Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Italian Open Tips 2021

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After an early ejection by Shubhankar Sharma on Sunday from 9th place heading into the final day, it’s back to the drawing board as the European Tour heads to Italy.

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. In an event that hops from venue to venue, this year we’re returning to the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club which hosted the 1994 renewal won by Eduardo Romero and is the venue for the 2023 Ryder Cup, so event form students should consider the history stats accordingly.

Matt Fitzpatrick heads the field this week on his return to the European Tour at a general 14/1, with Tommy Fleetwood joining him at a couple of points longer; last week’s 72nd hole loser Bernd Wiesberger is a 20/1 chance as he looks to make amends for that costly double bogey with the Omega European Masters at his mercy.

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Course Overview. Although the 1994 event held here is fairly academic in terms of this week’s field, Marco Simone G&CC has since undertaken a huge renovation project to prepare itself for the 2023 Ryder Cup and this week’s event will be the first of any significance since the work was complete.

At 7,268 yards for its par of 71, the layout features 3 par-5s and 4 par-3 alongside the remaining par-4s. The closing hole is the longest on the course at 626 yards, however organisers may choose to adjust the tee box to create more of a risk/reward finish to any given round and the par-4s are varied with 4 measuring below 400 yards, whilst another 4 top 475 yards.

Situated in the countryside on the outskirt of Rome, the European Golf Design/Tom Fazio Jr rebuild isn’t a typical tree-lined Italian track judging by the flyovers, however with water in play on a number of holes and long fescue awaiting the errant, the requirement for accuracy may not be overly diminished by the lack of trees. Greens have been re-laid with Creeping Bentgrass and are reportedly tricky and contoured.

italian open tips

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 since 1994: 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. 2020: Ross McGowan, 750/1; 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 Rome is here.

Summery conditions for the most part this week in Italy with sunshine and light winds in the 5-10mph region. Temperatures will reach the mid-80s Fahrenheit and that might trigger the occasional sharp shower, particularly as we head into the weekend.

Incoming Form. The incoming form of our recent Italian Open winners is mixed, however all but Robert Rock in 2011 and Ross McGowan had recorded a top-10 finish in their previous 8 starts.

Last year’s winner had improved a little in the weeks leading up to his first victory in 11 years, however that was more a case of making cuts rather than missing them and a best finish of 42nd in his previous 12 outings hardly jumped off the page:

  • 2020, Ross McGowan: MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/70/MC/55/52/42/67/MC
  • 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 track not used since 1994, 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 nine winners of the Italian Open had already previously won the title in their career and eight of the past eleven had recorded a top-6 finish or better in this event before their victory.

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; indeed even last year’s shock 750/1 winner Ross McGowan had finished 6th back in 2008:

  • 2020, Ross McGowan: 6/MC/MC/51
  • 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 only the 1994 renewal to go on which significantly pre-dated the Ryder Cup renovations, we’re essentially starting with a blank canvas here this week.

The layout would suggest that accuracy with both tee shots and approach shots will be a factor this week and, with holes that dogleg both ways, those players who can move the ball both ways with an element of control may well be favoured.

My selections are as follows:

Antoine Rozner 2pts EW 35/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Ladbrokes

Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood return to the European Tour this week and add a touch of class to the top of the betting, rating as the favourite and second favourite respectively, however both have underwhelmed a little lately with Tommy in particular not making the PGA Tour PlayOffs. Fitzpatrick’s 2nd at the Scottish Open is undoubtedly the standout piece of form between the pair, however next week’s prize at Wentworth is far bigger and better and I’ll pass on both.

Bernd Wiesberger put a brave face on his final hole double bogey that cost him the title in the Swiss Alps on Sunday, proving once again how difficult it is for players to get over the line, regardless of which side of the Atlantic they are playing. Calum Hill and Rasmus Hojgaard at around 28/1 have recent winning form to justify their odds, however you don’t have to go much further back in time to find Antoine Rozner’s pair of European Tour titles and this week’s task presents him with a good opportunity to complete his hat-trick.

We’re seeing the revamped Marco Simone Golf & Country Club for the first time this week following its makeover to get it Ryder Cup ready and although an element of guesswork is involved, it feels to me that accuracy will be rewarded over brute force with water running alongside a number of fairways and greens and long fescue ready to gobble up anything that isn’t straight.

Although we’re not going to see the final setup this week that will presented to players in 2 years time when the biennial competition returns to European shores, whereas the American tracks used tend to encourage the bombers, the European layouts are a little more exacting and I suspect we’ll get a feel for that this week here.

Stroked Gained Off the Tee is as good a place to start as any then if that assertion is correct and aside from Laurie Canter, Rozner heads this week’s field for the season and sits in 4th place overall on that count. On his last 5 starts where that stat has been recorded, he’s not finished outside the top 14 in the field and last week he ranked 3rd on his way to a 13th place finish overall.

Actually, last week’s effort requires a little more investigation, not least in the fact that the 28 year-old had to make a 30-footer on Friday just to make the weekend. 133 strokes over the weekend was as good as anyone else could muster and he closed with a best-of-the-day round of 62 to scythe his way through the field and set himself up nicely for this week’s task.

1st for SG Tee to Green and 6th for SG Approach tells us where he excelled last week alongside his Off the Tee performance as already mentioned, and had a few more putts dropped over the 4 days then perhaps he’d have been closer to the lead come Sunday.

9 consecutive (recorded) events of negative SG Putting is perhaps the only concern, however we’ve seen first hand with his wins in Dubai and Qatar that when that statistic switches to positive then he’s very, very competitive. September outings last year at Valderrama and Galgorm Castle on Bentgrass greens produced SG Putting ranks of 7th and 5th respectively and if we see a similar spark this week then another win could well be on the cards. RESULT: T52

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Francesco Molinari 1.5pts EW 50/1 (6EW, 1/5) with William Hill

The recent resurgence of Henrik Stenson has been noteworthy to say the least, and it will be fascinating to see if he can keep his progression going this week once again. The Iceman lost over 4 strokes from off the tee last week though and I suspect that this week will put further emphasis and pressure on that statistic.

Perhaps that improvement will provide some inspiration to Henrik’s former Ryder Cup teammate Francesco Molinari who’s quite capable of keeping the ball out of trouble from off the tee if anything approaching his ‘A game’ is on show.

The issue of course for Francesco, and the reason we’re getting 50/1 about him winning another Italian Open, is that said ‘A game’ hasn’t been evident for some time now. That said, SG positive from off the tee last week in the Alps, 9th for SG Approach and 17th for SG Tee to Green is a big improvement over the 4 missed cuts that preceded that effort and given his class relative to many in this field, I’ll happily take a chance that he’s turned a corner.

A 2nd round 64 in Crans last week, his best round of 2021 to date, tied the best round of the day and featured some great approach play to encourage that he can finish the year off strongly, and although automatic qualification for the Ryder Cup is long gone, that removes any secondary pressure to perform well this week and next on two tracks that suit.

It’s easy to think that the 38 year-old has lost a bit of his competitive edge since winning The Open in 2018 given he’s not been hitting the same heights, however when you consider that in his last 40 starts he’s won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, come 3rd in a WGC, 5th at The Masters and racked up 3 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour earlier this year, that’s not too shabby compared to most here. 13th at the US Open in June was beaten by just 1 player in this week’s field and picking up a 3rd Italian Open here isn’t out of the realms of possibility whatsoever in my view. RESULT: T52

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John Catlin 1.5pts EW 60/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

If accurate types are to prevail this week then John Catlin has got to be a serious threat once again.

Despite 3 wins in his last 25 starts, the bookies soon lose interest in the American and his price drifts to backable levels, yet he’s shown us his credentials in triplicate when presented with the right kind of track and I get the feeling he’ll enjoy this week’s task here in Rome on his Italian debut.

After a bit of a mid-season lull where he missed 5 cuts from 6 starts, Catlin looks to be building momentum once again. 32nd at the Cazoo Open was followed by a fine 7th place finish at Galgorm Castle where he recorded 4 rounds in the 60s. 51st at the Cazoo Classic was a little lacklustre after a positive start where he sat 9th after the first round, however last week was more promising as he entered the final day in 6th place before recording a 72 and drifting down to 21st.

1st for Driving Accuracy and 3rd for GIR last week translated to 10th for SG Off the Tee, 4th for SG Approach and 3rd for SG Tee to Green, and if I’ve read this track correctly that would seem to be a great starting point for success. A stone cold putter last week held him back ultimately, however a switch back to pure Bentgrass greens could be positive for the 30 year-old who won on the Creeping Bentgrass overseed at Galgorm Castle last year by gaining nearly 5 strokes on the putting surfaces, having already won on a similar surface at Valderrama. RESULT: T24

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Daniel Van Tonder 1pt EW 100/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

Another recent enough winner who’s quickly slipped down the odds is Daniel van Tonder but, like Catlin, there’s enough to suggest that he’s not as far away from another win as his price would suggest.

5th for SG Off the Tee for the season to date tells us where the foundations are built in the South African’s game, and that lofty ranking comes despite having missed 8 cuts in that period of time. 6 of those weekends off came in a spell from May through to the start of August shortly after winning the Kenya Savannah Classic, however he looks to have found something in his game since then that may just culminate in another big performance.

Finishes of 21st, 45th and 21st over the past 3 weeks has seen progression with his Driving Accuracy ranks (46th, 29th then 16th last week) as well as a similar story with his SG Off the Tee (39th, 23rd, 9th), SG Approach (48th, 43rd, 14th) and SG Tee to Green (27th, 19th, 7th). All a bit technical I agree, however for me that says that his long game is trending very nicely and that bodes well for this week.

4 wins on the Sunshine Tour between the end of August and start of November last year suggests that the 30 year-old can perform at this point of the year and a return to pure Bentgrass greens, not dissimilar to those at Karen Country Club where he prevailed earlier in the year, could be the final piece of the jigsaw. RESULT: T27

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Adrien Saddier 0.5pt EW 250/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

Finally, I’ll take a small punt on Adrien Saddier after he produced some eye-catching stats on his way to a 7th place finish last week at Crans for a big personal best on that track.

Season-long numbers won’t tell us much about the Frenchman and 12 missed cuts from 16 starts gives us a good idea why he’s languishing so deep in the betting market. Yet 2nd for SG Approach and 2nd also for SG Tee to Green last week suggests that he might have found something tangible in his game that could see him go well again this week on another track that should favour long game performance.

In the past 2 years, 4th at the Portugal Masters, 3rd at the Oman Open, 6th at the Scottish Championship, 9th at the Cyprus Open and of course last week’s effort all show that he’s capable of recording a decent finish when the stars align, and with a win and play-off defeat to his name on the Challenge Tour, he’s also good enough to get into contending and winning positions. RESULT: T44

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:30BST 30.8.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.