Smurfit European Open
Smurfit European Open
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Event Features
Preview of the Smurfit European Open
Westwood aiming for back to back wins
Paul Lawrie back to the day job

Preview of the Smurfit European Open

Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood dominate the bookmakers' thinking at this week's Smurfit European Open at the K Club in Dublin but the fascination for most followers of the game is the reappearance on a golf course of flawed Frenchman Jean Van de Velde.

If the man who blew the Open never picked up a club again in his life we would have forgiven him but, just two weeks after his Carnoustie nightmare, he's ready for action once more.

Perhaps his belief is that the best cure for his trauma is to get straight back on the horse from which he has fallen although punters, I suspect, won't be touching him with a bargepole for the forseeable future.

To haunt Van de Velde further, Paul Lawrie, the man who stole the claret jug from him, also lines up although, again, given the way his life has probably been turned upside down over the last two weeks punters may swerve him also.

It's a quality field for a tournament hosted at the K Club for the fifth successive year with Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam joining Monty and Westwood.

The Arnold-Palmer designed K Club, which was tightened up last year, is a fairly lengthy 7,179-yard par 72 and can provide a severe test if the winds blow.

Last year Mathias Gronberg won here by a staggering 10 shots to make it three wins on the trot for Swedish golfers following Per-Ulrik Johansson's successive victories in 1996 and 1997.

THE LEADING CONTENDERS

Colin Montgomerie: Monty has a surprisingly poor record here over the last three years, failing to make the top 20 in 1996 and 1997 and missing the cut last year. For the last two years he's had a decent excuse as the tournament's been played the week after the USPGA Championship in America. However, Monty managed third here in 1995 straight after the Ryder Cup in Boston so maybe there's another factor that's stopped Monty producing his best. However, a stunning victory at Loch Lomond and a creditable top 15 in the Open should put him in good heart and a fourth win of the year would come as no surprise at all.

Lee Westwood: After a frustrating 1999, Westwood finally got back to winning ways with a brilliant final round 63 to snatch the Dutch Open in Hilversum last week. To be honest, that victory had been coming for some time with Westwood having posted finishes of fifth, seventh and fifth in his last three regular European Tour events and a top 20 in the Open. Like Monty, however, his record here is average. He was tied 24th in 1995 and 1996 and retired when not in contention last year. But with that victory under his belt he could go from strength to strength now and his position as one of the two market leaders is more than justified.

Darren Clarke: Clarke's form has cooled off slightly since he won the English Open and finished in the top ten in the US Open but he played some good stuff in Holland last week to post another top five finish. Although he missed the cut here in 1995 and joined Monty and Westwood in a tie for 24th the following year he finished an impressive fourth last year although way back from runaway winner Mathias Gronberg. Expect another strong show although another win may be just too much to hope for.

Retief Goosen: The big South African has been one of the players of the year in Europe this season with a victory, three seconds and four other top ten finishes. Arguably the most impressive of those was his tied tenth in the Open at Carnoustie which suggests that he could be ready to make the step up into elite class. This tournament is not one that he's managed anything in though with missed cuts in 1996 and again in 1998 when he shot 81-75. But if refreshed from his Open exertions he could be high on the leaderboard again.

Sergio Garcia: It will be fascinating to see how the young Spaniard responds following his utter humiliation at Carnoustie. It's hard to believe that he could shoot 89-85 but that's what happened as his bubble burst with an incredible bang. The fall from grace was even greater given his performances in the previous two weeks. The week before he had finished tied second at Loch Lomond after opening with a 62 while prior to that he had posted his first European Tour win with a superb victory in the Irish Open. He'll be hoping a return to Irish soil will rejuvenate him and to be honest anything is possible from a win to another missed cut.

Bernhard Langer: Langer sits uneasily in ninth place in the Ryder Cup standings and he would love to clinch an automatic place and not add to Mark James' wilcard dilemma. Langer won the first running of this tournament in 1995 an incredible show of mental strength after playing in Europe's emotional Ryder Cup win the week before. The German also managed tied seventh here last year so clearly it's a course he likes and after solid top 20 finishes in the Open at Carnoustie and the Dutch Open he could go close again. He certainly has the perfect incentive.

Miguel Angel Jimenez: The Spaniard can look forward to a Ryder Cup later this year after playing his way into the team with some excellent golf. Knowing that he's done enough may have just taken the edge of him in recent weeks and after finishing tied 21st in the Irish Open and tied 29th at Loch Lomond he missed the cut at Carnoustie. On the plus side, he improved upon three average finishes at the K Club between 1995 and 1997 to finish tied second here last year.

Eduardo Romero: `The Cat' has played very much to type over the last few weeks posting some impressive finishes but never actually getting his nose in front. That little spell included a tied seventh at Loch Lomond and then a tied third at the Dutch Open last week. He's shown similar form in this event for the last three years with top ten finishes in 1996 and 1997 and a tied 16th last year. The usual advice holds therefore he makes decent each-way appeal but may be better played on the spreads.

Stephen Leaney: The young Aussie hasn't set the Tour alight this season following his two victories in 1998 but he's still posted three top four finishes. Last week he showed up well at the Dutch Open before a sluggish finish left him in a tie for 15th. He played here last year and finished tied 32nd after never fully recovering from a first round 77 and will hope for a much stronger showing this time.

Thomas Bjorn: The Dane tied sixth here three years ago and also made the top 25 last season so he will relish another visit to the K Club. He was fourth in the Irish Open on his last visit to these parts and also made the top 20 at Loch Lomond after getting bang into contention at one point. A respectable 30th in the Open last time, Bjorn needs to make a move if he is to play in his second successive Ryder Cup so he won't be lacking in motivation.

BEST OF THE REST

Ian Woosnam and Costantino Rocca realise they need to step on the gas if they're going to get into the Ryder Cup and this could be where their late charge begins. Woosie's had four consistent efforts here with a best of tied 19th in 1995 while Rocca's record is superb (5-2-T5-T10). Patrick Sjoland is another who will have the Ryder Cup in mind and impressed at Loch Lomond and The Open. Paul McGinley is the professional attached to the K Club and has posted top 20s here in his own backyard for each of the last three years. Open champion Paul Lawrie also deserves a mention having finished tied ninth in 1995, tied 14th in 1997 and tied 10th last year.

SUMMARY

The Ryder Cup dominates our thinking this week with headline status going to German superstar Bernhard Langer.

If the standings were to count now then Langer would scrape into ninth place but he knows that unless he keeps gathering points he's going to have to rely on a wildcard.

Put simply his pride won't allow him to do that. Langer is at his best when he has to prove a point and on a course where he's won before this may represent his best chance to post the victory that will book his place on the plane to America.

Langer was also seventh here last year so having tied 18th at The Open and made the top 15 in Holland he looks to be coming into form nicely. Take the 33-1.

Another player desperate to get in is Costantino Rocca and he will definitely see this tournament as his best chance to get a must victory.

The Italian's record here over the last four years can't be bettered for consistency with tied fifth place finishes in 1995 and 1997, a second place in 1996 and a top ten last year.

Although his best this season is only a top ten in his home Italian Open, Rocca hinted at better things to come with a top 20 at Carnoustie.

Because of a missed cut last week which can probably be ignored as it followed on from The Open he's as big as 66-1 this week which could be an absolute gift if Rocca can match his deeds of the past here.

Thomas Bjorn was another of Europe's triumphant team at Valderrama and he's way down in 40th on the Ryder Cup standings this time.

Once again a victory is a must and the Dane has proved he can master quality European fields in the past.

His form isn't bad at all with a top 30 in the Open, a tied 20th at Loch Lomond and, most significantly, a tied fourth on his last visit to Ireland in last month's Irish Open.

Bjorn was tied sixth here in 1996 when just four off the winner and that included a disappointing opening round 74. He looks good each-way value at 50-1 to get into the frame.

Swedes have won this for the last three years through Per-Ulrik Johansson (twice) and Mathias Gronberg and the man who could keep that run going is young Patrick Sjoland.

Once again there is the incentive of the Ryder Cup to think about (the Swede lies in 21st place) and there are very real signs that he's running into top form.

After an excellent top ten at Loch Lomond, Sjoland actually led the Open early in round three and although he faded to tied 18th it was still a very promising effort.

A missed cut last week was probably a reaction to that and there's every chance he'll pick his game up again here.

Although his best at the K Club is only a tied 27th in 1997 he was under par in all four rounds that year and he's a much better player now than he was then. The general 40-1 is worth an each-way investment.

To complete our staking plan we'll plump for local favourite Paul McGinley who is massively overpriced at 66-1 with Ladbrokes.

McGinley is the pro at the K Club and he's used that considerable advantage to post top 20s here for each of the last three seasons.

After three missed cuts he seemed to find his game again last week with a useful tied 15th in the Dutch Open and let's not forget he's already had two top three finishes earlier in the season.

The Irishman even helped with the changes made to the course last year so if he can hole some putts then he has a decent chance of pulling off a `home' win.

 


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