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A small step up in class this week with the inaugural Rocco Forte Open gracing our screen after last week's low-key affair in Portugal which was won in style by 55/1 tip Matt Wallace. Unlike last week, the Rocco Forte Open isn't a Challenge Tour co-sanctioned affair, however with a €1m prize fund it certainly falls into the lower category of events and the field assembled here is a fair reflection of that fact. European Tour maiden Jordan L Smith heads the betting this week at 20/1 at the time of writing, however as we saw last week with Ricardo Gouveia, the expectation for players to perform when favourite in these small events can be counter-productive to say the least.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship - you can read his thought on that event here.
Course Overview. Verdura Golf Club has two golf courses, the East and West, and nine holes from each are being used to create this week's layout which was reported as a par 72 measuring 7,352 yards in the official press release. Both of the courses are links in style, designed by Kyle Phillips (creator of Kingsbarns which forms part of the Dunhill Links each year), and this composite track professes to take the best parts of both layouts to create this week's championship course. Set amid olive. lemon and orange groves, the layout features undulating fairways, deep bunkers and, as always with coastal tracks, the level of difficulty tends to be dictated by the strength of the breeze first and foremost. Greens are A1/A4 bentgrass.
Tournament Stats. The Sicilian Open was held on the European Tour in 2011 and 2012 and whilst this week's event is strictly a new tournament, the 2012 Sicilian Open was also held here at Verdura GC on a composite layout. The results from both the 2011 and 2012 events form this week's stats: Current Form | Event Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Weather Forecast. The latest forecast for Agrigento, Sicily is here. Dry conditions with plenty of warm sunshine are expected this week in Sicily with temperatures approaching 80 Fahrenheit each day. The breeze is expected to pick up to around 25 km/h each afternoon after relatively calm morning conditions with Saturday afternoon likely to experience the strongest wind of the week.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. The Championship course is a composite of the East and West Courses as it was for the 2012 Sicilian Open won by Thorbjorn Olesen. Here are the stats for the top 5 finishers that week:
The links/coastal pedigree of the top 5 from 2012 is fairly clear to see and is a good indicator of what's required here this week. Olesen is a former Alfred Dunhill Links champion; Chris Wood has two Open Championship top-5 finishes to his name as well as further domestic links form; Nicolas Colsaerts has a pair of 3rd place finishes at Scottish Opens on his CV; Soren Kjeldsen won the Irish Open in 2015 at Royal County Down; and of relevance to the course designer here, Jose Manuel Lara finished 4th and 6th in 2010 and 2011 at the Kyle Phillips redesign at Hilversumsche GC which is part of the KLM Open course rota.
There's a mix of wide and narrower fairways, however in general this isn't a tight course and finding fairways and greens isn't too much of a problem for all but the seriously wayward. Birdies though weren't that easy to find 5 years ago with Olesen making just 20 on the week plus 1 eagle, whereas Wood made 17 plus an eagle, so to compile a contending score here players are going to need to minimise bogeys through a decent short game first and foremost.
The par 5s are generally scoreable without being a pushover - the top-5 finishers in 2012 averaged around -7 for the week on the par 5s - so picking up sufficient birdies on the remainder of the course is a must for those with aspirations of taking the title.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
I'm not convinced that the bookmakers are paying last week's winner Matt Wallace enough respect here this week and at the price on offer I'm happy to take their position on. Yes, back-to-back victories aren't easy - even for those players at the very top of the game - however every once in a while an emerging talent on the European Tour gets the job done in consecutive events and I'd very much categorise the Londoner as one of those up-and-coming stars. Thomas Pieters in 2015 (D+D Real Czech Masters, KLM Open) and Jeunghun Wang in 2016 (Trophee Hassan II, Mauritius Open) both proved that following up a maiden European Tour victory with more success on their next start is more than possible and if there's to be a 2017 story along the same lines then Wallace fits the bill perfectly. 5 wins in consecutive Alps Tour events last year before he also grabbed the Grand Final trophy later in the year tells its own story about a player who's clearly a prolific winner at the levels in which he's played to date, however the fact that 3 of those wins came in a 4 week stretch gives me the reassurance that he can maintain top gear for a prolonged period of time.
Some might argue that the Open de Portugal was new territory for Matt when it comes to winning and this week's Rocco Forte Open is a further step as it's a full European Tour event as opposed to a glorified Challenge Tour affair, however with the greatest of respect to those assembled, I see no reason for the 27 year-old to fear what is still a weak field. With plenty of experience of Italy and the surrounding region from his Alps Tour days and winning coastal form during that time too, is it really too much of a stretch to expect him to lift his game once again here? 3 bogey-free rounds last week in generally blustery conditions and the ability to remain calm when what was at one point a 7-stroke lead disappeared is mightily impressive if you ask me and I'll happily back him here, even if I'm proven wrong on this one come Sunday. RESULT: T38
If fatigue catches up with our headline act then having a decent back-up plan is essential if we're going to produce a profit this week. Jordan Smith is undoubtedly a talented player, however the bookies' favourite bombed out at the Volvo China Open on his last start with a second round 75 and his price isn't vaguely attractive to me. James Morrison has been playing some very consistent golf without getting close enough to winning, however he could easily feature here and David Horsey, who's been waxing lyrical about a new putter, was also tempting given his record in Italy. I've picked out a couple of players though who I think can go well on this coastal track:
First up, Scott Jamieson who's going to string the 4 requisite rounds together that are required to win a second European Tour event before too long. The 33 year-old has been quietly playing some impressive golf for a few months now stretching back to the KLM Open (10th) and Italian Open (7th) last September. 4th at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and 3rd at the Indian Open are his best results of this wrap-around season, however the Tshwane Open actually presented his best opportunity of a win as he entered the final round with a share of the lead before a disastrous 78 saw him slip all the way down to 22nd. 21st on his last start at the Shezhen International was hampered by a third round 73, however in between these odd poor rounds there's been a lot of good golf to give the Scot confidence coming into this week. 10 career efforts in Italy have produced 10 paid weekends which is no mean feat, headlines from which are 5th at the Sicilian Open in 2011 and 7th at the Italian Open last autumn. 2nd at the 2013 Volvo Golf Champions event was played on a coastal track in South Africa and Jamieson was destined to back up his Nelson Mandela Championship victory from the previous month before letting a 5-stroke final round lead slip away. 3rd at Castle Stuart in 2011 and 8th at Royal Aberdeen in 2014 are decent links performances in strong company and 4th at the KLM Open at Hilversum in 2012 is also relevant form for this week. RESULT: T38
If you've been reading my previews for a while now you'll know that I can't resist backing Raphael Jacquelin on a coastal track if he's shown a bit of form recently. That combination very nearly produced a massive 250/1 winner back at the Scottish Open in 2015 when the Frenchman arrived north of the border off the back of a much improved 24th place finish at Le Golf National and only a flying finish from Rickie Fowler scuppered our chances. A former winner on Sicilian soil back in 2011, the 43 year-old generally raises his game when he arrives on a coastal course and this kind of layout where bogey avoidance is key should play to his strengths very nicely indeed. A grinding win at the Open de Espana in 2013 on the tough, coastal track at El Saler is his more tangible form for this week and although I don't expect Verdura to be such a challenge, it will nevertheless pose the players a fair few questions and in that respect Jacquelin is very well equipped. 13th on his last start at the Volvo China Open featured just 5 bogeys throughout the 4 days and he topped the field for scrambling - that's very encouraging as he arrives on a layout that should appeal despite missing the cut here in 2012. Alex Levy's win in China clearly also provided much encouragement for his compatriot judging by his facebook page and with all relevant factors seemingly aligned here I'm happy to back Rafa at the price on offer. RESULT: T18
A longer-priced option to complete my team this week. It was interesting reading some of Roope Kakko's comments ahead of the Open de Portugal last week as he looks to regain some career momentum and win back his playing privileges on the European Tour. The Finn's exemption for his one and only win on the upper Tour in Madeira in 2015 has well and truly ended and he's talked at length about finding the motivation to get back into the winner's circle to reignite his fortunes. Clearly he's a talented player - weekend rounds of 64/63 on the Portuguese Island meant he amassed a 24-under total on that coastal track on his way to a 3-stroke victory and after more promising efforts in the Czech Republic (5th) and Italy (11th) he's pretty much fallen off the radar. 22nd last week is something of an improvement then and he has a further chance this week at European Tour level to get back on the right road. Italy has generally been a strong country for the 35 year-old - 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 8th over the years on various Challenge Tour events in the country plus 8th and 11th at the Italian Open itself in the past is positive and with compatriot Tapio Pulkkanen outperforming him on a regular basis, including last week, perhaps it will act as a wake-up call for some focus and motivation. 17 birdies last week equalled his best haul in the last 12 months driven largely by a far better performance with his irons and with a bit of confidence Kakko could be an interesting dark horse this week. 300/1 is available at the time of writing with 5 places, however I'll take the lower price in exchange for the two extra each way spots. RESULT: T55
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