It’s all systems go on the DP World Tour now until the Ryder Cup at the end of September, with some high class personnel set to tee it up in quality events over the next five weeks, in the hope of securing their spot at Marco Simone G&CC.
The likes of Wentworth and Le Golf National are on their way but first we head to Albatross Golf Resort for the Czech Masters, where a couple of bright stars who’ve been performing well in the U.S will be aiming to bring that form to their home continent this week.
The Czech Masters debuted on the DP World Tour in 2014 and has always taken place in August, here at Albatross Golf Resort.
Jamie Donaldson led home a Welsh 1-2 in the inaugural edition and he was followed by Thomas Pieters in 2015, which was the beginnings of a fine record in this event for the Belgian. He has finished top 10 in five of the eight renewals, which includes a second victory in 2019; making him the only player to win the Czech Masters more than once.
Pieters set the tournament record winning score with that 2015 success, shooting -20. Though that record was beaten by Italian, Andrea Pavan in 2018; who shot -22 to defeat multiple major winner, Padraig Harrington by two strokes and claim a first DPWT victory.
We’ve had two Americans win the event – Paul Peterson in 2016 and Johannes Veerman in 2021 – and there’s also been a win for formerly highly rated South African, Haydn Porteous in 2017.
Last year’s edition was a memorable one for Germany’s Max Kieffer. After nine years as a regular fixture on the tour, where he’d contended countless times – including twice losing painfully in lengthy playoffs – he finally secured his first DPWT title; in an event that was shortened to three rounds to due adverse weather conditions.
He now returns to an event as the defending champion on the tour for the first time and after putting together some excellent performances over recent months, he will fancy his chances of becoming the first player to successfully defend this trophy.
Originally designed by Keith Preston and opening for play in 2009, Albatross Golf Resort is a gently hilly par 72 parkland course that measures 7468 yards. It underwent an extensive bunker renovation in 2021, where the number of sand-traps was reduced but those that remained were strengthened and made more visually intimidating.
This is an exposed, rugged course which varies greatly in difficulty depending on conditions. If conditions aren’t much of a factor, scores are there to be had, as we’ve seen with two winning scores of -20 or lower in eight renewals; one at -19 and with a winning score of -16 over three rounds last year, it was another that was well on its way to hitting -20 if played over the full four rounds.
However, due to the exposed nature of the setup, wind is often a factor and has helped keep that average winning score over the seven full editions down to a solid test of -16.9.
Though fairways are generous and the small-average sized greens are typically receptive – both ranking amongst the easiest to hit on tour – there is plenty of penalty for wayward ball-striking. Water is in-play on eleven holes, particularly at the closure of each 9; whilst the rough has become ever thicker and those bunkers more imposing. If the wind starts to impact the quality of the long game, it’s not difficult to rack up some big numbers.
Having said that, there are birdie chances throughout. Both 9s open with a par 5, with the opening hole offering up a great chance for a fast start for all at just 538 yards; whilst the other three all come within four holes of one another on holes 9, 10 and 12; which looks a particularly important part of the course. However, these three aren’t as gettable as the first, with two at above 600 yards and it is also worth noting that they’re all protected by water.
Another risk/reward opportunity presents itself on the drivable 348-yard par 4 6th and though there are three at over 480 yards (8, 15, 17) the par 4s aren’t too challenging.
As mentioned, water is ever-present and no more so down the closing stretch. It protects the green back and left on the tricky 183-yard par 3 16th; the right side of the fairway on the 490-yard par 4 17th (which routinely ranks as one of the toughest holes on the course) and is in-play left off-the-tee on 18, as well as protecting the entire front of the green. It makes for an exciting finish and means nothing can be taken for granted until any would-be winner has holed that final shot on 18 on Sunday.
SG: Approach and/or SG: Putting
Par 5 Scoring
The blueprint for success has been pretty well established in the past here, in that length off the tee is a huge asset. Though we occasionally get someone who doesn’t quite match up to that, such as Max Kieffer last year, leaderboards on this exposed, generous driving course are packed with bombers. Or at the very least, players who possess more in the way of length than accuracy.
Despite the straight-hitting German, Max Kieffer winning the event last year, those directly in behind were of this ilk. Runner-up, Gavin Green has always been lengthy off-the-tee and ranked 2nd in driving distance there, whilst Louis De Jager in 3rd ranked 5th. Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen, along with the likes of Jake McLeod, Wilco Nienaber and Zander Lombard, all finished top 10 and give the ball a whack.
This was also on show in 2021, as winner Johannes Veerman ranked 5th off-the-tee and top 20 in driving distance, as did runners-up, Pulkkanen and Sean Crocker. Dean Burmester and Jacques Kruyswijk among those in behind who possess power.
The 2019 renewal saw another bomber-heavy leaderboard, with Thomas Pieters winning, Adri Arnaus 2nd and Sam Horsfield 3rd. Whilst others who play into this line of thinking include 2017 winner, Haydn Porteous and 2015 runner-up Pelle Edberg.
It’s then important to match this length – and quality – OTT with a good week in approach or on the greens (preferably both) to make the most of the scoring opportunities. Max Kieffer was superb with the putter when winning last year, ranking 1st; the same story for Louis De Jager and Tapio Pulkkanen in 3rd, who ranked 2nd and 4th on the greens respectively. Pulkkanen also produced quality in approach, ranking 5th, with runner-up, Gavin Green also in tune with his irons, ranking 6th.
The need for quality approach play was further evidenced in 2021, as runners-up, Sean Crocker and Pulkkanen, ranked 1st and 3rd; winner, Johannes Veerman ranked 14th as part of a high-quality all-round performance.
Thomas Pieters ranked 1st in approach when winning in 2019, with each of the top 4 ranking no worse than 11th and it was the putter which shone for the main contenders in 2018; as Andrea Pavan ranked 1st when winning and 2nd-place finisher, Padraig Harrington ranked 4th.
Scoring well on the par 5s is always important but I think with the way this course sets up – with three coming around the turn in the space of four holes – it’s particularly important this week to get the best out of them before facing that more demanding watery finish.
Correlating Events (Courses)
Portugal Masters (Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course)
The Portugal Masters looks comfortably the best comp for this week. It’s another exposed resort course, where fairways are generous and with plenty of water in-play. It ranks closely in virtually every aspect to Albatross, from the numbers of birdies/bogeys made to driving accuracy and greens-in-regulation percentages.
Two-time Czech Masters winner, Thomas Pieters is also a past champion in Portugal; as is Tom Lewis, who has an excellent record in this event, recording finishes of 3rd, 6th and 13th over his last four visits.
Other former Czech winners, Johannes Veerman and Jamie Donaldson have finished top 10 in Portugal; Gavin Green has a runner-up finish there to go with his one here last year; Tapio Pulkkanen has a 3rd there, complimenting his top 3s here the last two years and Eddie Pepperell has countless top 5s/10s in both events.
Cazoo/Wales Open (Celtic Manor – Twenty Ten Course)
Though scoring is usually more difficult at Celtic Manor, there is plenty of correlating form between these two largely exposed, rugged and watery courses that have proven to suit similar types of player.
Thomas Pieters has finished 3rd there; Jamie Donaldson 4th and Andrea Pavan has a top 10. Whilst 2019 Czech Masters 3rd-place finisher, Sam Horsfield has won in Wales.
2014 runner-up, Bradley Dredge has also finished 2nd in his home event; as has Soren Kjeldsen, who has finishes of 3rd and 7th at the Albatross Resort. Eddie Pepperell has a 4th-place finish at Celtic Manor and Gavin Green has finished 8th.
BMW International Open (Golfclub Munchen Eichenreid)
There was some particularly appealing form tying the Czech Masters and BMW International Open together. Though a tree-lined course, Golfclub Munchen Eichenreid is generous off-the-tee and has often proven favourable to big hitters.
Of the past champions of the Czech Masters, Andrea Pavan has won here, Thomas Pieters has finished 2nd and Max Kieffer has finished 3rd; Bradley Dredge and Sam Horsfield with top 5s. The same can be said for Matthias Schwab, Scott Jamieson and Rikard Karlberg, who all have strong records here, including a top 5 finish.
Hero Open/Scottish Championship (Fairmont St Andrews)
I’m going to finish with Fairmont St Andrews. A resort course meets modern links, it has wide fairways and easy-to-hit greens, and unless the wind blows, birdies are plentiful. It ranks very closely to Albatross from a tee-to-green perspective, in the averages it possess in GIR, driving accuracy and scrambling.
Fairmont has only hosted a trio of events on the DP World Tour, therefore form-ties aren’t as abundant but some stand out. Sean Crocker has won there, Eddie Pepperell has finished 2nd and so has James Morrison, who has finishes of 5th and 13th at Albatross.
It’s set to be a warm, humid week in the Czech Republic, with the possibility of thunderstorms throughout. The wind isn’t forecast to be too strong, with potential gusts of up to around 14mph predicted; otherwise nothing but a gentle breeze.
This week’s Czech Masters sees an exciting group of Ryder Cup hopefuls come together. Chief among them is world #36, Shane Lowry, who looks all but a shoo-in to make the European side, though will be looking to make a statement in terms of his form this week.
The next top-ranked player is Poland’s Adrian Meronk at #51 – someone who also should’ve done enough already to make that side, including winning at the host course earlier in the year.
They are joined by a further six from inside the world’s top 100, including Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre. He will be hoping for a strong performance to solidify his position amongst the automatic qualifiers as we stand.
The Hojgaard twins are very much a part of the conversation; a big performance here from either would make them very hard to leave at home.
We have some somewhat new DPWT excitement this week, as a mega-talented duo who’ve been impressing in the U.S make their first professional starts on the tour. Former #1 amateur, Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg has missed just one cut in seven starts on the PGA Tour since turning pro at the beginning of June, including a 4th-place finish in the John Deere Classic. Meanwhile, Belgium’s Adrien Dumont de Chassart – a former top 10 amateur himself – has been in scintillating form on the Korn Ferry Tour; winning on his pro debut and following with five consecutive top 10s.
Both are definitely in the Ryder Cup conversation and make up part of a what promises to be a genuinely intriguing week at Albatross Golf Resort.
Shane Lowry and Ludvig Aberg share favouritism at 12/1 and are followed next by Adrian Meronk at 14s. Lowry has been playing solidly in the U.S without really threatening, whilst 12/1 about Aberg is no price for me, for all the talent he possesses is clear to all and this course should suit his excellent driving game; as it does with Meronk. All three are well-fancied for a Ryder Cup place and will be eager to impress in front of Captain Donald this week to improve that position.
Having said that, all of the above very much applies to the man who comes next in the betting and with seemingly a little more to prove than some to earn that spot in Rome – despite an excellent winning record at the host course – I’m taking Nicolai Hojgaard to firmly stamp his case here. On a course where few would be more suited than the big-hitting Dane.
2.5 pts Nicolai Hojgaard each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 18/1
After a positive start to the year on the DPWT for Hojgaard, he’s spent much of the last five months plying his trade on the PGA Tour on a Special Temporary Membership, which was largely gained due to an impressive runner-up finish in the Corales Puntacana Championship at the end of March.
Although he’s produced some positive performances stateside, including a 21st in the Rocket Mortgage Classic and 14th in the Wyndham Championship when we last saw him three weeks ago, he has excelled when making his way back to Europe. He delivered a 5th-place finish in Italy earlier in the year and four starts ago finished an excellent 6th in the Scottish Open; which he followed with a top 25 in The Open.
Hojgaard is modern, power-packed ball-striking type, ranking 3rd off-the-tee, 15th in driving distance and 24th in approach on the DP World Tour this season, which helps him on his way to being a prolific par 5 scorer, ranking inside the top 25. Though it’s the improvements with the putter that has caught the eye particularly this season, with him currently enjoying the first positive strokes-gained year of his career in this area and when we last saw him he ranked 4th on the greens at the Wyndham.
He certainly made use of his biggest assets when finishing 17th here on debut in 2021, hitting the ball just about as well as anyone. Meanwhile, a runner-up finish in Portugal that same year should provide another boost to his chances.
Hojgaard is a two-time DPWT winner, with both wins coming on the wide and open expanses of Marco Simone in the Italian Open and in Ras Al Khaimah. As one of the top 20 iron players in the world over the couple of months, he looks primed for a strong effort this week that would go a long way to securing a Ryder Cup spot.
1 pt Matt Wallace each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 50/1
Matt Wallace knows all about the expectation of chasing a Ryder Cup spot after contentiously missing out in 2018. The fact he’s not even on the radar this year is sign enough that his game isn’t quite at that level, despite a first PGA Tour win at the Corales Puntacana earlier in the year; however, he’s been playing some sneakily good golf over recent starts and can rely on his typically strong ball-striking to propel himself to a strong finish this week.
Wallace’s win in the Dominican at the end of March didn’t come out of the blue, as he’d shown promising signs from the start of the year. He recorded two consecutive top 20s in a row in the Middle East on the DP World Tour and was 7th in the Valspar Championship on his start directly preceding that win; his approach play looking in really good shape.
He lost some consistency in that club following his win and as a result his form suffered, recording six missed cuts in his next ten starts and finishing no higher than 28th.
He’s turned that around in recent starts, gaining strokes in each of his last three starts in approach and has also looked much more reliable off-the-tee.
Wallace hasn’t played here for five years but was solid enough on his two previous starts, finishing 36th and 43rd. A runner-up finish at Fairmont, a 3rd in the BMW International and top 10s in Wales and Portugal suggest he’s capable of better and he’s playing well enough to achieve just that this week.
1 pt Sean Crocker each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 70/1
Sean Crocker has come into some form over his last six starts and as someone who has finished 2nd here before, we know his powerful ball-striking game is ideally suited to the course. Providing he’s not too rusty after around a month off, he can have a big say this week.
His start to the season was an inauspicious one, with the American recording as many letters as numbers over his first ten starts. He returned to form in a big way six starts ago when 2nd in the Scandinavian Mixed and has maintained his form since, with three top 20s in his last five starts; including an encouraging 19th in the star-studded Scottish Open and he was 10th last-time-out in the Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour.
You get what you get with Crocker, he’s an excellent ball-striker; elite on his day. Which we’ve seen this season as he ranks 18th off-the-tee, 36th in driving distance and 39th in approach; though he can frustrate with the short game. Having said that, whilst not among the strongest putters, he has shown big improvements with the club this year compared to previous years and I’m hoping he can continue that this week.
Crocker showed that elite level ball-striking when 2nd here in 2021, as he ranked 1st in approach, 1st in GIR and 4th off-the-tee. His solo DPWT win at Fairmont last year offers additional promise and if in the same form as when we last saw him, the talented American should be in the mix this week.
1 pt Sami Valimaki each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 90/1
Strong-putting Sami Valimaki has been producing some more positive ball-striking numbers this year and with plenty of form in the right places, I think he has the game to go better here than his missed cut in 2021 suggests.
Valimaki’s season has been a little inconsistent but he’s managed to spike his performance numerous times to produce strong, contending performances. We saw this as he finished 2nd in the Joburg Open at the back end of last year and after starting 2023 in good fashion, finishing 10th in Abu Dhabi, he once again occupied the runner-up spot in Singapore three starts later.
He continued to impress with three top 25s in his next four starts after that runner-up finish in the Far East and though bare form figures on his latest starts don’t look overly impressive, simply making the cut in elite fields at the Scottish Open and Open Championship signifies a player who is in good shape.
The Finn’s strong putting ability is shown by his ranking of 17th on the DPWT this season, though I’m very encouraged by his improved ball striking. Rankings of 47th OTT and 77th in approach don’t look up to much but they’re up on last year’s statistics and as someone not short on power, ranking 37th in driving distance, he has a good skillset for this challenge.
Valimaki’s missed cut in 2021 came when he was in no sort of form. Strong records in Wales, where he’s finished 2nd and 6th, along with a top 5 effort in the BMW International prove to me he can go well at Albatross Golf Club – which I’m expecting him to do this week.
1 pt Dan Bradbury each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 100/1
Dan Bradbury burst onto the scene by winning the Joburg Open last year and though his first full season hasn’t been all plain sailing, there’s been enough to suggest that was no fluke result for the Yorkshireman.
We saw signs of this right at the start of the year, as Bradbury was well in contention entering the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic; sitting 2nd, three shots behind Rory McIlroy. A closing 76 was disappointing and dropped him to 28th but was more than understandable in the company he was now keeping.
He missed three of his next five cuts following that, though there was little to be too concerned about and he looked much better when 32nd in Italy. This has spurred him on to produce his two best finishes of the year over recent months, with a 10th in the Soudal Open in May and just three starts ago he finished 8th in the British Masters.
His game is engineered by strong ball-striking, though he particularly shines with the driver, ranking 13th and is not shy on length, ranking inside the top 50 in driving distance. He compliments it as a top 50 iron player, which all combines to enable him to be strong on the par 5s, ranking 33rd in par 5 scoring.
Bradbury is of course making his debut here and still very much at the start of his pro career, he has little form on the correlating courses. Though the strength of that ball-striking is enough to convince me he can score well and able to match that with a strong mentality – as he showed with that win in South Africa on just his sixth pro start – he looks a danger this week.