The European Masters has been in existence since 1923. It began life as the Swiss Open and it's been a European Tour event since the tour began in 1972. It's been co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour since 2009 and having being played in late August or early September for almost 40 years, the tournament follows the Open Championship in the schedule this year - as it did in 1977 when Seve Ballesteros won the first of his three European Masters titles.
Crans-sur-Sierre, Crans Montana, Switzerland.
Par 70, 6848 yards
Stroke index in 2014 - 69.4
This is one of my favourite events of the year and mainly because of the setting. The spectacular Crans Montana mountain range is constantly in view and Crans-sur-Sierre is as easy on the eye as it gets.
The course dates right back to 1908 but has been tweaked quite a bit of late. Significant changes came in 1999, when Seve Ballesteros oversaw a redesign, and prior to the 2013 renewal changes were made to four holes (10, 12, 13 and 17) with the biggest coming at the par 3 13th, which now has a couple of lakes in front of the green and a seating area behind it. Last year, changes were made to holes 1, 2, 4, 5, 9 and 14.
The fairways and fairway bunkers were remodelled on holes 1, 2 and 4. The tee was moved back by 25 yards on the par 4 5th, making the hole no longer drivable, and the 9th was been completely remodelled with changes to the fairway and bunkering, as well as a completely new green and green complex. The 14th hole, previously an easy par 5, was reduced in length by just 38 yards and changed to a par 4 and last year it averaged 4.27, with only the par 3 16th (which was once a short par 4) playing tougher.
The fairways are slopey, mostly tree-lined, and of average width and the greens are small and shaped like an upturned-saucer. Water is in-play on six holes - 10, 12, 13, 14, 17 and 18, while holes 6 and 7 are drivable par 4s - although hardly anyone takes on the tight 6th, the vast majority will have a dig at the 7th. It was the second easiest hole on the course 12 months ago (the 1st was the easiest) and there were 11 eagle twos there during the course of the week.
Live on Sky all four days, starting on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2014 - David Lipsky -18 (playoff)
2013 - Thomas Bjorn -20 (playoff)
2012 - Richie Ramsay -16
2011 - Thomas Bjorn -20
2010 - Miguel Angel Jimenez -21
What Will it Take to Win The European Masters?
The course is short by modern standards and it's played at altitude so length off the tee is almost irrelevant. Danny Willett, who ranked 6th, was the only player in the top-12 to rank inside the top-10 for Driving Distance 12 months ago and in the last 10 years, Alex Noren is the only winner to rank inside the top-10 for DD.
Accuracy from the tee is more important than length - the first three home last year ranked inside the top-five for Driving Accuracy and three of the last five winners have ranked inside the top-six for DA - but I wouldn't pay it too much credence. In the last decade, Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren have both won having ranked in the 50s for DA and with such small greens, Greens In Regulation has been a far more important stat with six of the last nine winners ranking either 1st or 2nd for GIR.
Missing these small greens is inevitable so a great short game helps no end - seven of the last 10 winners have ranked no worse than 6th for scrambling with three winners topping the stats. And finally, five of the last six winners have played the par 4s better than anyone else.
Is There an Angle In?
Prior to 2013, winners of this event had tended to be in red-hot form. The 2012 winner, Richie Ramsay, had finished 6th the week before he won and when Thomas Bjorn took the title in 2012 he was winning back-to-back tournaments following victory at Gleneagles in the Johnnie Walker Championship. And a year early, Edoardo Molinari ran Miguel Angel Jimenez close, having also won at Gleneagles the week before.
The last two winners haven't been quite so hot but they'd still both finished runner-up on the European Tour as recently as a few months earlier so I'd still favour someone right on their game. Repeatedly hitting greens is key and a razor sharp short game is essential to amass the sort of score required to win so being on top of your game is a huge plus here.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
David Lipsky caused a big shock when he won 12 months ago at odds in excess of 250.0249/1 but the European Masters has a very impressive list of winners with many true greats having won here.
In addition to recent champions, Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez, major champions Nick Faldo, Seve, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam and Ernie Els have all claimed the crown and class acts Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood have all won here in the modern era.
Without the competition of the FedEx Cup Playoffs to contend with this year, the organisers would have hoped for a better field, with more of the marquee European players making the hop across from Scotland and they won't be disappointed by the turn out. They've even got the added bonus of PGA Tour star, Patrick Reed, making his way to Switzerland and with so much strength at the front of the market the outsiders may struggle this year.
It's not easy to make up ground on this low scoring track and Richie Ramsay, in 2012, was the first winner since 1997 to be more than five adrift after round one. He sat in a tie for 33rd after his opening round and he was still four back after round two and he's the only winner since 1997 to be any further than three off the lead at halfway. You need a fast start and since 1999, eight halfway leaders have gone on to win.
The opening hole, a par 5, is always the easiest on the course. Last year it averaged just 4.36 and now that the 14th is a par 4, the front nine is the much easier nine. Last year the tough par 3 16th again ranked as the toughest hole on the course but the 14th was a close second and only the par 5 15th averaged below par on the week.
That needs bearing in mind if you're trading in-running and over the first two days in particular. Anyone starting on the back-nine and up with the leaders as they make the turn will be worthy of close consideration
Whether he still has I don't know, but Sergio Garcia, along with Luke Donald, used to have property at Crans so he'll be in familiar surroundings this week. He also has a very solid bank of form here.
Having finished only 19th on debut in 2003, he finished 3rd 12 months later before winning the event in 2005 and he finished 4th when defending in 2006.
Sergio hasn't played the event since so the change in the schedule has brought him back but can he be backed to extend the run of fine form figures after a break of nine years? I'm not sure he can.
Garcia was matched at just 7.87/1 after birdying five of the first 10 holes on Monday but he couldn't maintain the momentum and he played the last eight holes in three-over-par so yet again the popular Spaniard has major heartbreak to overcome. He'll also be playing the course competitively for the first time since the latest changes to the course so I'm happy to leave him out at a single figure price.
Bernd Wiesberger made the cut at the Open Championship but was never in the hunt but that was his first outing since winning the Open de France and I think he'll be much more competitive here. He played superbly in Paris and he already has a 6th and a 13th place finish here. I can see him contending and he's my each-way selection this week.
Danny Willett makes his seventh straight trip to the mountains, where he's already had a fair level of success. He's only once finished outside the top-26 and after finishing runner-up in 2012, he finished with a 63 last year to finish 5th. With his neat and tidy short game, Crans suits Danny really well and he was clearly in great heart at St Andrews last week but how will he react to a long and gruelling week? He strikes me as the sort of character to bounce back immediately but at the price I don't think it's worth the risk.
It's great to see Patrick Reed in the line-up and it would be brilliant for the tournament if he were to contend but his lack of course knowledge might be too much of a handicap and I'm happy to leave him out also.
I may have dismissed Garcia, Willett and Reed but I've backed two towards the head of the market - Bernd Wiesberger and Jamie Donaldson.
As already stated, Wiesberger boasts both course and current form and he also ticks all the right stats boxes so I felt I just couldn't leave him out and I thought Donaldson was a perfectly reasonable price too given how well suited he is to the venue.
The Welsh Ryder Cup star traded at odds-on as early as the third round before losing his way 12 months ago - eventually finishing 7th. He missed the cut in 2013 but in the two years before that he finished 3rd and 9th so he clearly loves the mountain air. He hasn't been in brilliant form since he finished 8th at the Players Championship but he's heading in the right direction and he's a considerably bigger price than he was last year when he went off the 14/1 favourite.
I haven't gone overboard on Wiesberger and Donaldson but I've had a decent bet on Anirban Lahiri, who I quite fancy to go well at a price. I missed the 100/1 available on Monday but I'm happy enough to have taken 80/1 on the Sportsbook (now 66/1) and 80.079/1 on the exchange.
Twice a winner already on the European Tour - in Malaysia and India, I can see Lahiri getting his first win on European soil at a venue that suits his game. After three missed cuts at Crans, he finished 57th in 2013, having shot 63 to lead after round one, and then last year he closed with a 64 to climb up to 13th. As his 30th place finish at St Andrews on Monday demonstrated, Lahiri is a fast improving player and he's creeping back to form. Those that grabbed the early triple-figure prices have themselves a lovely bet but 80.079/1 is still more than fair.
Bernd Wiesberger @ 16/1 (Sportsbook)
Jamie Donaldson @ 26.025/1
Anirban Lahiri @ 80.079/1
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
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