We’re heading back to one of the European’s Tour’s iconic courses this week for the Andalucia Valderrama Masters.
Best known for hosting the 1997 Ryder Cup, Valderrama really showed its teeth the last time it was used on the European Tour. That was April, 2016 when Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston won the 2016 Open de Espana with a score of 1-over.
There’s a solid supporting cast this week although the relatively modest purse is probably a contributory factor to some of the bigger names sitting this one out.
Since ‘Beef’ won at Valderrama 18 months ago, the course has undergone some major renovations. The surfaces on the greens and surrounding areas on the front nine have all been redone although we’ll have to wait until next year for similar changes to the back nine. Always presented in excellent condition, Valderrama is a ball-striker’s course with narrow, tree-lined fairways and very small greens. “It doesn’t really help the long hitters like myself,” says local man Alvaro Quiros of the classic par 71 which measures just 6,991 yards. Before last year’s Open de Espana, the Robert Trent Jones design had last been used to host the 2010 and 2011 Andalucia Masters.
Past champions, winning scores and stats at Valderrama
2016 +1 Andrew Johnston (DD: 35, DA: 1, GIR: 1, Scr: 20, PA: 25, AA: 4)
2011 -6 Sergio Garcia (DD: 24, DA: 10, GIR: 10, Scr: 4, PA: 8, AA: 2)
2010 -3 Graeme McDowell (DD: 47, DA: 6, GIR: 1, Scr: 18, PA: 4, AA: 1)
Notes: No quirks here, the stats are exactly what you’d imagine them to be. Success at Valderrama comes from hitting the ball straight off the tee and finding lots of the much smaller than usual greens. If that can be backed up with solid putting, the trophy beckons. Winning scores show that a birdie-fest it is not.
Rain and breezy conditions will add to the test on Thursday before we get the best temperatures (70 degrees) on Friday although it could still be gusty in the afternoon. Some showers could return on the weekend when the mercury drops again. At the time of writing, a late-early start may be preferable.
The Leading Contenders
While Jon Rahm is playing here for the first time, Sergio is a Valderrama veteran and has a fantastic record since T7 when it staged the American Express Championship in 1999. Check these numbers: 11 starts, 10 top 10s, three second places, a third, a fourth and, finally, a win in 2011. It’s a perfect fit and, note, he won that 2011 edition when hosting the event so he can juggle both balls. Garcia had to settle for T30 in Italy last week but he did top the GIR stats there and the home comforts of Valderrama will suit him much better than the birdie-fest at Golf Club Milano.
He came here as a boy to watch the pros in action and now returns as the World No. 5. Rahm didn’t quite have his best stuff in Italy last week but a closing 65 gave him T15 and he’ll hope that’ll be a springboard to success in front of his home fans. He’s only hit exactly 50% of fairways in his last two starts (Tour Championship, Italian Open) but he’s topped the greens in regulation charts in two of his last three events. If he can stay patient, not always a strength, Rahm can plot his way to a title challenge and he does have some course experience having represented Spain in the Sotogrande Cup at Valderrama five years ago.
The Irishman definitely enjoys Valderrama and finished T18 (2010) and T4 (2011) in the two Andalucia Masters it staged. Both were in October and he tends to play well in late season. That wasn’t the case in Italy last week when he shot 69-71 to miss the cut but T25 and T7 before that suggest if he finds the right course he can thrive again. Valderrama could be that venue.
Kjeldsen would probably design a course like Valderrama in his dreams. Brain over brawn is always great for the Dane and he’s made a wonderful job of plotting his way around the par 71. It’s led to the fantastic form figures of 4-49-2-1-2 in his last five visits, the top four coming in last year’s Open de Espana and the win at the 2008 Volvo Masters when it was the European Tour’s season-ender in November. We've not seen him in action since August when he followed T16 in the Wyndham with T23 at his home Made In Denmark.
“If there is one course I can play for the rest of my life it would be Valderrama,” says Kaymer and he loves the strategic test. His results bare it out. In five starts from 2007 to 2016 his finishes read: 6-2-21-23-6. It’s course form that will get gamers’ interest as his current play is far from great with MC-36-20-MC his last four starts. Expect that to jump a notch here though as his tee-to-green play looks solid.
Luiten has played the last three European Tour events at Valderrama and mixed two excellent showings with a dud. He finished T5 in the 2010 Andalucia, missed the cut in the 2011 edition after carding 76-78 and then battled his way to second place there in last year’s Open de Espana. This hasn’t been a great season for him though and T32 (Italy) and T36 (Alfred Dunhill) the last two weeks paint the picture. No top 10 since June’s Lyoness Open.
The scene of his finest hour and proof that he’s not just a cult figure and fan favourite; Beef can play some superb golf too. The Englishman won here with +1 last year after starting with a 67 and toughing it out until Sunday. It added to a pair of top fives in Challenge Tour events in Spain so it’s a part of the world he loves. After some good play on the links (T19 Scottish Open, T27 The Open), he was hampered by a shoulder injury and last week’s comeback in Italy after a two-month break lasted just 36 holes although 70-69 shook some rust off.
After overcoming a shoulder injury which led to a WD in his home Alfred Dunhill, Ramsay had to settle for T40 in Italy. “Most frustrating week of the year. Pace great just couldn't hole anything,” was his summation but the Scot admitted his shoulder was much better. T8 in the British Masters at the start of October, his DA and GIR stats of late look impressive and are a great recipe for Valderrama. Indeed, it’s no surprise that he’s finished T3 (2011) and T29 (2016) there in his two visits.
Perhaps his tee-to-green figures don’t look ideal but Olesen knows how to score and closed with a 69 to crack the top 20 at Valderrama in the 2016 Open de Espana. He carded three 69s and a closing 66 for T32 in Italy last week and has sprinkled four top 10s in his last 15 starts on the European Tour, including T10 at the PGA Championship.
The straight-hitting Spaniard loves tree-lined tracks so put everything together and it’s no surprise to see his has course form of 11-7-21. Fourth at the Paul Lawrie Match Play in the summer and, after a quiet campaign, last week’s T15 in the Italian Open was his best strokeplay finish this season so he’ll head home in good spirits.
The Next Rung
Not just worth considering because he’s a local Spaniard. Elvira had a hot run of six top 20s in seven starts from July to early October although he’s cooled since with MC-40. Elvira won a Challenge Tour event in Spain in 2015 so can thrive in front of his home fans and he plugged away for T53 at Valderrama in last year’s Open de Espana. 34th for Driving Accuracy and 18th in GIR.
Gallacher will be getting a sixth start at Valderrama and, although he’ll have to do some reacquainting, a T12 on his last visit in 2011 shows there will be some positive memories. He’s in good form too after three top 20s in his last five starts and no-one hit more greens than the Scot when he took T12 in the Alfred Dunhill. The putting surfaces are much smaller here of course.
The Englishman battled away to finish T16 in the 2016 Open de Espana but it’s just not happening for him at the moment. An early exit in Italy was his fourth missed cut in five starts and yet, bleak as those figures look, his last six round scores are 69-71-67-71-69-68. This truer test may help him as his putter hasn’t been hot enough for the European Tour’s recent birdie-fests but his form is definitely a concern.
The 54-hole leader in Italy couldn’t quite get it done but another top four added to his hugely impressive rookie season which includes a win in Portugal. He probably prefers a birdie-fest but the Englishman is in the top 50 for both DA and GIR which bodes well for a first look at Valderrama. On his last trip to Spain, he finished T9 in the Challenge Tour’s Challenge de Espana.
To show how tough Valderrama played in the 2016 Open de Espana, Bourdy still managed to finish T19 despite shooting an 81 in round three. He’d been T10 at halfway and recovered well on Sunday with a 69. Also T25 there in the 2008 Volvo Masters, the Frenchman came to our attention again with a top four in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and added T30 in Italy (R4 65) last week. Drives it straight and hits greens. A good combo for this week.
Students of current form will have Bertasio on the radar as his last four starts show T12 in the Portugal Masters, T15 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and T10 in his home Italian Open on Sunday when finishing with a 64. Adding to his appeal is a T11 at Valderrama in last year’s Open de Espana. Hits it long rather than straight but those converging trends make him attractive.
He’s bound to attract some attention amongst gamers given that he’s a Spaniard who knows how to win. But perhaps Valderrama has always been too tough a puzzle to crack and T29 last year is his best in four attempts and in three of his starts he’s thrown in a 78 or higher at some point. T26 at the British Masters was decent but he’s missed two cuts since.
The Swedish rookie showed he could handle a tough test when finishing T3 in the Open de France and added three top 25s in September. He threatened another good week when opening with 64 in Italy before fading on Sunday. 27th for DA and 21st for GIR this season so he has the tools to do well on his first start at Valderrama.
A player you automatically think of as having a strong Valderrama record and the reality backs it up. From 2003-2008, Harrington was never outside the top 20 and his full record at the course shows a second, a fourth and a fifth. That said, he hasn’t played here since T13 in 2008 and he’s on a run of six missed cuts in eight starts. If there’s a venue to get him back on track though…
Once again in the top 10 in the Driving Accuracy stats, Havret is also 22nd for GIR. In short, he’s got the ideal game for Valderrama and that’s shown with T6 in 2011 and another pair of top 25s (2005 and 2010). His current form (21-36-26) is good enough for another decent showing.
Has struggled since finishing runner-up in a Challenge Tour event in June but worthy of a mention given his T10 at Valderrama in 2016’s Open de Espania.
Smashes it off the tee but other parts of his game work well too and T19 in 2016 shows the Spaniard can handle this test of attrition.
Still can’t find last season’s form but he’s shot second-round 65s in the last two weeks so there are hints even if he could only turn them into T47 and T50. Also T11 at Valderrama in 2016.
T7 in Alfred Dunhill Links Championship two starts ago and posted T25 at Valderrama in the 2008 Volvo Masters.
Florida-based Spaniard has always enjoyed this track and wasn’t worse than T26 in five starts at Valderrama from 2006 to 2011. Returned last year and took T34. Shot pair of middle 67s at Web.com Tour Championship on last start.
Very inconsistent these days but a beacon of reliability at Valderrama in the past with 9-17-7-15 between 2006 and 2011.
Four top 25s in last seven European Tour appearances, including T15 at Alfred Dunhill. Five-time starter at Valderrama and cracked top 10 in 2006.
Highest ranked player on the Driving Accuracy stats (4th) taking part this week. MC on only Valderrama look last year but plays well in Spain and is making cuts.
Who’s On The Team?
Richie Ramsay and Soren Kjeldsen will enjoy the chance to plot their way to big finishes.
Gregory Havret could be an interesting runner too.
I’ll reveal my full six-man line-up for the official European Tour Fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
Andy Sullivan is out of form and this isn’t the place to find it.