European Masters betting preview

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The European Tour heads into the Swiss Alps next and Matt Cooper thinks it could be Darren Clarke’s week.

There was a time during the 1980s and 90s that the Omega European Masters was one of the highlights of the golfing year.

The continent’s glamorous superstars would routinely lock horns in the dramatic Alpine resort of Crans-sur-Sierre.

But in recent years the event has suffered from a schedule clash with PGA Tour’s Fedex Cup and the field has consequently failed to live up to the magnificent backdrop of mountains and valleys.

But this year’s field has a little more lustre to it.

Rory McIlroy returns hoping to atone for last year when he rushed the 72nd hole and missed out on a maiden tour win.

He is joined by tour stalwarts Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, Masters winner Trevor Immelman and young guns Andres Romero and Alvaro Quiros.

Westwood and McIlroy are a little short for me, Immelman a mystery post-injury and illness and Romero in a slump.

Quiros might be an interesting runner, but the price that really stands out in that group is 50/1 shot Darren Clarke.

The last two seasons have been a rollercoaster ride for the Northern Irishman.

He started by winning twice in 2008, then he was controversially overlooked for Ryder Cup selection and this year he embarked on a period of hard graft on the range that has so far failed to reap any reward.

Talking in June about his 2009 season he was convinced the work would eventually prove beneficial and his return to couple of favourite courses seems to have done the trick.

He started by finishing 22nd in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and then made the top five in his defence of the KLM Open at Kennemer.

In recent years Clarke hasn’t been a frequent visitor to Switzerland, but he does have a formidable record on this track with no less than six finishes in the top seven.

It is inevitable that every second comment or question this week will refer to the start of the Ryder Cup qualification period and that could prove to be a distraction as much as an incentive for Clarke after he came so close last time – I’m not going to second guess how that might work out.

Instead I just like 50/1 given his course form and fifth place last time out.

Last week I made Raphael Jacquelin the headline tip and I want to stick with him this week too.

From tee to green he played exceptionally well at Gleneagles (ranking third for greens in regulation).

Unfortunately he just didn’t cope too well on the bumpy greens which prevented him making the top five.

But the form is still going in the right direction and if he can get the flat-stick working this week he can go close.

The smooth swinging Frenchman also has a win in Crans to his name, albeit a weather-reduced Challenge Tour event in 1997.

Take the 66/1 on the Swiss resident.

Third pick is Spain’s Ignacio Garrido whose form I’ve been monitoring over the last 18 months as he gives the impression of being ready to add to his two European Tour titles.

He perhaps should have won the Open de Espana last May having led by three going into the final round, he also had a good shot at victory when in the final group at the Celtic Manor Wales Open earlier this summer.

That result in Wales interests me because it came on a course that, like Crans, has five par threes.

Looking more closely at Garrido’s past form and you note that his win in the German Open also came on a course (Nippenburg) with five short holes – as did his recent top ten at Kennemer.

It also interests me that he played pretty well on the Puerto Santo course in Madeira earlier this year – that course was designed by Seve Ballesteros, the man who fiddled with the layout here in Crans a few years ago.

Garrido’s form in Crans isn’t spectacular but has posted low scores, he did finish sixth in 1999 and he does come back every year so he must like something about the place.

He’s a lively outsider this week at 100/1.

Final pick is Soren Kjeldsen who, like Garrido, has something of a fondness for course with five short holes – perhaps no surprise given that over the last 12 months only seven players on the European Tour have averaged fewer shots per par-three than the diminutive Dane.

Those good efforts include a runner-up spot on the Roman Road course at Celtic Manor, three solid efforts over the Smurfit course at the K Club and a seventh at Arlandastad.

He did miss his first four cuts at Crans, but was then fourth in 2006 and played well after a poor first round in 2007.

In the last 12 months he has become a reliable and high-class performer, winning twice and impressing on the big occasion (seventh at the WGC Championship, third at the BMW PGA Championship and sixth last time out at the PGA Championship).

I fully expect Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy to figure this week but at the prices I’m happiest to include Kjeldsen as the security option at 22/1.

Tips:

1 pt e.w. Darren Clarke at 50/1 (Coral, Betfred 1/4 odds 1,2,3,4,5).

Fifth last time out and has formidable course form.

1 pt e.w. Raphael Jacquelin at 66/1 (General 1/4 odds 1,2,3,4,5).

Form continues to improve and has won in Crans.

1 pt e.w. Ignacio Garrido at 100/1 (Coral, Skybet 1/4 odds 1,2,3,4,5).

Looks ready to win again and it could be this week.

1 pt e.w. Soren Kjeldsen at 22/1 (SportingBet 1/4 odds 1,2,3,4,5).

The consistent Dane loves courses with five par-threes.

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