Dave Tindall

Across the Pond

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Italian Open Preview

Monday, October 9, 2017


Now in its 74th year, the Italian Open takes a big leap forward in prestige this week.

 

After being seen as just another stop on the European Tour’s jaunt around Continental Europe, this year it forms part of the money-spinning Rolex Series.

 

Being ranked as one of the eight premium category tournaments means a serious hike in prize money and last year’s purse is more than doubled to $7million.

 

With some serious cash on offer, the field strength rises too and heading to Golf Club Milano this week are eight of the top 11 on the Race to Dubai. That includes the top three – Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm.

 

It also means this is a seriously big week for gamers playing the official European Tour fantasy game with so many points up for grabs.

 

 

The Course

 

This is the third straight year at Golf Club Milano at Parco Reale di Monza. Designed in 1928, it’s a tree-lined par 71 (36-35) measuring 7,156 yards. The three par 5s measure just 556, 564 and 503 yards respectively but three of the par 3s are over 200 yards although tees could be moved forward. The fairways are on the narrow side but there a lots of birdie opportunities out there. Last year, Francesco Molinari won with 22-under while 74 players made the cut at 3-under.

 

 

Past champions, winning scores and stats at Golf Club Milano

 

2016 -22 Francesco Molinari (DD: 32, DA: 3, GIR: 5, Scr: 54, PA: 10, AA: 3)

2015 -19 Rikard Karlberg (DD: 46, DA: 66, GIR: 10, Scr: 8, PA: 18, AA: 19)

 

Notes: Karlberg didn’t hit many fairways, but looking at others in the top 10 in both years, accuracy looks more important that distance off the tee while greens in regulation is probably the best guide if backed up by solid putting.

 

Previous winners at other venues

 

2014 Hennie Otto – Golf Club Torino (-20)

2013 Julien Quesne – Golf Club Torino (-12)

2012 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano – Royal Park (-24)

2011 Robert Rock – Royal Park (-21)

2010 Fredrik Andersson Hed – Royal Park (-16)

2009 Daniel Vancsik – Royal Park (-17)

2008 Hennie Otto – Castello di Tolcinasco (-25)

2007 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano – Castello di Tolcinasco (-16)

2006 Francesco Molinari – Castello di Tolcinasco (-23)

 

 

The Weather

 

Put the bobble hats and winter gear away and return to t-shirt mode. The contrast between Scotland last week and Italy is stark. Milan will be bathed in sunshine all week, with temperatures in the high 70s and hardly a jot of wind. Perfect conditions for scoring on a venue that was going to be a birdie-fest anyway.

 

 

The Leading Contenders

 

Jon Rahm

The Spanish sensation has played in two Rolex Series events so far, finishing T10 in the Open de France and winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open by six shots. Only a European Tour member since the start of March, such is his rise that the 22-year-old is now the highest placed Euro in the World Rankings at No.5 (one above Rory). Ahead of his tournament debut, Rahm is third on the Race to Dubai but over a million points behind Tommy Fleetwood so he needs another big one. After going 3-4-5-7 in the FedExCup Play-offs, there’s every chance he’ll deliver.

 

Sergio Garcia

Surprisingly, Sergio will be playing his first event as a pro in Italy this week. It’s just his 11th start in Europe this season but, boosted by that memorable Masters win, he sits second on the Race to Dubai although a distant one to Tommy Fleetwood. Garcia will be desperate to close the gap in his bid to end the season as European No. 1 for the first time and, although 70-69 saw him miss the cut at the British Masters, before that he was T10 (Tour Championship) and T12 (BMW) so some more good form could be close. A negative? You can argue that a birdie-fest isn’t exactly his thing.

 

Francesco Molinari

After the wins for Tyrrell Hatton (Alfred Dunhill) and Brendan Steele (Safeway Open) last week, defending titles is all the rage now in golf. Molinari bids to follow suit, with the added bonus of doing it front of his home fans. He’s now won two Italian Opens and returns this year ranked seventh on the Race to Dubai despite having pegged it up in just nine counting events. That includes second place at Wentworth and a breakthrough T2 in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow – his first ever top five in a major. T12 at the BMW Championship in Illinois on his last start, a big title defense is expected.  

 

Tommy Fleetwood

The Race to Dubai leader looked all set to extend his lead in Scotland last week after cruising into a share of the halfway lead at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with a course-record 63 at Carnoustie, next year’s Open venue. A 76 on Saturday ruined his hopes and he ended the week in T25. He had only played 36 holes (MC at Euro Masters) since the PGA at Quail Hollow so it was perhaps too early to expect four-round consistency. A winner at the Open de France in July, Fleetwood closed 66-64 on the weekend here last year for T7 while he has seven top 25s in nine starts at European/Challenge Tour level in Italy.

 

Tyrrell Hatton

Hatton followed his win at last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with T9 at the British Masters so that suggests he can shine again after his successful title defense in Scotland on Sunday. That win added to T8 at the British Masters and T3 at the European Masters and, if you’re keeping count, he’s 47-under for those 12 rounds. The Englishman only managed T45 in this event last year but day-by-day scores of 69-70-69-69 suggest he can kick on and get in the mix this time. Now 11th on the Race to Dubai.

 

Alex Noren

Third on last year’s Race to Dubai after four wins in the second half of the campaign, Noren sits fifth this time after a victory (Wentworth – a Rolex Series event) and four other top 10s in 16 starts. That’s a pretty impressive way of backing up a sensational 2016 and his missed cut in the British Masters last time is fairly easy to ignore (he followed his last MC with T6 in The Open the very next week). The Swede has rather ugly Italian Open form of MC-MC-43-WD but he hasn’t teed it up in this event for five years and this is his first start at Golf Club Milano.

 

Ross Fisher

Fisher couldn’t quite reel in Tyrrell Hatton but walking off the Old Course at St. Andrews having played it in less shots (61) than anyone in history suggests he’ll have a smile on his face heading to Italy. He’ll hope that second place at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship can fuel the sort of hot run he went on through March to May when racking up five top 10s in six European Tour starts. This will be the Englishman’s first look at the course but his only Italian Open start produced T7 in 2014 and his form in three Challenge Tour events in the country reads: 16-5-15.

 

Matt Fitzpatrick

After T15 on the links at the Alfred Dunhill (he’d previously missed both his cuts in that event) on Sunday, Fitzpatrick must be confident of another big show here. Last week’s result, achieved with three closing 68s, followed a win at the European Masters in Switzerland and T11 in the British Masters and he’s up to 13th on the Race to Dubai and in position to challenge last year’s finish of sixth. The Yorkshireman brings impressive course form to the table too after T3 in 2015 and T16 last year. He shot a 65 both years.

 

Shane Lowry

The Irishman is certainly doing enough to keep gamers coming back but expectations have been high the last few weeks and 29-7-25 in events where he was predicted to challenge heavily for titles have been just a tad disappointing. Those frustrations continued at the Alfred Dunhill Links last week where three good rounds (68-66-69) were compromised by a Friday 75. He’s hitting lots of greens but managers would like to see him holing more putts as Lowry prepares for his first start on a course where the birdie count needs to keep ticking over fast.

 

Bernd Wiesberger

Italy shares a border with Wiesberger’s native Austria so he shouldn’t go short of fan support. He came over for the 2015 event at Golf Club Milano and finished T14 while in two other starts in the event he’s posted T16 (2014) and T23 (2013). His current form is less reliable though. Wiesberger has missed three of his last four cuts although, during that run, he delivered a top 10 in the KLM Open. His iron play remains sharp but he may struggle to keep the birdie count high enough unless his current cold putter heats up.


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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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