After two years, we're finally back to the Swiss mountains for the most picturesque event on the European Tour so get the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start with the Punter's in-depth preview here...
"Looking back, eight of the last 14 winners have ranked either first or second for GIR but had Hend won the two playoffs in 2016 and 2017, that would have read an incredible 10 from 14."
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.
Like the last couple of events on the European Tour, the Omega European Masters was lost to the pandemic last year so it's great to see it back on the schedule.
Crans-sur-Sierre, Crans Montana, Switzerland
Par 70, 6848 yards
Stroke index in 2019 - 68.58
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 but that was changed to a par four seven years ago. It was the hardest hole on the course in 2019 and the start here is fairly challenging. The par three third and the par four fourth were the second and third hardest in 2019 and the par 3 16th, which was a short par four before Seve's redesign, was the fourth toughest hole on the course and that was unusual as it's usually the toughest.
The fairways are slopey, mostly tree-lined, and of average width and the greens are small and shaped like an upturned-saucers. 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 easiest hole on the course in 2019, averaging 3.48, and there were 13 eagle twos there during the course of the week.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 12:30 UK time on Thursday
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Sebastian Soderberg -14 540.0539/1
2018 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -17 (playoff) 13.012/1
2017 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -14 (playoff) 30.029/1
2016 - Alex Noren -17 (playoff) 19.018/1
2015 - Danny Willett -17 18.017/1
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 in 2018 and 16th when he won in 2017 but the 2019 winner, Sebastian Soderberg, only ranked 31st for DA, the 2016 winner, Alex Noren, ranked 49th 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.
Soderberg only ranked 33rd for Greens In Regulation two years ago but the first and second in 2018, 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 2017 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.
Looking back, eight of the last 14 winners have ranked either first or second for GIR but had Hend won the two playoffs in 2016 and 2017, that would have read an incredible 10 from 14.
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. Soderberg ranked third for Scrambling, and although Fitzpatrick only ranked 25th in 2018, 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.
As many as five of the last seven winners have ranked first, second or third for Scrambling and that trend extends further back in time with ten of the last 14 winners having ranked no worse than sixth for Scrambling.
Soderberg only ranked 13th for Par 4 Scoring two years ago but Rory McIlroy, beaten in the playoff, ranked first, and the first three home in 2018 ranked first, fourth, and second for Par 4 Scoring. 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 11 winners ranking number one on the par fours.
Is There an Angle In?
Course form holds up exceptionally well at this quirky and beautiful venue. Fitzpatrick now has figures reading MC-2-7-1-1-69 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.
Rory McIlroy and Scott Hend haven't won the title but they've both lost two playoffs.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Soderberg, who was playing here for the first time, was was very much a surprise winner two years ago, but the four winners before him were fairly well-fancied. Fitzpatrick was a 30.029/1 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 three years ago and the 2015 and 2016 winners were both third favourites.
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.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Sebastian Soderberg tied ninth - trailing by four 100.099/1
2018 - Matthew Fitzpatrick led by two 1.738/11
2017 - Matthew Fitzpatrick tied third trailing by four 9.08/1
2016 - Alex Noren solo second trailing by a stroke 2.6813/8
2015 - Danny Willett tied for the lead 2.285/4
Having been matched at 1000.0 in-running Soderberg was still trading at a triple-figure price with a round to go two years ago but he was a very unusual winner. Most are bang up with the pace from halfway.
Fitzpatrick sat tied for 15th and just three off the lead after day one when he won here for the first time in 2017 but like Soderberg two years ago, he was five adrift at halfway and that's unusually far back for winners here. Although he was only tied for sixth.
He was trailing by five after round one in 2018 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 40.039/1 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, David Lipsky, Richie Ramsay and Thomas 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 Soderberg, Fitzpatrick in 2017, and 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 21 editions since 1999, nine halfway leaders have gone on to win and two have been beaten in playoffs. A strike rate of 43% 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 six of the last seven 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 very often the hardest hole on the course and any gains at 14 and/or 15 can soon be given back.
With Ryder Cup qualification still a possibility, Austria's Bernd Wiesberger heads what is a very competitive market.
As a demonstration of just how competitive this tournament is, Wiesberger is currently trading at 27.026/1 and he's the only player in the field trading at less than 30.029/1 but with just one top-10 and three missed cuts in seven previous appearances, he makes little appeal.
I shall get properly involved at the halfway stage and I'll be back with the In-Play Blog on Friday night or Saturday morning but I'm still backing three before the off - Danny Willett, Andrew 'Beef' Johnston and the 2019 champ, Sebastian Soderberg.
I'm in full agreement with Matt Cooper, who makes a great case for Willett in his each-way piece and as I like course form here, I'm happy to back Soderberg even though Seve Ballesteros, back in the 1970s, was the last player to win the event back-to-back before Fitzpatrick.
My only other pick is Andrew Johnston who finished third here back in 2016. As a winner at Valderrama, Johnston has the right skillset for the venue and although lightly raced, he's played quite well on occasions this year, finishing inside the top-20 in four of his last six starts, including a fourth at the Canary Islands Championship.
I'll be back tomorrow with the BMW Championship preview.
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