After long layoff, Norman returns at European Masters

Greg Norman of Australia prepares to hit his 2nd shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the 2009 U.S. Senior Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club.

Greg Norman of Australia prepares to hit his 2nd shot on the 18th hole during the first round of the 2009 U.S. Senior Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club.

European Masters

Sept. 2-5

Course: Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club (6,822 yards, par 71), Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland.

Purse: €2 million. Winner's share: €333,330.

Last year: Sweden's Alexander Noren won his first European tour title, closing with a 6-under 66 for a two-stroke victory over Bradley Dredge.

After the madness of Gleneagles comes the serenity of Crans-sur-Sierre, a place where the runners in the Ryder Cup race can catch their breath and spend a week in quiet reflection.

Edoardo Molinari, Ross McGowan, Simon Dyson and Miguel Angel Jimenez could have been forgiven for taking a week off this week after their exertions at Gleneagles. The stress of trying to make the European Ryder Cup team was immense, yet all four are in Switzerland this week. The reason: the majesty and pacifying powers of the Swiss Alps.

FIVE TO WATCH

Edoardo Molinari: Will the stress of making the European Ryder Cup team catch up with him or inspire him?

Miguel Angel Jimenez: The veteran Spaniard has been a bridesmaid here twice, finishing second in 1993 and 2004. Like Molinari, is bidding to become the first player to win three times on this year’s tour.

Oliver Wilson: With nine second-place finishes on tour, wouldn’t it be ironic for the 2008 Ryder Cup player to get his first victory after the European Ryder Cup race has finished?

Matteo Manassero: The young Italian plays on a sponsor’s invite this week. The stylish resort seems tailor-made for the equally stylish Italian, especially since length isn’t a factor at this altitude.

Greg Norman: The “Shark” makes his return to competitive action after a 12-month absence due to shoulder surgery. Should be interesting to see how the old boy does against Europe’s young guns.

If you thought Gleneagles was a stunning vista for last week’s Johnnie Walker Championship, then be prepared for an even better backdrop this week. Crans-sur-Sierre is without parallel on the European circuit – the most beautiful setting of any golf tournament on the European Tour.

At 5,000 feet above sea level, you can’t help but look at the scenery because you are part of it. Everywhere you turn there are high mountain vistas, with views up towards the Plaine Morte Glacier and vast mountain ranges. To sit by the 7th tee with a cup of coffee and look down into the valley below is quintessential Crans. There is no better place to get away from the stress of everyday life.

It’s not just the scenery, but also the intimacy of the place. Think of Crans as the St. Andrews of Switzerland. The first tee is only 50 yards from the stylish main street. Walk through the town on your way to dinner, past the chic shops and boutiques and you can’t help but bump into players and caddies, as you do when the Open Championship is at St. Andrews.

This 6,822-yard, par-71 course obviously isn’t as old as St. Andrews, but it’s been around since 1908, and has hosted the European Masters since 1939, although the event stretches back to 1923. Once upon a time, it yielded exceptionally low scores, then Seve Ballesteros re-designed the greens. Think upturned saucers and you get an idea of the green complexes. A good short game is a must around here.

Of course, Molinari and company are not in Switzerland just for the R&R. There’s the little matter of the €2 million prize purse, and the €333,330 that goes to the winner. After birdies on his last three holes last week to win the Johnnie Walker Championship, Molinari is bidding to become the first player to win three times on this year’s European Tour.

Jimenez’ challenge should not be overlooked either. The Spaniard might have won at Gleneagles had he not double bogeyed the 17th hole. His consolation was joining Molinari on the Ryder Cup team.

Dyson and McGowan weren’t so lucky. They left Scotland thinking not of this Ryder Cup, but the 2012 match. McGowan had to pull out with a shoulder injury and is a surprise starter this week. Dyson contended at Gleneagles, before fading down the stretch.

A win for either Dyson or McGowan last week would have sealed a Ryder Cup debut. Wouldn’t it be ironic then if one of them won this week?

Greg Norman and Open champion Louis Oostehuizen are among the headline acts this week. Norman hasn’t played in Switzerland since 1995, although it was once a regular stop for him when he played the European circuit.

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