Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Italian Open Tips 2019

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This week we’re heading to Rome for the 76° Open D’Italia – the Italian Open to you and me – for the 5th Rolex Series event of the 2019 season. 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 Andrea Pavan, Renato Paratore and Guido Migliozzi carrying the hopes of home fans, plus there’s a smattering of lesser-fancied compatriots to provide the supporting cast.

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. This is generally a nomadic event and although there’s been an element of regularity and consistency with some recent venues used for this tournament, for 2019 we switch back to Olgiata GC which hasn’t hosted the Italian Open since Ian Poulter won the 2002 edition by 2 strokes over Paul Lawrie.

Course Overview. Olgiata GC is every inch the stereotypical Italian parkland layout. Since Ian Poulter won here in 2002, the course has seen an extensive renovation which has added over 400 yards to the scorecard, now measuring 7,523 yards for its par of 71 from its tips. Naturally though, it remains to be seen how the European Tour set things up this week and I’d take that exact yardage with a pinch of salt.

Although tree-lined pretty much throughout the course, we’re not talking Wentworth in terms of a claustrophobic layout and there’s generally a fair amount of rough to miss before players run the risk of being hampered by trees. The fairways themselves are quite narrow though and attacking from the cut and prepared is likely to be preferable. Greens are small and undulating with a Bentgrass base.

Olgiata GC has also hosted Challenge Tour events since Poulter’s victory here in 2002, namely the Italian Federation Cup in 2009, Roma Open in 2010 & 2011, plus the EMC Challenge Open in 2014 and 2015, however – like the 2002 event – very few of this week’s field were in attendance in those events.

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 event in 2002 only from the stats listed: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Current Form/Event Form.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. 2018: Thorbjorn Olesen, 80/1; 2017, Tyrrell Hatton: 18/1; 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.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Rome is here. More perfect golfing weather is expected after the glorious conditions we saw in Madrid last week. Light winds, sunshine and temperatures in the mid-70s Fahrenheit should help to take the sting out of this course.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

No tournament stats were captured for the 2002 event held here at Olgiata, nor are there any stats from the Challenge Tour events held here since that time, so we’re going to have to rely on specification only this week.

Winning totals have varied considerably in the events held here with Poulter winning a weather-affected 3-round affair at 16-under in 2002. In terms of the Challenge Tour events, Edoardo Molinari won in 2009 at 17-under, Andreas Harto won in 2010 at 19-under, Sam Little won in 2011 at 11-under, Ricardo Gouveia won in 2014 at 9-under and Matteo Delpodio won in 2015 at 5-under. Clearly some large variances there and the 2010 Tom Fazio makeover, which was undertaken with a speculative eye on Rome hosting the 2020 Olympics, clearly toughened the course up to a degree.

Incoming Form. The incoming form of our recent Italian Open winners is mixed, however all but Robert Rock in 2011 had recorded a top-10 finish in their previous 8 starts. 80/1 shot Thorbjorn Olesen was his typical inconsistent self having failed to break the top-30 in his 5 starts prior to winning his first Rolex Series event in a quality field at Lake Garda:

  • 2018, Thorbjorn Olesen: 5/12/36/53/29/MC/10/MC/46/37/MC/60
  • 2017, Tyrrell Hatton: 41/30/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/36/MC/3/8/1
  • 2016, Francesco Molinari: 42/17/7/55/MC/34/8/2/36/22/47/MC
  • 2015, Rikard Karlberg: MC/21/43/MC/MC/MC/10/MC/9/14/13/36
  • 2014, Hennie Otto: 37/37/37/9/5/13/41/13/57/WD/MC/39
  • 2013, Julien Quesne: 9/27/MC/MC/68/9/WD/MC/MC/58/41/7
  • 2012, Gonzalo Fdez-Castano: 53/MC/2/MC/3/MC/31/54/55/62/76/5
  • 2011, Robert Rock: MC/MC/45/20/58/40/19/13/52/29/45/MC
  • 2010, Fredrik Andersson-Hed: 35/5/4/MC/4/18/44/7/28/MC/13/17

Event Form. Recent renewals are perhaps a little irrelevant as we’re playing on a track not used for so long, however the Italian Open is often played on a similar style layout with tree-lined fairways and challenging greens. It’s interesting to note that four of the past seven winners of the Italian Open had already previously won the title in their career and six of the past nine 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 – notably Poulter’s 2nd Italian Open title came on this track in 2002.

  • 2018, Thorbjorn Olesen: 2/53/67/MC/32
  • 2017, Tyrrell Hatton: MC/45
  • 2016, Francesco Molinari: MC/MC/23/MC/13/17/1/3/MC/6/8/46/16/18/20
  • 2015, Rikard Karlberg: MC
  • 2014, Hennie Otto: MC/47/MC/33/1/MC/7/46/22/8
  • 2013, Julien Quesne: MC/MC
  • 2012, Gonzalo Fdez-Castano: 6/1/MC
  • 2011, Robert Rock: 48/37/MC/56/51/2/17
  • 2010, Fredrik Andersson-Hed: MC/9/28/MC/3/MC/54

With a lack of immediate course history and a number of changes made to the course since that distant Italian Open held here in 2002, evaluating exactly how this week will play out still requires an element of guesswork. Italian Opens often play out quite similar though regardless of the track used and I’ll err on the side of accuracy over power, despite the course having been extended since it was last seen on the European Tour.

My selections are as follows:

Francesco Molinari 2.5pts EW 16/1 (7EW, 1/5) with BetFred

It may well be a ball-striking masterclass at the top of the final leaderboard on Sunday with Paul Casey and Justin Rose heading the betting at 9/1 and 12/1 respectively at the time of writing, however Francesco Molinari could be the man lifting the Italian Open trophy for a 3rd time this week in Rome.

Rose hasn’t played this event since missing the cut here in 2002, and for Casey it’s his event debut, and although both must be respected, Molinari has a wealth of experience in his homeland and aside from his two wins in 2006 and 2016, he’s also amassed a further 5 top-10 and 5 top-20 finishes in his home Open over the years. 23rd here at Olgiata as a fresh-faced 19 year-old amateur was impressive and 17 years down the line he has all the tools to complete his personal hat-trick of titles on this classical, tree-lined course that plays to his strengths.

Since winning his maiden Major Championship at Carnoustie last year, it’s not all been plain sailing for the 36 year old. After the inevitable dip in form following his Open triumph, it looked like the Turin man was ready to tackle the world’s best once again earlier this year with victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a semi-final finish at the WGC Match Play which teed him up beautifully for an assault on The Masters. Leading after 54 holes at Augusta and still looking good as he reached the 12th hole, he eventually succumbed to the Tiger Woods-induced pressure and drifted to 5th place overall.

In truth it’s been a bit of a struggle for Francesco since that point, however with 6 months’ worth of water under the bridge and a return home where he’ll have unrivalled support, repeating what we saw Jon Rahm do last week in his home Open isn’t out of the question by any means, particularly as there have been tangible signs of positivity in his game of late.

11th at the Open in July was a creditable defence given that he’d opened with a poor round of 74, and more recent efforts of 14th at Wentworth and 23rd at the Safeway Open on the PGA Tour, where he sat 3rd after the first round and 10th heading into the weekend, suggest to me that his game’s not that far away. Paradoxically for a player who’s ordinarily so strong from tee-to-green, it’s been the putter that’s fuelled the improvement over his last 2 starts; if he can rekindle his long game excellence on home soil this week then he’ll take all the beating in front of an adoring home crowd. Result: MC

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Joost Luiten 1.5pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with BetFred

In terms of ticking boxes, Joost Luiten has just about everything I’m looking for this week. The 33 year-old’s tee-to-green game has been sublime since returning to action following a post-Open Championship break: field rankings of 1/17/1/4/1 for Greens In Regulation over his past 5 starts bodes well for finding these small, undulating greens in the requisite number and Driving Accuracy rankings of 41/12/5/33/3 during that same period suggests that he’s likely to keep himself out of the worst of the tree trouble from off the tee. Classical, tree-lined tracks are a strength for the Dutchman – twice a runner-up at Valderrama in his last 4 starts there are a case in point – and bent-based putting surfaces have brought the best out of his flat stick over the years.

Italian Open form of 2 top-5 finishes from 6 career starts at the event’s various venues aligns quite nicely with recent winners of this title and a further pair of top-3 finishes in the country from his Challenge Tour days also demonstrates a level of competence and confidence on Italian soil. A stretch of 6 consecutive weekends made shows a level of consistency in his game, included in which was his best finish for 4 months when recording a 10th place finish at the KLM Open, and he was 5th after day 1 on his penultimate start at Wentworth in a classy field on a similar track.

As ever with Joost, what holds him back is the putting. For a man with his ball-striking prowess, shaving even a tenth off of his putting average would reap many rewards and it may just be that he’s taken a positive step in that regard. A switch of putter and a change of grip to make his right hand less dominant saw an instant improvement on his last start at St Andrews and a surge of confidence in making mid-range putts which he can take forward as this season draws to a close. 3rd at the season’s first Rolex Series event in Abu Dhabi tells us that this level of competition is within his comfort zone and I can see him going very well here in Rome. Result: T25

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Ashley Chesters 1pt EW 150/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

A couple of longshots to complete this week’s team. First up Ashley Chesters who has the tee-to-green game to master this tree-lined layout and who’s impressed in recent outings, despite missing the cut on his last start at the Dunhill Links which I’m more than happy to disregard.

4th at Valderrama almost a year ago still ranks as the Englishman’s best regular European Tour career finish and his metronomic tee-to-green game is undoubtedly suited to those courses that demand accuracy over power or short game wizardry. A tailed-off 72nd place finish at Crans last month masks the fact that he led the field for Driving Accuracy and he repeated that feat a couple of starts later when finishing 15th at the KLM Open. 9th at the Porsche European Open and 21st at Wentworth sandwiched that effort and on each occasion his long game looked in rude health, however more importantly for him his putter also started to look promising with 3 consecutive top-15 putting average efforts in succession.

The final part to the jigsaw that sees the 30 year-old push from solid top-20 type finishes to each-way payouts could be the size of the greens here in Rome. The Shrewsbury man’s chipping game has been the weakest element of his game of late, however when he finished 4th at the aforementioned Andalucía Masters last year he ranked 8th for scrambling around those tiny Valderrama greens. Perhaps visually this will suit him better as and when he does miss putting surfaces, allowing him to salvage par more readily; however the key for Ashley to contend this week will be for him to stick to his game plan on a course that plays to his strengths. Result: T66

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Fabrizio Zanotti 1pt EW 150/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Finally I’ll close with another long price about 2-time European Tour winner Fabrizio Zanotti who’s hinted at some form on his last 2 starts after a mid-season lull. There are plenty of Tour maidens and players with inferior games than the Paraguayan on this type of tree-lined test and I’m happy to take the bookies on here given the price on offer.

To be fair to the 36 year-old, 2019 started off in fine style with 3 consecutive top-32 finishes in the Middle East, courtesy of some solid form from off the tee, before he finished a shot behind Kurt Kitayama at the Oman Open. 11th in Qatar and 7th in Malaysia followed as it looked like a 3rd piece of silverware was imminent, however that’s where the good form ended as his long game slowly fell away. Interesting then that after 4 straight missed cuts in September he finally found something with the driver at St Andrews, ranking 2nd for Driving Accuracy on his way to 46th place overall, which clearly boosted his confidence enough to produce a 12th place finish last week in Spain with a Total Driving rank of 5th and Ball Striking rank of 4th.

That effort on last week’s test adds to tree-lined form that includes 7th and 15th at Wentworth in 2016 and 2018 respectively, plus 2nd behind Matt Fitzpatrick at Woburn in 2015. In short, when he’s striking the ball well from off the tee, these types of layout suit him nicely. 3rd in this event back in 2015 also bodes well and, at 68th on the Race To Dubai, this is a huge opportunity for Fabrizio to book his place at the big money events that will close the European Tour season over the next few weeks. Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:35BST 7.10.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.