Our man takes a detailed look at this week's European Tour action from Sweden where he fancies form at the Dubai Desert Classic could be a factor again. Read his comprehensive preview here...
“Course correlations don’t get more obvious than they do this week with six of the top-ten in last year’s renewal having previously won the Dubai Desert Classic. And two others that finished inside the top-six 12 months ago, also had very solid form at the Emirates Club.”
The Nordea Masters came into existence in 1991 when the Scandinavian Enterprise Open merged with the PLM Open. Colin Montgomerie won the inaugural staging and he's far from the only class-act to win. Like Monty, Lee Westwood has won the event three times and major winners Sir Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Graeme McDowell and Adam Scott have also taken the title. Mikko Ilonen and Jesper Parnevik have both won the event twice.
PGA Sweden National, Lake Course, Malmo, Sweden
Par 72, 7,390 yards
Stroke Average in 2014 - 72.3
Used for this event for the first time last year and described on the course's website as a "beautiful piece of Florida in the heart of Skane", the Lakes was designed by Kyle Philips, with help from 2008 Nordea Masters winner, Peter Hanson., who grew up playing in the fields where the course now sits.
It's an exposed, undulating parkland style course with wide fairways and small bentgrass greens which should run at around 11 on the stimpmeter. There are 74 large bunkers in-play but contrary to what you may imagine with a course called the Lakes, there's not a whole lot of wet stuff in-play. The par 3 17th plays over water and the 18th hole has the same lake running all the way alongside its left-hand side but water is only actually in-play on four holes in total.
Although not quite as close to the sea as its sister course, the Links, the Lakes is still coastal so wind will be a factor - especially over the weekend if the forecasts are correct.
Philips was also responsible for the Verdura Golf & Spa, which hosted the Sicilian Open three years ago, the Grove, home of the 2006 WGC - American Express, and Kingsbarns, which is one of the three courses used for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2014 - Thongchai Jaidee -16 (playoff)
2013 - Mikko Ilonen -21
2012 - Lee Westwood -19
2011 - Alex Noren -15
2010 - Richard S Johnson -11
What will it take to win the Nordea Masters?
With just last year's renewal to go on, it's perhaps not surprising that not much emerges from the stats but it's definitely a place where the big hitters can shine.
It's a long course and all three playoff protagonists 12 months ago - Thongchai Jaidee, Victor Dubuisson and Stephen Gallacher - ranked highly enough for Driving Distance at 21st, 1st and 8th, and playing the long holes well was very important too. Gallacher ranked second only to Alvaro Quiros and Jaidee ranked third for Par 5 Scoring, having played them in 11-under-par. Only one stroke worse than Gallacher and two worse than Quiros.
It's an exposed and maturing course so there isn't much in the way of hazards should you stray from the wide fairways but an ability to handle windy conditions is essential.
Is There an Angle In?
Course correlations don't get more obvious than they do this week with six of the top-ten in last year's renewal having previously won the Dubai Desert Classic. And two others that finished inside the top-six 12 months ago, also had very solid form at the Emirates Club...
Last year's winner, Jaidee, missed a tiny put on the 72nd hole to miss out on a place in the playoff in 2010 and Robert Karlsson, who finished tied for 6th, has three top-six finishes at the Emirates to his name. It's also worth highlighting that another Dubai Desert Classic winner, Thomas Bjorn, finished a very impressive 15th, just days after imploding at Wentworth.
I'm always a bit reluctant to highlight a potential draw bias because if it doesn't pan out I get plenty of stick, so please bear in mind things can change dramatically between now and Thursday, but at this stage, those drawn late-early look like they may get the better of it - especially if the high winds forecast for very early on Thursday morning hang around until lunchtime.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
As highlighted in the history section above, some classy players have won this event and Swedes have fared well in what's effectively their national title. Between 2008 and 2011, three Swedes - Peter Hanson, Richard S Johnson and Alex Noren - all won and Jesper Parnevik (twice) and Joakim Haeggman both took the title in the 90s.
On last year's evidence, this doesn't look like an easy place to make up ground given that six of the final top-eight were either tied for the lead or trailing by a stroke at halfway. And the two that weren't - Robert Karlsson and Robert-Jan Derksen - were only two and three strokes back respectively.
There was carnage in the market at the end of last year's event so if your pick is leading late on it may make sense to lay some back. Henrik Stenson was matched at just 1.528/15 but didn't even make the playoff, Dubuisson also traded at odds-on and as low as 1.625/8 while Gallacher was matched at 2.35/4.
The par 3 17th is a tough hole and the par 5 18th wasn't the easy pick up hole the market assumed it to be on the last day. Of the first eight players home, only Gallacher made birdie in regulation play and both Eddie Pepperell and Stenson made a bogey 6.
This looks like an event that Henrik Stenson would dearly love to win and he's come close a number of times. He was a distant second to Luke Donald in 2004 before losing a playoff to Mark Hensby a year later and he blew another great chance 12 months ago.
Although he did win in his homeland on the Challenge Tour in 2000 his record here isn't that spectacular and that's his only success in 20 starts.
This venue, one with which he is now affiliated with, is clearly suited to his game and if he were to produce his stateside form of a few months back when he finished 4th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, 4th at the Valspar Championship and runner-up at the Arnold Palmer, he'd have a magnificent chance but he's gone a bit cold since throwing away the Arnold Palmer and he's just a bit too short for me.
By some considerable distance, Stenson is the class-act in the line-up and I wouldn't put anyone off him but he's quirky enough in-contention for me to swerve him and I thought the next three in the betting were all extraordinarily short...
Alex Noren hasn't shown enough since returning from a career threatening injury, Jaidee is up against it attempting to defend (never easy to do) and with only an ordinary record at the Emirates and no course experience, I can't understand why anyone would be interested in backing Joost Luiten at not much bigger than 20/1.
The more I looked at this tournament the longer my shortlist got! Last year's fancy, Alvaro Quiros, was always going to be chanced again given he's been showing signs of late and that this place really looks to suit his swashbuckling power game brilliantly. And I'm in full agreement with Dan Geragthy about the chances of Eddie Pepperell. With both course and current form, what's not to like about the young Englishman? He looks sure to make his breakthrough sooner or later.
In addition to that pair, and my own each-way fancy, Stephen Gallacher, I thought Thomas Bjorn was worth chancing for a number of reasons. As already stated, he played well here last year in difficult circumstances, he now resides in Sweden and will enjoy plenty of support both from friends and family in his new homeland and from his nearby native Denmark, and he could very well be inspired last week's winner, fellow 40-something Dane, Søren Kjeldsen.
I've not gone mad by any means but given he missed last week's tough gig in Ireland and finished 11th at Wentworth last time out, I thought 40.039/1 was fair enough. And I've also backed another Dane in Thorbjorn Olesen.
Olesen returned from injury and finished second in Mauritius just last month, losing to George Coetzee in a playoff, but he hasn't done anything since so his current form is questionable and he wasn't in the field here last year so we don't have any course form to consider either but I fancy he might just take to this place like a duck to water.
His first European Tour title came in the Sicilian Open at the Kyle Philips-designed Verdura Golf & Spa and he's twice finished inside the top-five at the Emirates in just five appearances. It's a speculative one on very recent form but I thought his price was more than fair.
And finally, last and probably least, I've thrown a few pounds at big-hitting Aussie, Scott Hend, who's played well all year when conditions have suited. As I believe they do here.
Thomas Bjorn @ 40.039/1
Eddie Pepperell @ 42.041/1
Stephen Gallacher @ 46.045/1
Thorbjorn Olesen @ 70.069/1
Alvaro Quiros @ 100.099/1
Scott Hend @ 220.0219/1
I'm going to have another good look at the Memorial Tournament later, which I previewed here yesterday, and if I add to my sole pick, Jason Dufner, I'll update the preview and tweet it again but if I don't, I'll be back on Friday with my In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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