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Turin is the next stop on the European Tour as we take in the BMW Italian Open, repositioned on the European Tour schedule in September after its May/June slot of recent years. This is our fourth successive visit to the Trent Jones Senior-designed Royal Park Golf Club, so we have a bit of recent history to analyse this week and a reasonable field has assembled in the last European Tour event for 3 weeks with a break next week followed by the Ryder Cup the week after. Not surprisingly the Ryder Cup stars in attendance lead the betting with local favourite Francesco Molinari heading all books at a general 8/1; Nicolas Colsaerts (12/1) and Martin Kaymer (22/1) are also prominent in the betting, alongside heavily-backed Thorbjorn Olesen (20/1) who finished like a steam train here last year and has been playing some good golf lately.
The course is a par 72, 7,200+ yard layout and the undulating tree-lined fairways and numerous water hazards demand an element of controlled driving if a player is going to keep out of the most serious trouble, albeit on pretty wide fairways. However it's the putter which has won the day for the last 3 winners - Robert Rock led the field for putts per GIR last year with an excellent total of 1.555; Fredrik Andersson Hed needed just 101 putts in 2010 to secure a 2-shot victory over David Horsey who had identical stats; 2009 winner Daniel Vancsik secured his 6-stroke victory by taking just 1.57 putts per GIR. The excellent bent/poa surface combined with a calm and dry weather forecast (after a final soaking on Wednesday) suggest another low winning total as per the last 3 seasons, something in the high teens/low 20s under par likely to be required in order to lift the trophy on Sunday. Here's my 10 points for this week:
South African Sterne is a top quality player who is well on the way to a return to stardom and headlines my selections in a wide open event. A world top-40 player before his injury woes which plagued his 2010 and 2011 selections, the 5-time European Tour winner is now firmly on the comeback trail and with a ticket to Dubai assured he can now get to work on improving his lowly OWGR ranking of 171st which was heavily impacted by that troublesome back issue. 5 top 10s in 2012 however signals the 31 year-old's intent and 9 consecutive cuts made shows that the right kind of consistency is back in his game to start competing at a higher level.
All 5 of Sterne's European Tour wins have come on bentgrass-based surfaces - not surprising for a South African player - and the bent/poa mix here will suit his excellent putting down to the ground. His aggressive style means birdies are prevalent when he's playing well - those 5 victories were achieved with scores between 263 and 274, plus another couple of wins on the Sunshine Tour in the same region. A winning score here of around 268 (-20) is therefore right in the target range for Richard who finished 8th on his last start in Holland on a course that was a little on the tight side for him. His 2007 victory on the Trent Jones Roman Road course at Celtic Manor is great form for this and whilst it's his course debut I think you'll find he falls in love with this Italian venue from the off. RESULT: T46
Ryder Cup players have a good recent record in the last European outing before the main event - Robert Karlsson won in Germany the week before Valhalla in 2008, Paul Casey won at Wentworth in 2006 and Padraig Harrington won in Cologne the week prior to the Oakland Hills demolition in 2004. Admittedly John Parry ruined that sequence in 2010 but 3 out of the last 4 isn't a bad trend to follow and that puts the onus on Francesco Molinari, Nicolas Colsaerts and Martin Kaymer to oblige here and, of the 3, I favour the Belgian Bomber.
Former World Number 1 Kaymer has slipped all the way down to 32nd after a prolonged period of indifferent form, characterised again last week by a nondescript 21st after a promising start on Thursday - for me this will be more an exercise in him finding some form with the driver ahead of a monster Medinah course which will demand ball-striking form from the bigger hitters. Francesco Molinari is the bookies favourite and with 1 Italian Open title in his locker you can't say he'll be intimidated trying to win in front of a home crowd - I fully expect him to be in the mix, however whether he can make the requisite number of putts throughout the week to accumulate a winning score is my only doubt. That leaves Colsaerts who finished 3rd here on debut in 2010 and who is capable of accumulating a low, low score as his -24 total in China last year proved.
9 top 10s in Europe in 2012 is consistency of the highest order and with 4 of those coming with double-digit under par totals it's fair to say that Nicolas is in the right kind of form to take this kind of course apart. Buoyed by his Ryder Cup debut and boosted by wins from various team-mates over the last few weeks, Colsaerts arrives here with massive confidence that could well see him over the line for a second time in 2012 come Sunday afternoon. RESULT: T5
I had a seriously long look at Pablo Larrazabal for this - the Spaniard is due a win and is putting incredibly well at the moment, however historically he's struggled to raise his game immediately after a near miss and last week's runners-up finish in Holland is actually a negative for me in that respect. I'll keep my powder dry on Pablo and see how he's playing ahead of some of the remaining events after Medinah is done and dusted; instead I'll opt for his compatriot Rafael Cabrera-Bello who will be keen to put in a good show to help soften the blow following his Ryder Cup qualification disappointment.
The 28 year-old has won twice on the European Tour now with totals of -20 (Austria 2009) and -18 (Dubai 2012) - that latter performance was in far loftier company than this and the Spaniard is sure to enjoy the wider format par 72 layout here than in recent weeks. Last year's opening round of 65 wasn't followed up for the remaining 3 days, however that round alone shows that Cabrera-Bello can score heavily on this course and his top-10 finish at Gleneagles on his last start after a prominent first 2 days at Firestone wedged between the last 2 Majors also bodes well. At 46th in the World the Spaniard will be keen to put clear daylight between him and 51st place over the next few weeks to ensure he's playing in all the top events of 2012 - a win here would certainly help achieve that...RESULT: 9th
The last 2 winners of this event at Royal Park GC were breaking their European Tour duck and there's decent scope for a longshot to make the frame this weekend, so here's 3 players who I think each have an outside chance of making the top 5 this week and I'll back each of them half a point each way accordingly:
Scott Jamieson is a player I tend to reserve for lower-scoring par 72s where there's a bit more width available off the tee - this sets up perfectly for the 28 year-old from Glasgow. 46th here last year on debut doesn't leap off the page, however an opening round of 65 showed a lot of promise and he duly delivered an EW place for us a fortnight later at the similarly attacking BMW International Open in Munich at a massive 150/1. 5th in Dubai earlier this term and 4th in Holland has put the Scot on the verge of a ticket to the World Championship at the end of the season as he sits tantalisingly in 61st position - with his game in excellent shape last week he could easily keep that momentum going and contend for a second consecutive tournament at a long price as he seeks his first European Tour title. RESULT: T27
Soren Kjeldsen is a player who many of you will know I've been backing on-and-off for a few weeks now as I'm convinced he's about to do something special. Form of MC/MC/64 is far from special however and reflects his season which has seen 4 top-5 finishes interspersed with some really indifferent performances, however Kjeldsen plays some of his best golf on Trent Jones Senior tracks (he has an outstanding record at Valderrama as well as a 2010 top-3 at Golf de Joyenval and 2nd behind Sterne at Roman Road in 2007) and when his putter clicks he can make a serious number of birdies, as his 20-under total in China behind Colsaerts demonstrates. Well, his putter did click in Holland despite the poor finish and that bodes well as it takes the pressure of his normally excellent tee-to-green game. RESULT: T57
Kristoffer Broberg won't be a name common with the casual observer to the world of golf, however this 26 year-old Swede could be the real deal following the fastest-ever promotion in the history of the European Tour. After 3 wins in 10 weeks on the Nordic League, Broberg then won 3 times in 4 events on the Challenge Tour (5 events in total) to gain instant European Tour status and a top-175 OWGR rank. In typical fashion he missed the cut on his top-tier debut at Crans, however that's not the most straightforward of tracks to make an immediate impression upon and instead I'll back him on the strength of his 75-under par score achieved from those last 4 Challenge Tour events on a course where low scoring is likely. RESULT: T27