There's a stellar field assembling in Rome this week for the Italian Open and our man has all the details ahead of Thursday's start here...
“Danny Willett missed the cut at the Italian Open in 2017 but in his three other appearances he’s finished third, second and eighth. He plays in the event for a fifth time in-a-row this year and this venue should suit him perfectly.”
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 event moved from October to May last year so it's 18 months since Thorbjorn Olesen just edged out the two-time winner and home hero, Francesco Molinari.
The Italian Open is the fifth Rolex Series event of the season.
Olgiata Golf Club, Rome
Par 71, 7523 yards
Designed by Kenneth H Cotton, and restyled and lengthened by Jim Fazio, Olgiata first opened in 1961. It was the host course for this event in 1973 (along with the Roma-Acquasanta Golf Club), when Tony Jacklin took the title with a four-under-par total and it was the sole host venue in 2002, when another Englishman, Ian Poulter, won by two strokes over Paul Lawrie, with a 16-under-par total, despite the tournament being shortened to just three rounds.
Olgiata was also the host course for the Roma Open on the Challenge Tour in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2015. See results below.
2009 - Edoardo Molinari -21
2010 - Andres Harto -19
2011 - Sam Little -11
2014 - Ricardo Gouveia -9
2015 - Matteo Delpodio -5
The winning scores have been coming down year on year and I'm not surprised given how long the course is now after Fazio's redesign. As usual, the European Tour website has no information at all about the venue but looking back at the different renewals of the Roma Open, the course has been described as an undulating, tree-lined, old fashioned parkland course.
The rough and fairways are Bermuda (assuming they haven't changed since 2010) and the greens, which that year were set at 11.7 on the stimpmeter, are Penn Cross - a type of Bentgrass.
Live on Sky all four days, starting at 9:00 on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen -22
2017 - Tyrrell Hatton -21
2016 - Francesco Molinari -22
2015 - Rikard Karlberg -19 (playoff)
2014 - Hennie Otto -20
What Will it Take to Win the Italian Open?
I can't remember this venue at all unfortunately but it's interesting to see that Ian Poulter took the title on the last occasion Olgiata was used in 2002 and that another Englishman, Tony Jacklin, won here in 1973, six months before he won the British Masters at St.Pierre and nine years before he won the BMW PGA at Wentworth. I may or may not be barking up the wrong trees but those two courses are tree-lined and Poults, who was the pro at tree-lined Woburn many moons ago, has also won the Hong Kong Open at Fanling and the now defunct Volvo Masters at Valderrama.
Form at all those venues mentioned could be of some worth so check out recent results of the Hong Kong Open (Fanling), the BMW PGA Championship (Wentworth), the Andalucía Masters (Valderrama) and the 2015 edition of the British Masters (Woburn).
It might also be worth checking out form at Crans, where the European Masters is staged each year. It's a fiddly venue with some tree-lined holes and form at the aforementioned courses tends to stand up well there too.
Rolex Series winners worthy of strong consideration
Brandon Stone shot 60 to win the Scottish Open from way off the pace last year and as time moves on, that result is looking more and more like an outlier when it comes to Rolex Series events (see full list below).
We've now had 20 Rolex Series events to date and the vast majority of the winners have been well-fancied, top-class players. Although only four major champions have won a Rolex Series event so far, the majority have been Ryder Cuppers and a number of players listed below will, in the fullness of time, in all probability, win at least one major.
Jon Rahm has won three Series events and Alex Noren, Justin Rose and Danny Willett have two apiece, so a pattern of sorts is beginning to emerge. Rank outsiders and/or low-ranking players, with the only exception of Stone in Scotland, don't win Rolex Series events.
They appear to hold a certain gravitas or elevated status that prevents the lower ranked players from breaking through. Of course, it's very early days given this is just the third season that we've had the Rolex Series but on the bulk of the evidence we have to date, we need to be concentrating on the top-class players and possibly more so on those that have already won at least one Rolex Series event.
BMW PGA Championship 2017 - Alex Noren [22.0] 1/2
Open de France 2017 - Tommy Fleetwood [25.0]
Irish Open 2017 - Jon Rahm [18.0] 1/3
Scottish Open 2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello [65.0]
Italian Open 2017 - Tyrrell Hatton [20.0]
Turkish Airlines Open 2017 - Justin Rose [9.2] 1/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2017 - Branden Grace [18.0]
DP World Championship 2017 - Jon Rahm [14.0] 2/3
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Francesco Molinari [22.0]
Italian Open 2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen [130.0]
Open de France 2018 - Alex Noren [19.5] 2/2
Irish Open 2018 - Russell Knox [27.0]
Scottish Open 2018 - Brandon Stone [1000.0]
Turkish Airlines Open 2018 - Justin Rose [5.8] 2/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2018 - Lee Westwood [55.0]
DP World Championship 2018 - Danny Willett [150.0] 1/2
Abu Dhabi Championship 2019 - Shane Lowry [90.0]
Irish Open 2019 - Jon Rahm [10.0] 3/3
Scottish Open 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger [46.0]
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Danny Willett [80.0] 2/2
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Francesco Molinari's victory three years ago was his second in the tournament. He took the title ten 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 four years ago.
The English tend to do well here and an Englishman has finished first or second or both in eight of the last 11 renewals.
Although only staged over three rounds, Ian Poulter was in front all the way when he won here in 2002 and if previous results are anything to go by, this is very much a frontrunners venue. All five Challenge Tour winners were inside the first three places after round one and no more than three strokes off the lead. Three of the five winners were in front at halfway, and the other two sat inside the top-three places and were only two off the lead. And all five winners sat first or second with a round to go.
It's hard to pick holes in the favourite, Paul Casey. His superb long game should prove to be a big asset around here and he arrives in fair form having followed up a third placed finish in the Tour Championship with a win at the European Open in Germany and a slightly disappointing 11th placed finish at Wentworth. Somewhat bizarrely, this is Casey's first appearance in Italy.
Justin Rose missed the cut here, way back in 2002 in his third appearance in the event. He'd finished 21st in 2000 and he'd also missed out on weekend employment in 2001. Rose hasn't played in the Italian Open since 2002 so he has very little experience of Italy either. Rose's tee-to-green game hasn't been as strong as it can be this year and that may cost him at this venue so I'm happy to swerve him.
Francesco Molinari has lost his way a bit since he led two-stroke 54-hole lead slip at the US Masters in the spring and in ten starts since, he hasn't registered a single top-ten finish. His two best efforts have been an 11th in the Open Championship and a 14th at Wentworth when on both occasions he was defending the title. He's a two-time winner of the Italian Open and since he won it in 2016, he's finished sixth and second. I can see him finding something to contend again this time around but whether he's playing well enough to record the hat-trick is debatable.
Danny Willett missed the cut at the Italian Open in 2017 but in his three other appearances he's finished third, second and eighth. He plays in the event for a fifth time in-a-row this year and this venue should suit him perfectly. He's already won at two of the venues mentioned above - Crans and Wentworth - and he also famously won at another lengthy, tree-lined venue when he won the US Masters at Augusta in 2016. He's looking for his third Rolex Series event victory and I thought [32.0] was generous enough.
I've backed my each-way fancy, Christiaan Bezuidenhout at [55.0] on the exchange and I've also thrown a few pounds at Italy's 22-year old rising star, Guido Migliozzi.
It would be a bit of a surprise if he won his national title so early in his career but he's already won two European Tour events this year, in Kenya and Belgium, at tree-lined tracks and he's won three Alps Tour events in his homeland too so he might just enjoy himself here.
Danny Willett @ [32.0]
Christiaan Bezuidenhout @ [55.0]
Guido Migliozzi @ [90.0]
I'll be back later with my Houston Open preview.
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