Question mark over Noren

Defending champion Alex Noren will lead a strong Swedish contingent at this week’s Nordea Masters at the Bro Hof Slott Golf Club in Stockholm this week.

But the 29-year-old, flanked by the likes of fellow countrymen Peter Hanson, 2010 Nordea champion Richard S Johnson, Niclas Fasth and Peter Hedblom, is going to have to get past the imposing figures of England’s World No 3 Lee Westwood and Spanish star Sergio Garcia if he is going to give himself a back-to-back title and Sweden it’s third Nordea Masters in a row.

And, to be sure, there is one big question Noren will need to answer, however, if he is to have any chance of holding onto his crown.

Has the 29-year-old fully recovered from the back injury that forced him to pull out after a first round 81 at the Wales Open Celtic Manor last week?

If he hasn’t, his chances can’t be all that good, but if he has, it’s a different matter.

He’ll have the big advantage of teeing off at Bro Hof Slott GC with the happy memories of having posted a sizzling third-round, course record-breaking 63 here last year which rocketed him all of 11 shots clear of the field and helped him to eventually coast to a seven-shot win over Englishman Richard Finch with a 15-under-par 273 total.

The fact that more recently he was one of only a handful who qualified for next week’s US Open Championship at the Walton Heath final qualifier last Monday, should serve only to further bolster that all important factor that goes under the broad term of confidence.

So all things being well, he shouldn’t be short of that when he tees off on Thursday – and nor should compatriot Johnson who showed some welcoming signs of ending a recent slump at the BMW PGA Championship where Fasth and Hedblom also produced some bright and encouraging moments.

With a strong collection of home-grown players to bolster them in the field this week, Noren and his compatriots will be looking to continue the recent impressive Swedish record in the Nordea Masters.

If your count the most recent victories by Noren and Johnson, five of the 22 Swedish Masters tournaments played have been won by Swedes, the host nation’s other winners being Jesper Parnevik in 1995 and 1998 and Joakim Haegmann in 1997.

While looking at facts and figures, it is also interesting to note that Noren’s triumph last year gave Sweden its 91st victory on the European Tour.

Perhaps the Swede with the greatest chance of all of winning this week is the in-form Peter Hanson who, although finishing tied for third at the Masters, will be champing at the bit to get another win under his belt – and the first in his homeland.

His last, claimed in the Czech Republic two years ago, played a key role in helping him seal his place in the 2010 European Ryder Cup Team and another win here in Stockholm on Sunday could go a long way towards helping him earn a second cap in Jose Maria Olazabal’s European team for this year’s Ryder Cup in the USA in September.

In the week prior to the US Open at the Olympia Golf Club in San Francisco, Westwood, who has made winning a major this year one of his major targets, will be looking for his 22 European Tour title in Sweden this week after having finished joint runner up in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and, like Hanson, possible his toughest antagonist this week, in a tie for third at the Masters.