Russian Open: Course form may count for plenty, says The Punter

Young JB Hansen is one of two picks from The Punter this week

There may not be a stellar field lining-up in Moscow this week but there's a winner in there somewhere and our man's had a good go at finding them. Read his preview here...

"Madsen and Hansen finished alongside each other in a tie for fourth last year and both have shown plenty of promise already on the European Tour in their debut seasons."

Tournament History
There was a Russian Open event staged between 1993 and 2008 but this is the first since then. It formally switched between being a Challenge Tour event and a European Tour event and was very much a second division tournament.

Tseleevo Golf & Polo Club, Moscow Region, Russia

Course Details
Par 72, 7491 yards

Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2009, Tseleevo is located 50km north of Moscow. It's a mixture of parkland and links in a beautiful location and after it opened, Nicklaus described it as "one of the top 10 courses I have built so far".

Tseleevo hosted the Russian Challenge Cup on the Challenge Tour for three years between 2010 and 2012. Carlos Del Moral (-11), Sam Little (-11), and Alex Kaleka (-7) were the three winners.

Tseleevo looks a thing of beauty and those that have competed here already have been full of praise.

"It's absolutely beautiful out there," said Espen Kofstad last year. "I enjoyed every single second of it. Obviously travelling east isn't the easiest with time difference and everything but it's just beautiful here with the practice facilities and the course so I'm just enjoying it. It's a very American design which suits my game. I hit it very high and tend to launch it so I feel comfortable."

The signature hole is the par four seventh, featuring a blind tee shot to a downhill fairway which dog-legs from right to left to a green that's well protected by a water hazard to the front, and two bunkers on either side.

Useful Sites
Course Site
Course Tour
Tee Times
Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
No live coverage

Last Five Winners of the old Russian Open
(Staged at Le Meridien GC)
2008 - Mikael Lundberg -21
2007 - Per-Ulrik Johansson -23
2006 - Alejandro Canizares -22
2005 - Mikael Lundberg -15
2004 - Gary Emerson -16

What will it take to win the Russian Open?
At just under 7,500 yards, Tseleevo is a long course and big hitters have prospered here. Last year's winner of the Russian Challenge Cup, Frenchman Alex Kaleka, certainly gets it out there off the tee and the key might just be par five performance.

Kaleka only played the long holes in seven-under-par last year but runner-up, Alessandro Tadini, who had been two clear with a round to go, played them in -12 under. And the previous two course winners, Sam Little and Carlos Del Morel, played them in 10-under-par and 11-under-par respectfully.

Is there an angle in?
Those that have already played Tseleevo will have a distinct advantage over those that have never seen it and in a weak field event it makes sense to focus on the Challenge Tour graduates that have plenty of course experience.

In-Play Tactics
A poor first day at Tseleevo hasn't been too much of an inconvenience - Sam Little shot 74 and trailed by nine after round one of the Russian Challenge Cup in 2011 but he was in front by the end of round three and Del Moral opened up with 72 to trail by five 12 months earlier, so don't get too downhearted if one of your picks starts sluggishly.

Of the three winners here to date, Little is the only third round leader to triumph. Jamie McLeary in 2010 and Tadini last year, were both beaten, having led by two with a round to go.

I think that says more about the grade of event than it does about the course but the same will apply again this week. It's not a strong field and if someone holds a decent lead on Sunday morning, the chances are they won't have too much experience of doing so and we could easily see an off-the-pace winner.

Market Leaders
By some distance, this is the weakest event we've been faced with in a while and those at the head of the market are usually trading an awful lot bigger.

At first glance, favourite Simon Dyson, who's been out of form for a long time, looks a short price but all things considered, anything around 13.012/1 isn't actually that bad.

After a string of disappointing performances and three straight missed cuts, he showed much improvement at the Open de France, where he finished 5th and he backed that up quite nicely with a 12th placed finish at the Scottish Open.

I certainly don't feel compelled to back him, as his lack of length in particular is a negative, but I wouldn't put anyone else doing so.

Second favourite, Danish veteran Soren Kjeldsen, has a very similar profile to Dyson. He too has spent a few years in the doldrums and he too has shown a bit of form of late but he makes less appeal. I wouldn't consider Kjeldsen a very strong in-contention player and I fancy he may find Tseleevo a bit long too.

Much was expected of young Tommy Fleetwood when he joined the European Tour last year after a successful Challenge Tour campaign in 2011 but his career hasn't quite taken off at this next level and I wouldn't be in a rush to back him, even though he finished second at the venue in 2010.

Following last week's Open Championship, it's very much a case of after the lord majors show this week and I've kept stakes to an absolute minimum but I have played a couple of promising young Danes.

I really like both Morten Orum Madsen and JB Hansen and although I'm not too enamoured by their prices I still felt they were worth backing.

Madsen and Hansen finished alongside each other in a tie for fourth last year and both have shown plenty of promise already on the European Tour in their debut seasons. Big-hitting Madsen pushed Peter Uihlein hard at the Madeira Islands Open and anyone that witnessed Hansen's exploits at the Scottish Open won't forget it in a hurry.

He made a round-wrecking nine at the second hole on Sunday but bounced back with five straight birdies and but for three, understandable, late bogeys, as the adrenalin rushed through his veins, he'd have finished ahead of playoff protagonists, Phil Mickelson and Branden Grace. Tied third alongside Henrik Stenson wasn't a bad result though and the form of that event hasn't worked out too bad so far has it?

Morten Orum Madsen @ 30.029/1
J.B Hansen @ 34.033/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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