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Omega European Masters

Played at the quirky Swiss venue of Crans Sur Sierre, this long-running fixture has been one of the most predictable tournaments for betting in recent years. Winners over the last decade include Els, Garcia, Donald and Westwood and before last year’s surprise champion Brett Rumford, you have to go back to 1995 to find a winner starting in triple figures.

Known for its tricky, upturned saucer greens, Crans is a course that takes some knowing, and one that players love and hate in equal measure. The course is at altitude where the ball travels further through the air, which also tends to re-enforce the importance of previous course knowledge. Analysis of previous results show that the most important skills are hitting greens in regulation and world-class scrambling to recover when they are missed.

Such distinct characteristics make it easier to narrow the number of plausible contenders, as does this year’s relatively weak field. Normally there’s at least a handful of leading Europeans, whereas this time only MIGUEL-ANGEL JIMENEZ is ranked in the world’s top-50, and only four others are ranked in the top-100.

All of these factors meant that no more than 10 players came in for serious consideration. Though not normally the type of player who I’d back at short prices, Jiménez does stand out as a very obvious contender. Not only is he miles ahead of the pack on this year’s form, but the Spaniard has proven himself something of a course specialist without managing to win here yet.

Jiménez has made the top-10 at Crans five times, always amongst stronger fields than this. Twice a winner already this year, he still harbours vague aspirations of becoming the oldest ever Order of Merit winner, and as long as he’s well prepared after a four week break looks bound to be in the mix come Sunday.

Bradley Dredge holds an equal if not more impressive record at Crans, which explains his quote of just 16/1. The Welshman has three top-5 finishes there in the last five years, and has never finished outside the top-20 in that period. His case is further bolstered after a couple of recent top-10s suggested a return to form, but I just can’t bring myself to take short odds about a player who has generally been dire in 2008.

Similarly, I’m not prepared to take a chance that Niclas Fasth rediscovers his best in Switzerland after a poor year. At least in Fasth’s case, he has played well previously on the course, as opposed to his increasingly over-rated compatriot Alex Noren. Otherwise capable players at this level such as Anders Hansen, Charl Schwartzel and Raphael Jacquelin have never shown a liking for Crans.

Instead, I’m persevering with a couple of last week’s selections, both of whom gave us a decent run for our money before falling just short of the places. MICHAEL CAMPBELL is picked for a third consecutive week, even at a fifth of the odds available for the Dutch Open. He’s played well both times to make the top-10, strengthening my belief that this former US Open champion is on the comeback trail yet again. Campbell has always been a player to follow during a hot streak, and he too has several good previous efforts on this course, especially when runner-up in 2003.

For a long way at Gleneagles, FRANCESCO MOLINARI looked set to achieve better than 19th, but at least kept up his good recent work. That makes it five top-20s, including two top-10s, in his last eight events. This week’s field is weaker than all of them, and he must rate a very strong candidate on a course where he finished a distant runner-up two years ago.

SIMON DYSON has hinted at a return to form with consecutive top-20s, and makes the staking plan courtesy of a fair record at Crans. His best effort was 4th six years ago, and he’s twice made the top-20 here since in those stronger fields. Generally a good scrambler, if Dyson can repeat his long game form of the past fortnight he should be there or thereabouts.

And while its rare that a Seniors tour player is picked on the main tour, EDUARDO ROMERO has such an impressive Crans record that he must be backed each-way at 50/1. The ageing process has had little impact on Romero, who has made the top-10 in six of his last nine visits to this venue, winning the event in 2000. Judging by his excellent Champions Tour form – Romero has won two of his last four starts against his fellow seniors – its not clear that he’s declined at all.

Good Luck!