After last week's tragic fiasco in Madeira, the Race to Dubai hits mainland Europe at last with the Open de España - read Steve's in-depth preview here...
“Its 16 years since Thomas Bjorn took this title at El Prat so it’s about time he won it again. He’s got the course form in the book and he showed in the US Masters, where he finished 8th, that he’s no back number just yet.”
Not only have we got ourselves a European Tour event in Europe, we have one with a very decent field. After last week's non-televised 36-hole Madeira Islands Open debacle we move from Portugal to Spain for the first live European Tour event of the year and the Race to Dubai stays in Europe now until we get to late October.
The Open de España was the every first official European Tour event in 1972 and, having been in existence since 1912, it's one of the oldest events in the world.
The Stadium Course, PGA Catalunya Resort, Girona, Spain
Par 72, 7,333 yards
Stroke index in 2009 - 71.53
The PGA Catalunya resort has two courses (named Tour and Stadium) and it opened in 1999. The Stadium Course staged the Sarazen World Open in the year that it opened, which was won by Thomas Bjorn and a year later it hosted this event, won by Brian Davis. Designed by Ryder Cupper, Neil Coles, and former Tour pro, Angel Gallardo, it was again the host course in 2009 and it's also hosted the European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage since 2008. With the addition of seven new tees, the course was lengthened in 2012. It's a tough undulating tree-lined course with water in-play on seven holes. The greens will run at around 10.5 on the stimpmeter.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - 10:30 and 14:30 on Thursday and Friday, 12:30 on Saturday and 12:00 on Sunday
Last Five Winners
2013 - Raphael Jacquelin
2012 - Francesco Molinari
2011 - Thomas Aiken
2010 - Alvaro Quiros (playoff)
2009 - Thomas Levet
What will it take to win the Open de España?
Hitting greens with regularity has been the key to success here in the past. In the Sarazen World Open, Bjorn ranked 12th for GIR and three of the first seven home ranked 7th or better. In 2000, 3rd placed Peter Baker and 6th placed Gary Orr hit more greens than anyone else and in 2009, the winner, Thomas Levet, and Bjorn, who finished 3rd, tied 2nd for greens hit.
Is there an angle in?
We don't have much of it to analyse but what course form we do have shows that a good previous performance here is a big plus. Thomas Bjorn has a win and a third from just three starts, Fabrizio Zanotti finished runner-up to Levet in 2009 and then again here at Q-School last year and the man that beat him, Carlos Del-Moral, will be delighted his national Open is to be staged here - he's also finished runner-up at Q-School twice here, in 2008 and 2010. And in-form Andy Sullivan will be on a few shortlists - he's played Q-School here twice and finished third on both occasions (2011 and 2012).
Is there an identikit winner?
The vast majority of Open de España winners are not Spanish and given their usually strong representation, the record of the host nation's contingency is very poor. Seve Ballesteros claimed the title three times but in the 18 years since the great mans third and final triumph, in 1995, only two Spaniards have won it - this week's favourite, Sergio Garcia, in 2002, and Alvaro Quiros, in 2010.
If we split the card in two, into the easiest nine and the hardest, seven of the nine easiest holes come on the front-nine so if you're playing in-running over the first two days bear that in mind. The two par fives on the back-nine, holes 12 and 15 ranked the 1st and 3rd easiest in 2009 but once through the 8th hole, barring those two holes, it's tougher to score than it is early on.
We really don't have a lot to go but both Bjorn and Levet were both up with the pace all the way so it might be sensible to concentrate on the early leaders. Bjorn sat 2nd, a stroke off the lead after rounds one and two and was in front with a round to go and Levet trailed by one after day one but led all the way thereafter.
Other than his disappointing missed cut at Augusta, Sergio Garcia has been in very good form this season. He won in Qatar back in January, was 8th at the Honda Classic and he finished 3rd at the Players Championship on Sunday. He won back-to back weeks in Spain back in 2011 and he does play well here.
I wouldn't want to put anyone off him as he looks highly likely to contend on a course he loves and where the Sergio Garcia Foundation is based but with the record Spaniards have in the event such a big negative, he's not for me at just 6.411/2.
Francesco Molinari is also in fine form but I really don't understand why anyone would want to back him at just 17.016/1. His last victory came in this event two years ago but that was thanks at least in some part to a poor final round from third round leader, Simon Dyson. Molinari has a terrible in-contention record and yet he always very popular in the market. Could easily contend but he's only ever worth considering from way off the pace on Sundays.
Having finished a sensational 4th at the US Masters, Miguel Angel Jimenez made a successful Champions Tour debut the following week, beating Bernhard Langer by two strokes. We've not seen the legendary Spanish veteran since that success a month ago though so it's anybody's guess how well he'll play here. He has a 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finish to his name in this event but the victory he must so want has so far eluded him and one could argue that the pressure of wanting it is starting to bite. He finished a never in the hunt 46th in 2011 and he's missed the cut in his last two attempts. It would be yet another enthralling chapter in the Jimenez story should he finally win his national title but I think it's too big a deal and I'm happy to leave him out.
Its 16 years since Thomas Bjorn took this title at El Prat so it's about time he won it again. He's got the course form in the book and although he missed the cut at the Players Championship, he showed in the US Masters, where he finished 8th, that he's no back marker just yet. I haven't gone overboard but I thought he was a fair price at 30.029/1.
Richie Ramsay always seems to disappoint me whenever I back him but given his fine record in Spain (finished top-3 three times in his last five starts), the fact the course should really suit (even though he missed the cut here in 2009) and that he has Mrs Ramsay to keep him relaxed and happy, I'm giving him one last go at a juicy price.
The remaining picks are those already mentioned with fine course form.
Thomas Bjorn @ 30.029/1
Andy Sullivan @ 90.089/1
Richie Ramsay @ 100.099/1
Fabrizio Zanotti @ 100.099/1
Carlos Del Moral @ 150.0149/1
I'll be back later with my HP Byron Nelson preview.
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