After a fortnight in the UK, the European Tour moves south again for the Open de España this week. Read our man's take on the event ahead of Thursday's start here...
"Sergio’s record in his homeland is very good. He’s played in Spain 45 times previously and he’s won here on seven occasions."
The Open de España dates all the way back to 1912 and apart from 2017, when it was missing from the schedule, it's been a regular on the European Tour since its inception in 1972. The event was staged in April last year and won by Jon Rahm.
Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, Madrid
Par 71, 7,112 yards
The Club de Campo Villa de Madrid is a traditional inland course that sits 2,500 feet above sea level. It's a hilly course with sloping tree-lined fairways and well-bunkered, undulating greens.
Club de Campo Villa de Madrid was last seen on the European Tour back in 2008 when it hosted the first of four editions of the now defunct Madrid Masters, won by Charl Schwartzel. It was also the venue for the now defunct Open de Madrid between 2001 and 2005 and it also hosted this event in 1996, as well as the final edition of another now defunct event, the Turespaña Masters in 2000.
It's a short track and in benign conditions, it can succumb to some very low scores. Ivo Giner shot 60 here in round two of the Open de Madrid in 2005.
Our own Dave Tindall has been speaking to Spanish pro, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, and he's told Dave that the course has been lengthened a bit since we last saw it.
"The course is in great condition. They added some length to it. I would say 30 yards on the 1st and 2nd, 13 and 17 are longer as well. Does it play harder? I don't think so, given the changes in technology since 2008. The course is in great shape - a little soft as, in the summer, they have to put a lot of water on the fairways and greens. I think the scoring is going to be low, maybe similar to the last time here (-19). I think it's going to be a two-man race between Jon and Sergio." Gonzo also added. "Not too much rough".
It doesn't sound too tricky, so after his moaning on Sunday, about how easily the courses are set up on the European Tour, let's hope Rory McIlroy isn't watching this week!
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 11:00 on Thursday UK time
Last Five Winners
2012 - Jon Rahm - 20
2017 - No Tournament
2016 - Andrew Johnston +1
2015 - James Morrison -10
2014 - Miguel Angel Jimenez -4 (playoff)
2013 - Raphael Jacquelin -5 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Open de España?
Here's the last eight course winners, together with their winning scores and whatever stats I could obtain.
2008 Madrid Masters
Charl Schwartzel -19 DD: 21, DA: 10, GIR: 2, Scr: 6, PA: 20
2005 Open de Madrid
Raphael Jacquelin -23 DD: 10, DA: 23, GIR: 34, Scr: 10, PA: 1
2004 Open de Madrid
Richard Sterne -18 DD: 2, DA: 61, GIR: 22, Scr: 14, PA: 5
2003 Open de Madrid
Ricardo Gonzalez -14 DD: 4, DA: 66, GIR: 10, Scr: n/a, PA: n/a
2002 Open de Madrid
Steen Tinning -19 DD: 60, DA: 1, GIR: 2, Scr: n/a, PA: n/a
2001 Open de Madrid
Retief Goosen -20 DD: 26, DA: 55, GIR: 1, Scr: n/a, PA: n/a
2000 Turespaña Masters
Padraig Harrington -17 DD: 13, DA: 94, GIR: 19, Scr: n/a, PA: n/a
1996 Open de España
Padraig Harrington -16 No Stats
DD = Diving Distance
DA = Driving Accuracy
GIR = Greens In Regulation
Scr = Scrambling
PA = Putting Average
Some winners have been long off the tee and others accurate so I'd ignore the driving stats. Greens in Regulation and Scrambling look more important than either of the driving metrics but it isn't easy with such limited information available.
There are no Putting Average stats available for the first results but that looks a key stat. Schwartzel only ranked 20th in 2008 but Pablo Larrazabal finished third, ranking first for PA, and Paul Waring finished sixth, ranking second.
Is There an Angle In?
It's a real shame we haven't played here more recently as course form used to stand up really well. Padraig Harrington won here twice and he was second behind Ricardo Gonzalez and Gonzalez was second to Charl Schwartzel in 2008. Rafael Jacquelin was fourth the year before he won here, Retief Goosen has course form figures reading 11-1-7, Brian Davis finished third in 2001 and second in 2002 and Paul Lawrie played here six times and finished inside the top-six three times. The form will be quite old now but a previous high finish looks like quite a plus and it's something to consider if we come back again soon.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Although Jon Rahm took the title last year, 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 four Spaniards have taken the title and they've all been straight out of the top-drawer. In addition to Rahm, Sergio Garcia won it 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 two of the last three renewals and British and Irish players have a decent record in this event but three South Africans have won at this venue.
Retief Goosen was the 9/1 favourite when he won here in 2001 but Charl Schwartzel wasn't particularly well-fancied in 2008 and the four winners in-between those two all went off at triple-figure prices.
The last two course winners were within two of the lead after round one and in front after rounds two and three and Padraig Harrington was never headed after 36 holes in both 1996 and 2000. The majority of course winners have been up with the pace from the halfway stage but Gonzalez and Richard Sterne trailed by six after round one when they won and Gonzalez trailed by 11 at halfway and by six with a round to go, so a slow start has been overcome here.
Jon Rahm was a very strong 4/1 favourite when winning last year and he's even shorter this time around. It's hard to argue that he's too short but there are negatives that put me off. Defending any title is hard, defending your national title is harder still, and we have to go all the way back to the 1940s to find the last player to defend this particular one.
Rahm has a tremendous record on the European Tour and his form has been excellent since he finished third at the US Open in June (up until last week, 13th at the Tour Championship was his worst performance all summer) so anyone siding with him has to decide whether we can forgive last week's missed cut or not.
It's also worth highlighting that he'd played a lot of golf around last year's venue as a youngster. I haven't been able to ascertain how well he knows this venue.
Sergio Garcia has been around long enough to have played here three times previously and his first visit was way back in 1996 - in his second appearance on the European Tour, having only just turned 16. He finished down the field in 49th but he'd sat fourth and just two off the lead after round one. He was a never-in-contention 25th here four years later and he finished sixth here in 2003 but that could have been better. He opened up with a 64 to sit second, trailing by just a stroke, but a pair of 71s saw him slip to 10th before a rallying 67 on Sunday saw him beaten by just three strokes.
Sergio's record in his homeland is very good. He's played in Spain 45 times previously and he's won here on seven occasions. He won the KLM Open last time out so he's looking to win back-to-back but that doesn't concern me. He's done it before and he usually plays very well after a victory. His finishing positions in his next start after his last 16 wins (reading backwards) have been second, 32nd, fourth, 30th, 49th, fifth, 11th, fourth, ninth, 19th, second, third, 11th, first, eighth and fourth. His worst finish was 49th at the Players Championship, after he'd won the US Masters and that's certainly understandable.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello is the only other really high-class player in the field but he's very easy to dismiss at the prices given he simply doesn't win often enough. He missed the cut here in 2002 and was 10th in 2008 so he does have some course form in the book.
Sergio Garcia is no bigger than 6/1 on the High Street and nor should he be. He has an excellent chance and I was quite happy to take [9.6] on the exchange.
I quite like a spike in form from seemingly nowhere as the market is often too slow to react so I was also happy to take a triple-figure price about multiple European Tour winner, Jeunghun Wang, who finished fifth last week in Scotland.
I'm interested in a couple of others but I'm yet to get matched so I'll update Twitter if and when the wagers are struck.
Sergio Garcia @ [9.6]
Jeunghun Wang @ [110.0]
I'll be back later with my Shriners Hospitals for Children Open preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter