We're still in mainland Europe but it's a big change for the European Tour this week as it moves from the heady heights of the Swiss mountains to a Colin Montgomerie course that actually sits below sea level. Read our man's detailed preview ahead of Thursday's start to the KLM Open here...
“Monty may have been a little out when he described the course as difficult but he appears to have been bang on about the quality of the greens. Great putting surfaces reward great putters and the only strong link between the two renewals here to date is how well the majority of those in-contention performed on the greens.”
Founded in 1912 and originally known as the Dutch Open, the KLM Open has been an ever-present on the European Tour since its inception in 1972. It's one of only seven events to be staged every year since the start of the Tour in '72 and this will be the 99th edition of the tournament.
The KLM Open is a nomadic event but this year we return to the Colin Montgomerie designed Dutch Club for the third year in-a-row.
The Dutch, Spijk, Netherlands.
Par 71, 6,983 yards
Stroke Index in 2017 - 70.94
Designed by Colin Montgomerie and European Golf Design's Ross McMurray, the Dutch is an expensive private members course that only opened in May 2011. It was the Netherland's candidate venue for their unsuccessful 2018 Ryder Cup bid.
It's an inland links course, having what Monty described two years ago as "probably the best greens they'll find on the European Tour this year." He went on to say, "There's a lot of pin positions on the greens. It's been designed for championship golf and it will be difficult." But given the two winners here since have reached 19 and 15 under-par it's not been as hard as Monty may have envisaged.
It's an exposed wind-affected course with slightly undulating but largely flat fairways that are in-part framed by man-made mounding.
Over the last two years, the rough has been consistent and fairly thick and the large bentgrass greens have ran fairly fast at around 11.5 on the stimpmeter. Many of the greens are slightly elevated with run-off areas. Water is in-play on holes 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18.
Interestingly, the course lays three metres under sea level. It settles/sinks 2-3cm per year. For this reason, the fairways, semi-rough and immediate rough are top-dressed up to 2-3cm every year
There's a bit of waffle at the start and a lot at the end, but the video below, that's now a couple of years old, still provides a nice guide to the course from around the two minute mark.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 10:30 on Thursday but on the red button because of the Evian Championship.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Romain Wattel -15
2016 - Joost Luiten -19
2015 - Thomas Pieters -19
2014 - Paul Casey -14
2013 - Joost Luiten -12 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the KLM Open?
Below are the stats for the top-three and ties last year and the top-four and ties in 2016.
1 Romain Wattel DD 22 DA 48 GIR 10 SC 26 PA 2
2 Austin Connelly DD 45 DA 1 GIR 2 SC 2 PA 20
3 George Coetzee DD 2 DA 33 GIR 29 SC 6 PA 16
3 Sebastian Heisele He DD 11 DA 48 GIR 10 SC 16 PA 10
3 Eddie Pepperell DD 48 DA 27 GIR 8 SC 39 PA 18
3 Joel Salter DD 36 DA 27 GIR 3 SC 51 PA 4
3 Justin Walters DD 7 DA 8 GIR 33 SC 19 PA 6
3 Lee Westwood DD 39 DA 2 GIR 8 SC 3 PA 38
1 Joost Luiten DD 50 DA 10 GIR 2 SC 1 PA 10
2 Bernd Wiesberger DD 27 DA 21 GIR 17 SC10 PA 5
3 Byeong Hun An DD 16 DA 53 GIR 6 SC 6 PA 35
4 Alejandro Canizares DD 59 DA 5 GIR 25 SC 47 PA 7
4 Ben Evans DD 22 DA 27 GIR 56 SC 20 PA 5
4 Scott Hen DD 1 DA 34 GIR 11 SC 7 PA 11
4 David Horsey DD 64 DA 21 GIR 41 SC 25 PA 3
DD = Driving Distance
DA = Driving Accuracy
GIR = Greens In Regulation
SC = Scrambling
PA = Putting Average
Okay, so Monty may have been a little out when he described the course as difficult but he appears to have been bang on about the quality of the greens. Great putting surfaces reward great putters and the only strong link between the two renewals here to date is how well the majority of those in-contention performed on the greens.
After the first renewal, where Joost Luiten, who sadly doesn't make this year's line-up due to his wrist injury, topped the Scrambling stats and ranked second for GIR, I felt they might be the most important stats and they certainly appear more important than either of the two driving stats but if a conclusion can be drawn from just two years of data, then it's that we should be looking to side with those utting the best at present.
The trouble with that of course is that predicting who will putt well on any given week is next to impossible but for what it's worth, here are the top 10 and ties for Putting Average on the European Tour over the last three months.
1 - Michael Lorenzo-Vera
2 - Jazz Janewattananond
3 - Phachara Khongwatmai
4 - Steve Webster
5 - Nino Bertasio
5 - Charl Schwartzel
5 - Rickie Fowler
5 - George Coetzee
5 - Gary Stal
10 - Christiaan Bezuidenhout
10 - Oliver Fisher
10 - Jorge Campillo
10 - Chris Wood
10 Sam Horsfield
Is There an Angle In?
Although Monty's name is emblazoned everywhere, in all probability, Ross McMurray and his team were almost entirely responsible for the design work and they were also responsible for the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor and form there has already worked out because the winner of the last Wales Open in 2012 was Luiten who won here two years ago. That form is getting older by the year and of less and less use but in the absence of much else, I thought it noteworthy.
After the first renewal here, I theorised that there might be a link to Paris National and even Wentworth but I certainly wouldn't put too much credence in those links after last year's result although visually, the course does remind me of Paris. That too is an inland links style course with lots of water in play.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Just to cloudy the already murky waters further, last year's winner went against the grain. Wattel was out of form and matched at [300.0] before the off 12 months ago when winning for the first time on his 187th European Tour start. And he hasn't done much since.
Luiten was a well-supported third favourite in 2016 and that was fairly typical as outsiders don't have a brilliant record in the event for some reason and we have to go back more than a dozen years to find the last shock winner. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano went on to win a further six European Tour events but it was in this event that he broke his duck as a 150/1 shot in 2005.
Australia's Stephen Leaney won the 2000 edition but a European has one every edition since.
We can't read too much in to just two editions but neither winner was in front at any stage during the event until day four. Both Luiten and Wattel trailed by four after day one and the Frenchamn still trailed by that many at halfway before sitting second and just one off the lead with a round to go. In contrast, Luiten sat second and just one adrift at the halfway stage before falling to third and three back after 54 holes.
The par five sixth is the easiest hole on the course (averaged only 4.5 last year) but three of the four par fives come in the final third of the course (holes 13, 16 and 18) and the par three 14th isn't a tough hole so the finish is quite straightforward.
Eddie Pepperell has disposed Ryder Cup vice-captain, Lee Westwood, at the head of the market and I'm not surprised. Eddie has been playing really well of late although he will have to overcome the disappointment of missing out on Ryder Cup selection. He was a fast-finishing tied-third last year and he commands respect.
Westwood was also third 12 months ago and he too is in fine fettle but he's not the man he once was in-contention and he looks like one to swerve. He was a never in-the-mix 12th last week, one week after throwing away the Made in Denmark with some poor putting in round four and he's not one to trust in-contention anymore.
The market looks to have finally cottoned on to how good Matt Wallace is but he too looks like one to avoid this week. After his win in Denmark and his Ryder Cup snub last Tuesday, his finish in Switzerland was a tired one and I was surprised to see him in the line-up here. He's a resolute character and he was ninth 12 months ago but he's short enough for me given all he's gone through in the last fortnight.
Angles in were hard to come by here and I'm not especially excited by any of my picks but I've thrown a few pounds at some outsiders before the off.
In addition to my each-way play, Alexander Levy, I've backed five other outsiders, starting with Ireland's Padraig Harrington. Pod's has a couple of week's off since finishing second in the Czech Masters so he should be nice and fresh and as I highlighted here in the De-Brief two weeks ago, another win is far form beyond the three-time major winner. And an inland links sounds like an ideal venue too. I don't see a massive difference between Westwood and Harrington on paper and I'd trust the latter more in a scarp so I was more than happy to back him at [70.0].
Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat traded at just [1.39] before a late collapse last year and I'm chancing another Thai this time around. Teenage sensation, Phachara Khongwatmai, has finished ninth, 12th and eighth in his last three European Tour events and he's had a Putting Average ranking of fourth and second in the last two weeks.
I like to back players I know can win and I also like to back out of form players that suddenly find a bit of form. The market is often slow to respond and that appears to have been the case with three-time European Tour winner, Jeunghun Wang, who finished 12th last week after a run of missed cuts.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout fell away in Denmark a fortnight ago having led by two at halfway and understandably, he took his time to get going last week but he went from 81st after round one to 23rd at the end of the week with yet another solid putting display and he's playing far better than his form figures suggest.
And finally, given this is the event in which he got off the mark, and given he has never finished worse than 12th at Celtic Manor, that he's been playing OK on the Web.com Tour and that he's been putting well of late, I couldn't resist throwing a few pounds at Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
Alexander Levy @ [65.0]
Padraig Harrington @ [70.0]
Phachara Khongwatmai @ [85.0]
Jeunghun Wang @ [150.0]
Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ [180.0]
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano @ [290.0]
I'll aim to return on Thursday evening with the In-Play blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter