THE stretch of quintessential European Tour golf continues this week as we head to the famous and very testing Valderrama for the rebirth of the Andalucia Masters.
Valderrama is vastly experienced when it comes to hosting high-profile events, it held its first Spanish Open last season where Beef Johnston picked up his maiden European Title.
Prior to that, Valderrama was the regular venue for the Volvo Masters while also holding two WGC events at the turn of the century.
And nobody can forget the 1997 Ryder Cup held here when Seve Ballesteros led the Europeans to a stunning 14.5 – 13.5 victory over Tom Kite’s American side.
There have been two previous editions of the tournament back in 2010 and 2011 where Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia were the respective winners.
That calibre of golfer is indicative of the type of player who performs well on this course. The top 14 in last year’s Spanish Open included the likes of Noren, Kjeldsen, Ross Fisher, Luiten, Garcia, Levy and Canizares – all notoriously strong iron players. Shot making from the middle of the fairway is where this thing will be won.
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Andrew Johnston won the Spanish Open with a score of +1 which shows what a test this course poses. The Englishman ranked 1st in both driving accuracy and GIR for the week which proved to be the key to victory. This week’s winner will need to be high in both of these stat columns.
The event will be hosted by Sergio Garcia who has a stunning record around this course – fully justifying his odds of 5/1. From a punter’s perspective, his off-course commitments could have an adverse effect opening the door for the rest of the field.
This will be the final full-field event before the Tour enters the Final Series in Turkey – everyone is vying for the top 70 spots in the Race to Dubai standings. European Ryder Cup shoo-in Jon Rahm is making his first appearance on Spanish soil since turning pro and cracking the world’s top five.
Gregory Bourdy 40/1
With Garcia and Rahm priced seriously low and course specialist Kjeldsen not playing for two months it moves our attention immediately down the field. Bourdy has found a second wind in the latter stages of the season which saw him produce his best finish of the year at the Alfred Dunhill Links with a T4.
He sandwiched his finish in Scotland with two top 40 finishes where he ranked inside the top 15 in GIR for both. The Frenchman is a notoriously straight hitter and with a T19 at Valderrama last year, he is perfectly equipped for the difficult task ahead.
Alejandro Canizares 50/1
The Spaniard ticks all the boxes this week – superb iron player with solid course form who comes into the week playing well. Although playing in your native country brings pressure it’s safe to say a certain two other Spaniards will be centre of attention this week.
In his last three appearances at Valderrama he has finished 11th, 7th and 21st while ranking 3rd in driving accuracy here last year. Although not as efficient last week, Canizares still ranked 15th in GIR on his way to a T15 finish. He needs a big result this week to make the Final Series.
Stephen Gallagher 66/1
It’s great to be picking the Scot once again who is without a win since 2014. The signs have been promising in recent weeks as he has climbed over 60 places in the World Rankings.
Gallagher followed a T15 at the British Masters with a T12 at the Dunhill Links. In Scotland he ranked 1st in GIR for the week while he ranked 4th in driving accuracy the week before. Everything is suggesting his game is heading in the right direction.
Austin Connelly 70/1
The young Canadian looks to have a bright future ahead as he tries to emulate the likes of Koepka and Uihlein having skipped the usual Web.com route over in America.
He showed the world what he was all about at this season’s Open finishing T14 at Royal Birkdale, entering the final round T3 behind Spieth and Kuchar. Not bad for his first major.
He’s now starting to reap the rewards for those European air miles with a T2 at the KLM Open representing a career-best finish. He’s since followed that with a T21 in Italy which leads him nicely into this week.
Maximilian Kieffer 70/1
A solid showing last week in Italy put the German firmly on our radar. His T15 finish saw him rank inside the top 20 for driving accuracy – he ranks 5th in this column for 2017. He also ranks 16th in scrambling for the season.
His career-best finishes have come on demanding courses, twice finishing inside the top 10 at the Irish Open while also losing a nine-hole play-off at the 2013 Spanish Open. His debut showing on this course last year of T29 will also give him confidence.
Johan Carlsson 150/1
The Swede put in a fine display around this course last season to finish T15 which ranked as one of his career-best finishes. He’s shown glimpses of his best form over the past few weeks which stemmed from his third place at the Paul Lawrie Match play.
Despite not challenging in Italy, he ranked 3rd in driving accuracy and 15th in GIR. In a week that demanded birdies his putting was never going to get it done. But if he can carry that tee-to-green form into this week he’ll have a chance.