Back to the European mainland this week and to one of the most established events on the Tour in the shape of the Open de Espana. The tournament itself dates back to 1912 and has been a mainstay on the European Tour schedule since 1972. The defending Champion is the long-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros, however before you go and put your money on a repeat performance this year at a general 14/1 it's worth noting that this title hasn't been successfully defended as part of the European Tour, and it's over 50 years since it was successfully defended in any shape or form...
The course is new to the Tour although the name may sound familiar - the new El Prat course is about 20km outside of Barcelona and was built following the expansion of the Barcelona airport which ran adjacent to the old course. This relocation gave designer Greg Norman a blank canvas and a huge acreage to work upon - the result is a stunning 45-hole complex fit for a top-class event such as this.
As usual with Greg Norman designs, the focus is on playability with the course being described as tough but fair. Norman tends to punish wayward drives and approaches with well-placed bunkers, however those finding the right areas of the fairways and greens will find birdies available on the classy bentgrass surfaces. The front 9 is tree-lined and relatively tight, however the back 9 is much more open and the par-5 18th is there to provide excitement right down to the last.
At a shade under 7,300 yards this course will offer a little more to the longer-hitters, however it's also worth noting that the weekend is likely to be quite breezy following a calm start, so this may level things out a little. The par 5s aren't excessively long and should be just about reachable for the bombers, however there are some strong par 4s of 460+yards and some tricky short holes thrown in for good measure.
My 10 points for this event are as follows:
There were a number of players very close to getting the nod this week - Danny Willett, Johan Edfors, James Morrisson and Alex Noren all just missed out when it came to the crunch. For my top selection I can't look past the Volvo China Open winner who, after a week of partying now that he's finally broken his duck, could take another step towards establishing himself as the potential World-class player that he was touted to be a decade ago.
For me, Colsaerts has the perfect game to succeed here. He's as long as you like off the tee and could demolish the par 5s around here, plus he sits in 4th place for Greens In Regulation - a key stat if you look at the results from other Norman-designed courses around the globe such as the Mayakoba & Valero Texas Open. The Belgian averaged 1.68 putts per GIR on the bentgrass greens of Chengdu on his way to victory and I see no reason why he should begin the second phase of his career with another win. RESULT: T22
With Alvaro Quiros defending (see my note above) and Matteo Mannassero arguably too short off the tee to feature around here, that leaves just Miguel Angel Jimenez out of the favourites who I could realistically consider here as my second pick. Despite a good finish last week, I just can't see The Mechanic featuring here as his record in this event is relatively poor by his standards with just 1 top 10 in his last 7 attempts. Instead I'm going to plump for the 30 year old from Belfast who's running into some good form at present.
Although still a maiden, Maybin did enjoy 2 runners-up finishes in his first year on the full Tour - both of which were on bentgrass putting surfaces. A couple of top 10s already this season in Abu Dhabi and China is encouraging, as is was a solid 13th place finish last week where his tee-to-green game kept him in the mix. Gareth will relish any wind that the weekend can throw at the competitors and could well be in the mix come Sunday. RESULT: Withdrew
There would be nothing more that Spaniard Pablo Martin would like to do than win his national Open in front of a home crowd - he's now approaching the kind of quality and maturity as a player where that's a distinct possibility as opposed to a dream. Inconsistent as always, Pablo has finishes of 1st and 2nd this season then nothing better than 40th....last week's missed cut after his runners-up finish in China is pretty typical! After a weekend off to recuperate, I suspect we'll see a positive Pablo Martin emerge from the blocks this week... RESULT: M/C
I've always had George Coetzee marked down as a long bomber with an excellent putting stroke, however often let down by some errant irons and pitches. In recent times Coetzee has learned to tame him driver a little, however, meaning that more fairways - and ultimately greens - are being found, giving him a chance to put his putter to better use. 2 top 10s already this season in Joburg and Morocco is an excellent return from 7 events and, after a fortnight's rest, I'm expecting George to enjoy this and reward us with a prominent performance. RESULT: M/C
After developing a debilitating fear of flying last year, the 25 year-old rookie has to take his chances in events such as this which he can travel to by car or train. So bad is his phobia that he actually quit professional golf last year before changing his mind and eventually winning his card through Q school. From his 3 starts this season he's finished MC/8/11 and clearly has something about him - at a very long price I won't be at all surprised to see him at the right end of the leaderboard this week. RESULT: T41
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:45BST 3.5.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
Finally, we run a weekly competition on our facebook group where you can win a £25 free bet with Paddy Power simply by predicting who will win each week’s events – it’s great fun and free to join, here’s a link to the page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/254181393361