There's a blank week on the PGA Tour this week ahead of the FedEx Cup's deciding Tour Championship at East Lake but there's a decent line-up on the European Tour so read Steve's in-depth Italy Open preview here...
“Karlberg was tipped up by Mike Norman in the each-way column last year at a nice price and he was far from the first outsider to take the title. It’s usually a competitive enough tournament, as it is again this time around, but the market leaders have a terrible record. If you like to play the long-shots, this is a great event in which to do so.”
The Italian Open was first staged way back in 1925 and the tournament has been a permanent fixture on the European Tour ever since it began in 1972. This will be the 73rd staging of the event.
Golf Club Milano, Parco Reale di Monza, Milan.
Par 71, 7,156 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 70.04
The Golf Club Milano was designed by James Peter Gannon and it opened in 1928. It's a tree-lined, slightly undulating parkland course with fairly narrow fairways and small Poa Bentgrass greens.
Golf Club Milano has staged this event on seven previous occasions. It hosted the event in 1951, 1952, 1956, 1981, 1984, 1990 and again last year when Sweden's Rikard Karlberg pipped Martin Kaymer in a playoff after both men had amassed 19-under-par totals.
Although tree-lined and described as fairly tight, there was no rough to speak of last year and the greens ran slow at around 9.5 on the stimpmeter.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2015 - Rikard Karlberg -19 (playoff)
2014 - Hennie Otto -20
2013 - Julien Quesne -12
2012 - Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano -24
2011 - Robert Rock -21
What Will it Take to Win The Italy Open?
Straight hitting local, Marco Crespi, repeatedly describes the course as tight and demanding in this hole-by-hole guide produced last year but the stats at last year's event didn't bear that out at all. The winner, Karlberg, ranked 66th for Driving Accuracy and Lucas Bjerregaard, who finished third, ranked 56th for finding fairways. If the rough is down again this year, I don't expect hitting it straight to be the key requisite.
Kaymer and Fabrizio Zanotti, who finished tied for third, ranked joint first for Greens In Regulation so that's clearly an important stat but if this year's edition plays out anything like last year's renewal then making lots of birdies will be key.
Nicolas Colsaerts tied the European Tour record on day one last year when he made eight birdies in-a-row and the playoff protagonists, Karlberg and Kaymer ranked tied third for birdies made. Joakim Lagergren, who finished tied for third, made more birdies than anyone on the week (21) as well as two eagles. We can expect a bit of a birdie-fest so here a list of the top-10 ranked players for Birdie Average on the European Tour over the last three months.
1 Henrik Stenson
2 Nino Bertasio
3 Joakim Lagergren
4 Julien Quesne
5 JB Hansen
6 Brandon Stone
7 Paul Peterson
8 Alejandro Canizares
T9 Andy Sullivan
T9 Alex Noren
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Three men, Ian Poulter, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Hennie Otto have all won the event twice this century and at different venues so it might be worth checking out the past winners.
Inexplicably, four different fairly low ranking Swedes have won the title in the last 18 years and two other Swedes were placed behind Karlberg 12 months ago.
Karlberg was tipped up by Mike Norman in the each-way column last year at 66/1 and he was far from the first outsider to take the title. It's usually a competitive enough tournament, as it is again this time around, but the market leaders have a terrible record. If you like to play the long-shots, this is a great event in which to do so.
The trouble started for the beaten playoff protagonist, Kaymer, last year when, after shooting four-under -par on the front nine, he bogeyed the 10th, 13th and 14th holes. Bogeying the par five 14th was pretty unforgivable given there were only four bogeys made there all day and at 503 yards it only averaged 4.26 on the week. The four par fives were the four easiest holes on the course 12 months ago and the 14th was the easiest of the four.
The 10th and 13th however ranked one and two and if you're betting in-running, especially in round four, the 15th and 18th are fairly tricky holes too. The par four 15th ranked the sixth hardest hole for the week but it ranked number one on Sunday. There aren't many pin placement options at Golf Club Milano and I suspect that hole will be set up tough again this time around.
I'm going to have a very close eye on Matthew Fitzpatrick this week. I've written several times about his inconsistency. He tends to start far too slowly at times and he misses more than his fair share of cuts but if he starts reasonably well he'll be worth siding with. In Switzerland last time out, he finished seventh after an awful start and he did something very similar here last year. He sat 57th after round one and 41st at halfway but a much improved weekend effort saw him climb right up into a tie for third so the course suits.
Martin Kaymer threw this away last year. He was three clear at the turn in round four and was matched at just 1.211/5 in-running so we know the course suits him but Kaymer messing up in-the-mix has been a reoccurring theme ever since he blew that 10 stroke lead in Abu Dhabi and it's now well over two years since he last won.
He's been in reasonable form this year and he finished sixth in the Made In Denmark last time out but I'd want bigger about him given his propensity to wobble down the stretch.
Byeong Hun An caught the eye in the Netherlands yesterday, finishing fast for third. He finished 11th at the Olympics in his penultimate start so he's trending in the right direction but he's still only won once on the European Tour, at the BMW PGA Championship last year, and given his flat form prior to Rio, I'm happy to leave him out.
Sunday's Dutch hero, Joost Luiten, is clearly on fire, as the tweet below testifies but I have to wonder how hard he's celebrated such a monumental success and winning back-to-back is hard anyway. He's also seeing the course for the first time so that's also against him.
Joost is on fire after the Dutch Open this weekend! pic.twitter.com/jcEvNElTbr? #GCW (@gcw) September 12, 2016
Of the remainder towards the head of the market, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Lee Westwood just don't win enough to warrant their short prices, I've already outlined my plans for Fitzpatrick and the out-off form Francesco Molinari, who went off favourite last year and who won the event in 2006, is another that shies away from the jam-stick.
Given the fine record of outsiders in this event I thought I'd throw a few pounds at five long-shots in total and first up is Julien Quesne. The Frenchman won this title in 2013, ranks highly on the Birdie Average stats and he finished fifth at the European Masters last time out.
The South Africa Open winner, Brandon Stone, caught the eye last week when he shot 63 in round three at the KLM Open. He faded a bit on Sunday and eventually finished 10th but he's another that ranks highly on the Birdie Average stats.
He's not in the best of nick at present but Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen often finds form out of the blue and when he does he knows how to win so he looks big at a triple-figure price and my last three are all huge outsiders...
Shenzhen International winner, Soomin Lee, went cold after that victory but he caught my eye in Switzerland a fortnight ago where he opened up with a pair of 68s and his tied 10th at the KLM Open was a decent effort last week.
A number of players that appeared in the Olympics (most notably Thomas Pieters) have played really well since so two-time European Tour winner, Ashun Wu, who finished 30th in Rio could be worth chancing here at a big price.
I've had a very small bet on England's Ryan Evans, whose form is largely progressive and finally, big hitting Swede, Pelle Edberg, did really well to finish tied for 24th in the Netherlands last week after a quite dreadful start. He's yet to win on the European Tour and I have my doubts as to whether he ever will but he was a big enough price to take a small chance on at [300.0.]
I'll be on Thursday evening, or early on Friday, with a look at the state of play after round one.
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