18+ | BeGambleAware.org
Matt Wallace E/W22/1
Sami Valimaki E/W66/1
Ewen Ferguson E/W66/1
John Catlin E/W125/1
Free of being the understudy to the Tour Championship, the much-loved European Masters takes pride of place in the golf calendar this week.
Played at Crans-Sur-Sierre Golf Club since 1939, little has changed with this ‘must-go’ stop on the tour, with the atmosphere and tricky but negotiable course appealing to those with a penchant for things other than long, dull, bombers tracks. It’s therefore no surprise that Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn, David Lipsky, Richie Ramsay and Matt Fitzpatrick are on the winner’s roll call, although the last couple of years have seen the likes of, Rasmus Hojgaard and Bernd Wiesberger show that the long-hitters can prosper, taking advantage of simple chip-and-putts on the shorter holes.
At 6900-yards, the stunning par-70 uses elevation changes and tiny greens to fox those that believe they can overpower the track, a factor that has seen some real course specialists thrive over the years.
Last year’s champion Thriston Lawrence was making his debut here, but defeated play-off rival Matt Wallace was here for the fourth time.
Although the Englishman’s previous course form was poor, both are linked with their ‘immediate’ form – Wallace’s runner-up last week mirroring the South African’s top-10 at the same event last year, both taking place seven days before Crans.
That current form seems vital here with five of the last six winners arriving off a top-8 finish at their previous outing. Whilst Matt Fitzpatrick bucks that trend after a poor run of form in 2017, he had previously posted a same-season runner-up at the Nordea (bringing in the likes of previous champions Sebastian Soderberg and Alex Noren), and had already posted a runner up and seventh place around here.
Come here in form, preferably within the last three events if not the last, have the tee-to-green game on point, course form a plus (although not vital given the last three winners) and away we go!
Oh yeah, there’s the matter of the Ryder Cup.
As the tour website shows, six of those playing this week have the mathematical chance to nab the final qualifying spot on Luke Donald’s team, saving them from the announcement of the wild-cards, on September 4th.
Such a scenario can do funny things to people, and Adrian Meronk, for one, showed distinct nerves last week on a course that suited down to the ground. That means, this week, the Pole must win or finish second with no more than one other player, to avoid a few day’s worry. Many others have to win, and that should result in a fascinating final nine holes on Sunday.
The top of the market looked far too close earlier on Monday, with Fitzpatrick at double-figures, just a handful of points ahead of the likes of Ludvig Aberg and Nicolai Hojgaard. Now ranked eighth in the OWGR, his wins at the US Open and Heritage over the past 18 months have been backed-up with recent finishes of 2/13 at the BMW and Tour Championship, Should he wish to, the 28-year-old could win his third European Masters by a street, his wins here and at Valderrama just three pieces of evidence for a man that openly admits he loves this course.
I’d blame nobody for jumping on, even at prices down to 8/1, but it does mean a few out there seem overpriced.
I’m yet to be convinced about backing hugely promising Aberg at prices less than 20/1 given he has lost quality end-of-round positions at the Texas Open (led first round, missed cut), Arnold Palmer (ninth after the second round, finished 24th) and Wyndham (seventh at halfway, finished 14th after a third round 71 knocked him back to outside the top-20).
Similar positions have been lost at the John Deere and last week in the Czech Republic, although at both he rallied to twice finish fourth. They are better quality events, of course, and he’ll win, and probably very soon, but with a possible, if unlikely, spot in the Ryder Cup being talked about, I can just about leave him alone.
Adrian Meronk is put in at 10 points bigger than last week, but was extremely disappointing on a course that suited both he and Nicolai, the latter making far more appeal this week than Alexander Bjork, on a remarkable run of 20 successive cuts but who has lobbed away several chances to win since that last trophy in April 2018.
Whilst he gives the impression he’ll need to put his head in front on the line, the Swede’s price gets shorter by the week and he now sits alongside Robert MacIntyre in the market, winner of the first event on Bjork’s long run.
That Italian Open victory certainly put the Scot further in the mind of captain Donald, particularly via a play-off win over Fitz, but he’s never shone here and the man he followed to that crown is first on the list.
Nicolai Hojgaard needs no real introduction after last week’s top-three finish, although a quiet back-nine was to blame over the last three days and meant he fell short of winning his third DPWT title.
Still, it’s tough to argue against current figures – leading the stats for off-the-tee, ranking second for tee-to-green, all off a top-10 for approaches.
Sure, hitting 86% of last week’s large greens is a different challenge to that in front of him this week, but the Dane lay 12th after three rounds on debut here last year and comes here on a rich run of form – all factors that sit nicely with previous contenders.
Sixth at the Scottish Open (fifth for greens-in-reg), 23rd at Hoylake (11th after three rounds) and 14th at the Wyndham are all high-class results that put him amongst the very top of the wildcard list for the Marco Simone in a few week’s time, and he will know how important it is to put up a show at Crans and follow his twin into the winner’s enclosure.
Matt Wallace was never going too far away from the short-list, even if finishing 20th or so last week. That he had only two bogeys for the week, with just one over the weekend, means he’s in stellar form for this challenge and, perhaps, a last minute push for a place at the Ryder Cup.
The 33-year-old, of course, came to prominence after winning six events on the Alps Tour in 2016 and probably has not won as many tournaments as his talent should.
A tempestuous character, Wallace has still managed to hook four European Tour wins, although it took five years to win again – at the Corales, by one shot over Hojgaard and he’ll have in mind how unfortunate he was to miss out on the Ryder Cup in 2018, despite winning the final qualifying event in front of then captain Thomas Bjorn.
The selection led the tee-to-green stats last week after a top-10 ranking for approaches, but he was the most tidy of all those hitting a high percentage of greens, something that should be in his favour around this tighter track. Indeed, he led the short-game stats when running-up to Thriston Lawrence here 12 months ago, finishing as high as he did despite losing shots with the irons.
Wallace’s wins at the BMW Open puts him alongside the likes of Ernie Els, Thomas Bjorn, Fitzpatrick, and last year’s Crans champion Lawrence, whilst his Denmark and Portugal form also links in with several Crans candidates over the years. With small runs of form reading T7-1, 14-4, T18-3 and T18-6 over the past couple of years, Wallace can make progress on his most recent effort.
Away from the front, Jorge Campillo caught the eye last week, as did Eduoado Molinari, both highly favoured by the conditions.
However, despite the Spaniard’s win in Kenya this year, I’m rowing along with the player that should have won that event in 2022.
After holding an overnight four-shot lead, Ewen Ferguson‘s inexperience saw him drop to eighth place, something that might have affected the maiden for longer than three tournaments. That victory, in Qatar, came courtesy of a tough final day that called for short-game prowess in windy conditions.
The win in Doha put him alongside Education City champion Campillo, and also such names as Bjorn, Els, Sergio Garcia and Robert Karlsson, all winners at both Qatar and Crans over the years.
The 27-year-old then went on to win easily at Galgorm Castle before being beaten by an inspired Oliver Wilson in Denmark, an event won this year by Nicolai’s twin, Rasmus (2021 Crans champ) and twice by Bernd Wiesberger, runner-up to Rasmus!
It’s all there for course suitability and last year’s missed-cut on the number is of no concern, particularly after it split his efforts in the desert and Himmerland.
2023 form is very mixed, but in-between the missed-cuts, the Scot has twice finished top-four in South Africa, eighth at the KLM, 14th at long Green Eagle, fourth at The Belfry and 12th at the Scottish Open.
His encouraging 35th on his Galgorm defence came after a month off and he’ll be aware of what compatriot and fellow 27-year-old Scot, MacIntyre, is doing right now. Should he be able to keep that constant greens-in-regulation stat going (30th for the last 12 weeks, 21st over 24) , expect to see him contend into the weekend.
It’s tough to know just how much form at Albatross will translate to such a different course but, as suggested, last year’s one-two are good enough evidence, even with the bomber Richard Mansell finishing in third.
— Flushing It (@flushingitgolf) June 2, 2023
To that end, I felt Sami Valimaki showed enough last week to be interested in, just over Sebastian Soderberg, who just isn’t firing with the irons, the very centrepiece of his best efforts.
The Finn, brilliant winner over Brandon Stone in Oman, has never really kicked on from there, especially once the stronger fields returned after lockdown. However, he sneaks in some quality form, such as fourth at the BMW International, runner-up in Joburg and, this season, a runner-up in Singapore in what was an average DPWT field.
Latterly, the 25-year-old (yes, still five years off his supposed peak) has been more consistent than readers may think, racking up five successive cuts but with hidden form that might elevate the figures just a touch.
Valimaki was fourth and sixth through the middle of the BMW, 11th after three rounds at The Belfry, 15th after day one in Scotland, around 40th during the mid-part at Hoylake, and led after day one and into Sunday last weekend.
The selection was extremely solid in all parts of his game, whether strokes gained or old-fashioned, but it’s the 12th in greens, seventh for scrambling, 11th in approaches and 14th for tee-to-green that catch the eye, his best for a long time and encouraging for those still living off that big priced success in the desert.
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) August 26, 2023
I’ll take a chance, at a big price, with John Catlin, whose form since a golden 2020/21 has been boom or bust.
The multiple winner on the Asian Tour came to the fore after holding off Martin Kaymer at a brutal Valderrama in 2020 before winning an accuracy-led Irish Open just three weeks later.
One further victory at tight, and cold, Austria gives us yet another connection with Bjorn and Wiesberger, but he hasn’t gone well since, racking up 22 missed cuts in less than 50 outings.
The start of 2023 looked to be something of a renaissance, with two successive top-15 finishes, in Kenya and at the South African links, but it’s been a struggle since with just four weekend’s played. Despite that, there are hints in the 21st at the Scandi Mixed – formally the Nordea Masters, an event throwing up Alex Noren and Fitzpatrick – and last time out at Albatross, a course that is possibly one of the most unsuitable around.
Two rounds of 67, a top-10 ranking for greens-in-reg and for approaches would seem to be encouraging signs as he comes to a more suitable track, one on which he finished 21st on debut in 2021, listed as fourth in approaches and third for tee-to-green. Catlin’s accurate driving levels him up against the big hitters around courses such as Crans and it may be that he’s on a run of form.
Further down, Guido Migliozzi is just not showing enough to be fancied despite the suitability whilst this is fellow Kenyan champ Ashun Wu’s kind of track, and he has two top-nine finishes here. He’s playing like a dog, though, whilst Dale Whitnell has gone backwards since his win in, maybe significant, Sweden.
Despite the beauty of the region and the inclusion of one of the best golfers in the world, this may be dominated by Ryder Cup talk, and that could be the determining factor when it comes to crossing the line.
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) September 6, 2020