Preview and best bets for this week's Nordea Masters tournament in Sweden
By Mark Kendall - Twitter: @SkySportsMK. Last Updated: 27/05/14 11:28pm
Mikko Ilonen: Returns to Sweden to defend his title at the Nordea Masters
After a fantastic renewal of the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour heads to Sweden this week for the Nordea Masters.
The tournament boasts an enviable list of winners since its inception in 1991 with the likes of Sir Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell all having triumphed.
This year Finland's Mikko Ilonen - who has won the event twice in the past six years - returns as the defending champion to a brand new host venue - the PGA Sweden National GC.
With the season's second major (the US Open) now just around the corner, a quality field have assembled looking to fine tune their game ahead of Pinehurst in two weeks' time.
After a four-year stay at Bro Hof Slott Golf Club near Stockholm, the tournament switches to a new venue this time around with the PGA Sweden National, situated just outside Malmo, hosting. The complex boasts two courses, the 'Links Course' and the 'Lakes Course' and it is the latter that will be used this week. A 7,415-yard par 72 parkland layout, it was designed by Kyle Philips with help from 2008 champion Peter Hanson, who is in the field on home soil once again. Although the course's name suggests there should be plenty, water only comes into play on four holes, although it does feature on both the 17th and 18th in what is a tricky finishing stretch. With plenty of room off the tee and, reportedly, not much rough to speak off it should be a test to suit the bigger hitters with plenty of opportunity for birdies.
Leading contenders - and Sky Bet odds
Henrik Stenson (7/1): The world no 2 heads into his home event as a clear and worthy favourite and a seventh-placed finish at Wentworth is evidence he is finding his best form as the season really begins to heat up. On the back of wins for Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott last week, it would be little surprise if Stenson justifies favouritism here. It is a tournament he has yet to win and, at a venue where he has been made an 'honorary life member' he will be keen to do the business in front of his Swedish fans.
Henrik Stenson: The world No 2 is hot favourite on home soil
Francesco Molinari (14/1): The ever-consistent Italian added yet another top-10 to his resume at the BMW PGA Championship last week, although he never really threatened to get in the mix for victory. His seventh place in Surrey followed a fourth in China last month and he produced a solid display when 21st in this event last year. With a Ryder Cup spot likely to be foremost in his thoughts, the Italian will be hoping for a big week in Sweden.
Jonas Blixt (18/1): Despite already being a PGA Tour winner when he finished solo second in this tournament last year, Blixt was still flying somewhat under the radar of many golf fans. But another victory on American soil last July and his heroics at Augusta earlier in the year mean that he is now one of the fancied horses in this year's renewal. He arrives following a solid showing at Wentworth and certainly has the game and temperament to go one better than last year.
Thomas Bjorn (18/1): This tournament is now something of a "home" fixture for the Dane who has now settled in Sweden with his family. He played some sublime golf (including a memorable opening 62) at Wentworth last week to emerge as the likely winner, only to stumble with a closing 75 as Rory McIlroy claimed victory. But Bjorn is experienced enough to take the positives rather than the negatives from the week and, having finished fourth last year, looks primed to go well once again.
Miguel Angel Jimenez (25/1): The European Tour's first 50-year-old winner at his national Open earlier in the month, fourth at the Masters, a winner on the Champions Tour a week later... the popular Spaniard has been one of the stories of the season. Jimenez appears to be speeding up rather than slowing down with age and, having made no secret of his desire to feature as a player in September's Ryder Cup, will not be short of motivation. He was 14th in last year's event and appears capable of contending wherever he tees up at present.
Shane Lowry (28/1): After a sluggish start to the season, the Irishman has come alive in the last few weeks and is now demonstrating the form that saw him knocking on the door of the world's top-50 last year. An encouraging 15th place finish in the Open de Espana was followed by a superb display at Wentworth when he lead in the final round before coming up just short behind McIlroy. The good vibes continued earlier in the week as he secured a place at US Open after winning the qualifying event at Walton Heath and he will arrive in Sweden full of confidence.
There is plenty of quality at the head of the market with the claims of Stenson particularly hard to ignore given that he enjoys home comforts this week.
But that could prove something of a double-edged sword for the Swede who has already admitted that this will be his "busiest week of the season" with media and sponsors commitments galore.
Although he could easily emerge the most obvious of winners, at 7/1 it's worth taking on the favourite who will have plenty on his plate away from the course.
Of the others at shorter prices, Thomas Bjorn looks well worth sticking with despite the frustrating end to his pursuit of glory at Wentworth.
Thomas Bjorn: Can counce back from disappointment at Wentworth
Whilst his final round 75 and that triple-bogey were obvious and painful low-points, there was much to admire from the veteran and he is certainly wise and experienced enough to wipe the slate clean and build on the positives.
Indeed, in the build-up to this week he admitted as much stating: "You have to take the good and the bad that comes your way and keep focused... last week the brilliant was the best in my career, and the poor was poor.
"I don't hide behind what happened last week. That's the way the game is. I play the game and sometimes you come out on top, and sometimes you don't. I'm very proud of some of the things I did last week and I'm well aware I could have done some things better on Sunday, but it's a tough golf course.
"I had a really good experience in Stockholm last year (where he finished joint-fourth) and I have been playing in this tournament for years. I've always enjoyed it. There are a lot of home fans - a lot of Danes come to watch. I find that inspiring and there will be a lot here this week."
Back the Dane to bounce back this week at 18/1.
With the course measuring in at 7,415 yards and offering plenty of room to let rip off the tee, this would appear a test the bombers will relish and, with that in mind, the claims of Alvaro Quiros are obvious.
Always amongst the circuit's longest hitters, the Spaniard has been bubbling under for a few weeks and looks ready to add a seventh European Tour title to his CV.
While his last two outings at PGA Catalunya and Wentworth (57th & 65th) might not look too impressive, they were at layouts unlikely to suit and his third place in the Volvo China Open at the end of April on what would appear a more comparable test is perhaps more relevant.
This proven winner has been dropping hints for a while and this could well be the week things click into place for him - he's worth backing at a generous 50/1.
Another man who looks a decent price given recent exploits is Frenchman Alexander Levy who has enjoyed a breakthrough season.
It was Levy who held off Quiros and co to get the job done in China and since then he has finished 24th, 57th and then a very creditable 12th at Wentworth last week.
Like compatriot Victor Dubuisson (who would be well worth an interest this week were it not for ongoing concerns over his fitness) Levy has ample length off the tee and plenty of birdies in his locker - looks worth following to put in another big display at 66/1.
Staying on the big-hitting theme, the last pick is Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard who - like fellow Dane Bjorn - we'll hope is inspired by playing so close to home.
The 22-year-old was another to come through the Walton Heath qualifier to secure a US Open spot so has plenty to be cheerful about and looks to have the game to make a splash this week at a big price.
2pts e.w. Thomas Bjorn at 18/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Alvaro Quiros at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Alexander Levy at 66/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
0.5pts e.w. Lucas Bjerregaard at 125/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)