A number of quality PGA Tour stars are in Hamburg for this week's European Tour action but outsiders are on the menu for Steve Rawlings. Read his comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"This course is clearly no respecter of reputation and a couple of high rollers came unstuck last year. Patrick Reed could only finish ninth, having begun the final round trailing by a stroke and having been matched at just [2.18], Paul Casey fell away tamely having contended, and Bryson DeChambeau, who was tied for the lead with a round to go, completely capitulated!"
The Porsche European Open was first staged back in 1978, when Bobby Wadkins got the better of fellow American, Gill Morgan, and Scotland's Bernard Gallacher in a playoff at Walton Heath and the tournament was a nomadic ever-present on the European Tour until 2009 when it fell off the schedule.
It returned to the rota in 2015 and for the first two years it was played at the Beckenbauer Course in Bad Griesbach but it switched to the Green Eagle Resort, just outside Hamburg, in 2017 and we're back there again this time around for the third year in-a-row.
The tournament was staged in July last year, a week after the Open Championship, and the likes of Patrick Reed, Paul Casey, Bryson DeChambeau, Charl Schwartzel and Pat Perez all played in the event before returning to the States and with the 2019-20 PGA Tour season still a week away from starting, Reed and Casey are back again, and Xander Schauffele and Matt Kuchar are also in the field.
The Porsche Nord Course, Green Eagle Golf Resort, Hamburg, Germany
Par 72, 7,583 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 - 72.47
Formerly known as the North Course, the Porsche Nord Course host track is extremely long, measuring in excess of 7,800 yards. According to the European Tour website, it will measure 7,544 yards this year (compared to 7,583 in 2018) but with as many as four teeing areas on each hole, there's plenty of flexibility with regards to set up and we're in the dark to a certain extent.
In addition to the last two renewals of this event, the Porsche Nord Course was also used on the Challenge Tour in 2010 for the ECCO Tour Championship, which was won by the then amateur, Andreas Harto, in eight-under-par.
According to the European Tour website last year, the course had the highest slope rating (greens) in the 2017 season and it was the longest course used last season. It's reputed to be one of the ten longest courses in the world and it's described as the most difficult golf course in Germany.
The Porsche Nord Course is a flat parkland course with wide fairways but it has water in-play to varying degrees on almost every hole. The greens are laid to a mixture of Bentgrass and Poa Annua and they're large with big undulations. They said to be in very good condition this year and they're expected to run at around 11 on the Stimpmeter.
The fairways are also reported to be in excellent condition but after a period of dry, hot weather they're said to be firm and it's been difficult to grow any rough. The flyover below gives a good feel for the terrain and I've looked at the layout in more detail in the In-Play Tactics section below.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 10:00 (UK time) on Thursday
Last Four Winners
2018 - Richard McEvoy -11
2017 - Jordan Smith -13 (playoff)
2016 - Alex Levy -12 (playoff)
2015 - Thongchai Jaidee -19
What Will it Take to Win the Porsche European Open?
Rain in the lead up to the 2017 renewal saw the organisers reduce the yardages so length off the tee wasn't the huge advantage I thought it might have been before the off but it was still advantageous. The winner, Jordan Smith, ranked third for Driving Distance, the man he beat in the playoff, Alex Levy, ranked 10th, and three of the first four home ranked inside the top-ten for Par Five Performance but it wasn't just a case of bashing it miles...
The first three home ranked seventh, 14th and 18th for Driving Accuracy and Adrian Otaegui and Zander Lombard, who finished tied for fifth, ranked first and fifth for DA, suggesting accuracy was just as important and possibly more important than length.
After a much drier summer last year, I suspected they'd extend the yardage a bit more and that Driving Distance would be a more important stat that it had been in 2017 but that wasn't the case at all. There were no stats were for the amateur, Allen John, who finished tied for second, so I've no idea how far he hit it off the tee but none of those to finish inside the top-12 ranked any better than 39th (Patrick Reed) for Driving Distance.
The winner, Richard McEvoy, ranked 62nd for DD and the two men to finish alongside John in second, Christofer Blomstrand and Renato Paratore, ranked 50th and 58th. Yes, it's a long course on paper but they fiddle with the yardage during the tournament and it's far from a bombers' paradise.
Extreme caution advised before the off?
With four different teeing options on every hole, it's really difficult to know how the course will be set up this week. It's extremely long on paper and it sounds like the rough may be sparse, so the big hitters really should enjoy the test, in theory, but I thought that last year and it simply wasn't the case.
Paul Krishnamurty has been covering for me while I've been on holiday and his De-brief last night has some great advice about in-running trading. This could be the perfect week to keep the powder dry and get involved more after the off. As you'll see below, we've seen plenty of drama here in the last two years and I see no reason why we won't again this time around.
After the first renewal, it looked like this might be a hard venue at which to win from off the pace. Only two players to finish inside the top-11 were outside the top-nine and ties at halfway. The winner, Smith, had trailed by four in a tie for 33rd after round one but he was up to tied fourth and only two back at hallway and he led with a round to go. Levy, who was beaten by Smith in extra time, was never outside the front four places and it had been a similar story on the only previous occasion the course was used in 2010.
The first three home were inside the top-ten all the way and never more than four strokes off the pace. The first and second sat one off the lead and tied for the lead after round one and they were tied for the lead with a round to go.
Like the first two course winners, McEvoy, was also up with the pace throughout last year. He sat tied for 27th and four adrift after round one but he was second and just one back at halfway. He then led by a stroke with a round to go but the three men to finish tied for second had trailed by four, six and seven strokes so an off the pace winner is clearly a possibility and in-running drama looks highly likely if the last renewals are anything to go by...
Alex Levy had looked like making a successful title defence when he led by a stroke playing the final hole in 2017 but he couldn't match Jordan Smith's birdie at the par five 18th and the event went in to extra time. Smith failed to make birdie again and more than £17K was matched on Levy at [1.01] as he stood over a tiddler for the title but then this happened.
? The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 30, 2017
We're going back down 18! pic.twitter.com/cFtb4AJ4KI
A shell-shocked Levy couldn't match Smith's birdie four at the second extra hole and the title went the way of the Englishman.
This course is clearly no respecter of reputation and a couple of high rollers came unstuck last year. Patrick Reed could only finish ninth, having begun the final round trailing by a stroke and having been matched at just [2.18] after he'd birdied the third, Paul Casey fell away tamely having contended, and Bryson DeChambeau, who was tied for the lead with a round to go, completely capitulated! His price dipped to [1.23] when he led by a stroke with four to play but he lost the plot completely after that.
The American went for the green over water in two on the par five 15th but didn't get close. He played a decent fourth shot after his penalty drop but failed to make the par save, while playing partner, McEvoy, who had begun the hole trailing by a stroke, strolled to the 16th tee leading by one after a superb birdie four, having played the hole conventionally.
Clearly rattled, DeChambeau then fired his tee-shot on 16 way left and into the trees and it looked like McEvoy would cruise to victory but it wasn't quite that simple.
After a far too long anti-water tee-shot, McEvoy failed to get-up-and-down for par on the par three 17th and having been matched at a low of [1.2], all of a sudden, he was tied for the lead with just the par five 18th to play. He went on to make a birdie four despite laying up but he traded far bigger again and it was a trader's dream.
It was probably apt that McEvoy won the event by laying up at the last as he plotted his way around superbly all week and that was very clearly demonstrated on the fourth hole on Sunday, which, it could easily be argued, was bordering on unfair. Only perfect approach shots stayed on the fiery narrow peninsular green and incredibly, McEvoy was the only player in the last three groups not to go in the water there in round four.
The par four sixth hole presented a similar test and it averaged a whopping 4.55 in round four but the players get a chance to relax after that with a short par four, a simple enough par three and the par five ninth, which averaged only fractionally more than the par four sixth had done on day four. It gets tough again after though if last year is any sort of gauge.
The 10th, 12th and 13th holes are very long par fours and at well in excess of 200 yards, the par three 14th is a brute too for the shorter hitters. It was over that stretch that the tournament looked to be going the way of DeChambeau, whose length was a clear advantage, but you need strategy more than just brute force here and his decision to try and reach the par five 15th over water proved fatal.
The par five finishing hole averaged only 4.56 and it was the easiest on the course last year but even that requires a degree of tactical knowhow.
There's been money for course debutant and favourite, Xander Schauffele, and I'm not surprised. Having finished 19th in the BMW Championship and second in the Tour Championship, he's finished the PGA Tour season in fine fettle and he's most certainly the man to beat.
His father's German so I imagine he's combining the trip with a bit of sightseeing and maybe some distant family reunions but he's more than capable of overcoming any distractions and he's a worthy favourite.
Paul Casey was third behind Schauffele at East Lake last time out so he arrives in fine form too and he was seventh here last year, which should give him an edge over the favourite, but as always with Casey, his inability to close out has to be factored in and he's too short for me.
Patrick Reed must see this as a course that suits as this is his third appearance in as many years. As detailed above, he traded short here last year before falling away to finish ninth and he was 19th on debut in 2017. A player of his calibre commands respect but having won The Northern Trust three starts ago, his form had tapered off somewhat and he's fairly easy to dismiss at around 11/1.
Thomas Pieters is playing here for the first time but having won the Czech Masters and finished 12th in Switzerland last week, he arrives in Germany in good heart and the venue should suit him. He's arguably a bit short given that was his first win in three years but I prefer him to fellow course debutant, Matt Kuchar, who's been out of form for a while now and he could well have made the trip for the appearance money alone.
I don't like the look of this event one iota so I'm being extremely cautious before the off but I have found four to have a few pounds on...
Guido Migliozzi looked a bit overpriced given he's already won twice this season and that his Greens In Regulation figures are strong and I've backed two that were beaten in extra-time in Switzerland last week - Kalle Samooja and Lorenzo Gagli. And I've also backed my each-way selection, Max Schmitt, at a big price on the exchange.
I'll be back late in the week with the In-Play Blog.
Guido Migliozzi @ [120.0]
Kalle Smooja @ [150.0]
Lorenzo Gagli @ [180.0]
Max Schmitt @ [350.0]
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter