds have been below 70, earning finishes of 25th and 9th in the two play-off events so far. It?s only a couple of months since O?Hair was starting at much shorter odds than this, and regularly being hyped as an imminent multiple winner. I think it?s fair to put his summer decline down to the inconsistency of youth, and expect to see him winning again soon. Allenby won here in 2000, and has made the top-11 three times since. He too enjoyed his best payday for a while in Boston, playing some cracking stuff from tee to green to finish 8th.
As the previous event finished later than usual on Monday, missing the cut may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for otherwise in-form players. Besides Rose, STEWART CINK and CARL PETTERSSON were also previously in good touch, and both this pair have sound course form credentials. Cink finished 4th last year, and Pettersson has made the top-7 here in two of the last three years.
OMEGA EUROPEAN MASTERS
4pts ew NICLAS FASTH @ 16/1 (GENERAL)
3pts ew PAUL CASEY @ 16/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew MICHAEL CAMPBELL @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew ALEX CEJKA @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
BETTING W/O TIGER WOODS
2.5pts ew JUSTIN ROSE @ 20/1 (STAN JAMES)
1.5pts ew SEAN O?HAIR @ 40/1 (BETFRED, STAN JAMES)
1pt ew ROBERT ALLENBY @ 50/1 (STAN JAMES)
1pt ew STEWART CINK @ 50/1 (BETFRED)
1pt ew CARL PETTERSSON @ 66/1 (STAN JAMES)
2006/2007 STATS: -57pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts
ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED
VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1
2pts PAUL CASEY @ 80/1