More than four months after Jorge Campillo won the Qatar Masters, the European Tour returns this week with the first of two dual ranking events in Austria - the Austrian Open. Steve Rawlings previews the event...
"From a course correlation perspective, the Dutch, which hosted the KLM Open between 2016 and 2018, look like a very obvious link. In just three renewals, four Diamond Course winners finished first or second at the Dutch."
The European Tour and the Challenge Tour will combine this week and next for the Austrian Open and the Euram Bank Open.
The Austrian Open was first staged in 1990 when Bernhard Langer beat Lanny Wadkins in a playoff but after just seven editions the tournament was relegated to the Challenge Tour. The event was flagging, and it wasn't even played in 2000 but then along came Austrian golfing legend, Markus Brier, whose popularity revitalised the tournament.
Brier won the event twice, in 2002 and 2004, and it was elevated back up to the European Tour in 2006 when Brier managed to win it for a third and final time.
Staged at the Diamond Country Club since 2010, the event saw its name changed to the Lyoness Open in 2012 when another Austrian, Bernd Wiesberger, took the title and the format and name changed again in 2018 when Finland's Mikko Korhonen won the speeded up version, called the Shot Clock Masters.
The field was decidedly weak under the new format and the event fell off the schedule altogether in 2019. It's good to see some European action back on the agenda and great to see this event back. Although not covered on TV, it's attracted a reasonable field with former winner, Joost Luiten, heading the market.
Diamond Golf Course, Atzenbrugg, Austria.
Par 72 - 7,458 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 - 72.42
The Jeremy Pern designed Diamond Course opened in 2002.
The fairways are fairly flat and quite exposed, and the small greens usually run at around 11.5. Water is in-play on nine of the 18 holes.
This will be the 10th time that the Diamond Course has hosted the event. Prior to the 2014 renewal the course was lengthened and the two nines were switched.
The course opens very gently with a short par five, which ranked as the easiest hole on the course in 2018 - averaging just 4.67. That's followed by a 200 yard plus par three to an island green, a straightforward par four, and the fourth is another scorable par five which averaged 4.85 in 2018.
Assuming the set-up hasn't changed, the middle section is tough, with the hardest five holes all encountered between holes eight and 14.
Once through the tricky par three 14th, the field face back-to-back par fives at, 15 and 16, offering up a chance to score and the par three finishing hole is fairly straightforward.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Price
2018 - Mikko Korhonen -16 [23.0]
2017 - Dylan Frittelli -12 [46.0]
2016 - Ashun Wu -13 [200.0]
2015 - Chris Wood -15 [15.0]
2014 - Mikael Lundberg -12 (playoff) [400.0]
What Will it Take to Win the Austrian Open?
Bernd Wiesberger hit the ball further than anyone else off the tee when he won here in 2012 but hitting it miles off the tee is certainly not crucial. The 2018 winner, Korhonen, ranked 16th for Driving Distance the 2017 winner, Dylan Frittelli, ranked 13th and the 2016 winner, Ashun Wu, ranked a respectable 19th but the two winners before him ranked only 61st and 51st for DD. The average DD ranking of the nine course winners to date is 26.3 whereas the average Driving Accuracy ranking is 15.3. Korhonen ranked third for DA two years ago and no winner has ranked any worse than 24th so accuracy appears of more importance than power off the tee.
The 2014 winner, Mikael Lundberg, ranked 20th for Greens In Regulation and that's the worst any winner has ranked for that stat. Korhonen ranked fourth and he was the sixth winner, in just nine editions, to rank inside the top-eight for GIR so that's a key stat.
Joost Luiten only ranked 31st for Scrambling but none of the other winners have ranked any worse than 11th. Korhonen scrambled better than anyone else in 2018, Frittelli ranked third in 2017 and the first four home in 2016 ranked sixth, second, fourth and fifth for Scrambling so hitting plenty of greens and getting it up-and-down when you do miss one is the key to success around here. Although a good performance with the putter always helps and five of the nine winners have had a Putting Average ranking of sixth or better. Korhonen only ranked 27th two years ago.
This is a tough enough course that tests every part of a player's game and the best indicator is probably Par 4 Scoring given the top ranked player on the par fours has placed here every year. Nobody played the par fours better than Korhonen in 2018.
Is There an Angle In?
We're all starting from scratch again this week and very few in the field have played any competitive golf for months but there was a tournament played on the Nordic Golf League last week (leaderboard here) in which a few in the line-up figured.
From a course correlation perspective, the Dutch, which hosted the KLM Open between 2016 and 2018, look like a very obvious link. In just three renewals, four Diamond Course winners finished first or second at the Dutch.
The 2013 winner here, Joost Luiten, won at the Dutch in 2016, beating the 2014 Austrian Open winner, Bernd Wiesberger, and the 2016 winner here, Ashun Wu, beat the 2017 winner, Chris Wood, at the Dutch in 2018
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The first seven winners of this event at this venue had all previously won at least once on the European Tour but the last two winners were both winning for the first time. It may pay to stick to the more experienced players though. Frittelli has since gone on to win on the PGA Tour and Korhonen has also won again since - at the Volvo China Open last year.
Odds wise, the 2016 winner, Ashun Wu, was matched at a high [220.0] before the off and the 2014 winner, Lundberg, was matched at in excess of [500.0] so I wouldn't put anyone off a rank outsider. Despite looking for his first success at the age of 37, Korhonen was a 22/1 shot, Chris Wood was a well-backed 14/1 second-favourite in-between those two long-shots and the other six course winner's SPs ranged between around 25/1 and 66/1.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2018 - Mikko Korhonen led by five strokes [1.4]
2017 - Dylan Frittelli trailed by two strokes [6.4]
2016 - Ashun Wu trailed by a stroke [7.2]
2015 - Chris Wood trailed by five [11.5]
2014 - Mikael Lundberg (playoff) trailed by six [160.0]
As you'll see above, Korhonen was five clear with a round to go and the two winners before him were within two strokes of the lead after 54 holes but we've seen winners come from four, five and even six strokes adrift with a round to go and Korhonen was only the second third round leader to convert here. Joost Luiten, in 2013, was three shots clear with a round to go but it's a tough place to lead.
Prior to Korhonen's facile success in 2018, three men traded at odds-on in round four in each of the previous four editions, so it's been a great place to lay the contenders on Sunday.
At first glance, Joost Luiten looks short enough at a single-figure price but this isn't a strong field and I wouldn't want to lay him given his course form figures read an extremely impressive 3-1-3-6-7. He's been interviewed by the European Tour and he doesn't sound overly confident but he's most certainly the man to beat.
Second favourite, Thomas Detry, makes far less appeal given he has a nasty habit of getting in his own way in-contention and at a slightly bigger price, the hugely promising Spaniard, Adri Arnaus, looks a better proposition.
I've had a tiny bet on Will Besseling, who topped the Par 4 Performance stats last year, and Joel Stalter might be worth chancing at a huge price too given he was third at the Dutch back in 2017 when he led after rounds one and two. They're my two very speculative and hopeful darts.
Will Besseling @ [75.0]
Joel Stalter @ [300.0]
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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