The European Tour and Ladies European Tour combine for this week's Scandinavian Mixed, and Ben Coley has six each-way selections.
1.5pt e.w. Jamie Donaldson at 40/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Aaron Rai at 55/1 (bet365 1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Jack Senior at 66/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Jonathan Caldwell at 150/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Sebastian Soderberg at 150/1 (Betfred, Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
0.5pt e.w. Oliver Wilson at 400/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
The European Tour has not hesitated to push its boundaries, and those of its sport. Not every experiment has worked — see Golf Sixes, Belgian Knockout, World Super 6, Saudi International, etc. — but it has certainly not lived up to golf's reputation for the staid.
Among its better ideas has been to try and collaborate with the leading women's tours, and this week sees the culmination of that process and, at last, a tournament of genuine substance in which men and women compete on equal terms: the Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik & Annika.
Having two giants of the game in Stenson and Sorenstam not only here to host but in the field means this is a special week, the only downside being a fairly modest field on the men's side. That's been common throughout the last 12 months, and the fact that the US Open takes place next week has only served to weaken things further.
Still, there are Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and world ranking points on offer, and the chance to go down in history as the winner of this groundbreaking tournament. It's a big deal, or at least it should be, and Vallda Golf & Country Club looks like being an excellent host.
For the purposes of this column, it is also complicated. For the sake of the tournament, it would be ideal if the 54-hole leaderboard features a mix of men and women, battling it out under identical conditions bar separate tee boxes. That, surely, is the aim of organisers, and the 900 yards of difference in scorecards underlines their intention.
Is it enough? I have my doubts. When the Vic Open was played across two courses in Australia, scoring in separate men's and women's tournaments was very different: the men's were won in 19-under and 18-under, while the women's were won in eight-under. There were, quite rightly, complaints that the tee boxes were not far enough apart.
In the 2019 Jordan Mixed Open, which also featured senior male players, one Ladies European Tour member made the top 15. Meghan MacLaren could well have won that title, eventually settling for second, but the lack of her LET peers on that final leaderboard suggests once again there was a lack of balance.
True, the World Invitational was much more like it, but let's not forget it was a Challenge Tour-LET event. The Vic Open by contrast was co-sanctioned by the LPGA Tour and ought to have produced a stronger challenge. This week, it's effectively European Tour versus Ladies European Tour and while for once I would dearly love to be wrong, I suspect the men will dominate.
Even in making that conclusion, I have to acknowledge the risk which is built in when we're relying somewhat on how organisers set things up. If, for instance, it becomes clear early on that they've not set things up fairly, might they react to that at the weekend, thus allowing whichever group is behind to make up significant ground?
With all that in mind I'll make JAMIE DONALDSON the headline selection.
The Welsh veteran so obviously has a touch of class and he's worked his way back into excellent form over the last 12 months, with 11 top-20 finishes and a string of opportunities having come his way.
Accurate from the tee, capable of outstanding approach play and with the putter increasingly reliable, Donaldson has been one of the most solid and consistent performers on the European Tour and a shot here or there is all that separates him from a first title since 2014.
If and when it does come, conditions such as those faced this week could well be key.
So much of Donaldson's best form has come in cool, breezy weather, which is certainly forecast for the middle part of the tournament, and that's one of the reasons his record in Sweden is exceptional: in 15 starts he has 13 top-25 finishes, and a win on the Challenge Tour.
With a victory in the Made In Denmark also to his name, and others at Portrush and Abu Dhabi, I expect the heathland, exposed nature of Vallda to prove ideal for a player who has five top-eights in his last seven visits to this part of the world, including nearby at The Hills.
Also seventh at Barseback when in no sort of form, he must surely arrive in Sweden believing this could be the place he ends a lengthy drought, and seeing the heroics of Richard Bland, Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink and Padraig Harrington over the last month or two should provide a further source of inspiration.
At 7,060 yards on the men's scorecard and with four par-fives built into that, Vallda is a short course which is designed with heathland layouts in the UK in mind. It appears to be wide enough off the tee but the crucial feature is how firm it can get, which isn't especially common in Sweden and could well set it apart.
That should be ideal for AARON RAI, whose run of missed cuts might be worth overlooking given the underlying strengths of his game.
Rai took two months off before the US PGA, a bizarre decision which left him exposed to Kiawah Island. Unsurprisingly, he shot 81 in round one and was packing his bags early, and he struggled to get going when touching down in Denmark despite decent enough rounds of 72 and 69.
From there he took in Green Eagle, a brute of a course, and one he just won't ever play well in my view. Certainly he fared better with rounds of 74 and 75 than he had on debut, which began with an 80, and come Sunday evening was only just shy of making the cut for the final round.
Crucially, Rai's long-game was very good. In fact, he's driven it well across all three of these missed cuts, his trademark accuracy on show, but it's the step-by-step improvement with his irons which really catches my eye. In two rounds in Germany he gained 3.602 strokes with his approaches, and that stacks up with his very best golf.
We will therefore need to see a little life from the putter but Rai, who has a very solid record in Sweden, only need progress to somewhere just above-average to be a threat, providing his ball-striking remains strong. On the kind of short course he needs, I'm happy to rely on him to do just that.
One of the heathland courses which pops up in Rai's record is Spey Valley, and that leads to JACK SENIOR, who might just be inspired by the success of Marcus Armitage.
Senior is a year younger than Armitage, and both of them have come via the EuroPro and Challenge Tours having been successful junior golfers in England. They play the game a similar way, too, and Armitage underlined on Monday that you don't need to be winning in your twenties to achieve lifelong dreams in this sport.
Strong form in Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden is part of the case for Senior, but it's that record at Spey Valley I really like. He's won there and also been fourth, fifth and 14th, and it might just translate quite nicely along with anything you can find from Walton Heath or perhaps even Sunningdale.
Also of note is the fact that Senior won the aforementioned World Invitational, a mixed event on the Challenge Tour, and his return to form in finishing 18th in Germany came at an ideal time.
Sticking with UK and Irish players as well as Scandinavians is often sensible in this part of the world. There was a run of 17 such winners in 19 renewals of the Nordea Masters, and the similarities in terms of both conditions and course can be a strong starting point.
That's a theme which runs through my trio of outsiders, starting with JONATHAN CALDWELL.
Another veteran of the EuroPro Tour, Caldwell has shown some flashes of real quality since last summer, with three top-10 finishes alongside several more chances which failed to materialise on Sunday.
Missing the cut on the number at Green Eagle doesn't worry me in the slightest, particularly as it was his putter that let him down. Caldwell is usually dynamite on the greens, as he'd shown a week earlier, and a return to conditions similar to the Made In Denmark will help.
Third at Spey Valley, he has that potentially in his favour as well as the length and nature of the course, as he's a short-hitter who can throw in a wayward drive. That's a handicap which is especially difficult to overcome at certain other venues but I suspect the pressure will largely be off with tee shots here.
Tricky green complexes could make it more about approaches and short-games, and while the putter was cold last week, that shouldn't last, and his approaches were improved. At 150/1, he makes plenty of appeal.
So does SEBASTIAN SODERBERG, whose withdrawal from the European Open can surely be ignored.
Soderberg was out of it very early on in Hamburg and, hailing from nearby in Gothenburg, I would imagine he simply wanted to get home to prepare. Remember, the European Open was a three-round event, so an opening 79 effectively meant he had no chance to win, and little hope of making the cut and earning a cheque.
Prior to that, Soderberg's iron play had been solid, driver likewise, and his top-10 finishes in Scotland, including at Spey Valley, are enough to catch my eye.
Throw in the fact he's twice been placed in this tournament or its equivalent, including at the potentially comparable PGA Sweden National, and this proven winner could bounce back just as he did when fifth at The Hills in 2019.
Finally, while David Drysdale made some appeal at a huge price, I'll take a chance on OLIVER WILSON.
Rewind three years and Wilson won the Swedish Challenge one week after the European Open, a feat he'll attempt to repeat following a missed cut in Hamburg, which ended a run of four cuts made.
Crucially, it was actually the best he's driven the ball all year, and some of his best approach play, with the putter solely to blame for his early exit from a course which was never really going to play to his strengths.
As a former winner of the Dunhill Links who has plenty of heathland experience, including when beating Jordan Smith in a play-off for a minor event at Walton Heath last summer, this should be far more suitable and he's another who should benefit from firm conditions and a bit of width from the tee.
Certainly, if Wilson drives it better than average he is a dangerous player at big prices and in an event where guesswork is a given, I'm happy to include him following signs of life in Spain, where he shot rounds of 62 and 65.
Posted at 1430 BST on 08/06/21
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