The European Tour returns to the Alps for this week's Omega European Masters and Matt Cooper has three each-way selections with the Betfair Sportsbook paying seven places...
"He's had five top 25 finishes in six starts – and in all five he was in the top 10 with 18 holes to play."
Main Bet: Justin Harding 1pt each-way @ 33/1
Crisp air, Alpine views, a quirky little golf course, and aromas from that Argentine steakhouse that all the commentators bang on about drifting across the mountains like the smell of Bisto in old adverts.
My word, it's good to be back in Crans, even if vicariously.
For most of us, of course, it has always been a pleasure by proxy. You could also argue that, although Crans and Augusta National share very little in common as golfing examinations, the sense of television viewer familiarity is extremely potent in both cases.
To start with, we're as comfortable with both layouts as we can be without actually going there. At Crans there is the drive-able par-4 seventh (where it looks like you take aim at Austria), the cute amphitheatre behind the ninth green, and the peculiar pond that protects the 18th green with all the menace of a puddle.
If anything, it is Augusta inside out. Folk who've been to the Masters tell of a dodgy town that surrounds golfing majesty. Crans is a dodgy course surrounded by the best backdrop in the sport.
We also know that it takes to excel on this Swiss test: it has small greens, high altitude, oddball angles and curious obstructions.
Eccentric things happen here, none more so that the list of golfers Rory McIlroy has contested play-offs with: Jean Francois Lucquin, Sebastian Soderberg, Lorenzo Gagli, Kalle Samooja and Andres Romero.
And it is, of course, so wonderfully, maddeningly, brilliantly Rory-like that it was Lucquin and Soderberg who emerged triumphant from them.
The Swede, to be fair to him, has always had a head for heights, with good golf played in Nairobi, Johannesburg and up in the mountains of Madeira.
Before Soderberg's triumph two years ago, Matthew Fitzpatrick (two wins), Alex Noren (two wins), Scott Hend (back-to-back play-off defeats), Danny Willett (one win, one second), Thomas Bjorn (two wins, two seconds) and Miguel Angel Jimenez (one win, one second) all highlighted that this is a course which suits specialists.
But the success of Lucquin and Soderberg is also a reminder that nuggets can be found and punts landed (while McIlroy is a warning that huge favourites can be beaten).
First up is a man I fully expected to be shorter than he is in the market and that's the South African Justin Harding.
For one thing, there is his form, which has been strong.
He finished fifth in the BMW International Open at Eichenried and a week later was third heading into the final round of the Irish Open, eventually finishing T23rd.
He missed the cut in the Scottish Open, but bounced back with T19th at the Open (when in the top 10 throughout the first 54 holes).
He then suffered play-off defeat in the Cazoo Open at Celtic Manor and was tied seventh at the ISPS Handa World Invitational.
That's five top 25 finishes in six starts - and in all five he was in the top 10 with 18 holes to play.
He's also a winner this year and the location (Nairobi) only further piques my interest because I like competent altitude performers in Crans and Harding is just that.
He not only won by two in the Kenya Open, a week later he was leading by two after 54 holes in the Savannah Classic, then fatigue caught up with him.
It wasn't the first time he's thrived in Nairobi - he was second there in 2019. He's also finished tied seventh in Madrid at altitude and has a crop of good efforts in Johannesburg.
I thought he'd be something like 22/1 this week. Snap it up.
Next Best: Darren Fichardt 1pt each-way @ 80/1
Number two is Harding's fellow South African Darren Fichardt, another who likes altitude and also has course form.
He's been heading up into the Alps throughout the 21st century and had a best of just T10th until recently, but veteran wiles seem to have sussed the test.
He was in the top 10 all week in 2017 and finished tied sixth.
A year later he closed with a 64 for tied eighth.
In 2019 he started quick with a 66 for T12th before finishing T43rd.
He won twice in South Africa in 2020 and has threatened to win again on the European Tour this season.
He was tied second in the Qatar Masters and then, in the thin air of Nairobi, T24th and then T10th, the latter after heading into the final lap tied second.
He was also tied third after 54-holes at Eichenried in the BMW International Open and even Munich is relatively high.
He's a prolific winner on the Sunshine Tour and if he's to add to his five European Tour triumphs I like the chances of it being on a test like this. His last victory at this level, in Joburg, was also at altitude.
Final bet: Danny Willett 1pt each-way @ 40/1
I was very sorely tempted by Shubhankar Sharma as pick number three because he has a win at altitude, a WGC near-miss in Mexico City, and progressive form.
But in the end I've opted for the class, course form and two recent hints from Danny Willett.
The fact he has a major win, Wentworth win and DP World Tour Championship win in his locker is quite something in this field.
But he is also a man who has thrived on the course.
He won the event in 2015, was second in 2012, tied fifth in 2014, and, in all, he has seven times been in the top 10 at some point prior to the final round in 11 starts.
He hasn't made a top 10 since March, but he's made decent start in his last two outings.
A Thursday 67 had him tied ninth in the Open ahead of T33rd and then a round one 68 last week had him tied third before he crashed out with a 77.
Take the positives because if Crans revives him, he won't be afraid if he gets in the hunt.
MATT'S 2021 P/L
2020 P/L: -32pts
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