Canon European Masters
Canon European Masters
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Event Features
Leading contenders for the Canon European Masters
Ballesteros defends tougher Crans-sur-Sierre

Leading contenders for the Canon European Masters

Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke have the perfect chance to build some confidence for next month's Ryder Cup as they head to Switzerland for this week's Canon European Masters.

The picturesque Crans-sur-Sierre Alpine resort is famous for yielding low scores and 20-under-par won't necessarily be enough to pocket the first prize this week.

The thin air means the ball tends to fly far and as the course measures just 6,747 yards then it really is there for the taking.

Clarke and Westwood are joined by fellow Ryder Cupper Miguel Angel Jimenez and a host of former winners at the Alpine course including Costantino Rocca, Mathias Gronberg and Sven Struver.

The three Ryder Cup men dominate the betting but with no Colin Montgomerie in the field there'll be plenty who'll feel that they're in with a chance.

THE LEADING CONTENDERS

Lee Westwood: The young Englishman has won his last two starts on the European Tour but his chances of making it a hat-trick must be hindered by his outing in the NEC Invitational last week. As well as the possible jet-lag there's also the little matter of his substandard performance which saw him finish tied 31st of the 41 runners. Westwood has performed pretty well here in the past (tied 10th in 1996 and tied 12th last year) but his odds look skinny.

Darren Clarke: The Ulsterman shared Westwood's disappointment last week, matching his hugely disappointing tied 33rd in the NEC. Again the jet-lag factor will apply but that may be balanced by the confidence that his past record here will give him. In the last six years, the Ulsterman has finished in the top seven a staggering five times with a third place last year his nearest brush with victory. Clearly he loves the course so expect him to be high on the leaderboard in spite of last week's flop.

Miguel Angel Jimenz: The Spaniard was another to hardly promote Europe's Ryder Cup cause last week as he finished an out-of-contention tied 27th at the NEC Invitational. Like Clarke though he may find some solace in his fine record here. Twelve months ago he finished tied seventh for the second time in three years while he was actually runner-up here in 1993. He's played some excellent golf this year despite some inconsistency of late and looks a fair bet for the top 10.

Per-Ulrik Johansson: The Swede has probably known for some time that his golf hasn't been good enough to get him into another Ryder Cup team and he must have felt low over the last few weeks with all the talk about Brookline and his name not mentioned once. The bookies respect his chances this week however as he has put in some strong performances at this venue. Between 1992 and 1994 he was in the top ten three times so that suggests he's not a no-hoper.

Thomas Bjorn: The Dane will be another to feel the disappointment of a failed Ryder Cup bid and his recent form suggests it will be hard for him to shake that setback off. Bjorn managed tied seventh here in 1996 but his form was much better then and his tied 30th last year might be a more likely outcome this time.

Patrick Sjoland: Many expected great things of the young Swede this year but he's fallen way short of those high hopes with not a single top five finish. He threatened to make a big mark at the Open when briefly taking the lead in round three before fading to tied 18th. And since then he seems to have lost his game completely, missing four cuts in succession including the USPGA last time. In direct contrast is his form here. Two years ago he finished tied fourth and last year he was runner-up so there's conflicting evidence over his chances.

Costantino Rocca: Rocca's win in the West of Ireland Classic gave him a shot at making the Ryder Cup but he made a mess of his chance by finishing down the field in Munich. With the pressure off the Italian could bounce back this week at a course where he has thrived. He has three superb performances here a fourth last year, a tied second in 1995 and a victory in 1997 which was achieved with a final round 62.

Jarrod Moseley: The young Aussie has made a huge impact this year after being a virtual unknown to many punters at the start of the campaign. He came to prominence when winning the Heineken Classic in Perth at the beginning of the year and he's proved that was no fluke with three top three finishes in his last seven starts. The most recent came in the BMW International Open on his last outing so he is one of the hot players arriving in Switzerland this week.

Mathias Gronberg: Gronberg isn't rated as one of the very top Swedes but he could prove to be the best of his countrymen this week. In the last three starts he's recorded a top 20 in the Scandinavian Masters and a ninth place in the BMW International. As well as that he also has impressive course form. He won this tournament in 1995, was 12th in 1997 and tied seventh in 1998. Looks one for the shortlist.

Angel Cabrera: The Argentine has been one of the European Tour's real form horses over the last few months and registered two runners-up finishes and three other top tens in a spell of eight tournaments before he missed the cut in the USPGA on his last start. One of those high finishes was at the British Open at Carnoustie and his performance there showed what a fine player he is despite an continued inability to get his nose in front. At this venue his form is a bit of a disappointment however with a tied 23rd in 1996 his best result in five years.

BEST OF THE REST

Veterans Nick Faldo and Sam Torrance both have fine records here and a win for the former would certainly be ironic given his Ryder Cup snub. Last year's winner Sven Struver could be inspired by a return while Swede Mats Lanner has been a regular in the top ten. David Park has shot some low scores this year and this could be the perfect place for him.

SUMMARY

On a track where a 59 is not beyond the realms of possibility (60 is the course record) then it should be a real birdie blitz this week.

With the course playing very short then it's really down to who will hole the most putts and that's why we'll go with young Aussie Jarrod Moseley as our headline pick.

The Aussie, who caused a sensation at the start of the year when wiping out Ernie Els' six-shot lead in the final round to win the Heinken Classic, has gone from strength to strength since then, posting three other top three finishes.

In the last month his form has been superb with finishes of third, 18th, ninth and third. Over those four tournaments he's a combined 44-under-par and that shows he has the ability to shoot the low numbers that are required to do well at Crans-sur-Sierre.

He's able to do that because of his expert touch on the greens and it's no surprise to see him tied sixth in putting.

You'll find 33-1 on offer over the Aussie which looks a good price with question marks over many of his rivals.

The two who could really push him closest are former winners Costantino Rocca and Mathias Gronberg.

Rocca failed in his Ryder Cup bid in Germany two weeks ago but prior to that he had won the West of Ireland Classic.

And with the pressure off again he has a fine chance of winning back the title he claimed here two years ago when he burst through the field with a closing 62.

Also fourth in 1998 and tied second in 1995 this course is right up Rocca's street and he's fair value at 25-1.

Gronberg gained his win here in 1995 and has made several happy returns since including a tied seventh last year.

A top 20 and a top 10 in two of his last three starts suggests his form is solid enough to have another crack at one of his favourite tournaments. Take the 33-1.

Finally, on a course where birdies are crucial, we'll throw in David Park.

The rookie Welshman burst onto the scene as he made an amazing start to his European Tour career when losing a play-off at the sixth extra hole on his debut and then winning the European Grand Prix on his second start.

Naturally he's cooled off since but he showed another burst of wonderful golf with a first round 62 in the BMW International Open two weeks ago.

A final round 80 rather spoiled that effort but on an easy course he's unlikely to throw in another score like that. Much more likely is a string of low scores and his third place on the putting stats must bode well.

 

 


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