With a strong field assembling for the BMW PGA at Wentworth next week, there is understandably a weaker field this week in Sicily for the Rocco Forte Open. The players will be teeing it up at Verdura Golf & Spa Resort which was used to host this event when it was last part of the Tour schedule in 2012. It was known simply as the Sicilian Open that year and was the second renewal of the event, the first being held at Donnafugata Golf & Spa Resort a year prior.
Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, 7,217 Yards, Par 71
Verdura has only been used to host once and when it was used for this event back in 2012 it was listed as a 7,375 yard, Par 72 so there has clearly been some changes. The European Tour website has been known to get these things wrong in the past but as it stands it looks to be a Par 71 this time around, however I am awaiting confirmation.
Regardless of length and the Par it will play to, this is a composite course made up of nine holes from each of the two Kyle Phillips designed courses at the resort.
Phillips was responsible for the designs of both The Grove (2016 British Masters) and Kingsbarns (1 of 3 courses used for Alfred Dunhill Links Championship) and was also drafted in for a three-year review of Valderrama in 2009. Another course of Phillips’ that has been used on the European Tour is PGA Sweden National (Lakes Course) which was used for the Nordea Masters in 2014 and 2015.
This seaside course will certainly give off a links type feel and form on these sort of courses will not go a miss. Form at Kingsbarns, Valderrama (2009-2012) and PGA Sweden Natonal (2014/15) will also be a key pointer.
How the 2012 renewal was won
Thornjorn Olesen beat Englishman, Chris Wood by a shot to win the 2012 Sicily Open with a -15 total. Here is how Olesen ranked in vital statistics on the week:
Driving Accuracy – 13th
Driving Distance – 12th
Greens in Regulation – 25th
Putts Per GIR – 25th
Putts Per Round – 6th
Interestingly, the Dane only ranked in the top-10 in Putts Per Round, suggesting a steady all-round game got the job done here, rather than excelling in any one area.
Runner-up Chris Wood took a different approach, ranking 1st in Greens in Regulation and 6th in Driving Accuracy but a lowly 54th in both Putts Per GIR and Putts Per Round. Surely a better putting week would have seen him win that week, given he was just one shot shy. Wood also favoured accuracy over distance off the tee, ranking 50th in Driving Distance, averaging 289.7 yards off the tee, compared to Olesen’s 310.3 yards.
Of the top-5, three ranked inside the top-10 for Greens in Regulation, with only Soren Kjeldsen (53rd) ranking outside the top-25. Similarly all five ranked inside the top-26 for Driving Accuracy, whilst only Olesen and Nicolas Colsaerts (3rd) ranked higher than 49th in Driving Distance.
If you go a bit further and include the first 10 home, both Andrew Parr and Anthony Wall joined Nicolas Colsaerts ranking inside the top-5 in Distance, however both ranked 3rd in Greens in Regulation which I believe was more important to their performance.
Of the top-10, four ranked inside the top-6 in Putts Per Round as, Kjeldsen, Parr and Tano Goya all ranked 2nd, with 28 Putts Per Round, joining Olesen who ranked 6th with 28.3 Putts Per Round.
What it will take to win this week
Hitting plenty of greens looks imperative as does putting, and those with strong ties to links golf and other seaside courses should love this test. Those that played well here five years ago will have good memories and should they be in the field again this week, they could be worth looking out for. Given the amount of time that has elapsed since the event was last here and the fact it was only the first year it hosted, I wouldn’t get too hung up on course form though.
Accuracy off the tee will increase the chances of players hitting the number of greens required and if a player can hit it long as well as straight they will definitely have an advantage.
Here are my selections for the 2017 Rocco Forte Open.
Raphael Jacquelin 66/1 (Ladbrokes 1-5 (1/4 odds), Coral 1-7 (1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
This sort of test is right up Jacquelin’s street, who excels on very similar layouts. The Frenchman has wins at the 2013 Open de Espana and fittingly in this event in 2011, albeit at a different course, but both were on the Mediterranean coastline.
Despite his advancing years, Jacquelin who has never been known for his consistency can still contend on suitable layouts and I think Verdura is just that. He did miss the cut here back in 2012, but he was defending champion that week and we know the pressures that can add, including increased media interest amongst other things.
He has enjoyed relative success in the past on Kyle Phillips layout, finishing 7th (2010) and 15th (2011) at the Andalucía Masters, in the years that Phillips was drafted in to review and alter Valderrama. Just last year he finished 49th at the British Masters, which was held at The Grove and despite the mediocre finish, he did shoot a pair of 67’s on the week, again suggesting he liked the layout.
Add to his success on the Mediterranean, his links exploits which he has in abundance in his career and you have someone who fits the bill perfectly this week. Jacquelin has finished inside the top-3 at the Scottish Open three times, as well as once each at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship (form at Kingsbarns) and the Irish Open. He also finished 8th at the 2011 Open Championship, so he likes a links test.
A top-25 at the 2014 Nordea Masters was the icing on the cake, proving he has substantial form at several of Phillips’ designs and as such should like the course this week.
This must be one event that the Frenchman circled at the start of the season with thoughts that he could at least contend, and after finishing T13 on his last start at the Volvo China Open, he at least comes into the week with a bit of form behind him.
In this field 66/1 is a decent enough price given the suitability of the test and the lack of any strong favourite.
Eddie Pepperell 150/1 (Betfred & StanJames) 0.5pt e/w:
Eddie Pepperell, like Jacquelin struggles with consistency but again like the Frenchman also tends to play well exclusively at courses that suit.
Pepperell has decent links form, with T2 and T8 finishes at the Irish Open and T4 and T12 finishes at the Scottish Open. Add to his efforts on links courses, his T6 finish at the Nordea Masters in 2014 at PGA Sweden National (Lakes Course) and it looks as though he may enjoy this test.
In his last 10 starts he has 8 missed cuts, which is hardly inspiring but the two times he has made the weekend he has finished T22, and one of those came at the British Masters, which was held at The Grove.
Given his form, he could well bow out hopelessly but he has shown in the past he is more than capable of playing at this level and this might be the sort of course where he rediscovers his form.
Like the PGA Tour event this week, I am keeping stakes to a minimum as it is not the greatest of events, and not an easy one to work out, given the small sample size of course form.
Total Points Staked this week: 3
Profit/Loss for 2017: -1