The European Tour moves north from the Czech Republic to Sweden for the Scandinavian Invitation this week. Read our man's comprehensive preview for clues ahead of Thursday's start here...
"He won the BMW International Open in Germany in June and he was also fourth at the Scottish Open so it's hard to point to a more in form player in the field. The venue clearly suits him and I thought he was worth chancing at [24.0]."
Formerly the Nordea Masters and before that the Scandinavian Masters, the Scandinavian Invitation was created in 1991 when the Scandinavian Enterprise Open, an event that dated back to the 1960s, merged with the PLM Open.
Although a fairly new tournament, some big names have already taken the title. Colin Montgomerie won the inaugural staging and he went on to win it three times. Lee Westwood has also won the event three times and major winners Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Graeme McDowell and Adam Scott have also taken the title.
Home hero and 2016 Open winner, Henrik Stenson, is yet to win what is effectively his national title but he plays here this week in favour of the Tour Championship.
Hills Golf and Sports Club, Hills vag, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Par 71, 7,169 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 - 70.47
Designed by Steve Forrest and Arthur Hills, the Hills only opened in 2005 but six holes - 9. 10, 11, 12, 13 and 18 - were reworked by three-time European Tour winner and co-owner of the Hills, Johan Edfors nine years later.
The course is entirely bent grass. Water is in-play on nine holes and all the greens were relayed with the new 007 bent grass turf and some subtle slope changes were also made in October 2017.
The Hills was used for the event for the first time last year but as is so often the case with European Tour events, info about the new venue was sparse and there's still nothing at all about the course on the European Tour website.
Prior to last year's renewals I mailed the former Hills Golf and Sports Club manager, Kerr Rowan, who was kind enough to give us some pointers so they're worth revisiting. I asked Kerr if the course reminded him of any other courses.
"Hmm that's a tough one. It's a very unique course built in a Forrest with a lot of natural rock as features. It's very American in style with bright white bunkers and very green grass. The greens are fairly small and undulated. A little similar to the Albatross Course in Prague?"
The Hills was also used for the only once staged Dubliner Challenge on the Challenge Tour 11 years ago (Demark's Mark Flindt Haastrup's only title) but since it was reduced to 54 holes and the course has been extensively reworked since, that form is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday at 10:00 UK time.
Last Five Winners
2018 - Paul Waring -14
2017 - Renato Paratore -11
2016 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -16
2015 - Alex Noren -12
2014 - Thongchai Jaidee -16
What Will it Take to Win the Nordea Masters?
Prior to the off last year, I spent time looking at videos and photos of the course and having read and heard that it was generous off the tee, I asked Kerr whether he agreed with my thoughts that it was a second shot course, that it was easy off the tee and that finding the greens in regulation would be the key?
"Yeah I would. The first hole is a par five for the members but they're playing it as a par four for the pros. Not that easy a par four for an opener but pretty easy driving course after that. I would think the pros will score low as it's not too tough at that level."
The first hole averaged 4.39 12 months ago and it did transpire to be the hardest hole on the course. The winner, Paul Waring, only ranked 56th for Driving Accuracy and the first three home ranked fourth, 12th and first for Greens In Regulation so at first glance, one could assume it was a second shot course and that accuracy off the tee wasn't important but the second and third, Thomas Aiken and Max Kieffer, ranked fifth and fourth for Driving Accuracy.
It's really tricky to make any assumptions after one renewal but focusing on the Driving Accuracy stats could be the way forward. Aiken and Kieffer are definitely known for their accuracy but on the other hand, Thorbjörn Olesen in fourth and Lucas Herbert in fifth only ranked 48th and 66th for DA.
It's a tricky one to assess and we'll know a lot more after this year's renewal but it's worth pointing out that conditions were soft 12 months ago so it's possibly a bit surprising that driving distance was almost irrelevant. Big hitters are usually advantaged in wet conditions with no run on the fairways but the top-five ranked 10th, 66th, 61st, 28th and 38th for Driving Distance.
Waring won it on the par-threes, shooting two shots better than anyone else and eight better than the runner-up, Aiken. Par 4 performance may be a better guide this year though, as all of the top-five were ranked ninth or better. The rest of the stats from last year are a mixed bag, with only greens in regulation standing out.
Is There an Angle In?
Check out last week's result of the D&D Real Czech Masters at the Albatross Course. Kerr thought that venue may correlate and it appears he was on to something looking at last year's result. The 2017 Czech Masters winner, Haydn Porteous, and the 2018 winner, Andrea Pavan, both finished tied for sixth here 12 months ago.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Alex Noren, Mikko Ilonen and Jesper Parnevik have all won the event twice and as already mentioned, Monty and Westwood have won it three times. That's a lot of multiple winners for an event that only started in the 90s so any past winners might be worth considering.
Swedes have a reasonable record in the event, given they've won four of the last 11 renewals and this title has often gone to a well-fancied player but outsiders, winning for the first time on the European Tour, have won the last two renewals. Waring went off at [210.0] last year and Renato Paratore was a [260.0] chance.
The way the weekend panned out last year may lead many to conclude that this is a front-runners' track. Waring was tied for the lead with Scott Jamieson at halfway, two clear of Thomas Aiken in third, who was two clear of the remainder and Waring and Aiken were tied at the top with a round to go but, on closer examination it may transpire to be a track capable of producing more than its fair share of off-the-pace winners. The playoff protagonists may have been up with the pace from halfway but there were some pretty wild fluctuations just below them.
For example, three of the group that finished sixth - Andrea Pavan, Robert Rock, and Haydn Porteous - were 39th, 53rd and 97th respectively after round one. Waring and Aiken were four back in eighth after round one and the eventual third and fourth, Kieffer and Olesen, who were beaten by just one and two strokes, were six back in a tie for 29th after round one.
Evidently a fast start is not essential and it's also interesting to note how earlier leaders Clement Sordet and Scott Jamieson fell away - the latter finishing 42nd despite sharing a two-shot lead at halfway.
Home hero, Henrik Stenson, is the man to beat according to the market and it's telling that he's decided to play here instead of attempting to win the FedEx Cup.
"After a busy spring and summer, the choice was the FedEx Cup or the Scandinavian Invitation, and my decision now allows me to be in Sweden to practise and recharge my batteries looking ahead to the final part of this season."
He didn't play here last year but the course should suit him and he's been in fair form all summer.
Matthew Fitzpatrick is another yet to see the venue but like Stenson, he should enjoy the challenge, given accuracy looks to be key.
Fitzpatrick won the 2016 edition and he was runner up when defending at a different venue so he clearly enjoys being in Sweden. Fitzpatrick was fourth at the WGC FedEx St Jude when last sighted three weeks ago.
Alex Noren has twice won this event, in 2011 and 2015, and after a largely disappointing year, he's found a bit of form. He could only finish 60th at the Northern Trust two weeks ago but he'd finished inside the top-12 in both the Open Championship and the FedEx St Jude prior to that so he may have found form at just the right time. This is Noren's first look at the course too.
Erik Van Rooyen's fine summer of form continued with a tied fifth at the Czech Masters last week but that first European title is proving hard to grasp. He remains a frustrating player to back and I'm happy to swerve him.
Andrea Pavan finished tied for sixth here last year before going on to win his first title at the Czech Masters the following week. The two events have switched this year and Pavan arrives in Sweden after an extremely credible defence in the Czech Republic where he finished third.
He won the BMW International Open in Germany in June and he was also fourth at the Scottish Open so it's hard to point to a more in form player in the field. The venue clearly suits him and I thought he was worth chancing at [24.0].
Andrea Pavan @ [24.0]
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