It’s probably fair to say that back in 1962 the idea of Jack Nicklaus designing a golf course in Russia was incredibly unlikely.
That year, Jack won his first major, the U.S. Open at Oakmont, while just months later the United States and Russia nearly came to catastrophic blows over the Cuban Missile crisis.
But the two superpowers stepped back from the brink of nuclear war, relations thawed over the years and Jack and his team built a course near the Kremlin. History eh!
That’s probably a rather overblown way of introducing this week’s M2M Russian Open as it’s one of the lowest key weeks on the European Tour.
Prize money is the second joint smallest of the 2015 schedule and, as a result, the field is predictably modest.
The Russian Open has been part of the European Tour since 2003. Le Meridien Moscow CC staged the event until 2008 before it fell off the schedule. It returned in 2013 and was played at Tseleevo Golf & Polo Club for two years but this time it heads to the Nicklaus-designed Skolkovo Golf Club.
The field includes former tennis ace Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who usually shoots something in the low 80s when teeing it up in European/Challenge Tour events.
Skolkovo Golf Club is parkland layout located close to the centre of Moscow. It’s a 7,025-yard par 71 featuring six large lakes and 113 bunkers. The three par 5s measure 519 yards (3rd), 617 yards (5th) and 561 yards (12th). Skolkovo Golf Club member Marat Bogatyrev tells the European Tour website that he expects “lots of birdies and eagles” so scoring should be low.
Past Russian Open champions, winning score and nationality
2014 David Horsey (England) -13
2013 Michael Hoey (Northern Ireland) -16
2008 Mikael Lundberg (Sweden) -21
2007 Per-Ulrik Johansson (Sweden) -23
2006 Alejando Canizares (Spain) -22
2005 Mikael Lundberg (Sweden) -15
2004 Gary Emerson (England) -16
2003 Marcus Fraser (Australia) -19
So, that’s six from Northern Europe, one from southern Europe and one Australian
Temperatures are fairly modest in tournament week, struggling to climb above the mid 60s. A few morning showers are expected on Thursday and Friday and there’s a chance it could get a little gusty at times, especially in Sunday’s final round.
The Leading Contenders
Kieffer has yet to win but he’s the epitome of German reliability as he’s played 19 strokeplay events this season and made all 19 cuts. Five of those have been top 10s (the best a T3 in June’s Nordea Masters) and explains why he’s 46th in the Race To Dubai. No-one in this field is above him. Stats-wise he’s 14th in stroke average and 23rd in greens in regulation and he boasts some useful form in Russia too. He was T8 in this tournament last year and T22 (2012) and T40 (2011) in two starts in the Challenge Tour’s Russian Challenge Cup.
Horsey is one of the bookmakers’ favorites this week and it’s no surprise. He’s the defending champion (even though that came at a different venue) while he secured a fourth European Tour title when capturing the Made In Denmark a fortnight ago. As well as his win last year, the Englishman was also T17 in this event in 2013. He’s 57th on the Race To Dubai.
The Northern Irishman has pegged it up in four previous Russian Opens, winning the event at Tseleevo in 2013 (the most recent of his five European Tour trophies) and also making the top 25 at Le Meridien back in 2005. His Race To Dubai position of 77th is one of the highest in this week’s modest field and he’s rounding into some decentform after a T27 at the Made in Denmark followed by a T22 in last week’s Czech Masters.
After a T6 in the Made In Denmark, Dredge was a popular pick with gamers at the Czech Masters last week but he couldn’t ever get in a blow and finished T40. He’s only played in this event once, finishing T44 at Tseleevo in 2014, but did post a pair of top 25s when contesting two Challenge Tour events in Russia back in the late 90s. Currently 95th on the Race To Dubai so will want to keep his push for a place in the top 60 who’ll contest the European Tour finale in Dubai this November.
After a hugely disappointing season, Dinwiddie has found a groove this summer. He began the turnaround with a T3 in the Lyoness Open in June and in his last three starts he’s posted T10 at the Omega European Masters, T11 at the Made In Denmark and solo fourth in last week’s Czech Masters. The form horse has played the Russian Open just once, finishing T30 back in 2008.
Jamieson has cashed in three of his last four starts but he went home with another modest cheque last week after a 78-75 weekend finish relegated him to T73 at the Czech Masters. His best this season remains T11 in June’s Lyoness Open. His appeal jumps several notches when looking at his record in Russia – 3rd in this event last year and T6 in the M2M Challenge Cup in 2010 in his only two visits.
After his DQ in Denmark over a provisional ball mix-up, Lee hit back with a T8 in last week’s Czech Masters – just his second top 10 of the season. This is an obvious chance for him to excel again given the level of opposition. He’s teed it up three times in this event, cashing twice. His best was T17 at Le Meridien back in 2008.
Horne won the Sun City Challenge in his native South Africa earlier this month and can be a presence when he gives it a go on the European Tour (although he can’t be picked in the ET game this week). His only start in the Russian Open came in 2007 when he took T38.
Thomas Pieters won the Czech Open last week so perhaps Phelan, another highly-touted youngster, can follow suit in Russia. The 24-year-old Irishman, who made the cut as an amateur in the 2013 U.S. Open, posted two top threes earlier in the season and, after a dip, has made his last four cuts. He’s 11th in driving accuracy but will need the putter to heat up to get in the mix. Phelan played in this event for the first time last year and was T33.
The straight-hitting American left-hander isn’t available in the European Tour Fantasy game but could make appeal to anyone having a bet. He was 10th at the Indian Open in February and T20 at the Made In Denmark a fortnight ago. This will be his first start on Russian soil.
The Next Rung
These low-key summer events should give Slattery a good chance to climb up the Race To Dubai but he’s had to settle for T58 in Denmark and T34 at the Czech Masters in the last fortnight. Currently, he’s ranked 120th. He’s played in this event on four occasions (2010 the last time), cashing every time, making the top 25 on three occasions and not finishing worse than T31.
The former U.S. Amateur champ, who played in the 2010 Ryder Cup, still can’t get anything going this season and hasn’t cashed a cheque of any significance. He made the cut in Denmark on his last start but closed with a 76 to finish T81. A delve into his past Russian files shows nothing to get excited about either. He’s played this event just once but missed the cut in 2008.
The Korean has had a string of good finishes in Asia this season, including a second place in June’s Thailand Open. He’s not actually played for a month since missing the cut at the European Masters so confidence is dimmed somewhat. He’s not available for the European Tour’s fantasy game.
McGrane is coming off his best result of the season – a T8 in last week’s D+D REAL Czech Masters after breaking par in all four rounds. So, it looks the ideal time for the Irishman to travel to Russia and add to a superb record in this event. In five appearances, he’s finished runner-up last year, cracked the top 10 in 2001 and 2002 and also posted T14 in 2003.
File him under tournament specialist as he has a 2nd, 3rd and 5th in his last five Russian Open starts. The problem is that those three finishes were recorded between 2005 and 2008. He returned to the event last year and had to settle for T36 after a 77 in round three. Drysdale has cashed in his last four starts, finishing T27 in the Czech Masters last week.
The 37-year-old Scotsman with the trademark white flat cap banked back-to-back top 10s in the Russian Challenge Cup (2011 and 2012) on his first two visits to the country but missed the cut in this event in 2013. He’s down at 162nd on the Race To Dubai but there are pockets of hope in his recent form with a run to the last 16 of the Paul Lawrie Match Play and a T27 at the Made In Denmark. He opened with a 69 in the Czech Masters last week but missed the cut after a Friday 76.
He hasn’t posted a top 25 yet this season but the Dane has cashed in six of his last seven tournaments and appears close to a breakout week after T35 in the Made In Denmark and T34 (closing 74) in the Czech Masters over the last fortnight. He’s just 1-for-3 in this event.
Lawrie hasn’t contested this event since 2007 but he was T25 that year and T6 in 2002 so has enjoyed previous visits to Russia. He didn’t make the weekend in Prague last time but before that showed some form when T14 at the Made In Denmark.
The Aussie has banked some decent prize money at the BMW International Open (T9) and Made In Denmark (T2) this summer so has to be on the radar. He has a little bit of form in Russia too with a T9 in the Challenge Tour’s Russian Challenge Cup in 2010.
Nixon is at 112th on the Race To Dubai so needs a big week somewhere to secure his status. And this could be a good place to do it as the Englishman was runner-up in the 2013 Russian Open at Tseleevo. He’s cashed in his last four starts and posted three rounds of 65 in that time so has the ability to go low which looks important if this turns into a birdie-fest.
Who’s On The Team
Michael Hoey won this event two years ago and has the class, experience and form to win this again.
He has solid claims to be ‘star player’ status and could be worth a bet too.
Max Kieffer hasn’t missed a cut all season so is extremely gamer-friendly while Robert Dinwiddie has been one of the form horses during this low-key run of European Tour events and can shine again.
One To Fade
Edoardo Molinari is one of the ‘name’ players in the field but continues to disappoint.