We’re back to mainland Europe this week for the Andalucia Valderrama Masters in Spain.
And we go from one iconic venue to another as the players travel from Walton Heath in England to the course which staged yet another home win for Europe in the Ryder Cup.
The local hero has a phenomenal record at Valderrama and justified his selection as one of Bjorn’s wildcards by becoming Europe’s all-time leading Ryder Cup points scorer with his gritty performance in Paris.
While the Ryder Cup trophy will be on show, the emphasis this week isn’t on gawping at silverware; it’s to move up the Race to Dubai rankings and securing play-off places and playing privileges.
That said, I’m more inclined to look at players suited to the course rather than those needing a good week. Motivation won’t get you far if you’re playing out of trees every other hole.
Sergio hosts again but he’s won here before with all those extras on his plate.
Designed by Robert Trent Jones, the tree-lined track has long been thought of as one of the European Tour’s hardest courses. After Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston won the Open de Espana there with 1-over in April 2016 when the average score on the week was 75.6, the course underwent some major renovations. The result was a much easier challenge and 17 players shooting under par last year. Indeed, runner-up Joost Luiten’s score of 273 would have won him the previous 21 events held at Valderrama. Jamie Donaldson, who finished fourth, said this about the course 12 months ago: “As soon as you’re missing fairways, you don’t have to miss them by much and you’re behind a tree or sometimes you’re even behind a tree in the middle of a fairway so you have to hit certain sides. It’s a very difficult course, it’s a bit like playing chess out there, you have to aim at your target and hope it goes there.” The small, undulating greens are T1 Creeping bentgrass while the narrow fairways, lined with cork trees, are Bermuda Tifway. It’s a par 71 which measures 6,991 yards but the lack of yardage doesn’t equate to lack of difficulty.
Past champions, winning scores and stats at Valderrama
2017 -12 Sergio Garcia (DD: 8, DA: 24, GIR: 9, Scr: 27, PA: 9, AA: 3)
2016 +1 Andrew Johnston (DD: 35, DA: 1, GIR: 1, Scr: 20, PA: 25, AA: 4)
2011 -6 Sergio Garcia (DD: 24, DA: 10, GIR: 10, Scr: 4, PA: 8, AA: 2)
2010 -3 Graeme McDowell (DD: 47, DA: 6, GIR: 1, Scr: 18, PA: 4, AA: 1)
Notes: Drive it straight, hit the greens, putt well. Valderrama is a good all-round test and perhaps in a similar mould to Le Golf National in terms of style of golf required although the big difference is all those trees.
Temperatures are cool in the 60s for the first three days but might hit 70 for Sunday’s closer. We could see a few showers early in the week while the winds are light.
The Leading Contenders
He’s won two of the last three editions of this event (2011 and 2017) but Sergio’s record at Valderrama doesn’t stop there. Since T7 at the WGC-American Express Championship held in 1999, he’s had a further three second places, a third, a fourth and, overall, 11 top tens. It’s the perfect fit for him and, boosted by his Ryder Cup heroics, he’s quite simply the man they all have to beat.
Lowry’s superb record at Wentworth suggests he should like threading it between the trees at Valderrama and the theory plays out. The Irishman was T12 last year and, going back to the events in 2010 and 2011, placed T18 and T4. Didn’t quite have his best stuff at last week’s British Masters when T34 but delivered four top 15s in six starts prior to that including T6 in Portugal.
Fresh off a T5 at the British Masters, Suri is now up to 25th on the Race to Dubai so a serious player at this level. His points tally was boosted heavily by T2 at the Open de France and also T2 at the Hong Kong Open back in November. All the above point to a liking for courses where accuracy is needed so it’s no surprise that he took T8 on his Valderrama debut 12 months ago (R3 65). UPDATE: Suri has removed his name from the field, prior to the start of the event.
Westwood played the Ryder Cup as a rookie at Valderrama in 1997 and his elite ball-striking has taken him to seven top seven finishes in nine appearances at the course. The only downside is that record was compiled between 1996 and 2008 so it’s ten years since he played it competitively. However, not too much has changed since and before MC at Walton Heath, Westwood had bagged a second place and a T12 in September.
Another with the ideal game for this brain-over-brawn venue. The little Dane won the 2008 Volvo Masters at Valderrama and was runner-up there in events either side. Overall, he has eight top 25s in ten appearances and that includes T4 (2016) and T18 (2017) in recent times. Was hot in September with a run of 12-12-6 but has finished in the middle of the pack in his last three starts.
‘Beef’ dug deep to win the Open de Espana at Valderrama in 2016 and, in much easier conditions, again cracked the top 25 in this event last year so this course is an excellent one for his strong tee-to-green game. He was a little underwhelming when T48 at the British Masters after three weeks off but this could be where he finds a spark again.
A late entry to the field, Harrington is 86th on the Race to Dubai and needs to move into the top 78 to make the first of the closing Rolex Series events in Turkey. “I need to make a few more points to get to Turkey so it’s a great opportunity for me to go to a course I’m very familiar with.” The Irishman, who has shown some strong form of late, reacquainted himself with Valderrama when T27 last year and from 2000 to 2008 there he had three top fives and a further four top 20s.
Pushed Sergio all the way here last year when runner-up and also finished second in the 2016 Open de Espana at Valderrama. Add in T5 on his debut in 2010 and three of his four visits have produced top fives. A fully match-fit Luiten would be on everyone’s shortlist this week but he hasn’t teed it up since May due to a wrist injury. He did say he wouldn’t rush back so we can presume he’s now free from pain.
Without pulling up trees, the South African has been impressively consistent of late, making ten of 11 cuts, while T22 at the British Masters was his fourth top 25 in seven starts. He had a couple of goes around Valderrama a long time ago (T34 in 2007, T41 2005) while he finished T45 in the 2016 Open de Espana there. Strong recent tee-to-green stats bode well.
T42 on his Valderrama debut in 2016, the Swedish youngster played four events in Spain in 2017 (2 x Challenge Tour, 2 x Nordic Golf League) and finished top six in them all. Strong performances at Wentworth (T12) and Le Golf National (T5) suggest he has what it takes to shine this week. Also T4 Portugal and T20 Alfred Dunhill in recent weeks.
It’s a home game for Campillo and he has to be respected on his own turf following T7 and T5 in his last two appearances at the Open de Espana. His Valderrama form is less compelling (MC-36) however. The Spaniard was hot earlier in the season but T15 at last month’s KLM Open is his only top 40 in the last six starts.
The Next Rung
The Finn went 1-2 on the European Tour earlier this year when following his breakthrough Shot Clock Masters win with second place in Germany. Two top 25s in his last three starts offer further encouragement while he has a couple of top 15s in Spanish Opens. MC on only Valderrama start.
Rock is ticking along nicely with five finishes of T34 or better in his last six starts. The latest additions were T29 in last week’s British Masters and T20 in the Alfred Dunhill Links. Course form adds to his appeal. He posted T8 in last year’s edition after starting out with 67 and his other three starts there show a T21 and a T28.
MC at Walton Heath ended a run of 15-12-24 so Scrivener is showing some good signs but, at 96th on the Race to Dubai, needs a big week here to extend his season. He took well to Valderrama last year when closing with a 69 for T27.
He dipped in the middle two rounds but a closing 67 for T22 at the British Masters was a nice return to form for the Englishman after two missed cuts. Prior to that he’d connected four top 30s so he’ll hope to do better on his second trip to Valderrama after shooting 78-75 on his first in 2016.
Sits 75th on the Race to Dubai so trying to protect his position ahead of the Rolex Series events. The Austrian has made a good move in the last two weeks, following T10 at the Alfred Dunhill Links with T22 at Walton Heath. He banked previous top tens in July and August. He’s a Valderrama first-timer but was T28 in April’s Open de Espana and T8 in the Challenge de Espana last year.
Hits it bullet straight so immediately looks a good fit for Valderrama. That logic worked out last year when he shot 70-74-71-67 for T8 while he seems to just like Spain in general after landing a Challenge Tour event there in 2017 and posting T12 in this year’s Open de Espana. The obvious negative is current form although at least he made the British Masters cut after a run of four MCs.
“It’s my favourite course in Spain for sure. A thinker’s course, but strategy can vary from day to day depending on the wind and the course setup. It’s a course you need to know, and the more you play it the more you’re going to learn from it. I have been lucky enough to play it many times, so I can benefit from that experience.” T12 last year and T38 in 2016 so he walks the walk here. Mixed recent form with a top ten, a T24 and three MCs.
Another of the home players and Elvira certainly shone on his last trip to Spain when T3 in his national Open. He also won a Challenge Tour event in Madrid in 2015 although Valderrama hasn’t been so kind (MC-53). Current form is feast or famine – MC-10-MC-MC-4.
He’s improved his finish at Valderrama each time since T47 in 2010, taking T38 in 2011, T29 in 2016 and T17 last year so he certainly has a good strategy for this course. He’s 4-for-5 since returning from a two-month break, kicking that run off with T16 in the European Masters and T11 at the KLM Open.
While Francesco’s fame has rocketed in the last six months, older brother Edoardo also seems to have heated up in the glow of his brother’s exploits. After another season of struggle, he’s banked his two biggest cheques of the campaign in the last two weeks with T24 at the Alfred Dunhill Links and T16 in the British Masters. Cashed at Valderrama in both 2016 and 2017 although outside the top 40 both times.
Fernandez played his first pro tournament here and the affinity with Valderrama doesn’t end there. “My first European Tour event as a spectator was the 2006 or 2007 Volvo Masters. I went with my father. I love this course because you really have to think your way through every hole. I have been lucky to play it several times and to practice some days during the winter.”
If you want a straight driver, Chesters is 12th for DA this season and it’s no shock to see he posted T12 at Valderrama last year with 69-68 to close. Two top 16s in last six starts.
Slightly unlikely course specialist with T8 and T11 the last two years. WD from British Masters a slight concern.
Accurate hitter was T29 at Valderrama in 2016 and has three top 12s in last five starts in Spain. Quiet recently but third at Nordea Masters a couple of months ago.
Veteran has a superb Valderrama record with seven top 25s in nine visits and two of those are in recent years (T12 2017, T19 2016). T10 at Alfred Dunhill Links two weeks ago shows he can still play.
Or how about the Danish vet? T6 last year and five previous top 25s. Part-time nowadays but can still pop up.
American lefty finds a bunch of fairways and made good early impression here last year before fading. 4-for-6 since August.
Struggled since returning from injury but has made last two cuts. 36-11-7-21 at Valderrama and the local man loves the place.
T7 in Portugal three starts ago and connected four top 20s at Valderrama from 2006 to 2011, two of those top tens. T30 there last year.
Who’s On The Team?
For the official European Tour fantasy game, it’s hard to look past Sergio as captain.
Bettors will likely be put off by his very short quotes of around 4/1.
Beyond the obvious names, local man Adrian Otaegui could be an outsider to look at.
I’ll reveal my full six-man line-up for the ET game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
He’s a course horse but it’s asking an awful lot of Joost Luiten to hit the ground running after his lengthy absence.