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 has been a mainstay on the European Tour schedule since 1972 and this year will mark its centenary as an event after the first ever Open de Espana was hosted back in 1912. If that wasn't encouragement enough for a local player to win, Monday will also mark the first anniversary of the passing of Seve Ballesteros so I expect we're in for a fascinating, emotional and nostalgic tournament this week in Seville.
The defending Champion is the talented South African Thomas Aiken who finally broke his duck on a different course in Barcelona last year, however before you go and put your money on a repeat performance this year at a best-priced 60/1 it's worth noting that this title hasn't yet been successfully defended as part of the European Tour, and it is over 50 years since it was successfully defended in any shape or form by any player...
This event hops around a bit in terms of venue, and this year we return to the Real Club de Golf de Sevilla which hosted the 2010 (click here for the leaderboard) and 2008 (click here for the leaderboard) renewals won by Alvaro Quiros and Peter Lawrie respectively. 2 very different players you'll notice, suggesting that there's no single formula for success around these parts - however you will need to putt well on the 12-stimp bent/poa greens which certainly won't be to everybody's taste.
The 7,134 yard, par 72 was designed by Jose Maria Olazabel and is another course which presents a fair challenge to the top golfers without being excessive in terms of length. Recent rain has softened both fairways and greens, so holding the fairways and firing at pins will be the order of the day, however the penalties for missing the short stuff are severe with thick, penal rough lurking just off the straight and narrow. The fairways on 5 of the holes have also been narrowed since Quiros' victory and I'd expect the more accurate players to gravitate to the top over the course of the 4 days.
The weather forecast is poor for the first 3 days with rain expected on each day and moderate breezes picking up during the course of each afternoon before easing somewhat for a more typically Spanish final day. My selections are as follows:
I'm going to stick with The Mechanic for a second consecutive week after his tie for 5th last week in South Korea earned us a skinny each way profit, disappointingly halved by a bogey at his 72nd hole of the week. That bogey was just his third of the week and first since the 4th hole of round 1, meaning he'd gone a massive 67 holes bogey-free before then - very impressive indeed and that kind of patient, consistent play is in order again this week I feel.
Miguel's scrambling in particular was outstanding last week and that could well prove to be a telling part of the game in Seville with soggy, lush rough awaiting any missed fairways and greens. His driving was also immaculate as he hit 84% of fairways on the week (ranked 4th in the field) and if he can make a few more putts then we could well find Jimenez sitting atop the leaderboard on Sunday evening for what would be his first Spanish Open title after finishing 17/14/4 on this course in his last 4 attempts (the 14th was at the 2009 Open de Andalucia - click here for the leaderboard) RESULT: M/C
The early 40/1 about Kjeldsen repeating his 2009 Open de Andalucia victory on this course disappeared quickly on Monday, however the remaining offers of 30/1 are still well worth taking as the Dane's game fits this course like a glove. That 3-shot victory in 2009 was Soren's 3rd and most recent victory on the European Tour and he's certainly got the ability to improve on that haul of trophies over the coming few years, potentially starting this week as looks to build on an excellent run of form over the last 3 months which hasn't seen him finish outside the top 30 since Qatar at the beginning of February.
Kjeldsen in 2012 is hitting more fairways and more greens than ever before and it's only a case of the putter warming slightly and he'll find himself on top of the leaderboard. In China we ranked second in the field for accuracy off the tee; last week in South Korea he ranked 3rd - he's clearly striking the ball very, very well at the moment and there's nothing like returning to the scene of an old victory to boost the morale and get those all-important putts dropping. RESULT: T2
The 50/1 offered on the Dubai Desert Classic champion is once again unmissable after securing us an each-way payout at an identical price a few weeks back in Malaysia - as before I think the bookies are underestimating his chances here, particularly with a home crowd cheering him and his compatriots on this week.
Like Malaysia, this course isn't long and what was most encouraging about Rafa's play that week was his driving where he hit a massive 79% of fairways (3rd in the field) - an area of his game that he's clearly been working on. His best finish in a Spanish Open was 6th back in 2009 when in something of a purple patch of form - he's a much more accomplished player now with 2 wins under his belt and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him back in the mix this week. RESULT: T27
Aussie Green is one of the straightest hitters on Tour and should be respected on tight courses when he's in decent enough form, therefore he's an obvious choice to me this week. The 3-time winner on the European Tour needs a decent season as his 2-year exemption runs out at the end of the year following his 2010 Portugal Masters victory, and top-11 finishes in both Sicily and China have given him a decent platform from which to build as we head into the meat of the season.
In his last 3 events he's ranked 6/13/10 in terms of accuracy off the tee and, as with my other selections, that kind of form with the driver is enough to attract my attention for this. He's also finding plenty of greens in recent weeks, so the missing link of course is the putter - well good news, that picked up dramatically on his last start in China where he averaged under 1.7 putts per GIR and took 12 less putts than the week before in Malaysia. A return to bentgrass in China could well have been the answer as his best recent performances have been on bent or bent/poa. If he maintains his putting performance from China then his accuracy dictates he'll be in the mix this week at a long price. RESULT: T12
I couldn't resist throwing in a couple of longshots this week to finish my selections, both of whom have a far better chance in my opinion than the 3-figure prices that have been chalked up by some of the popular bookmakers.
Graeme Storm loves bent/poa putting surfaces judging by his results in recent times - he led the field for putting at the Open de Anaducia on a very similar surface in March, plus 5th at the Iberdrola Open last year (his best finish in 2011), 7th at the 2010 Italian Open (again, best finish) and 3rd on this course in 2009 all point to the same fact. He's hitting lots of greens this year, just needs a decent week off the tee to find himself right in contention here after making 5 cuts in 6 starts. RESULT: T7
At even longer odds we have 45 year-old Welshman Phillip Price who arrives here fresh after a month off. Before that break he showed some excellent form with finishes of 11/3/31 - the 11th being at Andalucia where he ranked inside the top 5 for accuracy and putted far ahead of his average on similar bent/poa greens. The 3rd was in Morocco and underlines the fact that he's playing some great golf at present - well capable of improving on his 34th place finish here in 2010 given his form. RESULT: 61st
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!