Last week’s headline selection Jordan Smith couldn’t convert his 54-hole lead in Munich, so we had to settle for a reduced each-way payout as a result of the log-jam for 3rd place. Disappointing as always when a player’s in position to win, however getting over the line is never easy as we see repeatedly in this game and in truth the place payout was a positive in the end given that Smith birdied both of the final two holes to salvage something for us out of the week.
On to this week then and further schedule changes are in evidence as this point in the calendar would ordinarily see us heading to Le Golf National for a star-studded (well in relative European Tour terms) Rolex Series event, however with the Open de France being relegated to standard event status and being shifted to October, the Andalucia Masters hosted at the iconic Valderrama course takes its place in the schedule. A former WGC and Ryder Cup venue, Valderrama was briefly used for this event in 2010 and 2011 having dropped off the schedule following the demise of the season-ending Volvo Masters, however after hosting the 2016 Spanish Open this event returns to the Spanish track for a third consecutive year.
Tournament host and defending champion Sergio Garcia is looking for an Andalucia Masters hat-trick this week, and what would be his fourth success on his most prolific track, and rates around the 6/1 mark generally as most bookies make him the favourite. The fact that Jon Rahm is in attendance has kept his price slightly longer than the past couple of years and with last week’s play-off loser Matt Fitzpatrick also playing, we have 3 class acts at the top of the betting at 10/1 or shorter.
The schedule change for this event means that players are no longer attempting to plot their way around this tough track in the autumn, many of whom were desperately scrapping for their playing privileges. Instead this week marks the last regular European Tour event for a few weeks as we head off for the Rolex Series links warm-up events in Ireland and Scotland with the Open Championship under a month away.
A point to note is that this event forms part of the Open Championship qualifying series with the leading 3 players who finish inside the eventual top 10 who aren’t already exempt earning themselves an invitation to Royal Portrush. That’s a considerable carrot to a number of players in this field who have aspirations of playing next month.
Club de Golf Valderrama, Sotogrande, Spain. Designer: Trent Jones Snr, 1985, with recent Kyle Phillips updates; Course Type: Classical, Technical; Par: 71; Length: 7,001 yards; Fairways: Bermuda Tifway; Rough: Bermuda/Rye; Greens: Bentgrass (G2) 12’6″ on the stimp.
Course Overview. The course is set just a few kilometres from the Mediterranean coastline and is a typical Trent Jones test in many respects with narrow, undulating fairways leading to tiny, sloping and fast bentgrass G2 greens. At a shade over 7,000 yards, the course isn’t long by today’s standards, however it’s still a stern test in all departments which can turn positively nasty if the weather closes in.
Changes to the course prior to the 2016 Spanish Open held here were generally to the bunkers and tees, plus the cork trees that line the fairways were cut back a little, however that didn’t make the course play any easier with Andrew Johnston running out the winner at +1 over the 4 days. More work has been undertaken on and around the putting surfaces on the front nine since Beef’s victory, however the challenge here is fundamentally the same and it’s a tough test from start to finish.
The layout features 3 par-5s in the par-71 35-36 format, with the back 9 and particularly the closing stretch featuring a succession of tough holes and the par-5 17th offering little in the way of respite, despite its seemingly attractive 536 yards in length.
Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Andalucia Valderrama Masters that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this venue: Current Form | Course Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes | Combined Stats.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Valderrama is here. The tournament should enjoy fine and dry weather throughout the four days of play with temperatures reaching the high 70s Fahrenheit each day. Winds will be moderate at around 10-15mph in the afternoons which will be just about enough to catch the attention of the professionals around this tricky track.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats of the past 8 winners at Valderrama (all competitions) gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2018: Sergio Garcia (-12, 3 rounds). 78.6% fairways (10th), 77.8% greens in regulation (4th), 58.3% scrambling (6th), 1.60 putts per GIR (7th).
- 2017: Sergio Garcia (-12). 62.5% fairways (24th), 65.3% greens in regulation (9th), 52.0% scrambling (27th), 1.68 putts per GIR (9th).
- 2016: Andrew Johnston (+1). 78.6% fairways (1st), 70.8% greens in regulation (1st), 52.4% scrambling (20th), 1.82 putts per GIR (25th).
- 2011: Sergio Garcia (-6). 69.6% fairways (10th), 63.9% greens in regulation (10th), 61.5% scrambling (4th), 1.74 putt per GIR (8th).
- 2010: Graeme McDowell (-3). 69.6% fairways (6th), 66.7% greens in regulation (1st), 58.3% scrambling (18th), 1.71 putt per GIR (4th).
- 2008: Soren Kjeldsen (-8). 57.1% fairways (29th), 58.3% greens in regulation (22nd), 73.3% scrambling (4th), 1.74 putts per GIR (12th).
- 2007: Justin Rose (-1). 51.8% fairways (26th), 55.6% greens in regulation (8th), 59.4% scrambling (7th), 1.67 putt per GIR (3rd).
- 2006: Jeev Milkha Singh (-2). 41.1% fairways (52nd), 59.7% greens in regulation (17th), 62.1% scrambling (16th), 1.77 putts per GIR (15th).
Hitting the narrow fairways at Valderrama is only a small part of the task at hand, as is clear from the stats of the most recent winners on this track. GIR stats as low as these for winners (last year was an exception due to soft conditions) is extremely rare which emphasises just how difficult it is to hit the tiny greens here and the winner is going to need to have an outstanding week scrambling from off of the putting surfaces in order to compile a winning score. Valderrama truly tests all aspects of a player’s game and any weaknesses are often cruelly exposed.
Incoming Form: Looking at the recent form of the same 8 most recent winners at Valderrama and the overriding trend is that all players had been in pretty good nick.
Sergio had finished 7th the week before his successful defence last autumn, included in which was a closing round of 65 to suggest he was rounding into form. The previous year Sergio had finished 12th and 10th at the final two FedEx Cup PlayOff events on the PGA Tour before returning to Europe and his effort in Italy the week before winning here had shown some promise as he sat 6th going into the weekend. The others all had contending performances to their names in recent weeks too as the stats below confirm:
- Sergio Garcia: MC/70/MC/MC/12/8/MC/MC/39/MC/24/7
- Sergio Garcia: 20/12/21/2/37/39/MC/35/12/10/MC/30
- Andrew Johnston: MC/22/71/4/45/MC/15
- Sergio Garcia: 20/MC/7/2/9/39/53/12/32/31/12/1
- Graeme McDowell: 26/28/4/1/1/21/23/31/22/MC/3/17
- Soren Kjeldsen: 7/38/MC/MC/7/MC/MC/16/30/MC/16/4
- Justin Rose: 9/30/12/2/12/14/MC/5/11/2/9/21
- Jeev Milkha Singh: 5/8/21/MC/MC/3/25/14/8/3/21/13
Course Form: A bit of a mixed bag here in terms of course form with Jeev Milkha Singh and Beef Johnston winning on competitive debut whereas Soren Kjeldsen, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia (3 times) all had a strong record here prior to winning:
- Sergio Garcia: 7/5/7/7/2/2/2/34/4/10/1/3/1
- Sergio Garcia: 7/5/7/7/2/2/2/34/4/10/1/3
- Andrew Johnston: Debut
- Sergio Garcia: 7/5/7/7/2/2/2/34/4/10
- Graeme McDowell: 55/15/22/32/4/8
- Soren Kjeldsen: 55/25/22/18/2
- Justin Rose: 18/44
- Jeev Milkha Singh: Debut
The scheduling for this event does change the dynamic somewhat with many players looking to either qualify for the Open Championship by finishing as one of the top 3 players who aren’t already exempt, or honing their game if they’re already guaranteed a spot at Royal Portrush, as opposed to battling for their livelihoods. What doesn’t change though is the challenge that Valderrama poses and with dry, warm weather forecast I’d expect it to play firm, fast and challenging.
Boiling it all down then it looks like the most likely winner will be a player who can handle a grind who’s shown some good form of late and is performing nicely on and around the greens. Accuracy both from off the tee and with approach shots is an advantage and far outweighs power in my opinion.
My selections are as follows: