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Monday, 21 January, 2019

The time is right for accurate Austrian to become Shot Clock king

Matthias Schwab set to clean up on home turf

Matthias Schwab is a hugely consistent ball-striker
1 of 1

Sky Sports Golf, 9.30am Thursday

The inaugural Shot Clock Masters could not have come at a more appropriate time after Patrick Cantlay provided a graphic example of the problem of slow play in the final group of the Memorial on Sunday.

But snails like Cantlay will not enter this new tournament unless they desperately need to earn a few euros. Anyone uncomfortable hitting shots in fewer than 40 seconds will avoid Diamond Country Club this week.

Aaron Rai and Max Kieffer are two good examples, lying 84th and 86th respectively on the Race to Dubai standings. They are well short of the qualification spots for the DP World Tour Championship, and only the top 100 retain their cards for next season, but Rai and Kieffer both take an age to hit shots and have left the event off their schedule.

The shot clock will probably not have a huge impact, with almost everyone in attendance at ease with the format, but previous course experience will help decisions to be made swiftly and debutants are at a disadvantage.

Palmer's top tip
Matthias Schwab 22-1
A sound temperament, with the ability to stay calm, cool and focused, is probably more useful than usual in Austria this week, with shot clocks to consider as well as an unsettled weather forecast, and measured local man Matthias Schwab could easily emerge as the best qualified for the task.

Schwab quickly built a reputation in his amateur days as an unflappable character, a point underlined when he finished 32nd in the 2010 Lyoness Open as a 15-year-old. His subsequent starts at Diamond Country Club have been solid too, with 14th place in 2013, when he was still a teen amateur, the highlight. This is terrain he knows and loves.

Schwab started life as a pro with nine top-15 finishes in 16 Challenge Tour starts, then earned a spot on the European Tour with a gutsy Q-School performance, producing a bogey-free six-under-par weekend and carding nothing worse than a bogey over the six rounds.

This assured all-rounder was the top-ranked European amateur before making the switch to the paid ranks and he seems likely to become Austria's best player in the years to come. Fourth place in the Indian Open in March showed Schwab had settled on the European Tour and he has been full of control since.

On home turf, in a weak field, with many of his rivals jaded from playing in a 36-hole US Open qualifier at Walton Heath, Surrey, on Monday, this looks a fantastic opportunity for Schwab to threaten a European Tour breakthrough.

Next best
Lorenzo Gagli 22-1
The career of Lorenzo Gagli is on the up after a three-month burst of brilliance and the Italian can further ride the wave in Austria. There was a time when Gagli was thought of in the same high regard as compatriots the Molinari brothers and Matteo Manassero, but a ragged 2013 was the start of three years in the golfing wilderness. Gagli has slowly but surely got his act together again.

He was solid on the Challenge Tour last season, where two of his best performances came over the Austrian border in Switzerland, and this year he was victorious in the Kenya Open at the end of March. He won three times on the Alps Tour in 2007, got off the mark on the Challenge Tour in Kenya, and eyes have become firmly trained on European Tour glory.

Gagli has followed up his Kenya coup with second place in the Turkish Airlines Open, 20th in the Rocco Forte Open, excellent golf to reach the last 32 of the Belgian Knockout, then a closing pair of 66s for 14th spot in the Italian Open last week.

He is hitting his ball with great authority and in the middle of that dire 2013, having arrived after five consecutive missed cuts, Gagli finished tenth in the Lyoness Open at Diamond CC.

Other selections
Sepp Straka 40-1
Tom Lewis 90-1
The galleries could have plenty to cheer over the weekend, with Sepp Straka capable of joining his fellow countryman Schwab on the leaderboard. Like Schwab, Straka has been inspired before on home soil, finishing seventh in the Lyoness Open last year, when he was bang in contention until a closing 72.

Straka, 25, has been forging a career on the Tour, a circuit full of quality, and he must be respected for churning out solid if unspectacular results. The suspicion that another magical four days in front of enthusiastic supporters is coming stems from the fact he produced his best performance of the year last week. A tie for 27th in the Rex Hospital Open, where he closed with a 68, is an eyecatching warm-up.

Players who avoided the 36-hole US Open qualifying contest at Walton Heath are preferred – that is an exhausting way to start a tournament week – and the top three tips were preparing in Austria instead. Room must be made in the staking plan, though, for Tom Lewis, who was finished early at Walton Heath, got the result he wanted, and is a young, hungry player who can overcome any mental fatigue.

Lewis is a character who could actually benefit from being rushed a little by the shot clock. This fine talent has admitted himself that he has “got in his own way” a lot over the last few years, getting bogged down in technique and probably thinking too much on the course. As a more carefree amateur, Lewis was one of the most promising youngsters in the sport, and a speedy slap round Diamond CC could be just what the doctor ordered.

Lewis is the course-record holder at Diamond, having opened with a sensational 63 in 2013. He had missed six cuts in a row on the European Tour prior to jetting to Austria, but carded nine birdies and nine pars to set the early pace. He finished tenth in the 2011 Lyoness in just his third European Tour start, so clearly loves this layout.

Lewis, who led the Open as an amateur in 2011 before winning the Portugal Masters later that year, is still only 27. Ninth place in the Turkish Airlines Challenge in April was followed by 14th spot in the Rocco Forte, then seventh at Walton Heath on Monday booked his US Open berth for next week. He looks a big-priced dangerman.

Dean Burmester and Erik van Rooyen, the top two names in the original Shot Clock Masters betting, withdrew on Tuesday to leave an already weak tournament even poorer and bookmakers hacking prices on the other market principals.

The South African duo were both involved in 36-hole US Open qualifying at Walton Heath on Monday. Paul Waring and Sebastien Gros also pulled out of the Austrian event after their exertions in Surrey.

Others to note
Ashun Wu
The 2016 Lyoness champ must be respected given that most previous victors have stayed away and the field lacks star quality. The Chinese player is one of only two course winners in attendance.

Tapio Pulkkanen
The swashbuckling Finn is the sort of character who could take a shine to this quirky event. He could be worth a speculative dart at a big price.

Staking plan
M Schwab
2.5pts each-way 22-1 BoyleSports
L Gagli
2pts each-way 22-1 Coral
S Straka
1.5pts each-way 40-1 Coral
T Lewis
1pt each-way 90-1 Betfred

The lowdown

Course Diamond Country Club, Atzenbrugg, Austria

Prize money €1m (€166,660 to the winner)

Length 7,458 yards Par 72 Field 120

Course winners taking part Mikael Lundberg, Ashun Wu

Course records – 72 holes 269 Bernd Wiesberger (2012 Lyoness Open) 18 holes 63 Tom Lewis (2013 Lyoness Open)

When to bet By 6.30am Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 9.30am Thursday

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

Last week – Italian Open 1 T Olesen (80-1), 2 F Molinari (10-1), 3 L Slattery (300-1), 4 R Cabrera-Bello (22-1), T5 G McDowell (60-1), A Sullivan (33-1), L Westwood (50-1).

Course overview The Jeremy Pern-designed Diamond Country Club hosted the Lyoness Open from 2010 to 2017.

The event has become the Shot Clock Masters this year, with a time limit in effect for every shot. The first player in a group has 50 seconds to hit his shot, with 40 seconds for subsequent players.

Anyone who fails will incur a one-shot penalty for each bad time and these will be shown as a red card against their name on the leaderboard. Each player is permitted two time-outs during a round, which will allow them double the allotted time to play their shot.

This flat, exposed track has water hazards on nine of the 18 holes and becomes much tougher when the wind blows.

The back nine, which has two long par-fours (the 504-yard tenth and the 490-yard 17th), two long par-fives (the 600-yard 15th and the 591-yard 16th) and a long par-three (the 225-yard 14th), is more difficult than the front nine, where two easy par-fives (the 506-yard first and the 556-yard fourth) present eagle opportunities.

The two par-threes on the front (two and six) both have island greens surrounded by water.

The story of last year Dylan Frittelli bravely edged home by a shot in the final Lyoness Open, making his European Tour breakthrough.

Weather forecast The clocks look set to be stopped regularly with thunderstorm threats throughout. Sporadic downpours should keep the course soft.

Type of player suited to challenge This long, flat course is excellent terrain for big-hitters to enjoy themselves, especially with storms in the build-up and more forecast.

Plenty of birdies are likely on a soft layout. Naturally fast players are obviously more comfortable in the Shot Clock format.

Key attribute Power

World Cup quizzes

Groups A & B

Groups C & D

Groups E & F

Groups G & H

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This assured all-rounder was the top-ranked European amateur before making the switch to the paid ranks
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