Ryder Cup venue in action this week
Weak event this year with European stars in USA
Decent event for outsiders
Expect drama down the closing holes
The Italian Open was first staged way back in 1925 and this is the 80th edition. It's been a permanent fixture on the DP World Tour ever since its inception in 1972.
The Italian Open is largely a nomadic event but just eight months after last year's renewal, we return to the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club for the third year in in-a-row.
This year's renewal has been brought forward because Marco Simone is the venue for the Ryder Cup in September, but the European elite are lining up at the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour instead of familiarising themselves further with the track here.
The likes of Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Fitzpatrick, and Tyrrell Hatton were all in attendance in September, so this is a much weaker renewal than last year's.
Marco Simone GC, Rome, Italy.
Par 71, 7,268 yards
Stroke Average in 2022 - 71.79
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 in 2021.
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!
Last year's 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 Eight Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2022 - Robert MacIntyre -14 60.059/1 (playoff)
2021 - Nicolai Hojgaard -13 290.0289/1
2020 - Ross McGowan -20 1000.0999/1
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 two renewals at the revamped venue, we probably can't give too much credence to the numbers but for what it's worth, a couple of stats have stood out over the last two years.
Macintyre only ranked 20th for Greens In Regulation in September but seven of top-12 ranked inside the top-ten and it was an important stat in 2021 too.
The winner, Nicolai Hojgaard, ranked sixth for GIR and the top-three in the GIR rankings all finished inside the top-five and ties.
The top-seven on the leaderboard last year ranked sixth, third, ninth, second, 12th, fifth and first for Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and the top-seven in 2021 ranked first, 46th, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and second.
The top three all putted nicely in September, ranking second, seventh and fourth for Putting Average and ninth, 24th and fourth for Strokes Gained Putting but it was different story two years ago.
The runner-up, Tommy Fleetwood, who'd ranked only 46th for SGT2G, ranked first for SGP and fifth for PA but the winner, Hojgaard, only ranked 33rd for SGP and 51st for PA and the third, Adrian Meronk, ranked only 29th for SGP and 41st for PA.
Those front three in 2021 ranked first, eighth, and fifth for Scrambling but that wasn't a key metric in September with the playoff protagonists ranking only 46th and 23rd.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Francesco Molinari's victory seven 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 but there's bad news for MacIntyre fans... Defending champs don't have a great record.
Frenchman, Auguste Boyer, won his third and fourth titles back-to-back in 1930-31 and Belgium's Flory Van Donck made an unusual defence given he won consecutive renewals either side of World War II in 1938 and 1947 but they're the only two to defend the title.
The English tend to do well here and at least one Englishman has finished first or second in 12 of the last 15 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 Macintyre and Bernd Wiesberger were trading at around 55.054/1 / 60.059/1, but every other winner over the last 16 years has been very hard to spot.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2022 - Robert Macintyre - T7th - trailing by three 30.029/1
2021 - Nicolai Hojgaard - led by a stroke 5.04/1
In 2021, the winner, 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 last year's winner, Macintyre, also finished with a wet sail.
The Scotsman trailed by six in a tie for 20th at the halfway stage before rounds of 67 and 64 saw him catch the Matt Fitzpatrick, who had been in the van throughout.
The finish to the course is interesting and it has a propensity to produce plenty of drama.
After a run of three straightforward holes (11, 12 & 13), that have all averaged below par over the last two years, the players face a pair of tough par fours 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."
Pepperell sums the finish up really well there and 14 and 15 nearly tripped up Macintyre back in September...
Having started round four brilliantly, shooting a stunning six-under-par 29 on the front-nine, Macintyre had looked the most likely winner after back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13 but having been matched at just 1.664/6 he bogeyed 14 and 15 to open the door.
Fitzpatrick hit a low of 1.584/7 in-running but Macintyre did well to compose himself and birdie 16 and 18 to take the tournament into extra time.
In what is a wide-open market, the 2021 winner, Nicolai Hojgaard, is the only man trading at less than 20/1.
Nicolai, who finished 27th in September when defending, arrives in fair form having constructed form figures on the PGA Tour reading 2-28-32-33 since he finished 32nd at the Indian Open on the DP World Tour at the end of February.
Hojgaard has been making the most of his Special Temporary Membership in the States but it's no surprise to see him back on the DP World Tour in an event that offers him up a great chance to demonstrate his Ryder Cup credentials.
With six captain's picks up for grabs, another victory at the host venue would all but guarantee him a place on Luke Donald's team in September, regardless of whether he qualifies automatically, but I see that as something of a negative.
It's hard enough to win but adding in the pressure of attempting to cement a place on the European Ryder Cup team is just a further complication. And that applies to most of the leading contenders this week.
Adrian Meronk finished tied for second behind Hojgaard here two years ago but missed the cut in September and he'll be a bit disappointed by his finish in Korea at the weekend, where rounds of 70-73 saw him slip outside the top-20.
Last year's course winner, Robert Macintyre, has made no secret of his desire to make it on to Donald's team and like Hojgaard, he'd be virtually guaranteed a spot should he win here again but his irons were off over the weekend in Korea and he looks opposable.
Nicolai's twin brother, Rasmus, is yet again well-fancied but he's struggled to get going again after taking time off with a shoulder injury and last week's missed cut in Korea is certainly off putting.
In his two previous visits to the Marco Simone GC, Rasmus has finished 18th and 27th.
Given he's no bigger than 33/1 on the High Street, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to back the in-form Spaniard, Jorge Campillo, at odds in excess of 40/1 on the Betfair Exchange.
Campillo is another who's Ryder Cup credentials would be greatly boosted by a victory this week, but I'm happy to chance him after last week's impressive performance in Korea, which didn't come out of the blue.
Campillo signed of the event with a seven-under-par 65 to finish tied for third and it was a round he felt could have been even better.
"Has to be in my top five in my golf career, not the way I putt, but the way I hit the ball and the way I played was super nice.
"I wish I made more of those putts that I missed because I played great. It's just a shame that the putter wasn't as good as my long game. Top of my mind, I missed four putts from five to eight feet that I should have made."
Campillo telegraphed his wellbeing with a great weekend at the Indian Open (climbed from 24th to fourth) before he won the Kenya Open in March and in-between that victory and his third in Korea, he finished ninth in Japan, having only just made the cut following more than a month off, so he's bang in-form.
Campillo missed the cut here in 2021 but he finished ninth in September so he has course form to boast too.
Following Jon Rahm's victory at the US Masters and Pablo Larrazabal's win in Korea on Sunday, Campillo is bidding to become the third Spaniard to win on the DP World Tour in four weeks and he looks a very fair price to do so.
Jorge Campillo @ 42.041/1
I'll be back later today or tomorrow with the find Me a 100 Winner column.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter