Italian Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
JON RAHM steps up his bid to catch Tommy Fleetwood at the top of the Race to Dubai when he tees it up in the Italian Open at Golf Club Milano from October 12-15. Rahm is the star attraction in what is the fifth event in the Rolex Series.
Rahm is third in the Race to Dubai, behind only Fleetwood and Masters champion Sergio Garcia, both of whom are also in the field for this $7m event. The Spaniard has had a sensational season.
He burst onto the professional scene with six top 25 finishes in nine starts on the PGA Tour last season before his breakthrough win in the Farmers Insurance Open in January.
He joined the European Tour member at the start of March, making it clear that he wanted to be a member of Europe's Ryder Cup team when they take on the USA in France next year. He then finished tied third at the WGC-Mexico Championship before reaching the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where he took World Number One Dustin Johnson to the last hole.
He then crossed the Atlantic and finished 10th in the French Open before winning the Irish Open in brilliant fashion. He also enjoyed top four finishes in the opening two events of the PGA Tour’s four FedEx Cup Playoff events. The 22-year-old is now ranked fifth in the world.
It has all been something of a whirlwind, and Rahm is loving every single minute of it. After competing in Italy he will return to his homeland to compete in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Europe and playing another two big events on my home continent,” said Rahm. “The Italian Open is one of the great events on the European Tour and one that you want to get your hands on. The national Opens of continental Europe are steeped in history and tradition, so to win those events is really special. Winning the Irish Open a couple of months back was an amazing feeling, so hopefully I can play well in Milan and try to win another one.
“If I can produce some really good results in Italy and then Spain the following week I could still have a chance to win the Race to Dubai, which would be a perfect way to end the 2017 season for me.”
Francesco Molinari will be defending the title he won 12 months ago. It was won in 2015 by Rikard Karlberg, in 2014 by Hennie Otto, in 2013 by Julien Quesne, in 2012 by Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, in 2011 by Robert Rock and in 2010 by Fredrik Andersson-Hed.
There was hardly a dry eye in the house when Molinari won in front of an adoring home crowd in 2016. He held off the challenge of 2016 Masters Champion Danny Willett to claim a historic victory, recording a closing round of 65 to sign for 22 under to beat Willett by one shot, becoming the first Italian to win his national Open twice since the event became part of the European Tour in 1972.
Molinari, 34, is now up to 18th in the world rankings and lies sixth in the Race to Dubai. He is a hugely underrated player. Molinari was second at the BMW PGA Championship and finished in a tie for second at the US PGA Championship behind Justin Thomas.
“It was very special, even more than when I first won in 2006,” said the four-time European Tour winner about his victory last year. “I think it was the way as well, with it being so tight the last few holes, it could have gone either way very easily, and I think everyone was a little bit on edge and there was a big relief from everyone when I made the last putt.”
"It is a bigger event than last year and it should be a great, fun week.Playing in Milan we are going to get great crowds like we did last year, and hopefully I will be able to play some good golf and defend my title.”
Having represented Europe twice in victorious Ryder Cup teams in 2010 and 2012, the Turin born star also spoke of his excitement for Italy to host The Ryder Cup in 2022.
“It’s certainly great for golf in Italy and to have a Ryder Cup in my home country is very special. We have some very talented young guys coming through the European Tour and I know our fans will turn out to see the best golfers in the world battle it out against Team USA.”
Quesne will be looking to draw on the memories of his victory four years ago. The French golfer currently finds himself languishing in 120th place in the Race to Dubai - only the top 100 can be sure of retaining their playing privileges for next season. Quesne won twice on the Challenge Tour and has two further victories on the European Tour to his name but his last success was that win in Italy.
Fleetwood continues his return to action after the birth of his son and will be raring to pick up where he left off. The Southport golfer has had a stellar season, with two victories to his credit, including the French Open. During an astonishing purple patch of form he also finished fourth at the US Open, endearing himself to American golf fans by refusing to buckle when the pressure was really on.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that because he has had a few weeks off Fleetwood will be rusty. As seen during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, when he shot a course record 63 at Carnoustie. Club Milano should suit his game. When you stand him next to the likes of Dustin Johnson, Fleetwood looks like a little boy, but he hits the ball a long, long way. He has adopted the claw grip on the greens and has become one of the best putters on the European Tour. There has been some concern that Fleetwood might be considering spending more time in America, but he is a home bird and it would be a surprise if he decides to join the PGA Tour. Besides, his world ranking means he gets into all the majors and WGC events and can play on the PGA Tour whenever he chooses to do so.
Jon Rahm. Difficult to see him losing
Francesco Molinari. Crowd favourite, in fantastic form
Sergio Garcia. Looking to put British Masters missed cut behind him
Jon Rahm. Has no weaknesses
Francesco Molinari. Will be hard to beat if he putts well
Sergio Garcia. Enjoying his return to Europe
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Can win anywhere
Bernd Wiesberger. Mr Consistency
Martin Kaymer. Still looking for his best
Luke Donald. Course is made for him
Jordan Smith. Having a dream season
Alexander Levy. A birdie machine
Graeme Storm. Having the year of his life
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