After a challenging couple of weeks at the Dunhill Links and at Walton Heath, there’s no let-up for the players this week as the European Tour heads to Spain for the this week’s Andalucia Valderrama Masters. 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 iconic Spanish track for a second consecutive year.
Tournament host and defending champion Sergio Garcia rates as the clear favourite this week at around the 4/1 mark generally, and following his performance at the Ryder Cup he’s sure to be popular given his incredible record around these parts. With the big-money tournaments at Sheshan, Turkey, Sun City and Dubai to follow after this week, it’s understandable that a number of the European Tour’s leading lights have chosen to give this week a miss. That does, however, offer a lifeline to the many players who are currently staring Q-School in the face and this week will undoubtedly be interesting as players attempt to get inside that magical top-110 number (or thereabouts) to ensure that they automatically secure their playing rights for next season.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Club de Golf Valderrama, Sotogrande, Spain. Designer: Trent Jones Snr, 1985, with recent Kyle Phillips updates; Course Type: Classical, Technical; Par: 71; Length: 6,991 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 under 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 of length.
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, however it won’t be particularly warm for the Spanish coast with temperatures struggling to hit 70 Fahrenheit after some chilly mornings. Winds will be moderate at around 10-15mph in the afternoons with Saturday looking the most challenging in that respect.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats of the past 7 winners at Valderrama gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 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 putt 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 putt 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 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 7 most recent winners at Valderrama and the overriding trend is that all players had been in pretty good nick. 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: 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 (twice) all had a strong record here prior to winning:
- 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
With this event signalling the end of the regular European Tour season before we head to China for the WGC HSBC Champions and the concluding events of the Rolex Series that follow prior to Dubai, the time to perform in order to preserve playing privileges is here. Last season we saw players ranked 106th (Wade Ormsby) and 123rd (Daniel Brooks) secure their cards with top-5 finishes and there are a number of players in a similar predicament this week who simply most perform this week if they’re going to avoid going to Q-School.
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: