If you're betting on the First Round Leader market for this event then check out our new combined FRL form/event stats here!
After a challenging couple of weeks at the Dunhill Links and at Walton Heath, there's no let-up for the players this week as the European Tour heads to Spain for the this week's Andalucia Valderrama Masters. A former WGC and Ryder Cup venue, Valderrama was briefly used for this event in 2010 and 2011 having dropped off the schedule following the demise of the season-ending Volvo Masters, however after hosting the 2016 Spanish Open this event returns to the iconic Spanish track for a second consecutive year.
Tournament host and defending champion Sergio Garcia rates as the clear favourite this week at around the 4/1 mark generally, and following his performance at the Ryder Cup he's sure to be popular given his incredible record around these parts. With the big-money tournaments at Sheshan, Turkey, Sun City and Dubai to follow after this week, it's understandable that a number of the European Tour's leading lights have chosen to give this week a miss. That does, however, offer a lifeline to the many players who are currently staring Q-School in the face and this week will undoubtedly be interesting as players attempt to get inside that magical top-110 number (or thereabouts) to ensure that they automatically secure their playing rights for next season.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Club de Golf Valderrama, Sotogrande, Spain. Designer: Trent Jones Snr, 1985, with recent Kyle Phillips updates; Course Type: Classical, Technical; Par: 71; Length: 6,991 yards; Fairways: Bermuda Tifway; Rough: Bermuda/Rye; Greens: Bentgrass (G2) 12'6" on the stimp.
Course Overview. The course is set just a few kilometres from the Mediterranean coastline and is a typical Trent Jones test in many respects with narrow, undulating fairways leading to tiny, sloping and fast bentgrass G2 greens. At a shade under 7,000 yards, the course isn't long by today's standards, however it's still a stern test in all departments which can turn positively nasty if the weather closes in.
Changes to the course prior to the 2016 Spanish Open held here were generally to the bunkers and tees, plus the cork trees that line the fairways were cut back a little, however that didn’t make the course play any easier with Andrew Johnston running out the winner at +1 over the 4 days. More work has been undertaken on and around the putting surfaces on the front nine since Beef's victory, however the challenge here is fundamentally the same and it's a tough test from start to finish. The layout features 3 par-5s in the par-71 35-36 format, with the back 9 and particularly the closing stretch featuring a succession of tough holes and the par-5 17th offering little in the way of respite, despite its seemingly attractive 536 yards of length.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Andalucia Valderrama Masters that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this venue: Current Form | Course Form | First Round Leader Stats | 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 weather forecast for Valderrama is here. The tournament should enjoy fine and dry weather throughout the four days of play, however it won't be particularly warm for the Spanish coast with temperatures struggling to hit 70 Fahrenheit after some chilly mornings. Winds will be moderate at around 10-15mph in the afternoons with Saturday looking the most challenging in that respect.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats of the past 7 winners at Valderrama gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Hitting the narrow fairways at Valderrama is only a small part of the task at hand, as is clear from the stats of the most recent winners on this track. GIR stats as low as these for winners is extremely rare which emphasises just how difficult it is to hit the tiny greens here and the winner is going to need to have an outstanding week scrambling from off of the putting surfaces in order to compile a winning score. Valderrama truly tests all aspects of a player's game and any weaknesses are often cruelly exposed.
Incoming Form: Looking at the recent form of the same 7 most recent winners at Valderrama and the overriding trend is that all players had been in pretty good nick. Sergio had finished 12th and 10th at the final two FedEx Cup PlayOff events on the PGA Tour before returning to Europe and his effort in Italy the week before winning here had shown some promise as he sat 6th going into the weekend. The others all had contending performances to their names in recent weeks too as the stats below confirm:
Course Form: A bit of a mixed bag here in terms of course form with Jeev Milkha Singh and Beef Johnston winning on competitive debut whereas Soren Kjeldsen, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia (twice) all had a strong record here prior to winning:
With this event signalling the end of the regular European Tour season before we head to China for the WGC HSBC Champions and the concluding events of the Rolex Series that follow prior to Dubai, the time to perform in order to preserve playing privileges is here. Last season we saw players ranked 106th (Wade Ormsby) and 123rd (Daniel Brooks) secure their cards with top-5 finishes and there are a number of players in a similar predicament this week who simply most perform this week if they're going to avoid going to Q-School.
Boiling it all down then it looks like the most likely winner will be a player who can handle a grind who's shown some good form of late and is performing nicely on and around the greens. Accuracy both from off the tee and with approach shots is an advantage and far outweighs power in my opinion. My selections are as follows:
The top of the market this week is particularly unappealing with tournament host and defending champion Sergio Garcia dominating favouritism at an extremely 4/1 or thereabouts. The former Masters champion has an incredibly consistent record around these parts as is evidenced in the course form section in the preamble above and following an impressive performance at the Ryder Cup it's impossible to discount him here, however at the price on offer you've got to be pretty sure that he's going to get over the line to warrant a large investment.
Behind Garcia there's the likes of Shane Lowry whose short game has been a little patchy of late, Lee Westwood who hasn't played here for a decade but is clearly suited to the track, Soren Kjeldsen who also loves this course but is prohibitively short in the betting, Andrew Johnston who's a former winner here but made no impression on another suitable venue last week, and Padraig Harrington whose putter was ice cold last week at Walton Heath. Each could contend of course - and I'd expect a few of those names to get in the mix - however if Garcia does convert then the each-way element barely touches the sides, so I'm going for a more expansive each-way strategy this week.
Had Julian Suri fulfilled his entry into this event as was originally planned, then he'd have been hard to shift from my team if the price had been right, however that's all academic now which leaves my first selection as South Korea's Jeunghun Wang. Andrew Johnston proved that the right type of player can instantly take to Valderrama when winning here on debut in the 2016 Spanish Open and at a similar price I think that Wang has the necessary tools to get himself into the each-way paying places or better here this week. Already a 3-time winner on the European Tour, two of those victories came with winning totals of 5-under (2016 Trophee Hassan II) and 6-under (2016 Mauritius Open) to heavily suggest that he has the game to grind on the more challenging tracks presented on the golfing schedule.
His 2017 Qatar Masters victory may have given the 23 year-old breathing space for this season in terms of no requirement to retain his playing privileges, however at 85th in the Race To Dubai, 2018 has been a largely disappointing season given the talent that this lad has - however he's presented with one final chance here of getting himself into the season-ending events where the real money is made. After a run of 7 missed cuts in 9 events, Wang's 12th place finish at another short, fiddly track at Crans may have signalled something of a turning point as his final round 64 was his best round of golf on Tour for nearly 2 years and save for a 3rd round 76, he'd have been far closer to the top of the leaderboard the following week in Holland having sat inside the top-10 heading into the weekend. Rounds of 69 and 70 on Thursday and Saturday at Walton Heath were also impressive in the context of that tricky test and his long game looked in decent shape as he produced season-best ball-striking figures, ranking 13th for Driving Accuracy and 5th for GIR. Given his winning ability on tougher tracks, I'm happy to take a chance on the South Korean this week. RESULT: T29
Ashley Chesters 1pt EW 100/1 with Bet £/€5 get £/€20 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply* (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
A missed cut last week at Walton Heath has kept England's Ashley Chesters under the radar from a bookmaker's perspective, however I think there's just about enough underlying form to take a chance on him here this week. An opening round of 79 played the 29 year-old out of the tournament in Surrey, however a bogey-free 71 in tough conditions on Friday will have restored some confidence, even if it wasn't enough for him to make the weekend. 44th at the Dunhill Links the week before had also hinted that the Shrewsbury man was playing some tidy golf as he was 6th heading into the weekend following a sparkling 64 at Kingsbarns, however two closing rounds of 74 were never going to work in that event and his challenge soon fizzled out. Chesters needed the Access List to ensure that he was playing golf at European Tour level last year after finishing 110th in the Race to Dubai, so whilst he's in a far more comfortable position this year sitting at 88th, there's still a chance that he can sneak into the final Rolex Series events with a lofty finish here this week and with a game that's built on precision that's not out of the realms of possibility. At 12th in the Driving Accuracy rankings for the full season, Ashley is one of the straightest players on Tour from off the tee and that's likely to help him out considerably here at the claustrophobic confines of Valderrama. 12th here last year on course debut was impressive given that he'd had a relatively poor season and weekend rounds of 69/68 were bettered by just 3 players in the field as he increasingly got to grips with the course. RESULT: 4th
Steven Brown 1pt EW 125/1 with Bet £/€5 get £/€20 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply* (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
Marcus Fraser 1pt EW 150/1 with £40 welcome bonus*** for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 places, 1/5 odds)
I'm going to stick to my guns this week and add another trio of 3-figure selections, safe in the knowledge that if any one of my 5 players can grab an each-way place or better then that's a better overall return than a similar sized bet on some of those I've mentioned at the top of the market, even if they were to win outright.
First up Edoardo Molinari who I backed last week at Walton Heath and who finished 40 places ahead of his far more fancied brother Francesco. 16th place didn't return us anything tangible of course from the bet, however an ever-improving 4 rounds of 74/72/71/70 was impressive in the conditions and with Driving Accuracy of 73.3% (4th in the field) and GIR of 73.6% (9th) it's clear that the Italian's long game is working very nicely, which is always a bonus heading into a test like Valderrama. Wins at -12 (2010 Scottish Open), -10 (2010 Johnnie Walker) and -9 (2017 Trophee Hassan II) put the 37 year-old in the type of bracket that I like to see when assessing this type of event, as birdie-fests haven't proven to be Dodo's strongest suit in his career to date. Instead this type of technical challenge is far more up his alley and with his long game in decent shape, I suspect he can produce a strong personal best here on the Spanish coastline. Valderrama form of MC/MC/42/58 might do little to encourage readers to blindly jump on the bandwagon, however it's worth noting that opening rounds of 69/71 here last year put Molinari in 8th place heading into the weekend, before he picked up a stomach bug and struggling badly over the weekend. Having described Valderrama as his 'favourite golf course of the season' ahead of last year's event and with his long game (and health) in a much better state, I can see him rewarding each-way punters here this week. RESULT: T22
One player I was looking out for last week when placing my bets early in the week was Steven Brown given his local ties to Walton Heath, however he wasn't added to the field until the 11th hour and most bookies hadn't even priced him before the event started, so it was with some relief that he dropped away after a bright start last week where he sat as high as 2nd place for a time on Friday. 16th overall wasn't a disaster though and backed up some of the promise that we'd seen earlier this year at the Sicilian Open where he finished in a tie for 7th and at the Made In Denmark, where he was part of the 4-man PlayOff eventually won by Matt Wallace. At the age of 31, the Surrey man is a relatively late starter in his rookie season on the European Tour after qualifying through his top-15 finish on the Challenge Tour last year, however at 97th in the Race to Dubai he can approach this week with relative ease given that his card is all but stamped for next season. When he's played well this year he really has impressed and the third round 63 that catapulted him into contention at the tree-lined track in Denmark is a case in point. 77.8% GIR last week at Walton Heath was 3rd best in the field and although this will be his Valderrama debut, if he can continue to strike his irons with the same level of accuracy then he could be another who outperforms his odds this week. RESULT: T42
Finally I'm taking a punt on Australian Marcus Fraser who very nearly caused another upset at the Dunhill Links a fortnight ago. Leading after the first day and placing second heading into Sunday, the 40 year-old eventually succumbed to the pressure and a disappointing final round of 77 at St Andrews meant that he drifted down to 10th position overall. After a largely disappointing season containing just a solitary top-10 finish at the World Super 6 to that point, perhaps his Sunday effort wasn't a complete shock, however that leaves him in a precarious position at a lowly 146th in the Race To Dubai and he quite simply must perform here this week. Fact is though, his form has been slowly coming round for a few weeks now and aside from his effort at the Dunhill Links - which contained an opening round at Carnoustie which he described as one of his best ever performances - an ace at Crans in September on his previous start and a closing round of 70 at Walton Heath in tough conditions where he played the extremely difficult back 9 without a bogey will give him some confidence that he can muster the kind of performance that's required here this week. Much of Fraser's best golf has come on classical, tree-lined courses including his most recent win on Tour at the Maybank Championship in 2016. 24th here on his Valderrama debut is also mildly encouraging and if he can have a good week with his irons to compliment his typically stellar short game then he could get in the frame once again this week. RESULT: T29
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