England’s Kenneth Ferrie will have to overcome an increasingly powerful home presence this week if he is to successfully defend his Lyoness Open powered by Greenfinity title.
Last year, Ferrie captured his third European Tour title after seeing off compatriot Simon Wakefield with a birdie at the first extra hole of a sudden-death play-off, and he returns to Atzenbrugg for the 22nd edition of Austria’s National Open.
The €1m tournament, which for the first time will carry the title sponsorship of affinity card company Lyoness, returns to Diamond Country Club, the course to which home hero Markus Brier is attached.
Ferrie is a huge admirer of the 7,386 yards, par 72 layout, which is hosting the tournament for a third successive season.
He said: “I’m really looking forward to going back, because I’ve never defended a title at the same course I won on. I really enjoyed playing the course, it was in great condition – especially the greens, which were very pure. It’s the sort of course you appreciate the more you play. There are a couple of great par fives, and it’s a really strong finish. So all in all it’s a very enjoyable course to play, and I’m excited about going back.
“The head greenkeeper at Diamond Country Club used to be the head greenkeeper at my home course in Newcastle, and he’s doing a great job over there because the greens are definitely in the top three or four we play on all year. He was at Matfen Hall for ten or 15 years so I got to know him quite well, and it was a very happy coincidence when the tournament was moved to Diamond.
“I wasn’t in great form going into the tournament last year, but something clicked and I managed to surprise a few people – myself included! This year will obviously be a bit different because there will be a bit more focus on me, but hopefully I can have a good run at it. I’ve been playing well enough without getting the results, but hopefully I’ll be able to turn the corner this week.”
Like Ferrie, Brier has also struggled for consistency of late, but with the backing of the home crowd and with the stirring memories of his emotional victory in 2006 still fresh in his mind, the 44 year old from Vienna is confident of rediscovering his touch.
He said: “Of course the tournament is very close to my heart. I have great memories of my win in 2006, which was a very emotional time for me. Winning your first tournament on the main Tour is always very special, but to win it in my home country was a dream come true.
“My win really helped to put golf in Austria on the map, and I’m sure there will be some big crowds at Diamond [Country Club]. I’ve played the course many times, so I know it very well. Unfortunately I don’t have a very good record since the tournament moved there in 2010, but hopefully I can play better this week and give the fans something to cheer about.”
Brier, twice a winner of the tournament in its previous incarnation as a Challenge Tour event, will spearhead a strong home challenge which also includes his fellow European Tour champion Bernd Wiesberger.
The reigning Ballantine’s Champion will fly straight from Vienna to Ohio to make his World Golf Championship debut at next week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and Wiesberger is hoping to take the Lyoness Open powered by Greenfinity trophy with him on his flight.
He said: “With the tournament and the prize money guaranteed for the next three years, the future looks good. I’ve been looking forward to the tournament since my win in Korea, because to compete in my national Open as a European Tour winner will be very special. My confidence has obviously gone up a level or two after winning, and hopefully I can keep it going for the rest of the season now.”
Other notable names in the field include the 2010 champion José Manuel Lara of Spain, Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen, fresh from his top ten finish in The 141st Open Championship last week and former World Number One tennis player Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, playing under a sponsor’s invitation.