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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Bookmakers should beware of Alexander Bjork on home turf

Fellow Swede Marcus Kinhult looks his biggest threat

Rising star Marcus Kinhult has just turned 22
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Sky Sports Golf from 10am Thursday

Thorbjorn Olesen is playing under pressure this week, tantalisingly close to securing a dream Ryder Cup debut, and the Dane is hoping a low-grade Nordea Masters will provide the points he needs to earn a place on Thomas Bjorn's European team.

Bjorn would love to see his compatriot in the side, but automatic qualification would make life much easier for both men, and Olesen is on the outside looking in as things stand. Bookmakers make him a strong favourite for the Nordea – he has been playing well and is the only player at a single-figure price – but he could buckle in the spotlight on a track which does not appear to suit his game.

The Hills, a fiddly, undulating track with lots of water hazards, requires precision and sound course-management, two traits often lacking in Olesen. He finished 34th there in a Challenge Tour event in 2008, some useful experience as a rookie, and his lone Challenge Tour victory came in Sweden. But the Ryder Cup tension, coupled with the fact that his clubs got lost in transit from the US PGA, means he can be overlooked at short prices.

Palmer's top tip
Alexander Bjork 22-1
Swedes have a fantastic record in this event – the leaderboard is typically lit up by locals – and Alexander Bjork can give the patriotic galleries what they want in Gothenburg.

Four of the last ten Nordeas have been won by a Swede and Bjork is well equipped to handle the Hills layout which is making its European Tour debut. Accuracy and control, allied to a sharp short-game, are the qualities which have made the 28-year-old a champion and they are the keys to success at Hills.

Bjork made his Challenge Tour breakthrough in 2016, graduating to the main circuit, and it did not take him long to start challenging for European Tour honours. Third place in the French Open was followed by second spot in the Hong Kong Open, then third again at the Hassan Trophy – all at tracks which demand straight-hitting.

In just 40 starts as a European Tour member, Bjork had recorded 16 top-20 finishes, and his maiden triumph arrived the following week as a masterful final-round 65 won the China Open at the end of April.

Three further top-20s have been posted since, including eighth place at Le Golf National, and punters should not be put off by form figures of MC-48-MC in his last three tournaments.

The lean spell has come in the Open Championship, the Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA Championship. He had played in only one previous Major, was making his WGC debut at Firestone, and the two Stateside tracks seriously handicapped short-hitters.

Given his lack of experience and unsuitability to Firestone and Bellerive, those results in elite company are nothing to worry about. Expect Bjork to slip straight back into his European Tour groove.

Next best
Marcus Kinhult 40-1
A Swedish one-two is entirely feasible, with Bjork's tidy compatriot Marcus Kinhult well capable of making waves again in his home event. He finished 21st as a 17-year-old on his Nordea debut in 2014, then led at the halfway stage 12 months later when still an amateur.

Kinhult is from the west coast of Sweden, knows the Hills well and is licking his lips at the prospect of tackling it in competition, having settled nicely on the European Tour after graduating from the Challenge Tour last season. Third place in the Qatar Masters, 12th in the BMW PGA Championship, and fifth in the French Open have been particularly impressive efforts.

Other selections
Benjamin Hebert 50-1
Matthieu Pavon 60-1
Have your largest stakes on the Swedish duo, but bolster your staking plan with a French pair. Another straight-hitter, Benjamin Hebert, can grind his way to a competitive 72-hole total and threaten an overdue European Tour title.

Hebert has won six times on the Challenge Tour, including in Scandinavia in the 2014 Norwegian Challenge. Two of his best finishes last year came in Scandinavia – eighth in the Nordea and sixth in Denmark – and Hills sets up well for him.

Conservative, controlled players are preferred, but if a more aggressive sort finds top form in perfect weather to make hay at the Hills in a different manner, Matthieu Pavon is a lively candidate.

Pavon made his Nordea debut as a European Tour rookie last year after two missed cuts, yet finished sixth, before missing his next two cuts. That shows a liking for the tournament and the 25-year-old has threatened a breakthrough since. Recent efforts – including seventh spot in the US Open Walton Heath qualifier, 25th place in the US Open, and a share of tenth in the Irish Open – suggest Pavon is close to realising his obvious potential.

Others to note
Thomas Detry
The talented Belgian youngster was 13th in the European Open last time out and should threaten a maiden victory.

Matthias Schwab
The steady Austrian, seventh in the European Open last time out, seems likely to take a shine to the Hills and could go close to a breakthrough success.

Jazz Janewattananond
The accurate Thai excelled on the Asian Tour at the start of last month and is capable of entering the equation on suitable terrain.

Soren Kjeldsen
The Danish veteran, Nordea runner-up in 2015, has made seven cuts in a row and seems likely to find a way on to the leaderboard at some stage.

Richie Ramsay
The precise Scot is winless for more than three years and has slipped outside of the world's top 200, but this is a track he could enjoy.

Aaron Rai
The straight-hitting Wolverhampton man should plot a safe passage along the danger-strewn Hills layout. The three-time Challenge Tour champion may soon be ready for joy on the main circuit.

Staking plan
A Bjork
3pts each-way 22-1 Coral
M Kinhult
2pts each-way 40-1 188bet
B Hebert
1.5pts each-way 50-1 general
M Pavon
1pt each-way 60-1 Sky Bet

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The lowdown

Course Hills Golf Club, Gothenburg, Sweden

Prize money €1.5m (€250,000 to the winner) 

Length 7,169 yards Par 71

Course records – 54 holes 208 Mark Haastrup (weather-reduced 2008 Dubliner Challenge) 18 holes 66 Seve Benson (2008 Dubliner Challenge)

Field 156

When to bet By 6.30am Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 10am Thursday

Time difference Sweden is one hour ahead of the UK and Ireland

Last week – US PGA Championship 1 B Koepka (20-1), 2 T Woods (28-1), 3 A Scott (100-1), T4 S Cink (200-1), J Rahm (25-1), T6 T Pieters (125-1), F Molinari (30-1), J Thomas (16-1), G Woodland (125-1)

Course overview Hills Golf Club, designed by American architect Arthur Hills and opened in 2005, is making its European Tour debut, taking over from established Nordea Masters venues like Barseback, PGA National and Bro Hof Slott. It staged the 2008 Dubliner Challenge on the Challenge Tour.

The course is shorter than its Nordea predecessors, with only three par-fives – the 594-yard third, 606-yard eighth and 549-yard 18th.

The longest of the four par-threes is the final one – the 200-yard 15th. The fifth and sixth are back-to-back par-threes.

Most of the layout is made up of short par-fours. It is a parkland track, with lakes running through it and lots of elevation changes, laid out over a rugged landscape.

Story of last year Italian youngster Renato Paratore edged English duo Matt Fitzpatrick and Chris Wood by a shot at Barseback, claiming a maiden European Tour title.

Weather forecast Clear and calm for the most part, with spells of light rain on Friday and Saturday.

Type of player suited to challenge Tidy, smart sorts who can avoid the numerous water hazards and rocky outcrops should succeed. Distance control is difficult given the course undulations and small greens provide tiny targets on approach.

Key attribute Accuracy

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Expect Bjork to slip straight back into his European Tour groove
E.W. Terms
Sky bet