This weekend sees us heading to mainland Europe as the singles series continues.
The European Masters is the third ranking event of six in the 2015-16 season. This is the last time it will be staged in Herentals, Belgium for a while as next season the European Masters is being replaced by the Norwegian Open in Skien near Oslo.
World number one and reigning European Masters Champion Mark Beattie, will be there to defend his title in an attempt to pull away from Joseph Beattie and win a record 4th SMPT title. No player has successfully defended a SMPT ranking title! Similarly, no player has won back-to-back SMPT ranking events, however victory for home favourite Dimitri Payne would mean he would achieve this feat after winning his first title at the Ramada Plaza Irish Open in September.
The field consists of 72 players from 8 countries, who are split into 12 groups.
10 of the top twenty from the Order of Merit are taking part in the European Masters. Joel Hager starts as favourite to top the Order of Merit after this event, however by qualifying for the Cup knockout there are a number of contenders to take pole position from Gary McNabb. The players currently in the top 10 of the Order of Merit and in the frame include Dimitri and Jonathan Payne, Dick Almen, PJ Gallagher and Mark Beattie.
Group 1 is packed with home grown players, with Sibe Laureys looking favourite to make the Cup Knockout. English pairs champion Bronagh Toleman looks to be the standout player in Group 2. With the others fairly well matched we should see a tight battle for Cup qualification.
Belgian stalwart Jonathan Payne starts as favourite to top Group 3. The battle for second spot is fairly open with Ireland’s Suzanne Finlay and England’s Alun Thomas hoping to join Jonathan. World Cup winner Jorgen Karlsson and England’s James Trott should progress from Group 4 but they will face tricky ties against Sweden’s Christer Almen and Bent Nielsen from Denmark.
Ireland’s Gary Moore and Reggie Collen will face UK Open runner-up Paul Pomeroy (England) and Sweden’s Lars Hansen in Group 5, whilst Roger Wille & Willy Leysen will look to keep local interest going too. Group 6 will see some massive games as it includes Irish star PJ Gallagher, alongside countrymen Tony Bell & Andrew Cockcroft. Also in the group are seasoned England international Dom Reed alongside John Lax (England) and the skilful Swede Marcus Almen.
Former UK Open Champion Robert Martin from England heads the line up in Group 7. World Cup winning captain Joel Hager & Ireland’s Ross Mackin will provide tough tests though. Group 8 is tricky to call! Newly crowned Dutch Indoor Champion Saskia Schaft and Belgian Paul Mertens should make the early running but the others will be sure to push them all the way. Nigel Reed and Irish Open Champion Dimitri Payne will hope to progress from Group 9 but again face stern tests from the likes of Steve Puttock & Robert De Rijcke.
Group 10 will be very competitive with England’s Mitchell Young and Liam Smith facing Welsh star Sam Harvey and promising Swedish junior, Jonas Hager. It will be a good test for debutant Mark McHugh and last season’s Shield winner Kaatje Vangeneugden. Mark Beattie is strong favourite to top Group 11 and Italian Antonio Rinaldi will fancy his chances in making the Cup Knockout too. Finally in Group 12, it looks like a three way battle for the two Cup qualifying spots with England’s race to the world cup leader Lee Toleman joined by Jack Pye and World 2-Bowl Masters Champion Dick Almen from Sweden.