Alex Noren could not have picked a more scenic setting to capture his first European Tour title, the stunning Golf Club Crans-sur-Sierre which has hosted the Omega European Masters since 1939.
The Swede, currently 29th in The Race to Dubai, returns to the Alpine resort of Crans Montana this week for the 78th staging of the €2.1million event with the memories of his maiden victory still burning brightly.
Noren had been knocking on the door numerous times and it finally opened on September 6, 2009, when he closed with a round of 66 to prevail by two strokes from Welshman Bradley Dredge.
Buoyed by his first victory, Noren embarked on a superb run of form which culminated in him finishing in sixth place in the season-ending Dubai World Championship, a performance which propelled him to 25th in The Race to Dubai and saw him break through the €1m barrier for earnings in a single season for the first time in his career.
After a relatively fallow year in 2010, Noren returned to the winners’ enclosure on two occasions in 2011, winning the Wales Open and the Nordea Masters en route to finishing a career-high of 14th in The Race to Dubai.
He has yet to reach the same heady heights this season, with a tie for third place at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open his highest finish to date; but the 30 year old from Stockholm is now hopeful a return to the scene of his maiden win will inspire him to reproduce his best form.
He said: “Crans will always hold a special place in my heart. My win proved to me that I could do it, and that I really belonged out here on the Tour. You always think and hope you’re going to win one, so to finally do it is an amazing feeling and one I’ll never forget. It’s always been one of my favourite weeks on Tour, no question. The scenery is beautiful and the weather’s normally pretty good, so the players really look forward to the week.
“I love the town and the course, because it’s very different to what we usually play on the Tour. There are some really tough holes but also a lot of birdie opportunities, so there’s a good balance. On some holes you’re hitting a wedge in and on others you need to take a mid or long iron, so you have to hit every club in the bag. It’s a challenge, but also a lot of fun to play.”
Noren’s enjoyment of the tournament will have been augmented by the presence in the field of his close friend Kristoffer Broberg, now a full-fledged European Tour Member after winning three times in five appearances on the Challenge Tour this season to secure promotion to the top tier in double-quick time.
Both men are attached to Haninge GK, in their native Stockholm, and whilst the golfing public may have been taken by surprise by Broberg’s meteoric rise, Noren has known for some time that his younger compatriot’s latent talent would soon surface.
He said: “Kristoffer deserves to take his place on the Tour, because he’s been playing unbelievably well. I’ve known him for a long time because we’re attached to the same course, and he practices so hard – probably twice as much as I do! When I heard about his third victory I went straight into the gym, because I can’t let him beat me so I need to work really hard.
“If he keeps going the way he’s playing, I’m sure he’ll win on the Tour. He’s shown he can do it easily on the Challenge Tour, and that’s a tough Tour to win on, believe me. This is the perfect course for him, because he hits it very straight and is very accurate with his wedges, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him up there again this week.”