The Italian Open was first staged way back in 1925 and the tournament has been a permanent fixture on the DP World Tour ever since its inception in 1972.
The Italian Open is largely a nomadic event but this year we return to the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club for the second year in in-a-row.
A sensible decision given it's the venue for next year's Ryder Cup and we have a decent field as a result with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton all in attendance.
Marco Simone GC, Rome, Italy.
Par 71, 7,268 yards
Stroke Average in 2021 - 71.54
Eduardo Romero won this event here way back in 1994, six years after the Jim Fazio and David Mezzacane designed parkland layout first opened but the hilly, undulating course is very different now following a complete revamp by Tom Fazio II (son of Jim) and Jeremy Slessor of European Golf Design between in August 2018 and October 2020 and it wasn't particularly well received when staging this event last year.
The green surfaces have been repeatedly described as immaculate but that's where the praise ends according to this article here, with players so displeased by the set-up that they requested anonymity when discussing it!
The recent Made in HimmerLand winner, Oliver Wilson, claimed there are nine greens you can't see when hitting your approach shot and the green complex on the seventh hole drew particular criticism with one anonymous contestant claiming.
"The seventh green is appalling. It looks like the shaper was on a mission to screw the architect. They can't be friends. So many waves and slopes and humps, it's just too much. I'm not sure what they were trying to do. And these are the people who are building our arenas. It's shocking."
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 12:30 on Thursday.
Last Seven Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2021 - Nicolai Hojgaard -13 290.0289/1
2020 - Ross McGowan -20 1000.0
2019 - Bernd Wiesberger -16 55.054/1
2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen -22 130.0129/1
2017 - Tyrrell Hatton -21 20.019/1
2016 - Francesco Molinari -22 30.029/1
2015 - Rikard Karlberg -19 (playoff) 80.079/1
What Will it Take to Win the Italian Open?
With just one renewal at the revamped venue, we're very much up against it this week but for what it's worth, he's a quick summary of last year's stats.
The front three all ranked better for Driving Distance than they did for Driving Accuracy, but it was Nicolai Hojgaard's overall tee to green game that set him apart from the field.
The young Dane ranked 20th for DD and 49th for DA but he ranked number one for both Strokes Gained Off the Tee and Tee to Green.
Hojgaard ranked sixth for Greens In Regulation and the first three in the GIR rankings all finished inside the top-five and ties suggesting that as hard as they were to spot form the fairway, the putting surfaces needed to be found with regularity.
Hojgaard ranked first for Scrambling and the two men tied for second - Adrian Meronk and Tommy Fleetwood - ranked fifth and eighth, so a good short game looks key but Hojgaard managed to get across the line ranking only 51st for Putting Average and although Fleetwood ranked fifth for PA, Meronk ranked only 41st.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Francesco Molinari's victory six 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 seven years ago.
The English tend to do well here and an Englishman has finished first or second or first and second in 11 of the last 14 renewals.
This has been a decent event for outsiders of late too. The 2016 and 2017 winners, Molinari and Tyrrell Hatton, were fairly obvious candidates and Bernd Wiesberger was only a 55.054/1 chance three years ago, but every other winner over the last 15 years has been very hard to spot.
Hojgaard was never more than three strokes adrift at any stage and nor was Tommy Fleetwood, but Adrian Meronk, who finished alongside Fleetwood, got to within one of Hojgaard having trailed by six with a round to go and the finish to the course suggests we could witness plenty of drama.
After a run of three straightforward holes (11, 12 & 13), that all averaged below par last year, the players face a pair of tough par fours that ranked first and fourth hardest last year before an interesting final three holes. This is what Eddie Pepperell had to say about the finish to the course in the aforementioned article.
"The 14th and 15th are two very good par fours. You need to hit two very good shots on both to have a birdie chance. They can easily make the 16th drivable, and 17 is a brilliant par three, maybe the best hole on the course. The green is long and thin with trouble on both sides. The 18th is a par five with all the ingredients to produce an exciting climax. Things will happen on those holes."
The early offerings in excess of 6.05/1 about Rory McIlroy were soon snaffled up on Sunday night and I'm not surprised.
He has the disadvantage of playing here for the first time this week but having come up a whisker short on Sunday with his eagle putt on the 18th green at Wentworth (see above), and having won the Tour Championship on his penultimate start, Rory's playing some of the best golf of his career at present and he'll soon work it out.
Backing 4/1 chances before the off isn't my idea of fun but he's playing so well that it's impossible to argue he's too short.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, who was another to criticise the venue last year and went off favourite but missed the cut. He'll want to make a better fist of it with his younger brother in the field this year but after his disappointing 42nd at Wentworth on Sunday he makes no appeal.
Viktor Hovland was tied for the lead with a round to go last week but he lost his way on Sunday after a couple of early birdies and he'll need to find his game again quite quickly of he's to contend here on debut.
There's been plenty of money for one of Matt Cooper's each-way fancies, Min Woo Lee, and I can see why.
He shot 62 around Wentworth on Saturday and he was the halfway leader here last year before tumbling to 12th over the weekend. I thought 60.059/1 was a fair price last night and I'm clearly not alone as he's 12 points shorter now.
I've got one more for the Find Me a 100 Winner column tomorrow but my only other pick at this stage is Kurt Kitayama, who's been playing quite nicely all summer.
The American has a great short game, he was third in this event back in 2019 (albeit at a different venue), and I thought 60.059/1 was fair after last week's reasonable 32nd placed finish, which would have been far better but for a miserable back nine on Saturday.
Min Woo Lee @ 60.059/1
Kurt Kitayama @ 60.059/1
I'll be back tomorrow with the find Me a 100 Winner column.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter