The European Tour returns to Italy for the second Rolex Series event of the year and Steve fancies we could get yet another well-fancied series winner. Read our man's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
“The Italian Open has been a good event for outsiders but now it’s a Rolex Series event, scrolling too far down the betting might not be too wise. This is the tenth Rolex Series event and longshots have fared poorly. We’re yet to see a triple-figure priced winner and eight of the previous nine victors have been priced up at [25.0] and below.”
The Italian Open was first staged way back in 1925 and the tournament has been a permanent fixture on the European Tour ever since its inception in 1972.
The Italy Open is now part of the Rolex Series (second Series event of the season) and as result the purse has increased significantly, and the field is much stronger. The event has also now moved from October and that too has seen the quality of the field improve.
Gardagolf CC, Brescia, Italy.
Par 71, 7,201 yards
The Championship Course is a tree-lined composite of the Red and White courses which appears fairly similar to previous venues used for the Italian Open.
Gardagolf was used for Kronenbourg Open in 1993, won by Sam Torance, and both the 1997 and 2003 editions of this event, won by Bernhard Langer and Matthias Gronberg, but the routing has changed since then and the form is old so of little worth.
It was also used for the now defunct Texbond Open on the Challenge Tour between 2004 and 2006 but again, how much use that is to us now is debatable bur for the record, the three winners were Sam Little, Fredrik Widmark and Carlos del Moral.
Matteo Manassero is local and knows the course intimately and this is what he told the European Tour Website.
"It's a tricky course with quite a bit of undulation and a few slopes. They're not easy to see on television, but there are plenty of tee shots that require you to take the slope into account. The greens are tiny and a few are steep, so the greens will be the main issue.
"The par fives are the easiest part of the course, so if you score well there you'll gain an advantage over the course. The wind doesn't usually blow hard, but when it does it gets tough. It's a mix of tricky holes, with three or four long par fours and then reachable par fives."
"Tee to green it's hard to compare it to any other course. Around the greens it can play a little like Valderrama, but not as tough or tricky at times. It has constant slopes and you can find yourselves three yards from the pin with a tough chip just off the green. You have to calculate spin, too.
"From the tee there are a few dog-legs, but it's similar in some holes to a course in Turin, La Mandria, with a few dog-legs where you can cut the corner."
For more on the course. Please see this link here.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 9:30 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Tyrrell Hatton -21
2016 - Francesco Molinari -22
2015 - Rikard Karlberg -19 (playoff)
2014 - Hennie Otto -20
2013 - Julien Quesne -12
What Will it Take to Win the Italian Open?
Although tree-lined, Gardagolf doesn't appear especially tight so with very little to go on, concentrating on what Matteo said about the greens makes sense.
If the greens really are 'tiny' then finding them with regularity will be important, as will getting up-and-down successfully when they are missed so the two stats I've looked at are Greens In Regulation and Scrambling.
I wasn't initially looking at length being a big asset here but Ross Fisher's tweet below suggest power might be a plus if the course plays long.
Nice to be back in Italy for @ItalianOpen. Can't believe I played here on Challenge tour 13 years ago time flies!Nice to play 9 with @TyrrellHatton @Thomas_Pieters. Course playing long and will be soft all week.Big week ahead #rolexseries #bigpoints #rydercup— Ross Fisher (@RossFisher) May 29, 2018
Is There an Angle In?
The Italian Open was the fifth Rolex Series event last year and the previous four had all been won by top-class players. Tyrrell Hatton, who's clearly a quality performer, was a well-fancied [20.0] chance when he won last year, and every Rolex Series winner since has been straight out of the top drawer. Here's the full list of Rolex Series winners to date, with their average price before the off on the exchange.
BMW PGA Championship 2017 - Alex Noren [22.0]
Open de France 2017 - Tommy Fleetwood [25.0]
Irish Open 2017 - Jon Rahm [18.0]
Scottish Open 2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello [65.0]
Italian Open 2107 - Tyrrell Hatton [20.0]
Turkish Airlines Open 2017 - Justin Rose [9.2]
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2017 - Branden Grace [18.0]
DP World Championship 2017 - Jon Rahm [14.0]
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Francesco Molinari [22.0]
The Italian Open has been a good event for outsiders but now it's a Rolex Series event, scrolling far down the betting list might not be too wise. This is the 10th Rolex Series event and longshots have fared poorly. We're yet to see a triple-figure priced winner and eight of the previous nine victors have been priced up at [25.0] and below.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Francesco Molinari's victory two years ago was his second in the tournament. He took the title 10 years earlier at Castello Tolcinasco and previous winners deserve serious consideration. In addition to Molinari, Ian Poulter, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Hennie Otto have all won the event twice this century and all four have won at different venues.
Inexplicably, four different fairly low-ranking Swedes have won the title in the last 20 years and two other Swedes were placed behind Rikard Karlberg three years ago.
The English tend to do well here and an Englishman has finished first or second or first and second in eight of the last ten years.
Fredrik Widmark was two clear after the opening round here in 2005 but he didn't make all the running (he trailed by three after three rounds) and a slow start has been overcome here.
Carlos Del Moral trailed by three after round one and by six in 2006 and the other three course winners trailed by five (twice) and seven strokes after day one.
I recognise that the course has been re-routed since it was last used and that five results is a tiny sample size but for the record, no third round leader has gone on to win here. Sam Little trailed by a stroke and the other four won from three back through 54 holes.
Francesco Molinari is bidding to win the title for a third time, one week after winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He played superbly last week and especially over the weekend but he's half the price he was last week and he's sure to be fatigued to some level so he's no value.
Missed cuts at Augusta and Quail Hollow suggested Alex Noren's early season hot streak in the States was over but he finished the Players Championship strongly and put up a stout defence at Wentworth last week, He was matched at just [4.9] in-running before eventually finishing third.
Noren was 45th in the Texbond Open here in 2006 and he was second in the Challenge Tour's Apulia San Domenico Grand Final in Italy later that year but his record in this tournament is poor. He's played the event five times and last year's 38th is his best effort.
A third round 77 at Wentworth derailed the ever-improving Tommy Fleetwood last week but he's my idea of the most likely winner this week. His event form figures read 24-33-7-6 and he's a perfectly fair price at around 12/1.
Matthew Fitzpatrick has been popular with punters but looks too short now at just [18.0] and there isn't enough juice in Ian Poulter's price to tempt me in either, although he's been in fine form this spring and he's looking to win the event for a third time.
I'd have liked slightly bigger but given I think he should be heading the market, I've felt compelled to have a small bet on Tommy Fleetwood. He was bitterly disappointed by his third round on Saturday, to the extent he felt he needed to take to Twitter to apologise but he's a fantastic player now and more than capable of bouncing back and winning again.
I was woeful today, but the support and love shown to me out there today was amazing and humbling and I'm so grateful to everyone that not only turned up to watch but shouted for me for 18 holes! Sorry I couldn't give you my best! @BMWPGA @EuropeanTour— Tommy Fleetwood (@TommyFleetwood1) May 26, 2018
In addition to the Fleetwood flutter, I'm in full agreement with Joe Dyer about the chances of Alex Levy and I quite like the improving Matt Wallace. The Englishman has shortened up over the last couple of days and he's probably priced about right at around the 50/1 mark but I thought [65.0] was generous enough and I'm amazed I was able to back my each-way fancy, Joakim Lagergren, at as big as [150.0] this morning. Maybe the layer wasn't aware that the Swede won his first ever European Tour event in Italy just three weeks ago?
I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter