Dave Tindall

Across the Pond

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The Rocco Forte Open Preview

Monday, May 15, 2017


If gamers are a little beat up after recent results, it doesn’t get an awful lot easier on the European Tour week.

 

Why? We have a brand new event – the Rocco Forte Open at Verdura CC in Sicily, Italy – although, as detailed in a moment, the venue was used once before at this level, although five years ago.

 

There’s no denying that it’s a weak field and, in terms of the elite European players, they were unlikely to head this way due to it being sandwiched between The PLAYERS Championship and next week’s flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

 

It’s probably telling that we have a rookie, Jordan Smith, at the front of the market.

 

 

The Course

Verdura Golf Club features three layouts which run along two kilometres of coastline by the Mediterranean Sea. Sir Rocco Forte says: “Our two 18-hole links golf courses are designed by Kyle Phillips with sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea from every hole.” After last week, when the European Tour told us the course in Portugal was 1,000 yards shorter than it was, the info here seems more reliable. The composite course measures 7,352 yards and uses nine holes from the two 18-hole links courses. The final six holes all hug the coastline. Mike Stewart, the European Tour's tournament director, said: “Sir Rocco Forte was also involved in the final routing as he was keen to see the tournament finish on the spectacular 18th hole of the East Course. The final hole will provide a suitable climax to a superb course. The tee shot is played against a backdrop of the cliffs with the coastline of Sicily lying to the right with the waves from the Mediterranean Sea breaking on the shoreline below. During the 2012 Sicilian Open, this proved to be the hardest hole on the course.”

Ah, yes, the Sicilian Open. So we do have some course form, at least a little, as 37 of this week’s field played in that event which was won by Thorbjorn Olesen. There’s a few links specialists in the top 10 below (Wood, Lowry) and the top four were northern Europeans perhaps more used to windy conditions.

The top 10 were:

 

-15 Thorbjorn Olesen

-14 Chris Wood

-12 Nicolas Colsaerts, Soren Kjeldsen

-11 Jose Manual Lara

-10 Shane Lowry, Andrew Parr, Estanislao Goya, Alvaro Velasco

 

Designer Kyle Phillips also did The Grove in Hertfordshire (host of last year’s British Masters), Kingsbarns in Scotland (used at Alfred Dunhill Links Championship) and Hilversumsche in the Netherlands, a previous host course of the KLM Open. He also did extensive remodelling of Valderrama.

 

 

The Weather

 

The latest forecast suggests plenty of sunshine and relatively gentle breezes which will pick up a little on the weekend. However, conditions can change quickly with coastal golf so I’d rather have players who can thrive in the wind.


The Leading Contenders

 

Jordan Smith

The English rookie missed his first cut of the season (Australia) and also his most recent one (China) but between those early exits he’s played some excellent golf. At 32nd on the Race to Dubai he’s the second highest ranked newcomer (Dylan Frittelli is 18th) and his results include 3rd, T6th, T8th and four other top 25s. The T6 came in Qatar and one of his Challenge Tour wins last year was on the coast at the Red Sea Egyptian Challenge so he should enjoy this week’s test by the sea.

 

HaoTong Li

T38 in last year’s Italian Open, his only start in the country, the Chinese youngster has three top 25s from his latest five European Tour starts. That includes T5 in the Maybank Championship in Malaysia and T11 at his home China Open. Li posted back-to-back top 20s in Switzerland and the Netherlands last year so can be effective on mainland Europe too.

 

James Morrison

Morrison should be a popular choice this week as several roads lead his way. He has a bit of course form (R1 66 and R4 68 when T31 in the 2012 Sicilian Open), he can play well by the coast, has shot some good numbers on Kyle Phillips courses and is in fine form this season. He’s 8-for-9 with five top 15 finishes and a best of T4 in the Joburg Open.

 

Bradley Dredge

A trawl through Dredge’s past trips to Italy shows a win at the Challenge Tour’s Is Molas Challenge in 1999 and a pair of second places in the Italian Open (2001 and 2005). He was also T17 in the latter in 2012. This will be his first start at Verdura but he’s played well by the sea before (first Euro Tour win was in Madeira). The Welshman had a pair of top 25s on the Desert Swing but had a break after that and hopefully shook off some rust in China (MC-T48).

 

Richard Bland

Bland opened with a 69 when playing the Sicilian Open here in 2012 although fell back to T56. His career 2016 season included a top five in last year’s Italian Open and he was also T4 in the British Masters at The Grove (another Kyle Phillips design) but he’s found the going much tougher in 2017 and is hidden away at 173rd on the Race to Dubai having failed to make even a top 30 in his six starts.

 

David Horsey

A four-time European Tour winner, Horsey has some strong Italian Open form with 5-14-16 in his last three visits although this is his first look at Verdura. The Englishman conjured up T8 in the Indian Open at the end of March but apart from that he’s been very quiet with four missed cuts in his last six starts.

 

Matteo Manassero

So what of the home challenge? Manassero has suffered some dreadful lows over the last few seasons but he’s slowly been climbing back and is producing his most consistent golf in a while. A top three in India was the highlight but either side of that he’s been steady with three of his other four starts showing T39 or better and he also helped Italy to the semi-finals of the GolfSixes in England a couple of week ago. He missed the cut at this venue in 2012 but cracked the top three in the Italian Open the same year.

 

Nicolas Colsaerts

The big-hitting Belgian shot 67-71-69-69 to finish tied third here back in 2012 and he’s also shown good form on another Kyle Phillips coastal course, Hilversumsche, after making the top 10 in two of his last three starts there in the KLM Open. We saw flashes of his talent in China recently (T19 with a round to go at the China Open before ending T42) so this could be an ideal chance for Colsaerts to get his disappointing campaign up and running.

 

Chris Hanson

If it does get a little gusty by the sea, Hanson can certainly golf his ball in windy conditions as shown by T6 in Morocco two starts ago and T18 at the Qatar Masters. He’s had six finishes of T26 or better from 11 starts this season and is a healthy 62nd on the Race to Dubai. The Englishman also has some handy form in Italy (20-12-26).

 

Edoardo Molinari

Landed first European Tour win since 2010 when capturing last month’s Trophee Hassan II in Morocco and, of course, he’s playing on home Italian soil. T70 and MC since that victory but that jolt of confidence could show for the first real time this week. Won two Challenge Tour events on home turf in 2009.

 

Trevor Fisher, Jr.

The South African was in the front two in the betting in Portugal and shot -4 in three of his four rounds but blew his chances of a good finish with a Saturday 78. Still, that T35 followed second place in the Sunshine Tour’s Zimbabwe Open and T8 in the Trophee Hassan II so his form is strong. Course debut.


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Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky Sports.com in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on tindall_david@hotmail.com and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.
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