The European Tour returns to the Czech Republic after a year off and our man has the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start here...
"Rikard Karlberg has missed four of his last five cuts but in the middle of those disappointing efforts he finished runner-up in the Irish Open and he has improving course form figures reading 23-13-5."
The Czech Masters was one of the European Tour events lost to the pandemic in 2020 so it's now two years since Thomas Pieters won the event for a second time.
First staged in 2014, this is only the seventh renewal, and we again return to the Albatross Golf Resort in Prague, the tournament's host course since its inception.
Albatross Golf Resort, Prague, Czech Republic
Par 72, 7,467 yards
Stroke index in 2019 - 71.12
Designed by Keith Preston and opened in 2010, the Albatross Course has been the host course since the event began. It's a long track with average width bentgrass and fescue fairways and bentgrass greens. The greens have previously run at around 12 on the stimpmeter.
There were a couple of changes to the course before the 2016 renewal. Two new green side lakes were added and 27 new trees were planted.
In addition to hosting this event for since day one, the Albatross was also the venue for the Prague Masters on the Ladies European Tour in 2011 and 2012.
Live on Sky Sports all four days (behind the Red Button), starting at midday on Thursday
Six Tournament Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Thomas Pieters -19 22.021/1
2018 - Andrea Pavan -20 60.059/1
2017 - Haydn Porteous -13 55.054/1
2016 - Paul Peterson -15 1000.0
2015 - Thomas Pieters -20 80.079/1
2014 - Jamie Donaldson -14 12.011/1
What Will it Take to Win the Czech Masters?
The Albatross is a lengthy course and three of the five course winners to date have been long hitters but two of the last four winners have ranked only 40th and 41st so length is clearly not that vital. It's more important than accuracy though. Thomas Pieters ranked fourth for Driving Distance when he won two years ago, and he ranked first in 2015 when taking the title. Pelle Edberg, who finished second to Pieters six years ago, ranked second for DD.
The 2016 winner, Paul Peterson, ranked third for Driving Accuracy but none of the other winners have ranked any better than 25th, and only three players inside the top-10 ranked any better than the winner, Pieters, for DA two years. He only ranked 35th though and the three that ranked better only ranked 12th, 17th and 26th.
Scrambling is an important stat most weeks but that certainly hasn't been the case here. Pieters, ranked 10th for Scrambling in 2015 but the subsequent winners have ranked 65th, 25th, 51st, 36th and 30th.
Pieters only ranked 22nd for Greens In Regulation in 2015 but the two players in second and third, Edberg and Matthew Fitzpatrick, ranked first and second. The next four winners ranked second, first, second and sixth for GIR and the first two home two years ago, Pieters and Adri Arnous, ranked third and first so that's the stat to concentrate on but putting well and making lots of birdies has been vital too...
The six winners have ranked, fourth, first, second, second, first and 13th for Putting Average and it's been all about making lots of birdies. Denmark's J.B Hansen was the only man in the field to make more birdies than the 2016 winner, Peterson, and the other five winners have made more birdies than anyone else.
Is There an Angle In?
At the very first edition of this event, Sky Sports' Wayne 'Radar' Riley likened the course to the London Club, which was the venue for last week's Cazoo Classic and he may have been onto something given an out-of-form Paul Peterson, the surprise 2016 winner, was in-contention last week until a very poor third round and that the inaugural winner here, Jamie Donaldson, finished third in the last week.
After a steady run of European Tour action week after week for the first time in some time thanks to the pandemic, we've seen the same players contending every week for the last month or so and I suspect last week's event will be as a good a guide as any.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Thomas Pieters led by a stroke 2.789/5
2018 - Andrea Pavan - tied for the lead 2.447/5
2017 - Haydn Porteous - solo second, trailing by two strokes 3.412/5
2016 - Paul Peterson - solo second, trailing by two strokes 12.5
2015 - Thomas Pieters - led by a stroke 2.0421/20
2014 - Jamie Donaldson - tied second, trailing by one 3.412/5
The first three home in the 2015 edition were all tied for third after round one and just one off the lead after opening rounds of 66 and they occupied the first three places at halfway. A year earlier, Jamie Donaldson had never been outside the first two places at any stage when he won so after the first two editions it looked like it might be a hard place to play catch-up.
Pieters sat 10th after round one two years ago, before sitting second at halfway and first after round three, and the 2018 winner, Pavan, was never worse than fifth or more than two strokes adrift between rounds but Peterson came from miles back to win in 2016...
The little-known American trailed by eight strokes at halfway before he broke the course record on Saturday and then he shot the joint-best round of the day on Sunday to win by a stroke.
The 2017 winner, Porteous, was neither bang up with the pace or miles off it. He trailed by four after round one, five after round two (although he'd moved up from 27th to fourth) and he trailed by two with a round to go. All six winners have sat first or second after 54 holes.
If you're betting in-running, beware the par four 17th hole. In the first six editions it's ranked either the hardest or second hardest on the course and a par there is a good score.
Sam Horsfield, who finished third here in 2019 before winning twice on the European Tour in 2020, is a worthy enough favourite in what's a weak event but I'm happy to leave him out after a string of strange performances.
He started nicely in the Kenya Open in March, the USPGA Championship in May, the Scandinavian Mixed and the BMW International Open in June and again in the Cazoo Open last time out in July but after opening rounds of 67, 69, 64, 64 and 67, which saw him sitting second, second, first, first and fifth, he shot second rounds of 71, 80, 74, 77 and 72 and his finishing positions in the five events were eighth, 49th, 25th, fifth and sixth.
In amongst those results, he finished fourth in the Gran Canaria Lopesan Open having began the event with an opening 69 to sit tied for 84th!
He's a bigger price to lead after round one so if you want to get him onside, backing him in the 1st Round Leader market might make sense and if his performance in Gran Canaria is anything to go by, backing him outright if he starts slowly looks a decent way to go.
The vastly experienced Olympic silver medallist, Rory Sabbatini, was 12th here back in 2016 and he arrives in fine form having backed up his performance in Japan with a top-ten finish in the Wyndham Championship.
He commands respect in this field but there must be a chance that that he has one eye on a bit of a break given the Czech Republic borders Slovakia. The South African born 45-year-old represented Slovakia in the Olympics (his wife's Slovak) and I suspect that's his next destination.
The 2016 US Masters winner, Danny Willett, hasn't been in great form. He's finished 13th (2104) and 18th (2018) in his two previous visits here and we haven't seen him play since he finished 33rd in the Open Championship but I suspect he's another with one eye on the future. He has a great record in next week's event, the European Masters, which he won in 2015.
Callum Shinkwin has a mixed set of results here with form figures reading MC-51-9-65-MC but he arrives in fine fettle after his third placed finish last week and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him contend again.
As highlighted in yesterday's De-brief, the last five European Tour winners have all been breaking their duck on the Tour and I fancy the talented Zimbabwe-born American, Sean Crocker, might just be the next cab off the rank.
Quite what happened to him on Friday last week, I've no idea, but the big-hitting 24-year-old ended up missing the cut having sat second after an opening 66 in round one, despite being drawn on the wrong side of the draw on Thursday!
How he reacts to the 79 in round two is going to be interesting but he has the length off the tee and the approach game to prosper here and recent high finishes of 11th in the European Open and ninth in the Irish Open suggest he's not far off.
I'll have at least one outsider here for the Find Me a 100 Winner column tomorrow but for now my only other pick is Rikard Karlberg at 75.074/1, who we haven't seen since he shot 72-70 in the Open Championship a month ago.
The 34-year-old Swede has missed four of his last five cuts but in the middle of those disappointing efforts he finished runner-up in the Irish Open and he has improving course form figures reading 23-13-5.
I'll be back shortly with The Northern Trust preview.
*I'm taking a few days off so apologies, but there'll be no In-Play Blog this week and no De-brief on Monday
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter