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Open D’ Italia Preview

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This week the European Tour heads to Italy for the Open D’ Italia, which is part of the newly formed Rolex Series.

Each tournament that is part of this series has a minimum tournament purse of $7 million and this is now the fifth of eight events this season. The BMW PGA Championship, Open de France, Irish Open and Scottish Open have all already taken place, with the Turkish Airlines, DP World Tour Championship and the Nedbank Golf Challenge still to come.

The Course and what it will take to win the Open d’ Italia

Golf Club Milano, 7,156 Yards, Par 71

Golf Club Milano is hosting the event for the ninth time in the event’s history but prior to returning as the host course in 2015 and 2016, the last time it had such honours was in 1990, so we realistically have two years of course form to go by.

This is a short, tree-lined course which features small, hard-to-hit greens and finding the latter could well be the key to success this week.

There was a change ahead of the 2016 renewal which saw the 16th hole change from a par-5 to a par-4 but the overall winning score was still in the same ball-park over the two years.

In 2015 play-off protagonists, Rikard Karlberg and Martin Kaymer finished 9th (75%) and 1st (83.3%) respectively in Greens in Regulation. Karlberg ultimately walked out the winner that day but both players got to their -19, 72-hole total in different ways.

Outside of hitting greens, neither player particularly excelled in any one other category. Karlberg ranked 15th and 16th in Putts per GIR and Putts per Round which was very steady but Kaymer who matched him all the way to the play-off, ranked just 53rd and 63rd in each.

Whilst lacking on the greens, Kaymer had the beating of the Swede off the tee, ranking 24th to Karlberg’s 63rd in Driving Accuracy, whilst also ranking 13th in Driving Distance, leaving Karlberg behind in 45th.

It was clearly a strong ball-striking week for the German but Karlberg also found a way to hit the greens, even when missing plenty of fairways and duly converted with the short-stick when he got there.

Three of the six players who finished in a tie for third in 2015 (Lucas Bjerregaard, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Fabrizio Zanotti) also all ranked 3rd or better in Greens in Regulation, with Zanotti matching Kaymer in 1st, so hitting the greens was clearly pivotal two years ago.

It was a similar story in 2016 as local favourite Francesco Molinari narrowly edged out Masters winner, Danny Willett by one stroke with a score of 22-under-par. Molinari ranked 5th (80.6%) in Greens in Regulation, whilst Willet ranked 3rd (81.9%) and three others in the top-12 (Tommy Fleetwood, Jeff Winther and Rafa Cabrera Bello) ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively in Greens in Regulation.

Molinari was very impressive tee-to-green, ranking 4th in Driving Accuracy, 32nd in Driving Distance and 5th in Greens in Regulation whilst also performing well on the greens. He ranked 10th in Putts per GIR and 26th in Putts per Round, which is an above-average putting performance for the Italian and ensured his victory. It was a complete performance by Molinari who was winning this event for the second time in front of his home crowd, albeit at a different course.

It isn’t unusual for a repeat winner at this event either, with Molinari becoming the fourth player since 2000 to win this event twice. Ian Poulter (2000 & 2002), Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (2007 & 2012) and Hennie Otto (2008 & 2014) were the other three to complete this feat, however all four of them have got their two wins at two different courses.

In summary, I believe this a course that allows you to score well even when missing the fairway, as long as you don’t stray too far from the short stuff. A good putting week will aid the low-scoring required this week, but getting to the green in the right number in the first place is the main challenge the players face this week.

Molinari and Karlberg will both be hoping to become the first two-time course winner here at Golf Club Milano and they will certainly be in with a shout.

At 16/1 Molinari is unsurprisingly amongst the favourites this week after a typically solid season, which this time around has seen him finish 2nd at both the BMW PGA Championship and the final major of the year, the PGA Championship. A win and a 20th place finish at this course suggests he is more than comfortable with the layout and there will be an expectation for him to go well at home once again.

Karlberg on the other hand looks an intriguing price at 150/1 given his course form, with the Swede backing up his 2015 win, with a 12th place finish here 12 months ago. He is not in the greatest of form coming into the event, but he has had a host of top-20’s over the course of the season, two of which have come in his last seven stroke-play starts. A 5th at the BMW International Open back in June was his best finish so far this season and whilst he has three missed cuts and a withdrawal in his last seven starts, it is clear he can still contend should the test suit, as it clearly does this week.

Here are my selections for the 2017 Open D’ Italia.

Matthew Fitzpatrick 22/1 1.5pts e/w:

Matthew Fitzpatrick won his fourth European Tour title at Crans-sur-Sierre last month and became the youngest player to reach four wins on Tour, since Matteo Manassero.

Four wins in his first 82 starts is very impressive and the Englishman has now won at least once in each of his last three seasons. His first came in 2015 when he won the British Masters, before winning both the Nordea Masters and the DP World Tour Championship in 2016.

Since his win in Switzerland, Fitzpatrick has finished T11 at the British Masters and T15 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week, an event he has generally struggled in. Given this form, it is clear Fitzpatrick is in great form of late and has not rested on his laurels after the fourth win of his short career so far.

He has now broken 70 in 10 of his last 12 rounds, with a 70 in round 3 in Switzerland and a 73 in the opening round last week the exceptions.

Fitzpatrick has played in each of the last two Italian Open’s and has finished 3rd (2015) and 16th (2016) so he has taken a liking to this course straight away.

Given his course and current form I am finding it hard to leave out the young Englishman as he looks for a multiple-win season for the second year in a row.

Romain Wattel 80/1 1pt e/w:

Wattel who got his first European Tour win just two starts ago is available at what looks to be a very generous price this week.

That win at the KLM Open was one that was clearly overdue for the Frenchman but at just 26, Wattel has plenty of years ahead of him and I suspect more will follow.

Wattel returned to the course at the Alfred Dunhill Links last week, following a two-week break after his win in Holland. It was a promising return as well, as he finished in 15th place, playing his first event since becoming a European Tour winner. It looks as though he has taken his new status in his stride and will look to continue that at a course he has played well on his two visits.

In 2015, he held the 54-hole lead here before struggling under pressure and shooting a one-over-par 72 to finish 10th. Despite finishing 10th, he was still only two shots adrift of Karlberg and Kaymer due to the six-way tie in 3rd place. Now he has that first win under his belt there is a good chance he copes better with the pressures, should he find himself in such a position again this week.

He made the cut again in 2016, finishing a respectable 38th and given his current form that reads 1-15 in his last two starts, I am confident he can better last year’s effort and show the same form he showed here two years ago.

At 80/1 you are getting a player with course form, current form and recent experience of winning, which sounds like a recipe for further success to me.

Fabrizio Zanotti 100/1 (Bet365 & Betfred) 0.5pt e/w:

Zanotti missed the cut last week at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week, but prior to that had finished 3-3-38 in his previous three starts.

The first of his two 3rd place finishes during this span came at the Abierto del Paraguay- Copa NEC event, on the PGA Latino America Tour, before backing that up with a 3rd place finish at the European Masters as he returned to the European Tour in Switzerland.

The Paraguayan already has a win this season, at the Maybank Championship in February and with two near-misses since, there is every reason to suspect he can play well here this week.

Zanotti was one of the six players to finish in a tie for third here back in 2015 and topped the Greens in Regulation rankings, alongside Martin Kaymer, so it was clear he enjoyed the test that week.

Surprisingly after a good showing 12 months before and seemingly in good current form (eight straight made cuts), Zanotti missed the cut last year, but he will keen to atone for that this week.

At 100/1 I thought there was some value in betting Zanotti to find the form he showed when 3rd in two of his last four starts, as well as at this course two years ago.

Rikard Karlberg ******Withdrew on Wednesday****** 150/1 (Bet365) 0.5pt e/w:

Despite being in and out of form of late, I think it is worth backing 2015 champion, Karlberg to go well again, at a course he has proved on two separate occasions he enjoys.

Course form of 1-12 is promising reading for anybody, let alone a 150/1 shot and his current form doesn’t concern me too much. His withdrawal in Denmark would normally flag reason for concern but it was illness that saw him withdraw, not injury and he bounced back immediately with a T20 on his next start, so it appears all is ok there.

His last two starts make disappointing reading, as he missed both cuts during his trip to Britain (British Masters and Alfred Dunhill Links) but a return to this event may see a huge upturn in form this week. He shot a 64 in the opening round of the British Masters two weeks ago, before following it up with a 76 to miss the cut by two, so despite missing the cut there was a glimmer of promise in round one.

At 150/1 I thought it was worth chancing Karlberg, who is a player who doesn’t necessarily rely on current form. When 12th here last year he was coming off the back of four missed cuts in his last five starts, with a T36 finish at the European Masters one start before, possibly giving him the confidence to go well again.

He was admittedly in much better form when he won here in 2015, as he was coming into the event with four top-14 finishes in his last six starts but I am still confident this week can bring the best out of him.

Lorenzo Scalise 22/1 to finish inside the top-20 1pt:

Italian amateur, Lorenzo Scalisse who is a member here at Golf Club Milano, has played this event in each of the last two years with mixed fortunes.

In 2015, Scalisse finished in 11th place, which was just three shots shy of Kaymer and Karlberg, but 12 months later he failed to make the cut, so it will be interesting to see how he gets on this time around.

He has been playing some good golf at amateur level again this season finishing 2nd at both the European Men’s Team Championship and the European Amateur Championship held at Walton Heath.

It would be naïve to think that Scalise can play as well as he did back in 2015, however I do not see a top-20 being out the realms of possibility and as such, think it is worth chancing him at 22/1.

Total points staked this week: 8 (7 after Karlberg withdrawal)

Profit/Loss for 2017: -30