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This week we’re heading to Brescia for the 75° Open D’Italia – the Italian Open to you and me – as the second instalment of this year’s Rolex Series gets underway. 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 Matteo Manassero, Nino Bertasio and Renato Paratore carrying the hopes of home fans, plus there’s a smattering of lesser-fancied compatriots to provide the supporting cast. For Mannassero and Bertasio this will be a truly home event as they both spent their formative golfing years using this week’s venue as their base and the pair are likely to prove popular with punters this week, despite some indifferent recent form.
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 2018 we switch back to Gardagolf CC which hasn’t hosted the Italian Open since Mathias Gronberg won the 2003 edition by 2 strokes – final leaderboard is available here.
With the inclusion of the Italian Open in the inaugural Rolex Series last year, we undoubtedly saw a marked spike in the quality of field when Tyrrell Hatton triumphed in October. A change in schedule for this season to move the event to immediately after the BMW PGA Championship may have dampened that slightly though and if we’re being honest we’re lacking one or two of the highest-profile names that would be befitting of the event’s stature. Nevertheless the field is headlined by last week’s Wentworth champion and home favourite Francesco Molinari with the likes of Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick, Ian Poulter and defending champion Tyrrell Hatton offering able support.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Memorial Tournament – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Overview. Gardagolf CC is one of Italy’s true classic courses that measures 7,201 yards for its par of 71. Overlooked by the Alps and with the popular tourist spot Lake Garda on its doorstep, this week’s test will undoubtedly stick in the mind due to its beautiful backdrop. The layout is parkland in style and undulates between the olive groves and vineyards of Brescia and despite not being overly long by today’s standards, will still provide a fair test of stamina given its hilly nature.
The course routing has changed since the 2003 event and new tee boxes have been built to add to this week’s challenge from a punting perspective, with the front 9 and back 9 essentially reversed and some of the other holes being played in a different sequence. What was the 514 yard par-5 11th hole has been converted into the long par-4 2nd hole which measures 492 yards, however these changes are of little consequence to most here this week given it’s a new layout to the vast majority of the field.
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, particularly with recent sunshine and thunderstorms having given the rough a helping hand.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 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 Brescia is here. Thunderstorms have plagued the area on and off during the month of May which will have softened the course and there’s potential for more downpours on the practice days leading up to this year’s event, which may well hamper plans to have the greens playing firm and fast. The 4 days of the tournament itself should be largely dry and sunny though with light winds and temperatures reaching 80 Fahrenheit, however there’s still the outside chance of a thundery downpour at times.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the top six finishers here in 2003 gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
Although moderate hitters Colin Montgomerie and Simon Khan finished in the top 6 here 15 years ago, the other 4 players ranked inside the top-15 of Driving Distance on the week and Ricardo Gonzalez topped the list at 322 yards average. That length from the Argentinean was tempered by a dire accuracy stat for the week though as he hit just 16 of 56 fairways on the week. Eventual winner Mathias Gronberg produced the best GIR performance of the week and for me a powerful player who can hit a lot of greens either from on or off the fairway may well be the best combination here this time around.
One other factor that was evident from that event here was that par-5 scoring was particularly important:
The heavy bias towards par-5 scoring extended far beyond those at the very top of the leaderboard and the ability to score heavily on the long holes – be that birdies or preferably eagles – was massively important back in 2003. The re-routing of the course and switch from the short par-5 11th hole to a long par-4 (now the 2nd hole) will likely temper this statistic, however scoring on the remaining par-5s may well still prove to be critical here this week.
Incoming Form. The incoming form of our recent Italian Open winners is mixed with last year’s winner Tyrrell Hatton displaying the most tangible form having won the Dunhill Links the week before. 2003 Gardagolf winner Mathias Gronberg hadn’t recorded a top-10 finish since the previous September, although a 2nd round 64 in Malaysia and opening rounds of 67/66 the week before in Spain (eventually finished 50th) hinted at some underlying form:
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 three of the past six winners of the Italian Open had already previously won the title in their career and five of the past eight 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 – even 2003 winner Gronberg had an Italian Open top-10 finish to his name:
With a lack of immediate course history and a change in routing since that distant Italian Open held here in 2003, evaluating exactly how this week will play out still requires an element of guesswork. A mixed weather pattern for the last few weeks in Italy will have encouraged the rough to grow, however historically this event has tended to be set up in a scoreable fashion as opposed to making the rough too thick and penal. Sparse course experience levels the playing field to a degree and for me this could lead to a slightly less obvious winner than those at the very top of the betting.
My selections are as follows, all 7 places EW at 1/5 odds:
Lucas Bjerregaard 2.5pts EW 40/1 with Paddy Power.
Francesco Molinari heads the betting this week and quite rightly so given his metronomic performance at Wentworth where he held off the challenge of Rory McIlroy with whom he started the final day alongside at 13-under. The former Ryder Cup star can bolster his now strong claims for an automatic spot on Thomas Bjorn’s team by claiming victory this week for what would be a personal hat-trick of Italian Open titles and if he can lift himself immediately after last week’s effort then he’ll be tough to beat for sure. Therein lies the problem though when backing him at around the 10/1 mark – has he got the anything left in the tank both mentally and physically after last week’s effort? His performances post-victory have been varied in the past and for me there’s better value to be had further down the betting.
The inclusion of the likes of Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter and Matt Fitzpatrick in this week’s field – all of whom you could make a case for here in Brescia – has meant for some juicier prices for others, none more so than Lucas Bjerregaard who at 40/1 (from a brief opening show of 50/1 in places) has as strong a claim here as those at the top of the betting in my view. Incoming form of 6th in China, 5th in Sicily and 3rd last week at Wentworth only tells a fraction of the story for the 26 year-old who became a father for the first time in December and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see him add his name to the growing list of winners who had become relatively recent Dads.
Following the logic from my preamble then a player who’s both long off the tee (305+ yard average for the past 2 seasons) and who hits a lot of greens in regulation when he’s playing well (topped the field at Wentworth for GIR last week) is perfect for this week and having backed him in Sicily on his penultimate start where he produced a full each-way return, I’m more than happy to keep the faith here this week in the same part of the world. 3rd for Driving Distance, 8th for GIR and 2nd for Putting Average that week was eye-catching and it was only his dire history at the BMW PGA Championship which put me off another investment last week, however the big Dane shrugged off course form of MC/MC/MC to lead after the first round and eventually finish 3rd after a flying finish. Where Lucas built on his Sicily performance was from off the tee where he ratcheted back the aggression ever so slightly to enable him to find 75% of fairways whilst still topping the GIR and Putting Average charts – he’ll undoubtedly add more titles to his CV if he can maintain that kind of performance, potentially as early as this week.
Aside from his aforementioned effort in Sicily, Bjerregaard also has a 3rd place finish in this event to his name back in 2015 at Monza where three pars to finish left him agonisingly one shot short of the play-off eventually won by Rikard Karlberg, however that effort sparked a run of form that saw him finish inside the top-10 on 4 of his next 7 starts and establish himself in many punters’ notebooks as a winner in waiting. Last year’s Golf Sixes win alongside Thorbjorn Olesen gave him a boost of confidence that eventually culminated in his maiden European Tour title at Vilamoura where he did exactly what he’s been doing these past few weeks – he controlled the ball from off the tee, hit plenty of greens and topped the putting charts – a very potent combination for any golfer. 25-under for the par 5s on his last 3 starts and 70 birdies and an eagle over that time is mightily impressive and I can find no reason whatsoever to oppose him here this week. RESULT: T71
Matt Wallace 1.5pts EW 55/1 with Betfred
It’s easy to forget that a little over 12 months ago Matt Wallace had just graduated from the Alps Tour and was starting to find his feet on the European Challenge Tour where he’d shown some promise with a 3rd place finish in Kenya. All that changed though as he essentially leapfrogged the second tier by winning the Open de Portugal on a parkland track new to most of the field which earned him immediate promotion to the European Tour and the 28 year-old has barely looked back since. Another victory on the European Tour in March, this time in India, elevated the Englishman inside the OWGR top 100 for the first time in his career and he’s shown no real sign of stopping with a 3rd place effort in China on his penultimate start which earned him a start in one of the marquee groups alongside Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter last week. 20th place overall at Wentworth isn’t a disaster by any stretch of the imagination and showed huge improvement on the 76/77 missed cut from the previous year, however it was his Total Driving performance on the week where his combination of length and accuracy ranked an impressive 4th in the field that resonates most.
4th in last year’s Italian Open will undoubtedly attract the attention of golf punters despite the fact that it was achieved on a different track, however it’s Matt’s Alps Tour record which really catches the eye. Clearly achieved at a lower grade, the Londoner managed to rattle off a record 6 victories in 2016 at that level, 3 of which were on Italian soil including the Grand Final itself and he clearly feels comfortable in the surroundings. With his long game working nicely and a putter which can undoubtedly catch fire – he topped the field for putting average in that aforementioned effort in China – there’s certainly enough scope to suggest another big week is possible here. RESULT: T51
Erik van Rooyen 1pt EW 80/1 with Betfred
The temptation this week was to go back in with Matthew Fitzpatrick after he finished a shot outside the paying places for us last week, however his price has virtually halved for that effort and I’ll reluctantly pass. Sam Horsfield and Sebastian Gros both caught the eye at various points last week, however I’ll complete my team for this week with South Africans Erik Van Rooyen and Dean Burmester.
Many a shrewd judge has Erik van Rooyen earmarked for bigger and better things and his rookie European Tour season is ticking along very nicely as he sits 40th in the Race to Dubai at present courtesy of a runner-up finish behind Shubhankar Sharma at the Joburg Open, a 7th place finish in Morocco and a 20th place finish last week on his Wentworth debut. Aside from averaging over 308 yards from off the tee, the South African also ranks 5th for GIR for the European Tour season-to-date which bodes well for this week’s test. When his game is on he can churn out an exceptional number of greens – 90.3% in that aforementioned Joburg effort and 83.3% (2nd in the field) at the South African Open on his following start are testament to that. 10-under for the par-5s last week at Wentworth is promising despite having to reign back his drives a little to ensure he hit more fairways and greens – to that end he adapted his game well to rank inside the top-20 for both Driving Accuracy and GIR in Surrey. 12th on the Challenge Tour on his only start on Italian soil also offers some encouragement and if the 28 year-old can find a spark with the putter here this week then he could be a danger. RESULT: T42
Dean Burmester 1pt EW 90/1 with Betfred
For the second consecutive year, Dean Burmester has made a decent fist of playing the West Course at Wentworth, this time finishing 12th as opposed to last year’s 9th place effort. For a player with his power off the tee that’s a decent return, however we shouldn’t be overly surprised really given that his history suggests that he has a liking for classical style tracks. Despite having won 7 times on the Sunshine Tour, only one of those ranked as a European Tour victory also and that holds some relevance as it was achieved on the classical, parkland track at Pretoria CC which is of similar style and length to this week’s test. After last year’s effort at Wentworth the 28 year-old didn’t play for the best part of a month and went on to miss his next two cuts, however jumping straight back in the saddle this year could well produce a different result and we know from his 4th place finish in Dubai last year that he’s comfortable mixing with the top end of the European Tour. A couple of 3rd place finishes this season in South Africa and a 30th place effort at the WGC Mexico Championship is good enough underlying form to suggest that he can go well here this week and he should lap up the par-5s here this week with his long bombing from off the tee. RESULT: T30
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