Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Italian Open Tips 2020

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A disappointing blank last week with Eddie Pepperell, Matthew Southgate and Padraig Harrington all finishing inside the top 16 at Fairmont St Andrews without any of the trio putting 4 good enough rounds together to truly get into a contending position.

This week we’re heading to Lake Garda for the 77° Open D’Italia – the Italian Open to you and me – for a rescheduled event that’s sadly lost its Rolex Series status and enhanced prize fund as a result of the pandemic.

The Italian Open is one of the more established events on Tour, having started life in 1925 and joining the European circuit 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 2020 we move to Chervo Golf Club in Brescia for the first time so course history students should consider the data accordingly.

Matt Wallace heads the field for the second week in succession, with 10/1 available in places at the time of writing. Martin Kaymer and Victor Perez at 12/1 will have their backers, with both men having had their chances of late, with defending champion Bernd Wiesberger and the evergreen Lee Westwood rating around the 16/1 mark with some bookmakers.

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Course Overview. Chervo Golf Club is the latest new addition to the European Tour’s schedule, once again largely due to the hotel facilities that will enable the bubble to operate efficiently and effectively.

A stone’s throw from Lake Garda, the parkland track was designed by Kurt Rossknecht and boasts 36 holes spread over three 9-hole courses that cater for the tourist trade first and foremost. This week’s test is listed as a 7,434 yard par 72 to make it a test for the professionals, however as a resort course first and foremost, with wide and forgiving fairways leading to fairly straightforward greens, this should primarily be a test of birdie-making.

The relatively exposed nature of this track sets it apart from the more regular tight, tree-lined tests that we often see for the Italian Open and other Rossknecht designs at Bad Griesbach used for the Porsche European Open 2015/16 and Paul Lawrie Match Play 2017, and München Eichenried which is on the course rotation for the BMW International Open, may give better clues as to the type of player required here this week.

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 is hosting this event for the first time: 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. 2019: Bernd Wiesberger, 35/1; 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.

For a full list of winners’ odds on the European Tour click here.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Brescia is here. Rain will be the main feature this week as Italy gets a dose of autumnal weather after a bright enough start on Thursday. Friday and Saturday are forecast to be the wettest days at this point in time, with slow moving systems depositing drizzly rain and showers to all. Winds will be light and temperatures will struggle to venture much beyond 60 Fahrenheit.

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.

Last year’s winner Bernd Wiesberger had already won twice in the year before converting his hat-trick at Olgiata GC 12 months ago, and although he’d missed the cut at the Dunhill Links on his previous start, he also maintained the top-10 trend noted above:

  • 2019, Bernd Wiesberger: 1/8/76/16/2/1/32/30/MC/5/17/MC
  • 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 new track for the event, however the Italian Open has often been played on a similar style layout with tree-lined fairways and challenging greens. It’s interesting to note that four of the past eight winners of the Italian Open had already previously won the title in their career and six of the past ten 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.

  • 2019, Bernd Wiesberger: MC/15/63/23/6/14/45
  • 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 no historical tournament data from the course this week to study, we’re going to have to rely on specification only. Italian Opens often play quite similar regardless of the track used, however this week’s layout is far more forgiving and exposed than the normal style of course used, and for me this puts more emphasis on power, proximity and putting over driving accuracy.

Despite the rain in the forecast, there’s little wind and a soft course should encourage a lot of birdies. Siding with players who are putting well and have shown signs of shooting low scores lately could be the winning formula.

Matt Wallace rates as the short-priced favourite this week and rightly so, however whether the Englishman lifts himself immediately after a disappointing final day at Fairmont St Andrews remains to be seen, so I’ve dipped a little further down the list for this week’s team.

My selections are as follows:

Jordan Smith 2pts EW 25/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Ladbrokes

The ‘Bubble’ has been a challenge for some players more than others. The Sam Horsfields and John Catlins of this world have clearly adapted fantastically well to both snare multiple wins since lockdown, and others like Aaron Rai and Rasmus Hojgaard have further enhanced their growing reputations with some classy performances.

Getting into the right mental state, and potentially for a prolonged period of time, has clearly taken its toll on some players and Jordan Smith was one of those who was more vocal about the challenges than others. Valderrama is hardly the most forgiving of tracks when you’re not in the right space mentally and 11-over through his opening 14 holes was the catalyst for the Englishman to call it a day and talk about the challenges the situation poses.

Getting things off of his chest seems to have done the job with a solid 36th place finish in Portugal leading to an impressive 7th place finish at Galgorm Castle for the Irish Open. He led that week after the first round – as he’d also done at the Wales Open a month before – to give us another hint that his underlying game is in decent shape.

13th at Wentworth a fortnight ago was the 27 year-old’s best effort in Surrey from 4 attempts and his first hole in one as a professional on the 2nd on Friday clearly buoyed him judging by his comments on social media. 15th for putting average was his best effort relative to the field for over a year with the flat stick and a warming putter ahead of this week’s task can’t be a bad sign whatsoever.

The Somerset man’s best finish last year was 3rd at the BMW International Open, another resort course from the hand of Kurt Rossknecht who designed this week’s test, and his one European Tour win came at the Porsche European Open in 2017, beating the ultimate flat track bully Alex Levy, albeit on a non-Rossknecht design.

Event form of 21/8/24 in typically stronger fields in this event in the past suggests a level of comfort in this part of the world, with that best effort of 8th coming just a few miles away at Gardagolf Country Club and, with rain in the forecast, siding with an Englishman who’ll have played in plenty of wet weather in his time may reap dividends. RESULT: MC

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Adri Arnaus 2pts EW 40/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Ladbrokes

Of the talented crop of young European Tour maidens, Adri Arnaus is one of those who would surprise nobody should he get over the line at this level in the near future.

3 wins from 83 professional starts have all come at a lower level, granted, however 3 runner-up finishes in his rookie season at the top level last year did more than hint that he was well capable on this stage, and 3rd earlier this year at the Dubai Desert Classic did little to counter that point.

Those 4 efforts – played out at the Andalucia Masters, Kenya Open and Czech Masters, as well as the aforementioned finish at the Emirates in Dubai – show a level of diversity with differing styles of course and green types, however for a longer hitter I’d still err on the side of tracks such as this week’s test being the 26 year-old’s best fit.

The Barcelona man admitted that he’d lost a bit of power and sharpness during lockdown, however a redoubling of effort in the gym and also in practice has seen a return to more typical driving stats from his last 3 starts – top-5 in terms of Driving Distance from those 3 efforts – and there have been some good signs of impending form despite some pretty crooked efforts from off the tee.

23rd at the Irish Open featured a closing round of 65, beaten by just two other players in the field, and after a slow start in Scotland, rounds of 66/67 on Friday and Saturday hoisted the Spaniard into 6th place heading into the final day. Sunday didn’t work out for Adri, however 80.6% GIR led the field at Renaissance and he showed more flashes of form at Wentworth by leading after the first round before slowly drifting away. Remember, these efforts have all been made with some pretty wayward driving, so the wider and more forgiving track here beside Lake Garda should set up nicely for some more attacking 2nd shots.

Having graduated from the Alps Tour, Arnaus has more experience than most of playing in Italy – indeed 2 of his 3 career wins came in the country and he sat 4th heading into the final day on the Italian Challenge in 2018 when he stepped up a level. 48th on Italian Open debut last year was a fair effort in loftier company, however this year’s venue should suit much better and I’d expect a strong personal best here this week. RESULT: T5

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Maverick Antcliff 1pt EW 80/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

Last Sunday’s win by Adrian Otaegui was rather unusual for the European Tour as the Spaniard calmly accumulated shots by virtue of his red-hot putter and gently eased himself away from his nearest rivals with cool aplomb, rather than being the man holding the hot potato on the 72nd hole, which has been more often the case of late. Although it was Otaegui’s 3rd European Tour title, it was his first in standard strokeplay format and that previous winning experience may well have been a factor in his success.

Now I can’t claim that Maverick Antcliff has the same level of European Tour experience and success as Otaegui, he does however have 3 recent China Tour wins to his name and we’ve seen plenty of times how success at a lower level can make winning at European Tour level that little bit easier when the chance arises.

13th at the SA Open was the first time we saw anything tangible from the Queenslander on the European Tour, having gained his card by virtue of topping the China Golf Tour Order of Merit last year. Finding 90.3% of Greens in Regulation on his way to 31st place at the Celtic Classic told us a little more about the 27 year-old’s iron-play post-lockdown and 9th place at the Open de Portugal hinted at more to come from the Augusta State graduate.

3rd at the Irish Open, where he had a live chance until bogeys on the 11th and 12th on Sunday left him with a little too much to do as John Catlin pulled away to win his second title in quick succession, will have taught him much though and to his credit he still produced a mid-division finish in Scotland the week after.

Strong iron-play has been the main catalyst for his success and 17th and 6th for Total Driving on those most recent two efforts respectively suggests that he has the raw materials from off the tee to set up a lot of birdie opportunities here. Top-20 performances in terms of putting average for those two weeks is also positive and the fact that we’re heading to a neutral venue in terms of course history on Tour and playing style should play into the hands of the less experienced players on the circuit.

Make no mistake though, the Australian has proven that he can both hold his form and convert an opportunity from his exploits in China, so with a couple of weeks’ rest and reflection, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the mix here this week. RESULT: T54

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Justin Walters 1pt EW 125/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

The evidence for a strong performance this week from Justin Walters is pretty good. Now if and when that strong performance arrives this week, whether that translates into a long-awaited European Tour victory remains to be seen, however let’s give him the benefit of any doubt given the price on offer and hope that he’s learnt from his playoff defeat to Rasmus Hojgaard at the end of August.

In truth it was a wobbly final round from the South African in Sutton Coldfield, however it took a play-off for him to finally be defeated. That was Justin’s 4th runner-up finish at this level, however with 2 Sunshine Tour wins in the past it’s evident that he can get over the line when everything aligns.

Two of those near misses came at Vilamoura, another exposed and scoreable track that rewards aggressive golf. On both occasions he was sadly mourning the loss of a parent, something that helped galvanise his game; this week we have another, somewhat happier, life event that might help focus his mind as Walters turns 40 on Friday, and as we’ve seen in the past, milestone birthdays can sometimes act as a timely shot in the arm to a player’s game.

In terms of a something a little more tangible ahead of this week for those of you who prefer stats as opposed to rhetoric, Justin hits the ball an ample distance to tackle the dimensions of this track (36th on Tour for Driving Distance) and hits a lot of greens when playing well, both of which are good attributes for this week’s task. He can also putt very nicely when confident with the flat stick, so 9 birdies in his final 12 holes last week in Scotland for a Sunday 63, that was matched only by eventual winner Adrian Otaegui, has to give him a lot of heart as he arrives here in Italy.

10th last year at the Italian Open was the 39 year-old’s best effort in this event – at Rolex Series level to boot – and he also has a 5th place finish in the country back at the Challenge Tour Grand Final back in 2012. Both efforts came at this time of the year, as did his two runner-up finishes in Portugal, and perhaps this time he can go one better if he finds the door ajar on Sunday. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:50BST 19.10.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.