Punters should make powerhouse Pieters their Czech mate
Belgian ace can get back in the groove
Sky Sports Golf, from 10am Thursday
Event starts 6.15am
Palmer's top tip
Thomas Pieters 8-1
The race to qualify for the 2018 European Ryder Cup side starts in Prague this week and the star of the last competition can leap straight to the top of the points list.
Thomas Pieters let his supporters down in Denmark last week, losing the plot for an hour in round one and squandering six shots in five holes, but the Belgian bomber can be expected to get back on track in the Czech Masters.
Pieters opened with a 62 in the first round of the Made In Denmark last season and was getting frustrated at only two under par through ten holes. He found the greenside hazard off the tee at his 11th – the par-three second – then slumped into a foul mood.
The volcano was simmering – Pieters expects greatness from himself and struggles to control his temper through adversity – then it erupted at his 15th hole.
Pieters backers were left dejected by a quadruple-bogey, a horror story through which he played at pace, steam coming out of his ears.
He made nine birdies through 36 holes, but missed the cut by two shots. A calmer, more measured performance should result in Prague, where he has finished first and second the last two years.
Pieters won the Czech Masters by three shots in 2015, then arrived jaded and disappointed for his title defence 12 months later, having just finished fourth – one spot outside of the medal places – at the Olympics in Brazil.
Despite that handicap, he was beaten by only a shot, treading water over the weekend with a pair of 70s.
The wide-open Albatross Resort sets up wonderfully for powerhouses and perfect weather should allow the likes of Pieters to make hay. His 2015 triumph was for a maiden European Tour title, so he has proven himself on this layout under the utmost pressure.
Punters who got their fingers burnt by Pieters last week may be reluctant to go in again at the same price, but this week he faces an even more suitable course and the same standard of opposition.
Expect a better attitude after the Denmark debacle and the class act of the field to assert his superiority over 72 holes.
Thomas Detry 30-1
A one-two of Belgians called Thomas is entirely feasible this week – Thomas Detry appears to have settled on the European Tour and the sweet-swinging rookie could throw down the gauntlet to his mate Pieters.
Detry, who won a Challenge Tour event by 12 shots almost exactly a year ago, has immediately impressed in the higher grade. He was third in the Alfred Dunhill Championship just before Christmas, then beaten by only a shot in the BMW International in Germany at the end of June.
An eight-under-par weekend for 14th place in the Made In Denmark last week provided further evidence that Detry is becoming one of the best players on the European Tour.
He faces another course debut this week, but the stylish 24-year-old is well equipped to hit the ground running on a straightforward layout.
Julien Guerrier 250-1
Erik van Rooyen 100-1
Julien Guerrier, the 2006 Amateur champion, was recommended at 150-1 for the Lyoness Open in June after two months of promising form.
The Frenchman was yet to win on the European or Challenge Tour, and after opening with a 69 to put himself in contention for Lyoness glory, he carded a 78 the next day to miss the cut by a shot.
The following week, Guerrier conquered his demons by making his Challenge Tour breakthrough, and he is playing well enough to threaten on the main circuit, too.
Self-belief obviously increased after his maiden CT title and three weeks later he finished runner-up in the Prague Golf Challenge. The powerhouse returns to the same city this week with confidence. He was 13 under par for his final three rounds in the Rolex Trophy last week, hauling himself to 11th place.
Another outsider who has been among the birdies on the Challenge Tour is Erik van Rooyen. The South African has finished in the top 25 in nine of his last 12 CT outings, including his last five. He was tenth in the Rolex Trophy on Sunday.
Van Rooyen made his Sunshine Tour breakthrough in February and looks ready to threaten for overseas success. He possesses all the tools to prosper at the Albatross.
Others to note
Dean Burmester The Tshwane Open champion has failed to make an impact on the European Tour since that breakthrough success, but the Albatross is a course which suits.
Lucas Bjerregaard The big-hitting Dane enjoyed himself on home soil last week, pinging the lids before finishing 28th, and he may be revived for a strong end to the year.
Paul Waring The Birkenhead man has played some decent golf this season and was 19th in his only previous Albatross start.
Matthew Fitzpatrick The Englishman is course-proven and top-class, but has been lacking sparkle. A house move to Georgia is perhaps taking his eye off the ball. In danger of slipping out of the world's top 50.
Jordan Smith The Bath boy won his maiden European Tour title a month ago, then finished ninth in his first Major (USPGA). Full of form, but making Albatross debut. Not in the same league as Pieters.
Julian Suri The American giant shed his European Tour maiden tag on Sunday in the Made In Denmark. He won the Czech Challenge on the Challenge Tour in May, so is bursting with positive vibes.
5pts 8-1 general
1.5pts each-way 30-1 Betfred
0.5pt each-way 250-1 Sky Bet
E Van Rooyen
0.5pt each-way 100-1 general
Course Albatross Golf Resort, Prague, Czech Republic
Prize money €1m (€166,660 to the winner)
Length 7,467 yards Par 72 Field 156
Course records – 72 holes 268 Thomas Pieters (2015) 18 holes 64 Scott Jamieson (2014), Mikael Lundberg (2015), Paul Peterson (2016)
Course winners taking part Jamie Donaldson, Thomas Pieters, Paul Peterson
When to bet By 6.15am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from 10am Thursday
Time difference Czech Republic is one hour ahead of the UK and Ireland
Last week – Made In Denmark 1 J Suri (60-1), 2 D Horsey
(40-1), T3 B Evans (400-1), C Paisley (150-1), S Webster (400-1)
Course overview The European Tour returned to the Czech Republic three years ago after a three-year break, but to a new venue.
The Moravia Silesia Open started out as a European Tour event in 2009, staged at Prosper Golf Club in Celadna, then changed its name to the Czech Open for the following two years.
Lack of funding saw the tournament axed, but the Czech Masters was created in 2014, with the Albatross Resort hosting. This course was opened in 2009, billed as the best layout in the Republic.
A reported €16m was ploughed into the project by entrepreneur Jari Simane, with Keith Preston given the job of designing this immaculately manicured track.
It is a long, fairly exposed layout, with lots of water hazards at the end of each nine. A creek runs down the right of the 18th fairway and a lake stretches up to the green on the left, providing an arena for much last-gasp drama on Sunday.
There are two reachable par-fives (the first and 12th) and two of more than 600 yards (the ninth and tenth).
The first three par-threes are long and testing, but the 168-yard 16th yields more birdies. The first six holes are the easiest stretch, so it is essential to make a fast start
Story of last year American left-hander Paul Peterson claimed his maiden European Tour title, making birdie at two of his final three holes to edge defending champion Thomas Pieters by a shot
Weather forecast A sunny, hot first day followed by three cooler but clear ones. Hardly any breeze throughout
Type of player suited to challenge There is plenty of yardage to cover this week and trees are in short supply, so big-hitters will be licking their lips under windless skies. Liberties should not be taken, though, with watery graves lurking all over the place
Key attribute Power