The Russian Open returned to the schedule after a break of five years 12 months ago. Between 1993 and 2008, it switched between being a Challenge Tour event and an official European Tour event but it was never considered a strong one and with the market leaders this week languishing somewhere around 200th in the Official World Rankings, this year's renewal is particularly weak.
Tseleevo Golf & Polo Club, Moscow Region, Russia
Par 72, 7,491 yards
Stroke Index in 2013 - 72.45
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club only opened in 2009. It's a mixture of parkland and tree-lined holes in a beautiful location and after it opened, Nicklaus described it as "one of the top 10 courses I have built so far".
Those that have played it have praised it highly and after he'd won here in 2013, Michael Hoey said of the course: "I have absolutely loved the golf course this week. It is a great Nicklaus design and one of the best we will play on Tour for the whole year. The greens are just so pure and when you have surfaces like that to putt on then you can make a lot of putts."
Last year's renewal isn't the only form we have to ponder, Tseleevo also hosted the Russian Challenge Cup on the Challenge Tour for three years between 2010 and 2012 where Carlos Del Moral (-11), Sam Little (-11), and Alex Kaleka (-7) were the three winners.
Last year the fairways were described as wide but appropriately so given the difficulty of the course and the rough very consistent and punishing. The bentgrass greens ran at 11 on the stimpmeter.
The signature hole is the par four seventh, featuring a blind tee shot to a downhill fairway which dog-legs from right to left to a green that's well protected by a water hazard to the front, and two bunkers on either side.
I know it's not the strongest of fields competing this week but the course looks a picture and as the event was televised last year, I'm quite looking forward to seeing it this time round.
Live on Sky Sports - 14:30 on Thursday and Friday and 11:00 on Saturday and Sunday
Last Five Winners
2013 - Michael Hoey -16
2009-2012 No event
2008 - Mikael Lundberg -21
2007 - Per-Ulrik Johansson -23
2006 - Alejandro Canizares -22
2005 - Mikael Lundberg -15
What Will it Take to Win The Russian Open?
Performing well on the par 5s was important in the Russian Challenge Cup and last year's fourth placed finisher, J.B Hansen, played the long holes better than anyone else in, 11-under-par, but Hoey's victory came courtesy of a great week with the putter.
I don't think we can draw too much from the stats but if the greens are as perfect as they were 12 months ago then it makes sense to think that good putters, or anyone having a hot week with the flatstick, will do well.
Is There an Angle In?
Previous course form has been an asset here - last year's runner-up Kaleka was a previous winner at the track and three others in the field this week, J.B Hansen, Sam Walker and Mikko Korhonen have two top-ten finishes from just two starts so it might make sense to examine closely those that fared well here on debut last year or that have played well here in the past.
Hoey was playing the course for the first time but his victory could also provide a clue. He's a winner of the Hassan Trophee II, staged at another beautifully manicured exclusive tree-lined venue - Golf du Palais Royal. That's a mixed links and tree-lined venue as opposed to tree-lined and parkland but with little to go on, it may prove to be an angle-in.
Current form was almost irrelevant last year. Hansen had finished third at the Scottish Open in his penultimate start but Hoey came into the tournament with figures reading 32-63-MC and six of the first eight home had missed the cut in their previous event. Hoey and James Morrison, who finished tied fifth, were the only two in the first eight not to have missed at least two cuts in their previous three starts so if you fancy someone that hasn't been playing brilliantly I really wouldn't be too concerned.
The field will encounter four of the hardest six holes over the first seven they play so it's a tough start until they reach the easiest hole on the course, the par 5 8th. It's even tougher just after the turn with holes 10 and 12 ranking first and second hardest 12 months ago but once through the 12th there's a chance to score and this offers up a number of potential opportunities...
I'm assuming there'll be playing a two tee start over the first two days so if you're betting in-running early on in the event bear in mind where players are on the course and that once they're through the 12th they could easily pick up a few strokes but more importantly, we need to be aware of where everyone is on the course on Sunday.
Majors apart, experienced stars, Mikko Ilonen and Justin Rose, are the only two players to convert a third round lead on the European Tour since May and given the grade of this event, and the fact that it's televised live this time, I can see all sorts of carnage in-running on day four and should someone from off the pace get in-the-mix they could very easily post an unattainable score.
I will be mindful of how tricky the 10th and 12th are but after that it might be worth getting onside anyone that's attaching themselves to the leaders. It will be much easier for a low grade player to post a score and sit in the clubhouse than it will for an overnight leader to hunt them down.
This really is a weak event, with the first two in the betting, Scott Jamieson and Rikard Karlberg, unreliable in-contention and ranked either side of number 200 in the world rankings. A strong affair it isn't.
I thought David Horsey likely to improve on his tied 17th on debut last year. Like Hoey, he's also won the Hassan Trophee II but he's pretty poor in-contention and I'm more than happy to leave him out as I am all the others towards the head of the market.
I can't be confident about any of my selections but given current form is nowhere near as important as previous course form, I've decided to chance three players that have already played well here before.
J.B Hansen isn't playing well but he wasn't before he suddenly popped up from nowhere to finish third at the Scottish Open last year. He started slowly here after that, possibly with an increase in expectation, but he finished very well climbing from 19th to 4th with weekend rounds of 67 and 68. He was also 4th here in 2012 on his course debut.
Carlos Del Moral won the first staging of the Russian Challenge Cup and I thought he was worth just about worth chancing. He missed the cut last year and he's not in great form but he's shown form at the same venues previously so I wouldn't be surprised if he figured again this year.
Alexandre Kaleka finished runner-up to Hoey last year, 12 months after winning the third and final Russian Challenge Cup here so he clearly loves the venue and it's all in the genes. The Frenchman's grandparents left Russia at the beginning of the last century and he says he likes it here. With an absence of much to go on, as tenuous as it is, that'll do for me.
JB Hansen @ 60.059/1
Carlos Del Moral @ 60.059/1
Alexandre Kaleka @ 66/1 (Sportsbook)
I'll be back shortly with my Canadian Open preview.
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