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This week's event takes us to Castellón, a province on the East coast of Spain just north of Valencia. The Club de Campo del Mediterráneo, Sergio Garcia's home club and the course which he grew up on, hosts this tournament for the fourth successive year and the local hero is once again gracing us with his presence. Despite not playing for a month since he exited the PGA Tour Playoffs at Cog Hill, Garcia is still the favourite to win this event for the second time (best priced 8/1 with Paddy Power) - very short in my opinion for a player who hasn't won for nearly 3 years...that said, it's always dangerous to write off a man of his calibre on a course that he knows like the back of his hand.
So what do we know? The course is a 7,073 yard, par 71 parkland-style course set a few kilometres from the Mediterranean coastline in a small valley. Most holes are tree-lined and there are just 4 artificial water features which come into play on what is generally a flat course. The greens are bentgrass and are due to be running at around 10'6" by Thursday. The winner from the last 3 years has been inside the top 5 for putts per GIR and top 10 for total putts on the week - someone who's in good recent form with the flat stick is definitely required here.
On paper, the course isn't overly demanding: 5 of the par 4s are well inside 400 yards which present opportunities to the longer hitters with a good wedge game. However, this is a second-shot course with small tricky greens requiring accurate irons - meaning you need to be in the fairway to be able to find the putting surface. Despite the relatively wet summer in Northern Europe, the south of Spain hasn't seen any rain for 3 months and the fairways will be running fast and firm - putting an extra premium on accurate driving in my opinion.
The talk of the tournament is no doubt going to be about the European Tour's 'young blood' with Matteo Manassero defending his title and Tom Lewis playing after last week's outstanding victory on only his 3rd professional start. The youngsters play in the marquee 3-ball with Garcia meaning that the rest of the field can get on with their golf....my 10 points then are as follows:
The former European Amateur Champion and 3-time winner on the European Tour became a more recognised figure following his runners-up finish behind GMac at Pebble Beach 18 months or so ago, however it his most recent form that gets him the nod here. The Frenchman is having his best season with the driver for many a year currently sitting inside the top 40 on Tour - a huge improvement for the 34 year old and one which will set him in good stead here as he looks to set up birdie opportunities from the fairway.
Havret ranked 9th in the field last week for accuracy which, when coupled with an excellent week on the greens, helped catapult him up to a share of 3rd with a faultless final round 64. All the more impressive as low-scoring resort courses aren't usually his strongest suit. Further top 10s this season in Barcelona, China and India demonstrate the Frenchman's versatility on different course types and putting surfaces and a switch from the attacking style of Vilamoura to a slightly more cautious approach here won't worry him, especially as all of his wins on Tour have come with a winning score of between 14-20 under (perfect for this) and his 2007 win at Lomond came off the back of a 3rd place finish the previous week. RESULT: T11
Despite being a maiden on Tour, the talented Italian has got himself over the line 3 times as a professional on the Alps Tour and it's only a matter of time before he breaks his duck on the European Tour. Having missed just 4 cuts all season and finding himself inside the Each Way money positions on 5 separate occasions in 2011, Gagli is playing some exceptional golf and this could be the week for his consistency to be finally rewarded on a course that will suit his exceptional tee-to-green game as it did with Matteo Manassero last year.
Last week's 29th place finish looks disappointing on paper as Lorenzo struggled to a Sunday 75 after rounds of 69/66/66 had put him into a contending position, hot on the heels of his runners-up finish in Madrid the week earlier, however that poor final round can be put down to the Italian feeling under the weather with flu - with a few days R&R under his belt and a recent switch to the belly putter this could well be his week. RESULT: T27
Irish golf fans have been expecting much of the talented 24 year old since he burst onto the scene with his Irish Open win whilst still an amateur back in 2009. Having won in atrocious conditions this instantly put Lowry down as a 'tough weather player' in many people's estimation, however I beg to differ as I can easily see him contending in the Spanish sunshine this week.
Four rounds in the 60s in Portugal produced a 16th place finish for the man from County Offaly - progressive form after finishes of 65/45 on his 2 previous starts. Once his form starts to improve he can quickly gain momentum as a form line of 13/11/5/4 earlier in the season demonstrates - that 4th place finish was at Wentworth and provided Lowry with his biggest cheque of 2011 and guaranteeing his card for 2012. However, at 62nd on the Race To Dubai, the big Irish lad will have eyes on a ticket to Dubai and this represents a great opportunity to secure his seat on the plane in December. RESULT: M/C
Austrian Wiesberger (no, that's not this week's special at Burger King!) is fast becoming a player worth following on the European Tour as he gets to grips with golf at this level at the second attempt after a tough first attempt in 2009. He's still pretty much under the radar for most bookies hence his 3-figure price, however with 3 top-5 finishes in his last 8 starts he's well worth a look here. He'll have taken huge positives from his playoff defeat at Gleneagles behind a resurgent Thomas Bjorn, plus a strong performance in front of a home crowd last month will have Bernd riding the crest of a wave for the remainder of this season.
True, this course may not ideally suit the long-hitting aggressive style that his statistics would suggest, however those recent top-5s haven't exactly been on birdie-fest courses and he's clearly got a lot about him. Got off to a cracking start in Portugal with a flawless 65 on Thursday, however couldn't keep that going - eventually finishing 52nd. Quite likely to either miss the cut or earn you a strong each-way payout - at 125/1 I'm winning to take the chance this week.RESULT: M/C
Odds and bookmakers offers correct 19:30BST 18.10.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.