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This week we're heading to Monza for the 74° Open D'Italia - the Italian Open to you and me - where the pride of Italian golf awaits a decent quality field from the rest of the European Tour. In a country where the sport of golf continues to grow, this year's renewal sees a strong contingent of local hopes with both Molinari brothers as well as Matteo Manassero, Nino Bertasio and Renato Paratore carrying the hopes of fans plus a smattering of lesser-fancied compatriots to provide the supporting cast.
With the investment in Italian golf growing as the country builds up slowly towards the 2022 Ryder Cup, we're seeing further signs of this accelerated investment from the Italian Golf Federation this week as the event forms part of the inaugural Rolex Series and with it a €7m prize fund which has attracted the likes of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia as headline acts as well as Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood and last week's winner Tyrrell Hatton.
The Italian Open is one of the more established events having started life in 1925 and joining the European Tour right at the start in 1972. Although this has generally been a nomadic event, a relatively late switch in venue this week back to Monza - which has hosted the past 2 renewals - means that we have some tangible course form from the pat 2 years to review for this week.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the CIMB Classic - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Betfair Sportsbook are on their own this week when it comes to offering additional places across both the CIMB Classic and the Italian Open. They are the only bookmaker offering 6 places each-way at 1/5 odds in Malaysia and are also offering 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds at the Monza-hosted Italian Open. Betfair have also just launched a brand new up to £100 of free bets promotion for new customers. You must be over 18, T&Cs apply:
Course Overview. The 7,156 yard, par 71 here at Monza is a classical, parkland affair dating back to 1928. Undulating, tree-lined fairways with various dog-legs lead to small, well guarded bent/poa greens that will prove tricky to hit from anywhere but the fairway. Positioning off the tee is critical with overhanging branches threatening to block out approach shots meaning this event should be a test of strategy and precision over raw power. That said, the par 5s aren't particularly long at 503, 556 and 564 yards so players will certainly be looking to pick up shots on those holes.
The par-4 16th, which was converted from an easy par-5 for last year's event, played as the toughest hole on the course 12 months ago and the 13th, 15th and 18th are also tricky holes to contend with for players looking to keep hold of a good round. Other than that, the course is fairly straightforward with the short par-5 14th reaping a total of 30 eagles on the week. Three of the par-3s measure over 200 yards and these present a little more challenge to the players than normal given their length.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Italian Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event, however as previously noted this year's venue hosted the last 2 year's events only in recent times: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2016: Francesco Molinari, 25/1; 2015: Rikard Karlberg, 70/1; 2014: Hennie Otto, 80/1; 2013: Julien Quesne, 80/1; 2012: Gonzalo Fdez-Castano, 40/1; 2011: Robert Rock, 66/1; 2010: Fredrik Andersson Hed, 66/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 6 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Monza is here. Perfect golfing weather should lead to some excellent scoring with wall-to-wall sunshine expected pretty much throughout, warm temperatures hitting the mid-70s Fahrenheit and virtually no breeze to contend with.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the top two from the past two renewals gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
Fairways aren't particular easy to find here at Monza, however the rough isn't generally that punishing and GIR has tended to be the dominant stat from the two renewals so far here for this event which makes a level of sense given the small greens. Scrambling is also key for those who miss the putting surfaces, however to be compiling a contending score here a player needs to be hitting around 75-80% of putting surfaces in regulation and making their fair share of putts on these bent/poa greens.
Birdies are there to be made in Monza - the top-11 last year made an average of just over 21 gains each on the week - however minimising bogeys is of equal importance on this track and dropping more than a shot per day is likely to take you out of contention unless you're producing an inordinate amount of red numbers. Changing the par-5 16th to a par-4 last year dampened down the importance of par-5 scoring to a degree, however you still need to be birdieing 2 out of 3 of the long holes each day as well as picking up shots elsewhere to keep in touch. Nicolas Colsaerts (unofficially) equalled the European Tour record of eight consecutive birdies with preferred lies in play here in 2015.
Incoming Form. The last 2 winners here at Monza had both shown some recent(ish) if not immediate form coming into the event to suggest that their games were in decent enough shape. 2nd at Le Golf National, 36th at The Open and 22nd at the US PGA Championship was positive form for Molinari, even if his two stateside efforts were less inspiring - clearly a return to more familiar surroundings paid dividends for the Italian. 4 top-14 finishes in 6 starts for Karlberg also suggested his game was in decent shape and in particular his short game had been excellent prior to his win:
Event Form. Perhaps the last two events are the most relevant given we're playing on the same track again this year, however the Italian Open is often played on a similar style layout with tree-lined fairways and small greens. It's interesting to note that three of the past five winners of the Italian Open had already previously won the title in their career and five of the past seven had recorded a top-3 finish or better in this event before their victory. Other multiple winners of this event include Ian Poulter, Bernhard Langer, Sam Torrance and Sandy Lyle and it's clearly an event, or style of event, that can favour the same types of players year after year:
Despite Karlberg's driving accuracy stats when winning here in 2015, I'd still err on the side of accuracy over power this week as we saw 12 months ago when Francesco Molinari delighted the home crowd. Those players who've shown form on classical, tree-lined affairs in the past should be favoured and the ability to find 75% or more of these small greens in regulation is likely to be the pivotal stat this week coupled with a decent week on the greens to maximise gains and minimise enough dropped shots to contend. In comparison to last year, a dry course should put more emphasis on tee-to-green control with fairways and greens likely to play firmer and faster 12 months on, however with a warm, dry weather forecast and barely a breath of wind, this should set up for a low-scoring week overall.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
Two defending champions triumphed last week either side of the Atlantic with Tyrrell Hatton retaining his Dunhill Links title and Brendan Steele keeping hold of the Safeway Open trophy and I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see Francesco Molinari continue that sequence this week on home soil. There's certainly a lot more competition for this year's title with an injection of quality at the top end of the betting, lured by a purse that's more than doubled year-on-year and the event's inclusion in the Rolex Series, however the fact is that this layout suits the home favourite down to the ground.
Last year's tussle with Danny Willett delighted the galleries with Molinari eventually running out the winner by a single shot at 22-under and despite not reaching his own high expectations from tee-to-green, the 34 year-old still ranked inside the top-5 for both driving accuracy and GIR whilst making more than his fair share of putts. A firmer and faster track should only help Molinari's cause as the less accurate players may well find anything slightly offline running into the rough and although that's not a disaster here, it will make getting approach shots close to the flag more of a challenge. Good news then that his long game has looked in pretty good shape of late with 82.1% of fairways found (1st in the field) the most recent highlight at the Dell Technologies Championship at the PGA Tour Playoffs. He struggled on and around the greens that week to finish 61st, however a solid improvement with his short game on his last start saw him finish 12th at the BMW Championship in excellent company and that's strong form coming into this. Talking of strong form, 2nd behind the unstoppable final day effort of Alex Noren at Wentworth and 2nd at Quail Hollow behind Justin Thomas for his best ever Major finish is also a strong indication that his game is in excellent shape overall and that another win is likely when that form coincides with a suitable track such as this.
Despite the efforts of Hatton and Steele last week, defending a title is never easy, however Francesco's best effort in that respect came in Italy back in 2007 when he finished 3rd. 10 years further down the line and with his full focus since the Playoffs finished being on preparing his game for this event, I can see the 4-time European Tour winner making it a hat-trick of Italian Open titles here this week. RESULT: T6
Whilst Jon Rahm has the talent to win on pretty much any type of track he plays, the accurate games of Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood are probably most suited to this course aside from Molinari. However both will need to improve on their recent putting performances to feature here, as will Sergio Garcia who putted poorly when missing the cut last time out at Close House. Alex Noren, at a best priced 28/1, was also tempting given his winning ratio in recent times and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him contend here after his title defence in Newcastle ended before the weekend, however at a longer price I'm willing to give David Lingmerth a chance this week as he looks to fulfil his dream of representing Team Europe at the Ryder Cup.
The Swede has plied his trade on the PGA Tour since graduating from the web.com Tour at the end of 2012, however playing the requisite European Tour events - and getting some big results - is going to be critical if he's to feature on the right side of the qualification line for Thomas Bjorn's team and improving dramatically on his Race To Dubai ranking of 107th is the order of the day if he's going to be taking part in the big events that close the European Tour season. 20th at the Portugal Masters and 4th at the British Masters are good, progressive performances though and that effort at Close House featured his best putting performance since he finished runner-up at the Careerbuilder Challenge at the start of 2016. A 3rd round 62 was the highlight of that effort and in a week where low scoring fuelled by an accurate game from off the tee should be rewarded, Lingmerth's game suits nicely as he's ranked inside the top-16 for driving accuracy on 3 of his last 4 starts and led the field with a massive 91.1% of fairways at the US Open earlier this term. The 30 year-old's only PGA Tour win came at Muirfield Village in 2015 and the classical, tree-lined surroundings with slick bent/poa greens here carry a number of tangible similarities that can only help the talented Swede settle down on his course debut. RESULT: MC
A couple of mid-priced players and a more speculative punt to complete my team this week. First up Hideto Tanihara who impressed enough earlier in the season to get a decent scribble in my notebook and I'm happy to back him here on his return to the European Tour. The Japanese star may be operating in the shadow of his compatriot Hideki Matusyama at present, however at 58th in the OWGR he's a decent player who's more than capable of competing at this kind of level. 14 wins on the Japan Tour don't tell a lie and since he's played a more international schedule in 2017 he's produced some eye-catching results including a semi-final effort at the WGC Match Play, 10th at the Irish Open and most importantly for this week 3rd at Wentworth on his BMW PGA Championship debut. When playing his best golf the 38 year-old is a strong ball-striker who can also putt extremely well - he produced a 1.60 putting average in Surrey - and clearly the weeks that he puts it all together he's a formidable opponent. After a largely disappointing run at the Open Championship, WGC Bridgestone and US PGA Championship where his best result was a tie for 50th, he returned to Japan where confidence has been restored with a 5th place finish at the ANA Open. As an affiliate member of the European Tour, Tanihara has already guaranteed himself a place at the Dubai finale courtesy of his early-season efforts, however with a top-50 OWGR spot beckoning this is a great chance to get himself in the picture for the top events of 2018 with a decent finish here. RESULT: MC
Sitting the other side of the cut mark in terms of DP World Tour Championship qualification is Nacho Elvira who at 75th in the Race To Dubai has a bit of work to do if he's going to be involved at the latter end of this season. That's not to say that the Spaniard has had a disappointing season - far from it, with 9 top-20 finishes recorded thus far and 6 of those in his last 8 starts. For me the 30 year-old is knocking on the door and having come so close to breaking through at this level last year - he lost out in a play-off to Jeung-Hun Wang in Morocco - for me it's only a matter of time before he wins his first European Tour title. Controlled aggression is the way that Nacho approaches his golf and if you can look past his missed cut last week at the Alfred Dunhill Links - a slow, quirky event which undoubtedly doesn't suit everyone - then you'll see some excellent performances with his long game including top-7 Total Driving efforts at the European Masters, Portugal Masters and British Masters and decent Ball-Striking efforts to compliment those figures, highlighted by 2nd on that count in Newcastle. 3rd here at Monza last year was fuelled by 22 birdies and an eagle, plus it came at a point in time when his current form wasn't a patch on how it has been recently. Decent chance here for Nacho to make the frame once again in my opinion. RESULT: T40
Finally I'm taking a punt on Julien Quesne with the 7 place option with Coral. The Frenchman was one of the big market movers for this event last year having arrived with a top-5 finish to his name on his previous start and although a 3rd round 65 had put him in with a squeak of making the each-way places, it wasn't to be as a Sunday round of 70 pushed him down to 30th place overall. Nothing like the same form this year with 6 missed cuts in his last 9 starts, however this is the kind of golf that the Frenchman enjoys and he's that type of inconsistent player who can find his game from seemingly nowhere and produce a contending performance - particularly on tree-lined, classical tracks which clearly suit his eye. A former Italian Open winner at Golf Club Torino (La Mandria) in 2013, the 37 year-old's maiden European Tour win also came on a tree-lined track at Pula and further efforts including 8th and 4th at Wentworth in 2015 and 2016 respectively, 9th at Woburn in 2015 and 5th at Crans last year all bode well for this week. The odd sign of form this season has tended to coincide with a hot putter, however it's when he gets some confidence with his irons that he's dangerous - although 74.1% GIR at the Dunhill Links last week isn't anything outstanding given the size of the greens, that was however his best effort in that respect this season and at the price on offer I'm happy to take a chance that he can build on that this week on a wholly more suitable test given his history. RESULT: T50
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