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If the Masters signifies the true start of the golfing season for many golfers and punters alike then the European Tour finally reaching European soil must mean that we're approaching the more eagerly anticipate events on the calendar this side of the Atlantic. Our visit to the continent is just a brief sojourn however as the next 2 weeks take us back to more distant climes with China and Morocco on the agenda before we return to Sicily for the Rocco Forte Open in a month's time following the GolfSixes weekend team affair.
With the Spanish Open slipping off of the schedule last year, Andrew Johnston is back to defend the title that he ground out at Valderrama in 2016, however this time we're moving to a different track - the Centro Nacional de Golf - a course that Jon Rahm got to know very well during his final 2 years of school that he spent locally. The course was last used for this event in 2007 when Charl Schwartzel captured his 2nd European Tour title by a stroke over Jyoti Randhawa with a 16-under total (final leaderboard here), however it's also hosted the 2009 Madrid Masters won by Ross McGowan at 25-under (final leaderboard here) as well as the Challenge de Espana in 2006 on the Challenge Tour won by Adrien Mork at 17-under (final leaderboard here).
World No.4 Jon Rahm, fresh from his 4th place finish at Augusta, is the red-hot favourite to win this week as he chalks off another European Tour start ahead of his Ryder Cup debut in September. 4/1 is the best price you'll get about the 23 year-old to win here this week in familiar surroundings, however a supporting cast containing Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Paul Dunne, George Coetzee, Pablo Larrazabal and defending champion Andrew Johnston shouldn't be written off just yet given the mental and physical demands that the Masters may have had on the market-leader.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the RBC Heritage - you can read his thoughts on this event here.
Centro Nacional de Golf, Madrid Spain. Designer: David Thomas and Alfonso Vidaor, 2005; Course Type: Exposed; Par: 72; Length: 7,096 yards; Fairways: Rye/Poa Rough: Fescue/Rye; Greens: Creeping Bentgrass 10'0" on the stimp.
Course Overview. The course here at CNG is a 7,096 yard, par 72 which opened in 2006 and features outstanding views of the Spanish capital. From its tips the layout measures 7,244 yards, however with multiple teeing options I'd expect to see some variation on the length from day to day, however suffice it to say that this isn't a long track by modern standards as it also sits at a moderate level of altitude.
Exposed and with a linksy aesthetic feel with fescue rough flanking the fairways and no trees, the home of the Spanish Golf Federation isn't as tough as many of the tracks that we see used for the Spanish Open and in benign conditions it's proven to be a birdie-fest in the past, as was evidenced by Ross McGowan's 25-under total at the Madrid Masters the last time it was used. With a dry, cold winter the rough has needed to have a significant helping hand to get to tournament standard so it remains to be seen just how penal it is and with pre-event rain softening fairways and greens we could have a fairly wide and attackable course this week.
Both 9s start with birdie or eagle chances with mid-length par 5s and with a further two attackable par 5s on the card, the more aggressive players should be licking their lips, particularly if it does play soft. 4 further sub-400 yard par 4s present scoring opportunities to the whole field and the most challenging aspect of the course is likely to be the par 3s unless the wind really happens to get up this week. The greens are bentgrass and designed to be played firm and fast, however the wet weather could well slow them down and make them more receptive this week.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Open de Espana that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event. Please note, the 2007 event was the only time that the CNG hosted this event : 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: Andrew Johnston, 100/1; 2015: James Morrison, 225/1; 2014: Miguel Angel Jimenez, 22/1; 2013: Raphael Jacquelin, 55/1; 2012: Francesco Molinari, 16/1; 2011: Thomas Aiken, 45/1; 2010: Alvaro Quiros, 18/1 . For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 7 years based on the 2017 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Madrid is here. A wet lead-up to the event will have softened the course and more cool, showery weather is expected throughout the event. The rainclouds will gather during Thursday's play with afternoon drizzle expected to accompany top temperatures around the low 50s Fahrenheit. Friday will be similar and it will feel more like northern Europe than Spain, before conditions improve a little over the weekend and temperatures slowly start to rise. Wind speeds of between 5-10mph shouldn't pose too much of a problem, however the breeze is likely to be exacerbated on this exposed layout.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the top 3 finishers from the European Tour events held here last decade give us a little insight into this test:
Conditions were trickier in 2007 than 2009 with more wind and cooler conditions which resulted in a marked difference in winning totals, however it certainly wasn't a grind on either occasion. GIR numbers were generally high for the whole field and a combination of better-than-average GIR stats and a strong performance on and around the greens looks the most likely winning formula.
Incoming Form: Looking at the Spanish Open since 2010 at its various different venues, the incoming form of all eventual winners is solid if unspectacular. Each player had recorded a top-10 finish or better in their previous 10 starts, however only Miguel Angel Jimenez came into the week with any immediate sparkling form having finished 4th on his previous start at Augusta, albeit a few weeks beforehand:
Event Form. The nomadic nature of the Spanish Open renders most of the event form as background information only rather than anything tangible, especially seeing as the tracks vary quite considerably in style from year to year. All winners since 2010 had played at least one Spanish Open in the past, however their results in the event had been pretty varied:
Although there are some results to analyse from past events here, the European Tour hasn't visited this track in nearly a decade and we're relying mostly on specification this week in truth. An exposed layout that relies on the wind to protect it first and foremost will be straightforward if it plays soft and the wind speeds won't trouble the professionals if the forecast proves to be accurate. The main challenge may well be the rain if it becomes persistent alongside cooler temperatures, so siding with players who are more comfortable in those sorts of conditions could well be the key.
In soft conditions in 2009, rounds of 60, 62 and 4 rounds of 63 were recorded at various points in the week and clearly this track is extremely scoreable in perfect conditions. The par 5s are there for the taking and must be scored heavily upon, however the tournament is likely to be won or lost on a player's ability to produce red numbers on the par 4s. 2007 was also played in soft conditions, however rain plagued the event itself and if similar conditions prevail this week - which seems likely given the weather forecast - then perhaps that event is a better indicator of a likely winning score.
My selections are as follows:
Building a tenuous case this week to oppose Jon Rahm isn't easy as he's by far the most likely winner of this event given his local ties and superior game to the vast majority of this week's field, however at 4/1 at best it would be an all-in job which carries more risk than potential reward in my view. The Spaniard has a decent record the week after Major championships without actually winning, however it would surprise nobody if he walked away with this title in similar fashion to the way he blew the field away at last year's Irish Open.
After a sluggish start at Augusta, the world No.4 worked his way through the field and wasn't without a chance standing on the 15th tee, however it wasn't to be this year - there's no reason to suggest he won't put that right in years to come though. If he's going to win here then he needs to put the physical and mental exertions of last week behind him and quickly adjust to a course where wet weather is likely to render the green speeds to 4 feet slower than last week and that's easier said than done. Tenuous as I say, however I can't back him at the price on offer.
One player who will likely have watched his last Masters on TV for the foreseeable future is Paul Dunne and he should be licking his lips at this week's test as he looks to continue his rise through the world rankings. Whether making the Ryder Cup team is beyond his grasp even at this relatively early stage is debatable, however more pressing matters are to improve on his OWGR position of 75th in the short term as he looks to gain access to the biggest events on golf's global circuit. An exposed layout that will likely be played in conditions more in keeping with his Dublin upbringing than Spain is right up his alley and, as conditions improve over the weekend, we know from experience that he can get the kind of hot round going as he did to close out the British Masters last season that could see him over the line once again here.
Although he was named as an alternate for the RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour this week, the 25 year-old has committed to this event and is entered into next week's Trophee Hassan II in Morocco - that speaks volumes with a top-10 exemption in his pocket for the PGA Tour following impressive finishes of 5th and 8th at the Corales Championship and Houston Open respectively, the latter of which was in a significantly higher grade than this. Putting is the Irishman's key strength, however it was interesting to see him rank 7th for GIR at the aforementioned Corales Championship and if his irons are even approaching their best this week he has to go close. A chilly, inclement start to the event won't bother Paul - his eye-catching efforts at the 2015 Open Championship and Dunhill Links were both in sub-60 Fahrenheit conditions, as was his explosive closing round at Close House in October - and everything points to him giving Rahm a run for his money here this week at more than 5 times the price. Result: 2nd
Rafa Cabrera-Bello was the only other player in attendance here this week to make the cut at Augusta, eventually finishing 38th (Yusaku Miyazato missed the cut), however of more interest to me this week are a couple of mid-priced players:
First up Thorbjorn Olesen who, like many of the players here, has had an extended break over the past few weeks due to the WGC and Masters and was last seen missing the cut in Qatar. The talented Dane was a best-priced 16/1 for that event following a prominent performance at the Super 6 in Perth where he'd finished 2nd in the 3-round strokeplay event before losing in the round of 16, however as is his way, his performance the following outing left a little to be desired. At a more backable price this week though he's worth a chance in my view as we know he's more than capable of finding his form on any given week and an exposed layout that should be won or lost on the greens over the weekend is where I see him at his most competitive. Although it's a stretch to consider this course links-like in anything other than its aesthetics, what it does share with some links events is low temperatures and inclement conditions on an exposed layout and to that end Olesen's 2015 Alfred Dunhill Links victory in dank conditions should be seen as a positive, plus hailing from Denmark he'll be more accustomed than most with the chilly conditions over the first couple of days. Like Dunne, we also know that the 28 year-old is an excellent putter and a streaky birdie-maker which may well be critical over what's likely to a low-scoring weekend and with putting averages of 1.63 at the Dubai Desert Classic and 1.68 at the Super 6 he doesn't seem too far away with the flat stick at present. Result: T46
Like Paul Dunne, another player who's impressed recently on the PGA Tour is Sam Horsfield and this talented 21 year-old will likely be picking up his first piece of silverware before too long. The Manchester lad went to college in Florida and holds credible aspirations of playing on the PGA Tour and, after finishing 14th at the high-class Arnold Palmer Invitational on his last start, who's to say that dream won't become a reality in the near future? That effort at Bay Hill shouldn't have been a total surprise given that he'd finished 4th overall at the Super 6 in Perth and 2nd behind George Coetzee at the Tshwane Open and an aggressive style coupled with a strong game on and around the greens would seem to be an ideal fit here on a course where very few have an advantage over him in terms of competitive experience. Horsfield's last effort on Spanish soil saw him victorious at European Tour Q-School by an impressive 8 strokes and although we're still learning about him as a golfer, I'm happy to take a chance on him here this week in conditions that he'll have experienced many a time during his formative golfing years. Result: MC
Links purists will undoubtedly baulk at the CNG being used in the same sentence as the word, however we saw in Oman that even manufactured courses that attempt to recreate some features or aesthetics of their genuine counterparts can bring the best out of players with a liking for that style of golf. Matthew Southgate was on my team in Oman on a layout that shared some linksy features and the 29 year-old co-led going into the final day before producing a heart-breaking (for me anyway) round of 75 to drop out of the each-way places. He'll be better for the experience though and I'm prepared to take a chance that the exposed nature of this course will once again bring the best out of the Southend man. It's hard not to like Southgate who has an incredible background story having recovered from cancer and who comes across very well when featuring on the golf TV coverage and despite an indifferent looking season to date, there are signs - particularly with his irons - that his game's not far away at all. 12th and 6th at the last two Open Championships is form that most in this field will never get close to in their respective careers and 2nd behind Jon Rahm last July at Portstewart at the Irish Open also gives a further validation of his credentials. Southgate's history suggests that he's very hit-or-miss and missed cuts are equally (or more) likely than a decent performance most weeks, however at the price on offer I'm happy to take the risk on him here this week on a layout that should suit. Result: WD Pre-Event
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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