The Open de España returns to the European Tour after an absence of just a year so read our man's take on the event ahead of Thursday's start here...
"Spaniards don’t have a terrific record in the event and since Seve won his third and final Open de España way back in 1995, only three Spaniards have taken the title and they’ve all been top-drawer. Sergio Garcia won in 2002, Alvaro Quiros in 2010 and Miguel Angel Jimenez’s 21st and surely final European Tour title came in this tournament in 2014. If you’ve picked out a couple of low profile Spaniards, previous results suggest you better think again."
The Open de España dates all the way back to 1912 and apart from last year, when it was missing from the schedule, it's been a regular on the European Tour since its inception in 1972.
Centro Nacional de Golf, Madrid
Designed by David Thomas and Alfonso Vidaor, Centro Nacional de Golf only opened in 2006 but it was used for two European Tour events soon after opening. It staged this event a year later, when Charl Schwartzel took the title, and it was also used for the Madrid Masters in 2009, when Ross McGowan powered home in an incredible 25-under-par.
It's an undulating, exposed track, not overly long, with bentgrass greens. Water was in play on six holes last time - including the final three - but there are no trees.
I asked Gary Murphy, who was fourth here back in 2009, what he remembered about the track and he was kind enough to tell me that it resembled venues like Celtic Manor, Gleneagles, Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland, San Roque, PGA Catalunya and Himmerland in Denmark.
"So, hilly funky tracks that can do your head in or you embrace it." He went on to say.
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Last Five Winners
2017 - No Tournament
2016 - Andrew Johnston +1
2015 - James Morrison -10
2014 - Miguel Angel Jimenez -4 (playoff)
2013 - Raphael Jacquelin -5 (playoff)
2012 - Francesco Molinari -8
What Will it Take to Win the Open de España?
Here's a statistical overview of the two previous results at Centro Nacional de Golf.
2009 Madrid Masters
-25 Ross McGowan DD: 25, DA: 13, GIR: 2, Scr: 63, PA: 8
-22 Mikko Ilonen DD: 21, DA: 26, GIR: 25, Scr: 17, PA: 1
-21 David Drysdale DD: 26, DA: 50, GIR: 59, Scr: 1, PA: 10
-18 Gareth Maybin DD: 67, DA: 13, GIR: 15, Scr: 22, PA: 6
-18 Gary Murphy DD: 54, DA: 50, GIR: 55, Scr: 38, PA: 2
-18 Alex Noren DD: 6, DA: 39, GIR: 1, Scr: 4, PA: 42
2007 Open de España
-16 Charl Schwartzel DD: 4, DA: 42, GIR: 2, Scr: 8, PA: 33
-15 Jyoti Randhawa DD: 13, DA: 34, GIR: 3, Scr: 27, PA: 1
-14 Carlos Rodiles DD: 17, DA: 37, GIR: 23, Scr: 23, PA: 3
-13 Simon Dyson DD: 43, DA: 50, GIR: 29, Scr: 1, PA: 7
-13 Mark Foster DD: 39, DA: 15, GIR: 10, Scr: 32, PA: 9
Both winners ranked second for Greens In regulation, the best scramblers were placed on both occasions and almost all those that filled the places putted well.
Is There an Angle In?
Both the two previous course winners scored well and McGowan went silly low but can we expect the same this time around? After an unseasonably dry and frosty winter the course isn't how the organisers would have wanted it to be and the rough isn't up as much as they would have hoped. With rain falling in the lead up to the event the course should be more receptive than they'd hoped for, so it should yield to some low scoring again.
However, the forecast suggests the rain is going to persist moderately for the first two days and Friday is set to be quite blustery.
Betting to the weather forecasts is a dangerous game but I suspect an early-late draw will turn out to be the more advantageous.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Spaniards don't have a terrific record in the event and since Seve won his third and final Open de España way back in 1995, only three Spaniards have taken the title and they've all been top-drawer. Sergio Garcia won in 2002, Alvaro Quiros in 2010 and Miguel Angel Jimenez's 21st and surely final European Tour title came in this tournament in 2014. If you've picked out a couple of low profile Spaniards, previous results suggest you better think again.
An Englishman has won the last two renewals and British and Irish players have a decent record in this event, and in Spain in general. They were prominent at the track in the two events staged here previously and with a bit of wind and rain in the forecast, they might just fancy their chances again this week.
McGowan was never more than three strokes off the lead and he was always inside the top four places (seven clear with a round to go!) but the runner-up, Mikko Ilonen, was outside the top-100 after round one and 12 strokes back and it was a similar story in this event in 2007...
Schwartzel sat tied for 14th after round one but he was only four off the lead and he was never outside the front four place after that (trailed by three with a round to go) but the runner-up, Jyoti Randhawa sat tied for 109th and nine off the lead after the first round so ground can be made up on that evidence.
Jon Rahm plays in his first Open de España after a brilliant US Masters, where he finished fourth after a really slow start and at around the 4/1 mark he's very short, but I'm not convinced he's too short.
He's only played one European Tour event in his homeland and it didn't end well - he missed the cut at the Andalucía Masters last October but I'm not convinced tight and fiddly Valderrama is an ideal track for him. Whether this one is a perfect fit is debatable too but according to this quote on the European Tour website, he does at least know it well...
"I spent my last two years of high school at Centro Nacional de Golf. I've played the course many times and that was where I formed as a golfer. I'm really looking forward to it and hopefully one day to be the Open de España champion. I haven't played there for six years, so I'm not sure how much will have changed, but I hit it way different than I used to when I played there. I'll be familiar with the golf course but still it will be a little bit different. I have memories of when I was 16 or 17 years old but I hit it longer and I hit it better now, so hopefully the course seems easier than it did back then."
Rahm is a quite extraordinary talent and he's by some distance the best player in the field but 4/1 is short for someone who was in-contention to win his first major just days ago and I'm reluctantly leaving him out.
If the weather forecast pans out and Rahm gets a nice AM/PM draw then I might have a rethink. He could easily make for a good trading vehicle but a word of warning for anyone who does play the favourite - Sergio went odds-on here in 09 when he hit the front but after tying for the lead through 36 holes, he ended up finishing tied for 17th!
Rafa Cabrera-Bello is the other big Spanish name in the event but he's always too short in the market given how seldomly he wins and his record in Spain is far from magnificent. In 34 stroke play events he's finished inside the top-ten only twice and he looks short enough at around the 16.015/1.
Paul Dunne returns to Europe after two cracking efforts on the PGA Tour. He finished eighth at the Houston Open a fortnight ago, a week after finishing fifth at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. He won the Brattish Masters last year on a quirky undulating layout and isn't without a chance. If he holds his form, and there's no reason why he shouldn't, he's a major player in this grade now.
This is a really tough event to bet on. I can't decide whether Rahm's too big or too short, so he's probably about right and it's never easy betting on an event at a venue not used for nine years. And when the venue's new and likely to play differently now it's matured, it becomes an even trickier tournament to assess but I have backed two - Thorbjørn Olesen and Matt Wallace.
Gary Murphy suggested Olesen and I can see why - he's played well at courses that correlate and he's arguably due to win again given the last of his four European Tour wins was now 17 months ago in Turkey. He's a bit in and out form wise but he's a great putter and a solid go to bet in a tricky heat given he wins more regularly than his price implies.
Matt Wallace impressed me immensely in India last time out and I was more than happy to side with him at 50.049/1.
I was going to take a chance on David Horsey but I sat and stared at the 100.099/1 offer too long and someone else sensibly grabbed. I might try and back him before the off if he drifts but in a difficult heat, I'm more than happy to start out with just two picks.
Thorbjørn Olesen @ 48.047/1
Matt Wallace @ 50.049/1
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
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