ATZENBRUGG, Austria (AP) — A week before his debut at the U.S. Open, Dutch golfer Joost Luiten has another first to manage — defending a European Tour title at the Lyoness Open.
Luiten won the event last year when he held on to his lead from the second day to win by two strokes from Thomas Bjorn of Denmark at Diamond Country Club.
“It’s pretty special to come back here and defend my title,” Luiten said on Tuesday. “You don’t do that every week and I don’t really know what to expect. But it means no extra pressure. It’s a nice and positive feeling.”
Luiten has an excellent record on the course, 50 kilometers west of Vienna. He placed third at his first visit here in 2011.
“I know I can play good golf on this course so I can start with confidence,” he said. “Winning is the goal. A top three would be good but I am really here to win it again.”
It was Luiten’s second victory on the European Tour after winning the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia two years earlier, and was followed in September by his third at the KLM Open in his home country.
Both victories last year made him “a better player,” Luiten said. “I’ve learned a lot and I’m more experienced now.”
The Dutchman carried the momentum into 2014, carding three top-10 finishes and placing 12th in the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last month.
“My season so far is not bad,” Luiten said. “I had some really good weeks and some weeks that could have been better.”
Luiten, who is ranked 14th in the Race to Dubai, will travel to Pinehurst, North Carolina, for his first appearance at the U.S. Open next week.
In April, Luiten finished 26th at his first Masters in Augusta, Georgia, and in September, he could earn another highlight if he can qualify for his first Ryder Cup.
“The U.S. Open will be a good experience,” he said. “Really, all major weeks are special. The course setups are different, they are more difficult. You learn a lot from it.”
In Atzenbrugg, Luiten will face fierce competition in his bid to become the first player to win the event two years in a row.
The field includes 23-time European Tour event winner Jose Maria Olazabal, 2008 champion Jeev Milkha Singh of India, Danish pair Soren Kjeldsen and Soren Hansen, as well as Spanish great Miguel Angel Jimenez, who resides in Vienna since marrying Austrian Susanna Styblo in May.
And there is Bernd Wiesberger, who won his home event in 2012. The season so far hasn’t been satisfying for the Austrian, prompting him to skip last week’s Nordea Masters to focus on the Lyoness Open.
“I left Sweden out of my schedule as this home tournament is very important to me,” Wiesberger said. “I am very happy with the training rounds I’ve done here. It’s a great setup and the course is very demanding, as it should be a week before the U.S. Open.”
Organizers have swapped the front and back nine to improve the spectators’ view of play on the last hole.
Luiten said the change won’t matter to him because “in the end, it’s still the same course as last year.”