Omega European Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
IF THERE is a more beautiful location on the European Tour than Crans-sur-Sierre, I challenge anybody out there to name it. And that is almost certainly why the likes of Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood have entered this year’s European Masters, at which the hugely gifted young Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick returns to defend his title.
In McIlroy’s case, that may not be only reason. Whisper it, but the sponsors may have made it worth his while to be here.
Located in the Swiss Alps, the scenery at Crans-sur-Sierre is simply breathtaking. The fairways are lined by towering pine trees, with the mountains forming a stunning backdrop. There is simply nowhere more beautiful to play golf. It also helps that the air is thin, which means that the ball travels a country mile (as if these guys need any more help!). There have been several scores of 60 here and you get the sense that if the likes of McIlroy or Fleetwood get their act together here we could easily be looking at a 59 - or even lower.
McIlroy attracted a great deal of criticism when he announced that he was going to focus his efforts on the PGA Tour in 2019 because he believed it gave him his very best opportunity to perform well in the majors. That went well for him, didn’t it? But he made up for that by winning the FedEx Cup. So here he is attempting to stop Fitzpatrick from winning this title for a third successive year. Last season the Englishman equaled a 40-year record when he became the first player since the legendary Seve Ballesteros in 1978 to defend his title in Crans Montana.
Back to back European Masters titles took the 24-year-old’s tally to five European Tour wins, with his previous triumphs including the prestigious season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, in 2016.
The former Amateur World Number One also qualified for his first Ryder Cup in 2016, and he got his 2019 campaign off to a great start with a second place finish at the Honma Hong Kong Open presented by Amundi.
Lee Westwood and former Masters champion Danny Willett are also in the field. The English pair, who are both former winners of the event, recorded top ten finishes in the final major of the season at The Open Championship.
Westwood, who took the title in Crans Montana in 1999, won his 24th European Tour title at the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the end of last season, and has continued that fine form into 2019, recording five top 20 finishes so far including tied fourth at The Open. Willett, the 2016 Masters Tournament champion, lifted the Omega European Masters title in 2015. Like Westwood, he enjoyed a stunning end to 2018, claiming the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, title. He also closed out the 2019 major season in impressive fashion with a tied sixth finish.
Tommy Fleetwood, who has performed so consistently all year, is still looking for his first victory of 2019, and this course should suit him down to the ground. The Englishman has had a remarkable season, making the cut in every tournament in which he has played. The highlight of his year came at The Open, where he finished second, but he has also enjoyed a string of top-10 finishes on both the European and PGA Tours.
Last year Fitzpatrick beat Lucas Bjerregaard in a play-off to become the first man in 40 years to successfully defend the title. The Englishman started the day four shots ahead of Bjerregaard but the Dane carded a brilliant 63 to set the target at 17 under and Fitzpatrick had to birdie the last to take it to extra holes. He then put his approach to 12 feet on the first trip back up the 18th and another birdie saw him become the first player since Seve Ballesteros to go back-to-back at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club.
The final day had developed into an enthralling three-way battle between Fitzpatrick, Bjerregaard and Mike Lorenzo-Vera, with the Frenchman right in it until he bogeyed the last after finding the water. Lorenzo-Vera finished at 15 under, three shots clear of Spaniard Nacho Elvira and four ahead of England's Daniel Brooks.
Fitzpatrick needed extra holes to beat Scott Hend in 2017. At 24 years and eight days old, he also became the youngest Englishman to get to five European Tour victories, having won in every season since coming through the Qualifying School in 2014.
“This is what I wanted to achieve - another win,” he said. “To get it here again is so special and to get my fifth is amazing. I love this place. Of all my wins I'd say that was definitely the most difficult. I didn't have my A game today, despite loving this place I just didn't play my best today. I managed to grind it out, made some crucial birdies coming in and I'm delighted. This is one of my best. The up-and-down on seven was key. After just making bogey on six, which is kind of my favourite hole, making birdie there got me back on track and within touching distance.”
Lorenzo-Vera birdied the first after a stunning approach to tap-in range and when Fitzpatrick flew over the back of third and could not get up and down from out of the trees, the lead was shared. Bjerregaard had holed a 35-footer on the first and a smart pitch into the fifth and lovely approach into the next meant there was a three-way tie.
The 27 year old led alone when he drove the green at the par four seventh and got down in two, with Lorenzo-Vera dropping a shot on the fourth but picking it straight back up on the next. A remarkable flop shot saw Lorenzo-Vera save par on the next but Fitzpatrick three-putted from the fringe and after starting the day two ahead, he was two off the lead.
Lorenzo-Vera drove the green and Fitzpatrick got up and down from the sand on the seventh for a pair of birdies but Bjerregaard made the most of the par five ninth to edge back ahead. An incredible bunker shot saw Lorenzo-Vera birdie the same hole - with Fitzpatrick following suit after laying up - and the 33 year old holed a 15-footer on the tenth to lead on his own.
An 18-footer on the 13th briefly had him in a two-shot lead but Bjerregaard got on the green in two at the par five 14th and 15th, taking advantage on both occasions to get back into a share. Lorenzo-Vera's second into the 14th flew into the bushes over the back of the green and after a penalty-drop and a three-putt, Bjerregaard suddenly led by two.
Fitzpatrick then got up and down from the front on the 15th green with Lorenzo-Vera doing the same from the sand as Bjerregaard set the target with three closing pars. Lorenzo-Vera found the water with his approach to the last to end his hopes of victory but Fitzpatrick put his second to six feet and set up that big finish.
The tournament was won in 2011 and 2013 by Thomas Bjorn, in 2012 by Richie Ramsay, in 2014 by David Lipsky, in 2015 by Danny Willett, in 2016 by Alex Noren, and in 2017 and 2018 by Fitzpatrick.
Rory McIlroy. The man to beat
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Adores this venue
Lee Westwood. Back to his best
Rory McIlroy. Would love to add this title to his resume
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Going for a hat-trick
Lee Westwood. Still one of the best ball strikers in the game
Danny Willett. Once again playing like the man who won The Masters
Tommy Fleetwood. Still searching for first win of 2019
Luke Donald. Course should suit him perfectly
Bernd Wiesberger. Fully recovered from injury
Alex Noren. Excellent record here
Matt Wallace. Just gets better and better
Eddie Pepperell. Due another big week
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