The Andalucía Valderrama Masters made a welcome return to the European Tour schedule two years ago, six years after it had last been staged. The tournament had only twice previously been played with Graeme McDowell winning the inaugural event in 2010 before Sergio Garcia claimed the second edition 12 months later and the popular Spaniard took the title for a third time last October, having edged out Joost Luiten by a stroke in 2017.
Real Club Valderrama, Sotogrande, Spain
Par 71, 7,001 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 - 72.42
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr, and opened in 1985, Valderrama is a short, tree-lined course with Bermuda fairways and Bentgrass greens.
In addition to this tournament, Valderrama was also used on the European Tour in April 2016 when it hosted the Open de Espana, won by Andrew Johnston, and prior to the inception of the Race to Dubai it was the home of the now defunct season ending, money list deciding, Volvo Masters, between 1988 and 1996 and again between 2002 and 2008. It was also the host venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup and also for the WGC-American Express Championship (now the WGC-Mexico Championship).
It's a tough but beautiful course with narrow slopping fairways, framed by cork trees. The greens are smaller than average, undulating and they usually run at around 12.5 on the stimpmeter. Water is in play on holes four, ten and 17.
The front nine greens and surrounds complexes were totally re- grassed prior to the off two years ago but there were no changes to the design.
For more on the course, see the hole-by-hole guide here.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - starting at 11:00 on Thursday
First Four Tournament Winners
2010 - Graeme McDowell -2
2011 - Sergio Garcia -6
2012-2016 - No Event
2017 - Sergio Garcia -12
2018 - Sergio Garcia -12 (54 holes)
What Will it Take to Win the Andalucía Valderrama Masters?
Given he ranked better for Driving Distance than he did for Driving Accuracy, and that he only ranked ninth for Greens In Regulation and 27th for Scrambling, Sergio's stats went against the grain somewhat when he won here two years ago but the placed players franked the usual stats trends and so did he last year...
The two players to rank second and fourth for DA, Anders Hansen and Wade Ormsby, finished inside the top-six places in 2017, Jamie Donaldson and Daniel Brooks, who finished fourth and third, ranked first and second for Greens In Regulation and the top Scrambler for the week was Ormsby, who finished fifth.
Last year, Sergio ranked 10th for Driving Accuracy, fourth for GIR and sixth for Scrambling - just what you'd expect from a winner here.
Valderrama is a tight track off the tee and the greens are small so accuracy is the key to success. When winning the Open de Espana three years ago, Johnston ranked first for both Driving Accuracy and Greens In Regulation and looking back to the first two editions of this event, it was a similar story then too.
I've looked back at the last three Volvo Masters tournaments to be staged here, as well as the four results of this event, and at Johnson's win three years ago, and the stats are pretty similar. See below.
2018 Sergio Garcia -12 (DD: 16, DA: 10, GIR: 4, Sc: 6, PA: 7)
2017 Sergio Garcia -12 (DD: 8, DA: 12, GIR: 9, Sc: 27, PA: 9)
2016 Andrew Johnston - (DD: 35, DA: 1, GIR: 1, Sc: 20, PA: 25)
2011 Sergio Garcia -6 (DD: 24, DA: 10, GIR: 10, Sc: 4, PA: 8)
2010 Graeme McDowell -3 (DD: 47, DA: 6, GIR: 1, Sc: 18, PA: 4)
2008 Soren Kjeldsen -8 (DD: 41, DA: 29, GIR: 22, Sc: 4, PA: 12)
2007 Justin Rose -1 (DD: 4, DA: 26, GIR: 8, Sc: 7, PA: 3)
2006 Jeev Milkha Singh -2 (DD: 52, DA: 52, GIR: 17, Sc: 16, PA: 15)
DD= Driving Distance
DA= Driving Accuracy
GIR=Greens In Regulation
The last eight course winners have an average Greens In Regulation ranking of 9.0 and an average Scrambling ranking of 12.75, so hitting the tiny greens is important and getting up-and-down when they're inevitably missed is also key but looking at the stats, a good week with the putter is also very important.
The last eight course winners have had an average Putting Average ranking of 11.25. The first three home last year ranked seventh, 15th and ninth, the top-three in 2017 ranked ninth, sixth and first and the first five home here in this event in 2011 all ranked inside the top-ten for that stat.
Although not right on the coastline, Valderrama often experiences windy conditions and that's another reason for the higher than average scoring. An ability to handle breezy conditions well is often crucial, although looking at the early forecasts, that might not be the case this year. It looks like we'll see a bit of wind on Saturday but nothing serious.
Is There an Angle In?
Johnston won here on debut three years ago, so it is possible to take to the course straight away, but course experience is very important. Garcia's form here is very obvious but the runner-up last year, Shane Lowry, had finished 18th, fourth and 12th in three previous visits and the second in 2017, Joost Luiten, had also finished second to Johnston in 2016. Garcia could only finish third that year and another course winner, Soren Kjeldsen, was back in fourth. And in the 2011 edition of this event, only one of 19 debutants (Richie Ramsay) bettered 73 in round one. It's a quirky little track so it stands to reason that course form holds up well.
Another Trent Jones course that looks very similar, that should correlate nicely, is the Palais Royal d'Agadir in Morocco, the host course for the Trophée Hassan II until 2015 and it might not be especially relevant this week but it would be remiss of me not to mention that Augusta appears to correlate too. The 2017 US Masters' playoff protagonists, Sergio and Justin Rose, have both won here and Masters winners Tiger Woods, Mike Weir and Bernhard Langer have all enjoyed success around Valderrama.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The cream tends to rise to the top at Valderrama and major winners Justin Rose, Garcia, G-Mac, Woods, Weir and Langer have all won here. And Ian Poulter, Colin Montgomerie, Paul McGinley, Mark McNulty and Soren Kjeldsen are all multiple winning, top-class pros that have tasted success at the venue.
The event was reduced to three rounds in October and the result was never really in doubt. Garcia sat third and two off the lead after round one but a sensational 64 saw him scoot four clear after round two and he went on to maintain the margin at the finishing line.
Having tied for the lead after round one, Garcia and Luiten dominated the event two years ago, never falling outside the first three places at any stage and in what transpired to be another example of the class-acts dominating.at Valderrama, the two finished the week separated by a solitary stroke but four clear of the remainder. Yet another example of how important a fast start is.
Johnston sat second after rounds one, two and three two years ago before pouncing to win and the last five course winners have been inside the front five places all week long. Sergio last year and the five winners before Johnston were all in front after three rounds.
Every course winner and beaten playoff protagonist since 1996 (as far as I've gone back) has been inside the top-five places with a round to go, and all bar two have sat inside the front three, but it is possible to make up a reasonable strokes deficit...
Simon Dyson and Soren Kjeldsen sat second and fourth, trailing by four and seven strokes respectively, with a round to go in 2007 but both made it to a playoff before getting beat by third round leader Justin Rose and Paul McGinley trailed by four after 54 holes when he won here in 2005. Poulter won from three back after three rounds in 2004 and Langer trailed by four in fifth place after 54 holes in 2002.
If you're planning to bet in-running, the finish is really tough. In 2011, the final four holes ranked as four of the five hardest on the course, holes 16 and 18 ranked as the two toughest on the course in 2016, and 16 and 15 ranked as the hardest two holes last year. Surprisingly, the 18th ranked as only the sixth hardest in October but it's still a tough finishing hole with a very demanding tee-shot.
After his tied third at the US Open, 24-year-old Spaniard, Jon Rahm, heads the market but I'm not convinced this is an ideal venue for him and he missed the cut on his only previous visit last October.
It would be absolutely bonkers to dismiss the 11th best player in the world too readily but I'm a little surprised he's favourite and I much prefer fellow Spaniard and tournament host, Sergio Garcia.
There have only been four previous editions of this event and Sergio has won the last three. He has phenomenal form figures at Valderrama stretching all the way back to the last century that read 7-5-7-7-2-2-2-34-4-10-1-3-1-1. With 13 top-10s, nine top-fives, or even 12 top-seven finishes if you prefer, and three victories from 14 starts here, it's impossible to argue against his chances, despite his recent poor form. He's missed three of his last four cuts but he played OK at Pebble Beach for the first two rounds in the US Open two weeks ago.
He only finished third here in 2016, after sitting eight off the lead in a tie for 52nd after an uncharacteristically high opening round of 74, so one could argue he plays the famous venue better than ever now he's a more experienced player.
Matthew Fitzpatrick is playing Valderrama for the first time this week but it should suit him perfectly and he's in cracking form. Hampered by a slow start on Thursday after his 12th in the US Open, the Englishman really should have won the BMW International Open last week so there's a slight risk he'll be hungover after the disappointment. He was matched at a low of 1.21/5 with just three holes to play but made a bit of a mess of the 16th and 17th holes. That doesn't concern me too much though and he should take to course like a duck to water. Big chance.
After a poor run of form, Sergio Garcia is a bigger price than he was in October and I've felt compelled to have a small saver.
I've had a small bet on the exchange on my each-way selection, Oliver Wilson, and I quite like the chances of Mike Norman's each-way fancy, Richie Ramsay, too. He's been playing nicely of late and no venue suits him better.
And finally, I've thrown a few speculative pounds at young Italian, Guido Migliozzi, who's making his Valderrama debut this week. It's a big ask to win here first time but he's already won twice this season and both victories came at fairly fiddly tree-lined courses.
Sergio Garcia @ 8.415/2
Richie Ramsay @ 75.074/1
Oliver Wilson @ 85.084/1
Guido Migliozzi @ 110.0109/1
I'll be back shortly with my Rocket Mortgage Classic preview.
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