The attention of the DP World Tour turns to Switzerland, as we take in one of – if not the – most spectacular event on the schedule: the historied Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre.
The Omega European Masters (formerly the Swiss Open) has been a mainstay on the DP World Tour since its inception in 1972; its only absence coming in 2020 due to covid. It has been played here in the Swiss Alps on every occasion, at the stunningly located Crans-sur-Sierre GC.
The iconic Seve Ballesteros – who redesigned the course in the 1990s – made this place his own and has won the event more than anyone else, with three titles (1977, 1978, 1989). Those wins in ’77 and ’78 meant he was the only player to successfully defend the Omega European Masters until Matt Fitzpatrick equalled the achievement in 2017 and 2018.
Fitzpatrick is one of six players to have won the tournament twice, joined by: Hugh Baiocchi (1973, 1979), Manuel Pinero (1976, 1981), Eduardo Romero (1994, 2000), Thomas Bjorn (2011, 2013) and Alex Noren (2009, 2016).
Wins for many DP World Tour greats, including Sir Nick Faldo (1983), Jose Maria Olazabal (1986), Colin Montgomerie (1996), Lee Westwood (1999), Ernie Els (2003) and Sergio Garcia (2005), enhances the event’s famed history on the tour.
For such a quirky course, it’s a surprise how well debutants have fared over recent years; with the last three renewals all being won by such players. This run started with Sebastian Soderberg in 2019, who won a five-man playoff – beating off Rory McIlroy amongst others.
He was followed by Rasmus Hojgaard, who produced a scintillating final-round 63 to win the 2021 edition upon its return after the 2020 cancellation. Whilst last year, South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence defeated Matt Wallace in a playoff for the second of his four wins on tour; the seventh time in nine renewals in which extra holes have been needed to decide the outcome.
Lawrence is back to defend this week in a strong field that is once again brimming with Ryder Cup hopefuls.
The championship course at Crans-sur-Sierre was originally designed by Harry Nicholson in 1928 and renovated by Seve Ballesteros in the 90s; after which the course was named after the revered Spanish golfer.
With views across the Swiss Alps at every turn, it is the most scenic course the players play all year and combined with the abundance of risk/reward chances throughout the course, it is one of the most fun for competitors and fans alike.
Crans is a par 70 and will this week play to 6808 yards; comprising of ten par 4s (324-530 yards), five par 3s (175-200 yards) and three par 5s (552-633 yards). Though it will play around 350 yards shorter overall due to being at altitude, which can make distance control on approach shots tricky.
The course provides us with an event that offers up a solid, varied challenge and averages a winning score of -16.5 over the last ten renewals. Which is perfectly in line with the difficulty of the test as a whole.
Crans ranks around average on tour in every aspect; average driving accuracy and greens-in-regulation percentages to scrambling difficult and bogey avoidance. You can score well around here on the par 5s and short, potentially drivable par 4s but there is no shortage of danger and if your ball-striking starts to get wild, big numbers aren’t all that difficult to collect.
The course is tree-lined throughout – sometimes claustrophobically so – and full of elevation changes. The often severely sloped fairways are around average in width, though strategically placed bunkers eat into most the further up you go, making them appear tighter. Many dogleg and with the potential for line-of-sight issues into the greens, you have to be smart off-the-tee.
One of the most prominent features around the course are the “upturned saucer” greens, which can be tricky to hold, especially if the conditions are a little firm. They’re around average in size, with some very small and a couple very large, with plenty placed at an angle to your position in the fairway, the landing spots on them are made even tighter.
Having said that, they are typically receptive at this time of year and with plenty of rain in the forecast this week, they shouldn’t be too difficult to attack for those strongest approach players.
Though there are a couple of “par” holes, such as the 500+ yard opening par 4, the rest of the course is full of risk/reward opportunities and largely there to be attacked.
The trio of short par 4s from 5-7 sets this tone; a run that finishes with the drivable 7th. Which with out-of-bounds areas long and right, can see players walk off with anything from an eagle to double+.
The 626-yard par 5 9th is a bit of a monster even accounting for the extra distance the ball travels. It has one of the narrowest fairways on the course and is protected by strategic bunkering right from the fairway up to the relatively narrow, angled green. As well as trees blocking both the left and right of the layup areas.
Water becomes a more prevalent feature on the back 9, limiting the length of your tee shot on the 10th fairway and protecting the greens on 12, 13 and the par 5 14th – which is the first of two back-to-back par 5s over your final five holes.
We finish with the 402-yard par 4 but don’t be fooled by this hole’s meagre length, it is a nervy finishing hole. The players will hit a tee shot into a fairway that slopes severely from left to right and is protected by large bunkers on the right. Find the fairway and your task is far from complete, as you’re required to hit a downhill approach into a large, sloping green that is protected by water short and right.
Anybody able to see off this short but punchy closing hole when in contention on Sunday will have more than earned the right to add their name to that illustrious list of past winners.
§ SG: Approach
§ SG: Putting
§ Birdie Average
Conditions will largely dictate my approach from a statistical point of view this week. With plenty of rain falling prior to the start of the event and little in the way of wind currently forecast throughout the four days, we should be in for some low scoring in the mountains this week. Which leads me to lean heavily on those strongest in approach and/or on the greens.
Thriston Lawrence won one of the lower scoring editions in recent years in 2022 with a score of -18 and did so thanks to a superb approach display, ranking 1st in the field. He complimented that with a top 20 week on the greens; an area in which Matt Wallace – who lost to Lawrence in a playoff – led the field.
Rasmus Hojgaard did most things well when winning in 2021, including ranking 7th in approach and 14th in putting; whilst Henrik Stenson in 3rd was the 3rd-best approach player that week.
2019 is a hard year to get a handle on as five players finished tied on -14, showcasing a variety of skillsets. However in 2018, the top 2 of Matt Fitzpatrick and Lucas Bjerregaard ranked 15th and 6th in approach respectively and were top 25 on the greens; 3rd-place finisher, Mike Lorenzo Vera ranked 3rd in putting that week.
§ SG: Off-the-Tee
Most years, both quality in scrambling and off-the-tee may well make it into the key stats here, though with those scorable conditions they’re slightly downgraded this week in importance for me. However, they still warrant some level of inclusion.
The need to position your ball well off-the-tee was strongly evidenced by Matt Fitzpatrick in 2018 and Rasmus Hojgaard in 2021, who ranked 1st and 2nd with driver. Whilst leaderboards are typically littered with strong scramblers.
Wallace was 1st in scrambling when 2nd last year, with each of that top 3 in the top 20; winners in 2021, 2019 and 2018 all ranked inside the top 10 in scrambling.
Correlating Events (Courses)
BMW PGA Championship (Wentworth Golf Club)
Tree-lined Wentworth not only had plenty of form-ties but ranked closely to Crans in many areas from a statistical point of view. Showing similar numbers both from a ball-striking and short-game perspective.
Many have won each of these titles, including Alex Noren, Danny Willett, Luke Donald and Miguel Angel Jimenez over the last couple of decades.
Of the less prominent names to possess form across the two courses we have Romain Wattel (2nd at Crans/4th at Wentworth), Japan’s Hideto Tanihara (3rd at Wentworth/6th at Crans) and Alejandro Canizares, who has finished 4th at both courses.
BMW International Open (Golfclub Munchen Eichenried)
Our reigning European Masters champion, Thriston Lawrence, won in Germany at Golflub Munchen Eichenried earlier this year in the BMW International Open. Much like Crans, this tree-lined course has similarly average rankings in most aspects of play and there are plenty of form-ties to boot, which were further strengthened by the South African this year.
He joined a list that reads: Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn, Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez to become the fifth player to win the two events.
In addition, Matt Fitzpatrick and Bradley Dredge are past European Masters winners and have finished top 3 in Germany; 2017 BMW International Open winner, Andres Romero has two top 10s at Crans, including a 2nd in 2019;
Made in HimmerLand/Denmark (HimmerLand Resort)
HimmerLand Resort is a more exposed course but it’s short length and plethora of risk/reward opportunities have enabled it to develop firm links with Crans, ranking particularly closely in terms of how it plays in approach.
Rasmus Hojgaard has won both events, whilst Bernd Wiesberger – a two-time winner at HimmerLand – has two top 10s at Crans; including finishing 2nd in 2021.
Bradley Dredge has twice finished runner-up in Denmark; other former European Masters winners, David Lipsky and Richie Ramsay have finished 3rd and 2019 Crans runner-up Kalle Samooja has finished 2nd and 4th.
Nedbank Challenge/2020 South Africa Open (Gary Player Country Club)
Though a much longer course, the Nedbank Challenge at Gary Player CC is one of few other courses where players have to take altitude and that extra distance the ball travels into account. With that it’s no surprise that players have carried form over between the two events.
It was previously an exhibition event with small fields, therefore form prior to the upgrade to a DPWT event in 2013 wouldn’t be of much use. However, since then, we’ve had Lee Westwood, Alex Noren, Danny Willett and Thomas Bjorn all record wins in South Africa.
Alejandro Canizares, Richie Ramsay and Bernd Wiesberger all have top 5s there; as does 2019 Euro Masters winner, Sebastian Soderberg.
Kenya Open (Muthaiga Country Club)
I’ll finish with Muthaiga Country Club, one of the two alternating hosts of the Kenya Open. This tree-lined course provides the similarly demanding yet still scorable test that players will face this week and ranks closely to Crans in most areas.
Lorenzo Gagli won there on the Challenge Tour in 2018 and finished runner-up here in 2019; 2021 Kenya Open winner, Ashun Wu has two top 10s here. Thriston Lawrence was 2nd in Kenya last year and Kalle Samooja has finished 3rd there.
There is set to be some heavy rainfall in the days leading up to the start of the event. Fortunately, this doesn’t stick around for tournament play and with nothing more than some gusts approaching 12mph over each of the four days, players will have relatively pleasant playing conditions.
World #8 Matt Fitzpatrick adds some star power to this week’s proceedings, returning to the scene of his 2017/2018 wins and looking to follow Seve in becoming the second three-time winner of the European Masters.
We have another strong field of Europeans who will once again have the Ryder Cup on their minds; super Swede, Ludvig Aberg, both Hojgaard twins, Adrian Meronk and Robert MacIntyre are all back in action and make up the group of twelve players from inside the world’s top 100 in attendance.
American and former world #1 amateur, Justin Suh makes the trip for his first professional start in Europe and there are returns following five-week absences for Jordan Smith, Joost Luiten, Daniel Hillier and Richie Ramsay.
There’s not a great deal at the very top of the market that appeals to me this week. Matt Fitzpatrick is a clear 8/1 favourite and whilst the next three in the betting, Ludvig Aberg, Nicolai Hojgaard and Adrian Meronk – all at between 16-20/1 – have their merits, the weapon of their driver is negated slightly on this setup.
Alexander Bjork continues to play excellent golf and with the strength of his approach play and putting he should go well. However as we saw again last week, he doesn’t find being in contention all too easy. Something that is off-putting in a field of this strength at a price of around 25/1.
Instead I’m going to start with two players a little bigger in the betting who have no such issues with being in the mix and with a man who needs to win to stand any chance of making it to Rome, Victor Perez.
Perez arrives in Crans after an 11th-place finish in last week’s Czech Masters, somewhat arresting a recent slide in form for the Frenchman.
He started his year in the best possible way by winning his third DP World Tour title and second in seven months in Abu Dhabi. After finishing top 10 in Italy in May and following with a 12th in the PGA Championship on his following start – his best ever major finish – he looked a particularly strong candidate for a Ryder Cup spot.
Unfortunately, his form has slipped since then; missing three cuts in his last eight starts, withdrawing at Galgorm two weeks ago and until last week, had a best of 18th in the BMW International Open as his best finish during that period.
Having said that, Perez is arguably going through his best run of ball-striking performances this year and it was this area of his game which engineered his strong performance last week; as he led the field in greens-in-regulation and ranked top 20 both in approach and off-the-tee.
He scrambled well too but was let down by the putter – one of his biggest strengths in recent years. Indeed Perez is 25th on the greens this year; a stat that is only bettered by his ranking of 13th OTT. In addition, his irons have looked in excellent shape over the last month and a bit; gaining strokes in each of his last four starts and six of his last eight.
Perez doesn’t have a particularly attractive record here, with two missed cuts and a finish of 50th in 2021. I don’t have any real excuses for this as he’s arrived in decent enough form on previous visits but equally I can’t find any reasons why he can’t go well here, with his 2nd at Wentworth in 2020 a particularly encouraging piece of form.
With the current quality of his approach play and typical strength on the greens, he should relish the low-scoring conditions and can build on that 11th in the Czech Masters by winning this week and making Captain Donald’s job that bit more difficult.
Thorbjorn Olesen has probably left himself with too much to do to put himself in the Ryder Cup picture. However, he continued what has been a largely consistent year with an 11th in the Czech Masters last week and can add a second title of the year to his cabinet here.
The Dane made a fast start to this year, recording five top 20s on the spin; including a victory in the Thailand Classic in February. His form has remained solid since, finishing 3rd in the Soudal Open in May and he has hit the top 25 three times over his last five starts, with a 15th in the British Masters and 25th in the Scottish Open before his effort last week.
His stats for this season had him ranking as the strongest candidate for this week, both overall and in the identified key areas. He has that attractive combination of quality putting, ranking 10th and approach play, ranking 11th, that we need for this week and is 14th in birdie average. His scrambling ability may too come in handy; an area in which he ranks 7th this season.
Olesen hasn’t played here as much as you’d expect – just five visits in fifteen years as a professional – and his record in those starts isn’t great; with four missed cuts and a solitary weekend made, which resulted in him finishing 36th. Though it is worth noting that he arrived here for three of those four missed cuts in no poor form.
He has a good record at home at HimmerLand, where he’s hit the top 25 three times and has a best of 7th in 2014. His win at The Belfry last year and strong record in Dubai – where he has two top 5s – could also prove a good guide.
Olesen’s a seven-time DPWT winner and has shown an ability to win in both low-scoring and more challenging conditions. The chance of a second Ryder Cup experience this year may well have flown but that may mean he feels he has a little to prove and can put on a show in the Alps this week.
With two wins in 2022, Ewen Ferguson was very much on the Ryder Cup radar at this time last year. He hasn’t been able to build on that with further wins but he is still enjoying a good season and with the strength of his approach play, he can have a big say this week.
Ferguson was a little slow to get going over the first two months of the season but has been pretty strong since the end of March. He achieved his best finish of 2023 with a 3rd in South Africa in the SDC Championship and in eleven starts since he has recorded five finishes of 14th or better. This includes a further two top 5s, when 4th in the Jonsson Workwear Open and four starts ago he was 4th in the British Masters at The Belfry; following that with a commendable 12th in the Scottish Open.
The Scot has shown quality across every area of his game this season but particularly excels in approach, ranking 16th. He also ranks 29th in scrambling and is gaining strokes both on the greens and with the driver.
Ferguson narrowly missed the cut at Crans on debut last year by a stroke and showed plenty of promise; an unusually poor week in approach holding him back. Something I wouldn’t expect him to repeat this week.
He finished 2nd at HimmerLand on debut last year and was better than his eventual 8th-place finish at Muthaiga; an event he had every chance to win. A 13th on debut at the Nedbank in 2023 adds further promise and leads me to expecting a much improved result for Ferguson at Crans this year.
Japanese star, Ryo Hisatsune looks a real player to watch and can replicate the recent achievements of countrymen, Hideto Tanihara and Masahiro Kawamura, in taking to Crans. A course that won’t feel a whole lot different to many he’d have grown up playing at home.
Hisatsune turned pro in 2021 after a short but promising amateur career, and instantly got to some serious work as a pro. He won three times in that year on the Abema TV Tour – the development tour in Japan – and earned his immediate promotion to the main Japanese Tour for 2022.
Although he couldn’t quite find that victory, he did nothing but impress; recording twelve top 20s, seven top 10s and three top 5s. That didn’t prove enough to earn him an automatic spot on the DPWT for this season but he made up for that by finishing 7th at Q School; taking him from Abema TV Tour to DPWT player in just two years.
Hisatsune shone straight away on the DPWT at the end of last year, finishing 2nd behind Cameron Smith in the Australian PGA Championship and has continued to look good this year.
On his first three starts of 2023 on the DPWT, he finished 28th in Ras Al Khaimah, 10th in the Indian Open and 3rd in the Kenya Open. Three missed cuts followed but he has barely put a foot wrong since finishing 16th in the Italian Open.
In his last nine events Hisatsune has missed just one cut and recorded five top 15s. He comes into this week off the back of a 10th in the PGA Tour/DPWT co-sanctioned Barracuda Championship three starts ago and following a solid effort when hopping back over to Asia when 26th in the Indonesia Open, he returned to finish 14th in last week’s Czech Masters; where he ranked as the 2nd-best putter in the field.
It is this club with which he excels most, ranking 13th. His ball-striking is impressive too, ranking 16th in GIR and 17th off-the-tee and with this it’s little surprise to see him ranking 11th in birdie average on tour.
Hisatsune is making his debut here but his 3rd in the Kenya Open earlier this year – as well as an 8th at HimmerLand – suggest he can take to this place on his first go. He has enough talent to become the event’s fourth straight debut winner this year.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, Germany’s Marcel Siem will this week make his eighteenth start at Crans-sur-Sierre and with many strong efforts – including a runner-up finish in 2006 – he has the knowhow to make 2023 a double-winning year this week.
Siem’s return to the big stage over the last couple of years finally paid dividends earlier this year, as he won his fifth DPWT title – and first in nine years – in the Indian Open at the end of February.
His form has been in-and-out since then but he did go close to winning for a second time in 2023 in the Porsche European Open in June, when 2nd and four starts ago he recorded another top 10, finishing 10th in the Made in HimmerLand.
The putter has been the standout club in the bag, ranking 2nd and makes up a significant part of his terrific birdie-making ability; also ranking 2nd for birdie average.
Siem has shown over recent years that he hasn’t lost any of that ability to handle this course. Aside from his 2nd in 2006, he’s recorded multiple other top 20s and finished 7th and 16th in the last two renewals.
His ability at altitude is further on show with 4th and 6th-place finish at Gary Player Country Club; several top 10s at Wentworth and HimmerLand provide added proof of his suitability to the test.
Siem looked a little rusty following over a month off when missing the cut at last week’s Czech Masters. However, with plenty going for him in this event, I’m more than happy to take a chance here in the hope he will be a little sharper for last week’s effort.
I’ll sign off with a punt on course specialist, Nacho Elvira. He finished 2nd at HimmerLand three starts ago despite largely struggling for form this year and though missing the cut last week in the Czech Republic, his game didn’t look all that far away.
Prior to finishing 2nd in Denmark, Elvira had missed the cut in eight of his previous ten starts and finished 59th and 63rd in the other two. However there were some small signs his approach play was improving before he put it all together in HimmerLand, eventually ranking 9th there and he showed further positivity in the missed cut last week, ranking inside the top 25 in that area.
The putter had also been a concern for much of the year but he putted excellently in that 2nd-place finish and followed with a good putting display when he missed the cut at The Open; his previous start prior to last week.
Though Elvira wasn’t too hot on the greens last week, I’m confident he can return to the form of his previous two starts, as he’s typically putted these greens well. Which has helped him amass an excellent record at Crans. In his last five starts, he has recorded finishes of 20th, 4th, MC, 13th and 9th. Putting the greens well in each renewal were stats were recorded.
Elvira’s record here, combined with that recent upturn in form starting at a correlating course makes him dangerous this week. If managing to keep up the better approach play and putt these greens as well as he typically does, that 200/1 could look a big price by Sunday afternoon.