The Spaniard Adri Arnaus is not the outsider he appears
The test is a great fit for Poland's Adrian Meronk
Thorbjorn Olesen's 2023 form is too good to ignore
High excitement this week as the DP World Tour heads to Marco Simone Golf Club, a venue that sits high on the hills outside Rome, offering splendid views of the Vatican City and holding the promise of a Ryder Cup to come later this year.
It's therefore a great opportunity for team members to rock up to the Italian capital and get themselves all set for the big clash-
(Insert the sound of brakes being applied in emergency fashion.)
Ah, yes, in actual fact, the likely stars of the Ryder Cup - both American and European - are elsewhere this week.
On the one hand this is easily explained by the schedules either side of the Atlantic: the PGA Tour has yet another designated event which more or less demands the attention of the world's elite while the DP World Tour, despite hitting European soil for the first time in 2023, is still in third gear.
On the other hand, top golfers these days are a little less concerned with scoping a venue for two reasons: one, they know what type of course it is (modern, relatively straightforward as a test), and two, a little like modern-day cricketers they've come to accept the business of getting ready in quick time rather than, in cricket's case, needing a dozen first class matches on tour ahead of a test.
That's not to say that this week doesn't represent an opportunity for European golfers.
There are two or three (maybe more) places up for grabs in Luke Donald's Dozen and many of the leading contenders this week will have designs on those spots.
Consider that five years ago Alex Noren won at Le Golf National in the summer ahead of the Paris Ryder Cup - it more or less sealed his return ticket to the venue.
There was no tournament held at Gleneagles ahead of its Ryder Cup in 2014 but, in 2010, Celtic Manor had a Wales Open in June that was won by Graeme McDowell and two of Colin Montgomerie's captain's picks (Donald and Edoardo Molinari) finished in the top five.
Both Noren and McDowell enjoyed scenes of final day glory in those two matches and the likes of the Hojgaard twins Rasmus and Nicolai, Jordan Smith, Robert MacIntyre, Victor Perez, Adrian Meronk and Antoine Rozner will be hoping for something similar this year.
The key will be using such thoughts as motivation rather than distraction.
Marco Simone has hosted the last two editions of the Italian Open (it also welcomed the event in 1994 but has undergone a significant renovation courtesy of European Golf Design since then).
In both of them, two factors emerged that I'll take into consideration this week.
The first is that golfers with a strong record at Jumeirah, host of the end-of-year DP World Tour Championship, thrived.
The two winners - Nicolai Hojgaard in 2021 and Robert MacIntyre last year - actually shared fourth at Jumeirah in between their Rome triumphs.
Matthew Fitzpatrick was second behind MacIntyre, Rory McIlroy fourth and the pair of them are two-time winners at Jumeirah. Victor Perez was third that year and he's a three-time top 20 finisher in Dubai including seventh in 2020.
Meanwhile, in 2021, Tommy Fleetwood and Adrian Meronk shared second behind Hojgaard - the Englishman is a four-time top 10 finisher in Dubai including three of the last four with a best of second, while the Pole was seventh there last November.
That leads me to this week's top pick - the Spaniard Adri Arnaus.
He finished T28th on debut at Jumeirah in 2019, was tenth in 2020 (when one shot back with 18 holes to play), and ninth in the last two years (last November he was third at halfway).
He's also played plenty of nice golf at Marco Simone: he was second after 36 holes in 2021 before finishing T12th and a first round 67 left him fourth before he missed the cut with a second round 78.
This year he has been a contender at the Dubai Desert Classic, sixth at Ras al Khaiman and was second three starts ago in South Africa.
He's missed his last two cuts but did card 68s in both.
That 78 and the two missed cuts will worry some but I'm happy that they've prompted a bigger price.
Those seven top course finishers mentioned above share something else: excellent driving stats.
McIlroy, Fitzpatrick and Fleetwood have consistently shined in Strokes Gained Off the Tee rankings on the PGA Tour and the European-based quartet have done so this side of the Atlantic - indeed, three of them (Meronk, MacIntyre and Hojgaard) are even in the current top five.
This all makes sense: we've long-known that Jumeirah favours strong drivers and so, it seems, does Marco Simone.
I want another elite performer from the tee box onside, the top six in the betting can all lay claim to such a description. The pick? Adrian Meronk.
The lanky Pole ranked seventh in this category in 2021, second last year and is second again in this campaign.
He also ranked, you guessed it, second last week when T21st in Korea.
He got off to a slow start there and the effort of getting into contention flattened him out for Sunday but the two-time winner in 2022 can kick on from that and repeat the form that gained him that second on the course in 2021.
We haven't seen much of the Dane Thorbjorn Olesen in the last few weeks but his DP World Tour form this season has been really quite superb.
He opened with T20th in Abu Dhabi, T16th in Dubai and fourth in Ras al Khaimah.
He then peaked with victory in the Thailand Classic and rode the wave with sixth a week later in the Indian Open.
He and Nicolai Hojgaard only managed T32nd in the PGA Tour's Zurich Classic but I'm not going to overthink that pairs event too much.
Olesen's form is strong, he's been solid enough at Jumeirah (six consecutive top 25s in his pomp and he's getting back there), he was T16th at Marco Simone last year and he is seventh for SG Off the Tee this season.
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