The European Tour returns to Austria this week for a brand-new initiative. Read all about the Shot Clock Masters here with Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start...
“With the shot clock in operation and with a weaker than average field, trading on Sunday could be a great way to play the event.”
The Shot Clock Masters is the Lyoness Open reincarnated with a touch of speed (see "How the Shot Clock Works" below).
Bernard Langer won the first edition of the tournament (formally the Austrian Open before it was known as the Lyoness) in 1990 but after just seven editions the tournament was relegated to the Challenge Tour. The event was flagging, and it wasn't even played in 2000 but then along came Austrian golfing legend, Markus Brier, whose popularity revitalised the tournament.
Brier, who has come out of retirement to play this week, won the event twice, in 2002 and 2004, and it was elevated back up to the European Tour in 2006 when Brier managed to win it for a third and final time.
Staged at the Diamond Country Club since 2010, the event has been a mainstay of the European Tour since 2006 but with the US Open on next week, and following two big Rolex Series events, the field this week is decidedly weak. And I'm not convinced the format change has helped either. The defending champion, Dylan Frittelli, isn't bothering to play and the absence of proud Austrian and 2012 winner, Bernd Wiesberger, is especially noteworthy.
How the Shot Clock Works
The tournament is staged over four rounds like any other stroke play event but with a twist. Each player will have only so long to play each shot. The first player in a group to play has 50 seconds for any given shot and subsequent players get, 40 seconds. Players will incur a one-shot penalty for each bad time incurred and these will be shown as a red card against their name on the leaderboard.
Each player will have the right to call two 'time-outs' during a round which will permit them twice the usually allotted time to play the shot.
Diamond Golf Course, Atzenbrugg, Austria
Par 72 - 7,458 yards
Stroke Index in 2017 - 73.14
The Jeremy Pern designed Diamond Course opened in 2002.
The fairways are fairly flat and quite exposed, and the small greens are expected to run at around 11.5. Water is in-play on nine of the 18 holes.
This will be the ninth year in-a-row that the Diamond Course has hosted the event. Prior to the 2014 renewal the course was lengthened and the two nines were switched - creating a course made up of three distinct thirds.
The course opens with a short par five, which last year ranked as the second easiest hole on the course - averaging just 4.76. That's followed by a 200 yard plus par three to an island green. Then the par five fourth - the third easiest hole on the course last year - is sandwiched between two straightforward par 4s before the first third is finished with another par three played to an island green.
Holes seven to 12 are all challenging par fours that all averaged over-par last year. Holes eight and nine ranked as the third and first hardest last year - averaging 4.27 and 4.35- but with the exception of the tricky par three 14th (second toughest hole last year), once the players are through that middle section it gets a little easier.
Back-to-back par fives at, 15 and 16, offer up a chance to score and the par three finishing hole is fairly straightforward.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 9:30 UK and Ireland time on Thursday.
Last Five Lyoness Open Winners
2017 - Dylan Frittelli -12
2016 - Ashun Wu -13
2015 - Chris Wood -15
2014 - Mikael Lundberg -12 (playoff)
2013 - Joost Luiten -17
What Will it Take to Win the Shot Clock Masters?
Bernd Wiesberger hit the ball further than anyone else off the tee when he won here in 2012 but hitting it miles off the tee is certainly not crucial. Last year's winner, Dylan Frittelli, ranked 13th for Driving Distance and the 2016 winner, Ashun Wu, ranked a respectable 19th but the two winners before him ranked only 61st and 51st for DD. The average DD ranking of the seven eight winners to date is 27.6 whereas the average Driving Accuracy ranking is 15th and no winner has ranked any worse than 24th for DA, so accuracy appears of more importance than power off the tee.
Frittelli ranked 13th for Greens In Regulation, the 2014 winner, Mikael Lundberg, ranked 20th and Wiesberger ranked 11th in 2012 but the other five winners have ranked, in chronological order, eighth, fourth, first, sixth and sixth again for GIR so that's a key stat.
Joost Luiten only ranked 31st for Scrambling but none of the other winners have ranked any worse than 11th. Frittelli ranked third last year and the first four home in 2016 ranked sixth, second, fourth and fifth for that Scrambling so hitting plenty of greens and getting it up-and-down when you do miss one is the key to success around here. Although a good performance with the putter always helps and five of the eight winners have had a Putting Average ranking of sixth or better. Frittelli ranked 14th 12 months ago.
This is a tough course that tests every part of a player's game and the best indicator is probably Par 4 Scoring given the top ranked player on the par fours has placed here every year.
Is There an Angle In?
This is a really tough event to evaluate but it may be worth sticking with those that have previously tasted success on the European Tour.
In the fullness of time, Dylan Frittelli may transpire to be a bit of a one-off as he's the only Diamond Course winner not to have previously won on the European Tour.
This is a really weak event with lots of players looking for their first win on the European Tour so it will be interesting to see if Frittelli started a trend last year or bucked one.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Odds wise, the 2016 winner, Ashun Wu, was matched at a high [220.0] before the off and the 2014 winner, Lundberg, was matched at in excess of [500.0] so I wouldn't put anyone off a rank outsider. Chris Wood was a well-backed 14/1 second-favourite in-between those two long-shots and the other six course winner's SPs ranged between around 25/1 and 66/1. Frittelli was tipped up in the each-way column by Paul Krishnamurty at 40/1.
The last two winners have trailed by two strokes in second place after 54 holes but we've seen winners come from four, five and even six strokes adrift with a round to go and only one of the eight course winners to date (Joost Luiten in 2013) has been in front with a round to go. It's a tough place to lead.
Three men have traded at odds-on in round four in each of the last four years, so it's been a great place to lay the contenders on Sunday. With the shot clock in operation and with a weaker than average field, trading on Sunday could be a great way to play the event.
I'll be bearing in mind the hole averages and how the course is split in to three sections and I'll be looking to take on the short-priced contenders over the weekend and especially on Sunday.
The fact that two players looking to win for the first time on the European Tour, Lorenzo Gagli and Austria's Mattias Schwab, are trading at less than 20/1 and that 54-year-old Champions Tour player, Miguel Angel Jimenez, who hasn't won on the European Tour in four years, is the third best in the market, tells you all you need to know about the strength of the field. And Jimenez isn't here because he fancies a go at some speed golf - he's married to an Austrian so often makes the trip.
It's going to be all about laying for me here given how many have traded so short in the last four editions, but I've backed my each-way pick, Richard McEvoy on the exchange as well as each-way and I've also topped up on Paul's choice, Austin Connelly.
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter