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After last week's GolfSixes event in St Albans, the European Tour's regular schedule gets back underway here in Sicily for the second Rocco Forte Open following last year's inaugural event. Despite only carrying a €1m prize fund, given the lack of golf that's been available for most players this side of the Atlantic over the past month or so we have a few higher-ranked players in attendance this week with Andy Sullivan and Thorbjorn Olesen the clear favourites, however beyond that talented pair the field soon starts to thin out. Nevertheless, there are a few clues from last year's event to latch onto and this sets up for quite a nice betting heat in my view.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Players Championship - you can read his thoughts 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 is scheduled to play as a 7,217 yard par 71. Both of the courses are coastal layouts 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 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 and of excellent quality which favours the better putters on Tour.
A gentle start to the front 9 can see players get off to a flying start with the 398-yard 1st hole providing target practice for those good with their wedges and the 591-yard 2nd ranking the 2nd easiest hole on the course 12 months ago. Players who can successfully navigate the tricky 3rd and 6th holes, both of which are long par-4s, will then have more scoring opportunities at the 122-yard 7th as well as the track's 2 other par-5s at the 9th and 12th, both of which are reachable. The closing 5 holes are more of a challenge though and each played over par for the week last year.
Tournament Stats. The Sicilian Open was held on the European Tour in 2011 and 2012 and the 2012 edition was also held here at Verdura GC on a composite layout, as was last year's Rocco Forte Open. 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.
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 75 Fahrenheit each day. The breeze is expected to pick up to around 20-25 km/h each afternoon after relatively calm morning conditions, with Sunday afternoon likely to experience the strongest wind of the week.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. No stats were captured for last year's winner Alvaro Quiros, however the next 5 players give us an idea of what to look for this week:
A mixture of long and short types on the final leaderboard, however the common denominator last year was that each had an excellent week with the putter. We can only assume what Quiros' stats looked like, however he'd surely have been close to the top of the driving distance statistic and with 21 birdies and 2 eagles over the course of 4 days I'd expect him to have holed his fair share of putts too. 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. The Bermuda rough needs a lot of warm weather to really get growing and a relatively cool spring shouldn't present the professionals with anything untoward when missing fairways.
Incoming Form: Looking at the incoming form of the players who filled the top-6 positions last year tells an interesting story as most could hardly boast sparkling results, although Quiros had posted a round of 65 (8-under) to close the week before in Portugal:
With no wind this course presents little in the way of challenge for the professional golfers - two rounds of 61 were recorded last year alongside a further 4 rounds of 62 - however as the breeze picks up from off the sea in the afternoons this layout can show its teeth to a degree. With the windiest of the weather likely to affect the leaders as they come down the stretch on Sunday, the ability to handle those conditions under pressure may well prove to be key as to who eventually lifts the trophy.
For me, I'm erring on the side of longer hitters who can score heavily on the 3 par-5s and who have some tangible putting form on decent quality bentgrass greens. Eye-catching incoming form isn't a pre-requisite - indeed given the overall standard of this event we aren't going to see much of that in players' records anyway - however a recent(ish) spark of form of some description is also a positive.
My selections are as follows:
The top of the market holds little appeal to me this week with favourite Andy Sullivan clearly playing some good golf but yet to register a top-5 finish in 2018. Thorbjorn Olesen continues to produce inconsistent results and doesn't excite at around 16/1, despite having some tangible form on the Verdura complex from 2012. You could make a tentative case about a few of the players in the 33/1 to 40/1 bracket, however for me the value lies a little further down the field.
Last week's defence of his GolfSixes title for Lucas Bjerregaard alongside compatriot Thorbjorn Olesen fell at the first hurdle, however such is the quirky and largely irrelevant format of that event that far more credence should be placed in his flying finish at the China Open the prior week which broke a dismal run of form in 2018. The big Dane became a father for the first time in December and a string of results reading MC/69/61/MC/MC/MC/MC followed to suggest that the form he'd shown at that the latter end of 2017 - which had culminated in an impressive first European Tour strokeplay title at the Portugal Masters - had well and truly disappeared as he'd understandably focussed on family affairs. A 66/64 weekend in China - which was the best performance on show and beat the field average by over 9.5 strokes - ended that run and I suspect we may well see a continuation of that on an exposed course that should play to his strengths on debut.
Despite the inclusion of Marcus Fraser on last year's final leaderboard, power from off the tee looks to be a decent asset here on the Sicilian coast and at 308 yards average for the full season last year, which ranked him in 8th position overall, we know that Lucas can put the ball out there. When he's playing well we tend to see extremely strong GIR numbers and a return to the 80% bracket in China certainly bodes well, however to contend here this week he's going to need to find a similar week on the greens to that which he produced when breaking his European Tour duck in Portugal where he produced a 1.61 putting average. The good news is that the green composition is very similar here to that track in Vilamoura, as is the overall style and length of the course as it's another par 71 measuring a little over 7,100 yards. Last year's winner here at Verdura, Alvaro Quiros, is also a former Portugal Masters champion at the Victoria course and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see that course form link franked here this week. RESULT: 5th
Of the Italian challenge, the player who appeals most to me is Nino Bertasio who's another player who can give the ball a healthy whack from off the tee. A cursory look at his Sicilian Open results will undoubtedly put some punters off - 3 missed cuts from 3 attempts hardly screams that he should be backed here - however it's worth considering that only last year's event was played on this current course configuration. 4-under after 2 rounds last year to miss the cut by a single stroke doesn't tell the whole story either as the 29 year-old produced a bogey-free round of 64 on the Friday after opening with a poor effort of 74 and I'd expect the Brescia man to push on from that effort considerably this time around.
Aside from his length from off the tee (307 yards average year-to-date), Nino is also a strong putter - particularly on bentgrass greens - ranking 20th for putting average for the 2018 season. 5th at the Maybank Championship where he held the 36-hole lead and an opening round of 65 on his last start in China are tangible recent performances, however there's plenty more to like from last season with top-15 finishes at the BMW PGA Championship, Lyoness Open, Portgual Masters (where he held the 36-hole lead), Dunhill Links, Italian Open and Andalucia Masters to suggest he's a versatile player who's capable of contending on a variety of tracks. His last 6 events have produced form of MC/MC/MC/34/59/32, however that's kept a lid on his price here this week and he has a better chance than that in my view. RESULT: T70
Nobody struck the ball better here at Verdura 12 months ago than Mikko Korhonen and despite remaining winless as a professional from over 250 starts, a small event like this isn't out of his grasp in my view for him to finally grab some silverware. 11th overall in this event last year was fuelled by impressive stats including 2nd for Total Driving, 4th for Driving Accuracy, 6th for GIR, 1st for Ball-Striking and 8th for Scrambling and save for a better week on the greens the Finn could have been celebrating a long overdue success. 2nd at both the Lyoness Open and Tshwane Open in 2017 rank as Korhonen's career-best performances and clearly at the age of 37 he's still improving. 3rd at this season's Tshwane Open featured his first sub-1.7 putting performance of the year and there were signs of life once again on his last start in Morocco where he produced the joint-best round on Friday before drifting to 41st over the weekend. Without being the longest off the tee, Mikko can still put the ball out there when required - he average 326 yards off the tee here last year which was 2nd in the field - and if there is indeed a tangible link to the Portgual Masters for this event then it's interesting to note that he finished 3rd to Padraig Harrington at Vilamoura in 2016. RESULT: T26
In terms of raw credentials, Lucas Herbert has exactly what I'm looking for here ranking 15th on the European Tour for Driving Distance for the season to date and prior to his most recent missed cut in China, he also ranked 11th on Tour for putting average. I backed the Australian on that last start at a 3-figure price in the hope that he'd turn around his form and find the game that produced 5 top-8 finishes in 6 global starts previously - although it wasn't to be, I'm willing to give him one last chance here this week. That was the 22 year-old's first start for 6 weeks and he was entitled to be a little rusty, however he was quick to go to twitter having seemingly ironed out his issues on the range afterwards, with his coach stating that his swing was 'the best he'd seen it'. Interesting comments and for a player who finished 7th at the Australian PGA Championship and impressed so much at the World Super 6 in Perth when ultimately finishing 3rd having ranked in 2nd place after the strokeplay element, I think he's worth another shot here. RESULT: T3
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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