The European Tour heads south from the Netherlands to Italy this week for the 72nd playing of the Open d’Italia.
It’s a relatively short flight time of 1hr 40m and plenty of those who teed it up at Kennemer will be boarding planes to Milan.
The venue – Golf Club Milano – hasn’t been used on Tour since 1990 so gamers are denied the chance to peruse recent course form.
Then again, two recent dual winners of this event both recorded their victories on different courses so any good form on Italian tracks is worth noting.
After a disappointing weekend at the KLM Open, Martin Kaymer will try again to justify his status as tournament favorite while Francesco Molinari leads a 23-man home contingent.
Molinari was the last Italian to win his home Open in 2006.
Stewart Cink is a surprise but welcome visitor from the PGA TOUR.
Previous Italian Open winners/venues/winning scores
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)
2005 Steve Webster – Castello di Tolcinasco (-18)
Notes: Five times in the last 10 years the tournament has been won with 20-under or lower.
Golf Club Milano has hosted this event six times previously but this will be the first since 1990 when Sky Sports commentator Richard Boxall (more straight than long) won his only European Tour title after holding off Jose Maria Olazabal. Designed in 1928, the heavily tree-lined course is set in Monza Park. The scenic 7,159-yard par 72 features four par 5s (1st 556 yards, 9th 564 yards, 14th 503 yards and 16th 519 yards) which should yield a bunch of birdies and eagles. Tour player Marco Crespi is the local pro and gives this hole-by-hole guide on the European Tour website. David Howell, meanwhile, told Europeantour.com this week, “I don’t know the course in Milan but I’ve been told it’s quite tight and fiddly. It’ll be a bit like last week, I think, in that you don’t need to hit many drivers from the tee.”
Temperatures drop from the high 70s to the low 70s as the tournament progresses but there should be plenty of sunshine on the weekend. There’s a chance of rain in Thursday’s first round. Winds are expected to be very modest for the final three rounds.
The Leading Contenders
Kaymer couldn’t quite get in touch with the leaders when scoring was ridiculously low over the first 54 holes of last week’s KLM Open and, with his chance gone, he limped home in 74 and ended T57. The putter certainly looked a little cold. The German has played this event just twice but done well. He was T14 at Castello di Tolcinasco in 2007 and T5 at Royal Park in 2013. Currently 17th on the Race To Dubai.
Molinari has been playing in the Italian Open since 2000, with his victory at Castello di Tolcinasco in 2006 (achieved with a closing 65) the obvious highlight. He was third when defending at the same course in 2007 and also made the top 10 at Royal Park in both 2009 and 2010. He racked up an eighth top 20 in this event when T18 at Golf Club Torino 12 months ago. This is his first start since T54 in the PGA Championship and it’s worth noting that he hasn’t missed a cut on the European Tour this year.
After four weeks off, Willett dusts off the clubs and heads to Italy. He’s second in the Race To Dubai this season (only Rory McIlroy has accumulated more cash) and up to 26th in the World Rankings so deserves his place as one of the tournament favorites. A winner of the Omega European Masters in July, the Englishman will be making just his second start on Italian soil. The first came back in the 2011 Sicilian Open when he missed the cut.
The Austrian has played a bunch of events in Italy. Fourteen, in fact, if you include Challenge Tour tournaments. Overall, he’s posted four top 10s and a further four top 20s while his latest effort was T6 in this event in 2014. Like some of the other fancied runners, he’s not played since the PGA Championship in America (MC). He was T25 at Bridgestone the week before that while his Open de France win in July is still relatively fresh in the memory.
The youngster is having a blast in his rookie season and made more memories at the KLM last week when having a putt for a 59 (just came up short). He faded to T30 in the end but let’s not forget that he’d made the top three in two of his previous three strokeplay starts. The former U.S. Amateur champ, who is up to 39th on the Race To Dubai, has never played in this event but on his one start in Italy he was T7 in the Challenge Tour’s EMC Golf Challenge Open last October. This course should suit.
Another good week – T5 at the KLM after a 64 on Sunday – lifted the 24-year-old to 31st on the Race To Dubai (one place above Lee Westwood). He hit over 80% of greens in regulation at Kennemer and that part of his game looks sharp at the moment (also 8th for GIR in the Czech Republic the week before). Pepperell missed the cut in last year’s Italian Open but was T7 on his previous visit to the country when contesting the Challenge Tour’s Grand Final.
RCB has failed to convert four halfway leads this season and he again came up short when topping the leaderboard after 54 holes of last week’s KLM Open. His final 18 at Kennemer was the ultimate exercise in frustration as he hit all 18 greens in regulation and made 18 pars. On the plus side, a T7 was his fourth top 10 in nine starts. The Spaniard’s best in this event is T9 in 2012 but he has five other top 10s in Challenge Tour tournaments in Italy.
The Dane opened with a pair of 64s at last week’s KLM Open to top the leaderboard on Friday night but went flat over the final 36 holes and had to settle for T12. Still, if you don’t count the majors, he’s 11-for-11 in regular European Tour events since May and that includes a win, two seconds and eight top 20s. His best efforts in Italy include a third at the 2012 Sicilian Open and a T4 in this event in 2006. His straight hitting looks a good fit for this course.
Since a top 25 at the Scottish Open, the Frenchman has rather vanished. He’s missed three cuts on the spin and the last of those was a month ago at the PGA Championship in Wisconsin. This doesn’t leap off the page as a course that will suit his big hitting while he’s never made the top 20 in six starts on Italian soil despite making the cut in all of them.
Hatton posted a first-round 66 at the KLM at Kennemer last week but with 61s and a 60 being shot over the first two days, a 72 on Friday meant he missed the cut. The youngster had been in fine form before that (T25 on his PGA Championship debut and solo third in the European Masters) so could easily bounce back this week. This is his second appearance in the event following a missed cut 12 months ago.
The Next Rung
Howell burst through the field with a closing 63 in this event at Torino last year to finish runner-up while he was also T17 in 2012. He’s struggling with his driver at the moment so sounds pleased that he may not have to use it much this week on the tight, tree-lined layout. The rest of his game is in good shape and he posted 63-67 on the weekend to finish T12 at the KLM Open last week and was also third in the Paul Lawrie Match Play last month.
The Frenchman has plenty to interest gamers this week. He hits it very straight (18th in Driving Accuracy) and seems to enjoy his trips to Italy (8-for-9 in this tournament including a top three at Royal Park in 2012). He’s also coming off T23 in the KLM Open and T8 at the Czech Masters in his last two starts.
Morrison was in the top four after both of the first two rounds of last week’s KLM Open but, like some of the other notable names, put it in reverse on the weekend and ended T36. He’s just 1-for-5 in this event but at least his one good performance was the latest one – a T11 last year. Currently 19th on the Race To Dubai having played in 23 events.
So promising for the first half of this year, Fleetwood’s season is in danger of tailing of completely. The cold facts are that he’s missed his last four cuts although a good defense lawyer would point out that two of those were majors and he shot a 66 in round two of last week’s KLM. The Englishman has made the top 25 in each of his last two starts in the Italian Open while he also finished runner-up in Italy at the Challenge Tour’s Grand Final.
Shooting 70-68 wasn’t enough to get Ramsay into the weekend at the KLM Open but suggests nothing is too much wrong apart from a cold putter. That was his first start in nearly a month so perhaps that can be forgiven. The Scot was fourth in this event at Golf Club Torino last year and also cracked the top 20 in both 2011 and 2012 so it’s been a good event for him.
The Swede’s putting reverted to type (i.e. he didn’t hole much) at the KLM Open last week and he missed the cut to end a run of three straight top 10s on the European Tour. The course in Milan should be more to his liking and he must have a decent chance of improving on his T18 in this event last year.
The American shot four rounds in the 60s to post T30 in the KLM Open and was T17 in the Czech Masters two weeks earlier. The worry here is that the tree-lined course will be too punishing on his errant drives as he again dipped below 50% in Driving Accuracy last week. This is his tournament debut but, in three Challenge Tour events in Italy, Uihlein has posted 12-10-12.
If we believe in perfect symmetry and cute storylines, the Spaniard will lift the trophy this week. Why? The first time the course was used in an official European Tour event back in 1981 the winner was Alejandro’s dad, Ryder Cup player Jose Maria Canizares. Don’t rule it out. The 32-year-old was T12 in the KLM Open at the weekend after a Sunday 65 and also T16 at the European Masters. He’s made four of his last five cuts in this event, with a T10 in 2010 and a T14 in 2009.
Former Open champ Cink made the top 20 at St. Andrews on his last trip to Europe and followed that with a top five in the Canadian Open so he can still play a bit. His playoff hopes were ended after just one event but a T39 at The Barclays, which contained two 67s, was a decent effort. “Very much looking forward to the 72nd Open d’Italia. My first trip to Italy,” tweeted Cink, who is an impressive third for greens in regulation on the PGA TOUR this season.
Zanotti deserves some love from gamers this week. He arrives on the back of a top four in the KLM Open in the Netherlands where his final round is worth noting. It was a 63 in which he hit every green and every fairway. The Paraguayan has also made the top 25 in two of his previous three strokeplay starts and was T16 in this event last year.
The 18-year-old Italian will have huge support this week and a big run shouldn’t be ruled out. After a sticky run, he reeled off top 25s at the Scottish Open and European Masters in July and a few weeks ago he posted his best European Tour finish – a tied fifth place in the Czech Masters. He finished T38 in this event as a 16-year-old in 2013.
Who’s On The Team?
The big names such as Martin Kaymer, Francesco Molinari and Danny Willett are hard to ignore but there are some interesting decisions to be made for the rest of the 10-man team if you’re playing the European Tour Fantasy game (revealed in Tuesday's Playing The Tips feature).
Rafa Cabrera-Bello banks a lot of big finishes so is worth a place (and an each-way bet) while Fabrizio Zanotti could be an interesting runner at 80/1.
One To Fade
Alexander Levy was in poor form before taking time off and this tree-lined course will provide a tough test for him.