Qualifying for the 2018 Ryder Cup gets under way with this week’s D+D Real Czech Masters on the European Tour, an event now in its fourth year at the Albatross Golf Resort in Prague, writes Phil Casey.
Jamie Donaldson won the inaugural event in 2014 to seal his place on the European team which went on to triumph at Gleneagles while Thomas Pieters secured his breakthrough victory the following year.
Pieters was then second to American Paul Peterson in the defence of his title and won the following week in Denmark to persuade Darren Clarke to give him a wild card for the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, where he won four points from five matches.
With such course form, it is no surprise to see Pieters installed as the favourite in a relatively weak field, and he clearly has the talent to win, but at 15/2 the temptation is to look elsewhere for better value.
The aforementioned Donaldson did not defend his title in 2015 and missed the cut last year, while this season has been a mixture of missed cuts, withdrawals due to injury and just one top-10 finish in a strokeplay event.
However, Donaldson said recently he was winning his battle with tennis elbow and his form has been moving in the right direction with a tie for 16th in the European Open followed by a run to the last 16 in the Paul Lawrie Match Play, where he lost out to defending champion Anthony Wall.
A recurrence of the injury problems which have dogged this season is a slight concern, but at three times the price of Pieters, the Welshman is the first of our first Czech Masters betting tips at 22/1.
Continuing the theme of 3x the odds, our next choice at 66/1 is England’s Matt Wallace, who is another player trending in the right direction on the course.
Wallace was an impressive winner of the Open de Portugal earlier this season, after which he perhaps understandably struggled to cope with his newly-elevated status and missed the cut in six of his next eight starts.
A 5&4 loss to Rikard Karlberg followed in Lawrie’s Match Play event but Karlberg insisted the contest was tighter than the score reflected and praised Wallace’s swing and ball-striking.
Wallace said he was happy with his game and looking forward to Denmark, where he duly finished in a tie for sixth after an opening 64 and bounced back from a disappointing 74 on day two with rounds of 65 and 69.
In contrast, our final selection missed the cut in Denmark but we can forgive Alexander Knappe the odd stumble in a first full season on the European Tour which has shown a lot of promise after a run of eight missed cuts in the middle of the campaign.
Knappe threatened to do much better than a tie for 26th in the Scottish Open, was 12th on his next start in Germany and reached the quarter-finals of the Paul Lawrie Match Play before losing to eventual winner Adrian Otaegui.
The 28-year-old, who won twice on the Challenge Tour last season, can be backed at 100/1 in the outright market or 9/1 for a top-10 finish.
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Best bets for the Czech Masters