The European Tour makes the short trip from Italy to Spain this week, as the Andalucia Masters returns for the first time since 2011. The event which only lasted two years will be a popular event this week, especially for the Spanish contingent on Tour and will also give players and fans another chance to see the ever-popular, Valderrama.
Valderrama made its own return to the European Tour schedule last year as Sergio Garcia played host at the 2016 Open de Espana, which was the 80th edition of that glorious event. Garcia will be on hosting duty again this week and will be looking for his second win, both at this course and this event, after winning the last renewal in 2011.
Despite this field being headlined by Garcia and Jon Rahm, the rest of the field looks relatively weak and a course such as this should really demand a better field. The change in schedule may well have caused this as players prepare for the end-of-season events which offer such a high purse.
The Course and what it will take to win
Valderrama is one of the most iconic golf courses in Europe and has played host to several big events over the years, including the 1997 Ryder Cup.
For what this Robert Trent Jones designed course lacks in length, it makes up for in toughness and creativity and this really is a shot-makers course.
The small greens in particular need to be found with regular success and if that isn’t the case how well you scramble will also be key.
Do not expect a birdie-fest like last week, as last year Andrew Johnston won the Open de Espana with a +1 total at this very course. Before him, the average winning score of the last five winners of any event at this course is four-under-par.
This course generally provides a classical test of golf where good shots into the greens will be rewarded, whilst a below-par short game will be punished. You cannot afford to be too erratic off the tee either, so it really is an all-round test.
Last year, Johnston ranked 1st in Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation and whilst that will be a hard feat for anyone to repeat this year, something similar will be required.
If we look at just this event in 2010 and 2011, the winners (Graeme McDowell 2010 and Sergio Garcia 2011) ranked 6th and 11th and in Driving Accuracy and 1st and 10th in Greens in Regulation respectively, so it is clear accuracy is important.
Having course form has also proven useful in the past which makes sense given the nature of the course, however Johnston won on his course debut last year and given the amount of players that will be playing the course for the first time again this week, there is every chance a debutant wins again.
Spanish duo, Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia are unsurprisingly and understandably vying for favouritism this week with the former still riding a wave of good form.
Garcia has an elite-level of course form at Valderrama and should he not be distracted by hosting duties, may well be adding another title at this course. In 12 appearances at this course the Masters champion has a win and a further ten top-10’s, which include seven top-5’s so it is hard to look passed him. At just 11/2 though, there are enough question marks to look elsewhere.
At the same price, Rahm is short enough himself but given his current form and his obvious ability in comparison to the rest of the field, it is hard to make him any bigger. Despite the majority of his focus revolving around the PGA Tour, Rahm will be keen to win on the European Tour for the first time and where better to do it, than in your home country?
Both Rahm and Garcia played last week in Italy and finished 15th and 30th respectively, so will be hoping for better weeks in front of their home crowd.
The Bookmakers are still uncomfortable with opposing Irishman, Shane Lowry who sits behind Garcia and Rahm at just 16/1. To be fair to Lowry in his two appearances at this course in 2010 and 2011 he finished 18th and 4th and the tough nature of the scoring may well suit. He missed the cut in Italy last week but prior to that had made five straight cuts, with a pair of 7th place finishes and is amongst the most talented in the field.
Another course specialist, Soren Kjeldsen sits close to the head of the betting as well, at 18/1. The Dane has finished inside the top-5 on four of his last five visits to Valderrama including a win (2008) and two 2nd’s, so if he can shake off some expected rust this week he could be in line for his fifth European Tour title. Such a steady player for so long on the European Tour, it is somewhat a surprise that Kjeldsen has only managed five wins in a twenty-year, European Tour career and that will put plenty off, despite his obvious love for Valderrama. Kjeldsen came into this event off the back of a T7 finish at Augusta last year and finished in a tie for 4th, but this week he comes into this event having not played since August. He played three events in August, missing the cut at the last major of the year, the PGA Championship before finishing T16 at the Wyndham Championship and T23 at his home event.
Martin Kaymer, who had returned to form before missing the cut in Italy is up next at 20/1 and he has his own collection of form at this course. In 2007 and 2008 he finished 6th and 2nd at the Volvo Masters, before finishing 21st and 23rd at this event in 2010 and 2011. He returned to this course for the 2016 Open de Espana where he again played well, finishing in 6th place. Given the glimpses of form he has shown in recent weeks, a good week looks to be on the card for the two-time major winner who will look to add to his 9 regular European Tour titles.
Rounding off the top-6 in the betting this week is Dutchman, Joost Luiten (25/1), who like others near the top of the market has shown a liking for Valderrama. In three course starts he has a 2nd (2016), a 5th (2010) and a missed cut (2011) and he will be looking to build on his current form, which has seen him make three of his last four cuts. Luiten has won five times on the European Tour, but comes into this week looking for his first top-10 since finishing T7 at the Lyoness Open in June and a start at this course may just have come in the nick of time. He is currently outside the world’s top-100 (#102) but a win here would see him move comfortably inside the number, somewhere he would expect to be on a regular basis.
Alejandro Canizares 50/1 (PaddyPower & Skybet) 1pt e/w:
2017 has been a pretty disappointing year for Canizares, but a return to his home country should bring the best out of him.
Canizares has finished runner-up on three separate occasions when the European Tour has stopped in his home country and he has some steady course form at Valderrama also.
In three starts here, the Spaniard has posted form figures of 21-7-11, with the 11th coming at the Open de Espana last year and the other two results at this event in 2010 and 2011.
Canizares opened his week with a 67 last year, which was matched only by; Johnston, James Morrison and Stuart Manley, and bettered by just Alexander Levy’s 66. He staggered somewhat after that, with rounds of 75/76 on Friday and Saturday before closing with a 73. It was a tough scoring week though and with the winning score one-over-par, it is no surprise that even those in and around the top-10 were shooting mid-70 rounds.
Despite some poor season form and a relatively modest price, I think it is worth backing the 2015 Trophee Hassan II champion, in his home country. That win in Morocco was his second on the European Tour and interestingly came on another Robert Trent Jones design.
James Morrison 100/1 (SkyBet & BetFred) 1pt e/w :
James Morrison has not been at his best lately but a T25 finish at the Dunhill Links Championship two weeks ago was promising and he will look for another good finish, in a part of the world he loves.
Morrison won his second European Tour title at the Open de Espana back in 2015 and also has 2nd and 4th place finishes in the same event.
That 4th place finish which is the most recent result of the three, came at this course last year and Morrison finished just three shots adrift of fellow Englishman, Johnston. He matched the eventual winner in round one with a 67 but ultimately ended up falling just short come Sunday.
Given how well Morrison has performed in Spain, he already looked good enough value at 100/1, even before factoring in the 4th place finish on his Valderrama debut here last year. At triple-figures, he is certainly a player I want to have on-side, even if his form in recent weeks is somewhat less than desirable.
Morrison has looked a more confident player over the last couple of years, aided by that win in Spain in 2015 and as such, I think he is more than capable of winning this event, even with the likes of Garcia and Rahm in the field.
Total points Staked this week: 4
Profit/Loss for 2017: -37