While Swedish golf has continued to progress over the past decade, surprisingly there?s been no Swedish or Scandinavian winner of this event since 1998. This time though, the home challenge in Stockholm is surely the strongest ever. With this year?s renewal unfortunately placed immediately following the USPGA the absence of top stars, including Sweden?s finest Stenson, Fasth and Pettersson, is notable. Nevertheless, six of the first eight in the betting are Swedes, headed by Peter Hanson, Robert Karlsson and that last home winner of 1998, Jesper Parnevik.
Unfortunately we have no previous course form to work from at the new venue of Arlandastad, but it is still expected to present another good test, if a slightly different one to Barseback. There looks to plenty of birdie potential on a short, flat course with fairly generous fairways. Alternatively, dense, penal rough and numerous hazards wait to penalise inaccuracy. Arlandastad is also very exposed to the wind, creating what has been described as a ‘Scottish feel? despite being parkland rather than links. The crucial requirement here then would appear to be accuracy from tee to green, plus the ability to cope well in windy conditions.
Backing players after a Major is always a dangerous strategy, even more so this week. Following one of the most gruelling weeks of the year, plus travel and potential jetlag, those who made the cut at Southern Hills will have their work cut out maintaining their best form. For this reason, I have to overlook the very obvious claims of Peter Hanson and Simon Dyson plus defending champion Robert Karlsson. It?s certainly hard to see John Daly carry his USPGA form over to Sweden, especially on this type of short course. A stronger US challenge will probably come from fellow PGA Tour veterans Jeff Sluman and Corey Pavin.
Better to go with players who come here fresh from a week off. The most in-form Swede here is probably PELLE EDBERG, who has just enjoyed the best month of his golfing life. A superb July included 3rd place at the K Club, 4th at Loch Lomond and 12th in the Open at Carnoustie. Three very different tests, but all challenging golf courses amongst world-class fields. A repeat of any of those three efforts would make him very hard to beat.
Another Scandinavian with strong claims is MIKO ILONEN. The talented Finn has remained in good form throughout summer, finishing in the top-15 on four of his last six outings. Like Edberg, these were amongst much stronger company in big money UK and Ireland events. He looks well capable of landing a second win of the year, to follow up on a breakthrough victory in Indonesia.
SIMON KHAN has been striking the ball consistently all summer, giving himself plenty of chances to win in the process. He is yet to really produce the goods on a Sunday, but if he keeps producing this sort of consistent golf a second victory will surely arrive soon. Khan looks particularly well suited to this week?s demands, having ranked in the top-10 for greens in regulation on five of his last seven starts.
If there is a ‘Scottish feel’ to the venue, it could work to the advantage of THOMAS LEVET. The resurgent Frenchman is a former Scottish Open winner, and also lost an Open play-off at Muirfield. As with Khan, Arlandastad may present optimum conditions for Levet. If hitting greens in regulation is the key requirement, there have been few better in that department in recent weeks than this former Ryder Cup player.
Another Swede with strong credentials this week is ALEXANDER NOREN. A product of the high standard US collegiate system, Noren has been one of the brightest recruits to the European Tour in 2007. 5th last time out in Germany was his best 72-hole effort so far, but he also led going into the final round in Portugal earlier in March. He is one of the few to know this course well, finishing 9th in a Challenge Tour event at Arlandastad in 2005.
Though none of the world stars are on show this week, there?s no disguising the importance of this event for the players. The new Fedex Cup schedule makes this the last event before the new, lucrative play-offs, which start next week with the Barclays Championship. A good week is essential for everyone, whether they?re scrambling to make the top 144 of the Fedex Cup points list and qualify, or to further their position on the points list and improve their chances of making the second cut.
The venue is Forest Oaks, a regular PGA Tour fixture over many years of the Greensboro Classic at various stages of the year. Despite an earlier slot in the schedule, most of the normal rules apply as previously it was a big autumn event for those desperate to save their card. The profile of previous winners here suggests we?re looking for experienced players who?ve won before, if not in the US then at least on another Tour.
Driving distance is not very important at Forest Oaks, rather hitting greens in regulation and smart approach play to large, tiered greens. A good putting week on bent grass greens is also essential with a low winning total certain. Course form is perhaps even more relevant than usual.
Again, I?m loath to back players who made the weekend at Southern Hills. Under different circumstances, I could well have backed Lucas Glover or Joe Durant on this course but not after that exhausting weekend. Defending champion Davis Love is too inconsistent to trust these days, though he is without doubt the biggest name on show.
With course specialist and twice defending champion KJ Choi withdrawing from the event, the man to beat could be JONATHAN BYRD. Byrd had finished in the top-12 three times at Forest Oaks including twice in the top-5 since 2002. Winner of the John Deere Classic last month, he followed up with a decent 23rd place in British Open. Crucially given this week?s demands, Byrd has been putting particularly well in recent weeks.
Swedish pair FREDRIK JACOBSEN and CARL PETTERSSON both enjoyed a weekend off whilst their peers toiled in the Tulsa heat. Again, both rank very highly in the recent putting stats. Jacobsen?s all-round game has looked in good shape all summer, including two recent top-10 finishes. He remains one of the best players yet to win on the PGA Tour, especially given numerous victories in Europe.
There are no worries on that score with Pettersson, winning in each of the previous two years. He?s played moderately well in world-class company on his last two starts at the Open and WGC-Bridgestone, but prior to that had looked a likely winner. Most interestingly, he has topped the putting statistics in two of his last three events.
The best value outsider for me is BOB ESTES at 100/1. Estes fits all the right criteria of a Forest Oaks winner. He?s an experienced former winner with good course form, finishing 3rd and 13th on his last two appearances here, back in 1998 and 2000. In recent weeks his putting statistics have been excellent too, so there?s much to point to a good week.
2pts ew PELLE EDBERG @ 28/1 (CORAL, STAN JAMES)
1.5pts ew MIKO ILONEN @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew SIMON KHAN @ 33/1 (GENERAL, 35/1 TOTE)
1.5pts ew THOMAS LEVET @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew ALEXANDER NOREN @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew JONATHAN BYRD @ 25/1(GENERAL, 28/1 VCBET)
1.5pts ew FREDRIK JACOBSEN @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew CARL PETTERSSON @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
0.5pts ew BOB ESTES @ 100/1 (GENERAL)
2006/2007 STATS: -68pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts
ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED
VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1