This week sees a new tournament on the European Tour schedule, from the beautiful mountain setting of Prosper Golf Resort in the Czech Republic. The course, previously unseen in top-class tournament golf, has many positive reviews, but that doesn’t really help the cause of long-suffering punters seeking to turn around a terrible recent run of unfathomable winners. At least for a change there’s little prospect of weather delays.
Here’s what we do know about the course. It was designed by MIGUEL ANGEL JIMENEZ, and is 450 metres above sea level. Tree-lined fairways are described as ‘challenging’, and emphasising accuracy over driving distance. The greens are massive, suggesting the key to success around here will be quality approach play. With four par 5s, I suspect scoring will be pretty low and anyone hoping to win will need plenty of birdies.
It isn’t just the obvious advantage in course knowledge that points towards a bet on Jimenez. For starters, he is by far the best player in a very weak field, even more so than last week’s SAS Masters, which saw 100/1+ shots fill nine of the top ten places. This time, there are only four of the world’s top-100 on show, with 39th rated Jimenez the only member of the top-50. Then there’s some solid recent form, most recently 13th place at both the Scottish and Open Championships. A repeat of that, or a recent 4th place in Germany, would set a tough standard to beat here.
There’s also the factor of playing at altitude, where the ball travels much further through the air. Form in such distinct circumstances is not a pre-condition to success this week, but it must help. The clearest guide to altitude form lies in the annual trip to Crans Sur Sierre for the European Masters, where Jimenez has three top-10s this century, including two top-3s.
The other famous top-class altitude event was The International, played at Castle Pines, which was a regular PGA Tour fixture in the pre-Fedex Cup days. It may be useful to know then that the closest thing we have to a home favourite, ALEX CEJKA, finished runner-up in that event back in 2004. Though nominally German, Cejka was born in Czechoslovakia and has spoken about his extra motivation this week. Moreover, Cejka’s 2009 form against much stronger company in the States warrants plenty of respect. Few if any of this field would be able to boast six top-25s on the PGA Tour if they played it regularly.