We're off to the Swiss mountains on the European Tour this week for the most picturesque event of the year. Get the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start with the Punter's in-depth preview here...
"After a quiet summer, Bjork has shown signs of life of late. After finishing 23rd at the Czech Masters, he finished with a 64 on Sunday to finish 20th in Sweden and I thought he was worth chancing at [95.0]."
Founded as the Swiss Open in 1923, the Omega European Masters has been staged at the stunning Crans-sur-Sierre course since 1939 and it's been an ever-present on the European Tour since its inception in 1972.
Crans-sur-Sierre, Crans Montana, Switzerland
Par 70, 6848 yards
Stroke index in 2018 - 70.41
With the spectacular Crans Montana mountain range constantly in view, Crans-sur-Sierre is very easy on the eye.
The course dates right back to 1908 but it's 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 three 13th, which now has a couple of lakes in front of the green and a seating area behind it.
Further changes were made to holes one, two, four, five, nine and 14 in 2014. The fairways and fairway bunkers were remodelled on holes one, two and four. The tee was moved back by 25 yards on the par four fifth, making the hole no longer drivable, and the ninth was 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 five, was reduced in length by just 38 yards and changed to a par four but it reverted back to a par five prior to the 2015 edition and it's been played as a par five ever since.
The opening hole used to be a very easy par five first but that was changed to a par four five years ago. It was the hardest hole on the course in 2015, averaging 4.3, but it's played slightly easier since, averaging 4.26 and ranking as the second hardest hole in 2016 and it's been the third hardest in each of the last two years, averaging 4.27 and 4.24. The par 3 16th, which was a short par four before Seve's redesign, was the toughest hole on the course again last year, as it invariably is, averaging 3.4.
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 six and seven are short drivable par fours. Hardly anyone takes on the very narrow sixth but the vast majority will have a dig at the 7th. It was the second easiest hole on the course last year, averaging 3.59, and there were 10 eagle twos there during the course of the week. The par five 15th was the easiest hole last year - averaging just 4.54.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 10:30 UK time on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2018 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -17 (playoff)
2017 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -14 (playoff)
2016 - Alex Noren -17 (playoff)
2015 - Danny Willett -17
2014 - David Lipsky -18 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Omega European Masters?
The Driving stats are always a little misleading here and probably not that useful. The course is short and at altitude so there's absolutely no need to go bombing it off the tee. The driver stays in the bag for most of the holes and neither the Driving Distance nor the Driving Accuracy stats are much use.
Accuracy is slightly more important than power and Matthew Fitzpatrick ranked first for Driving Accuracy last year and 16th when he won in 2017 but the 2016 winner, Alex Noren, ranked 49th for DA and the 2015 champ, Danny Willett, ranked 55th. When Noren won here for the first time, in 2009, he ranked in the 50s for DA and so did Sergio Garcia in 2005 so although it is a tree-lined track, being arrow-straight off the tee hasn't been imperative.
The first and second last year, Fitzpatrick and Lucas Bjerregaard, ranked second and first for Greens In Regulation and that's the key stat. Fitzpatrick only ranked 16th for GIR in 207 but the man who lost in the playoff for a second year running, Scot Hend, ranked number one and GIR and Scrambling are usually the key stats here...
The second and third in 2016, Hend and Andrew Johnston, ranked second and fourth for GIR and a year earlier, the first and second, Willett and Fitzpatrick, ranked second and first for GIR. Looking back, eight of the last 13 winners have ranked either first or second for that stat but had Hend won the two playoffs in 2016 and 2017, that would have read an incredible 10 from 13.
Year after year, finding these small greens with frequency is the key to victory but if you are going to miss the odd one, getting up-and down with regularity is vital. Fitzpatrick only ranked 25th last year but the runner-up ranked fifth and Fitzpatrick had ranked second for Scrambling when he won in 2017, a year after Noren had won having ranked first.
Although Fitzpatrick only ranked 25th last year, four of the last six winners have ranked first or second for Scrambling and that trend extends further back in time with nine of the last 13 winners having ranked no worse than sixth for Scrambling.
The first three home last year ranked first fourth and second for Par 4 Scoring and the first three in 2017 all ranked tied second for Par 4 Scoring so that's the key par scoring stat to consider with six of the last 10 winners ranking number one on the par fours.
Is There an Angle In?
I'm stating the obvious maybe but course form holds up exceptionally well at this quickly and beautiful venue. Fitzpatrick now has figures reading MC-2-7-1-1 and he's the 12th player to win at the venue at least twice.
The 2015 winner, Willett, was playing Crans for a seventh time and he'd previously finished second and fifth. The 2013 winner, Thomas Bjorn, was winning the title for a second time in three years, the 2012 winner, Richie Ramsay, has twice finished inside the top-ten since and the 2010 victor, Miguel Angel Jimenez, has nine other top-tens to his name.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
David Lipsky caused a big shock when he won here four years ago, at odds in excess of [250.0], but the last four winners were fairly well-fancied. Fitzpatrick was a [30.0] chance before the off in 2017 but only because he was so badly out of form. He hadn't finished inside the top-40 in any event since June, he'd missed three of his previous seven cuts and his putting stats were abysmal so his price was understandable but he went off favourite 12 months ago the 2015 and 2016 winners were both third favourites so maybe the recent course changes have made the course more suited to the top class players?
Crans-sur-Sierre has often produced a big-name winner and the Omega European Masters has an impressive list of winners with many true greats having won here.
Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood have all won here in the modern era and the 2015 champ, Willett, joins an illustrious list of major champions to have taken this title. Sir Nick Faldo, Seve, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam and Ernie Els have all won here. The cream really tends to rise to the top and concentrating hard on the market leaders usually makes sense.
Fitzpatrick sat tied for 15th and just three off the lead after day one when he won two years ago but he was five adrift at halfway and that was unusually far back for winners here. Although he was only tied for sixth.
He was trailing by five after round one last year and the man he beat in the playoff, Lucas Bjerregaard, was four off the lead but they both made up ground on Friday and they sat tied for second at halfway.
Noren hit a high of [40.0] after a slow start in 2016 had seen him sit tied for 40th and five off the lead after he'd opened up with a one-under-par 69, and other recent winners, Lipsky, Ramsay and Bjorn have also trailed by at least five strokes after round one so a slow start can be overcome but you usually need to get a shift on in round two...
A second round 63 saw Noren shoot up into a tie for fourth, just one off the lead, and Fitzpatrick in 2017, and Richie Ramsay, who trailed by four in 2012, are the only winners since 1997 to be any further than three off the lead at halfway. You generally need a fast start and in the 20 editions since 1999, nine halfway leaders have gone on to win and two have been beaten in playoffs. A strike rate of 45% for 36-hole leaders is pretty impressive.
Bjorn and Ramsay both won easily by four strokes but we usually get a tight finish here and five of the last six renewals have gone to extra time - offering up a great chance to trade late on.
If you are going to get involved in-running, bear in mind that the two par fives on the back-nine, 14 and 15, are reachable in two and they offer up a great chance to score, but the par three 16th is the hardest hole on the course and any gains at 14 and/or 15 can soon be given back.
Brand-new FedEx Cup winner, Rory McIlroy, is the star turn on what would still be a glitzy line-up without him. It's Rory's first trip back to Crans since he finished third in 2011 but that wasn't his first Swiss near miss. He was also seventh here ten years ago and he really should have won his first professional tournament here in 2008 when he missed a tiddler to take the title before losing in extra time to Jean-Francois Lucquin.
There isn't a better place on earth to bask in the glories of last week but how heavy were the celebrations and how focused will McIlroy be this week? It would be ridiculous to suggest he's not professional enough to be ready and raring to go come Thursday and if he backed up his fabulous win at East lake with another victory here nobody would be surprised but I'm happy to let him go unbacked at what looks a short enough price.
Matthew Fitzpatrick is bidding to win the title for a third year in succession and that's a huge undertaking. Defending titles is tough, racking up hat-tricks is even tougher. The presence of Rory will take away some of the attention from Fitzpatrick and he's been in tremendous form of late. He clearly loves it here and he was arguably unfortunate not to at least get into a playoff in Sweden on Sunday but is he a fair price to win again here at around 8/1? I think he is, but only just.
Tommy Fleetwood has been here half a dozen times and his course form figures can be split in to two. After a promising 19th on debut in 2012 he finished ninth and fifth but his last three visits have been uninspiring to say the least with a 49th place in 2016 sandwiched between missed cuts in 2015 and 2017. Tommy's been on the go all summer and having reached East Lake, where he finished 13th, he more than most, could be ready for a rest. Of the market leaders, he appears the easiest to dismiss.
The 2015 winner, Danny Willett, was also runner-up in 2012 and fifth in 2014 but he's also flopped here a number of times and his course form reflects his current form. His sixth place finish at the Open and his 12th in the US Open read very well but he missed the cut at the Irish Open and by and large he hasn't been putting brilliantly of late. His GIR and Scrambling stats have been poor in each of his last two outings - 48th at the FedEx St Jude and 24th at the Northern Trust - and I'm happy to swerve him.
I'm happy to have a saver on Matthew Fitzpatrick at [9.6] and I also like a couple of outsiders - Alexander Bjork and Sam Horsfield.
Bjork withdrew last year after an opening 69 and he was only 16th on debut 12 months earlier but that was a much better effort than the result suggests. He sat tied for fourth with just three holes to play before a bogey at 16 was followed by a double at 17. I backed him because of his exceptional scrambling skills but he only actually ranked 52nd for Scrambling in 2017 and that's nowhere near good enough so his performance was eye-catching.
After a quiet summer, Bjork has shown signs of life of late. After finishing 23rd at the Czech Masters, he finished with a 64 on Sunday to finish 20th in Sweden and I thought he was worth chancing at [95.0].
Sam Horsfield missed the cut here on debut 12 months ago but his recent Par 4 Performance stats are excellent and he ranked fifth for Scrambling when finishing third in the Czech Masters a fortnight ago. After that fine effort, where he also ranked number one for Putting Average, he took his time to get going in Sweden last week but a 67 on Saturday and stunning 62 on Sunday saw him crack the top-ten and I felt he was playing too well to ignore at a big price.
I've also thrown a few pounds at my each-way pick, Matthias Schwab, on the exchange at [150.0].
Matthew Fitzpatrick @ [9.6]
Alexander Bjork @ [95.0]
Sam Horsfield @ [140.0]
Matthias Schwab @ [150.0]
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