Andalucía Valderrama Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
JON RAHM continues his late challenge for the Race to Dubai when he makes his first appearance on home soil as a professional at the Andalucía Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio García Foundation, and he will surely start the tournament as favourite.
It is only third time it has been played. It was won in 2010 by Graeme McDowell and in 2011 by Sergio Garcia and has not been contested since. Garcia is back again, determined to add to his victory in the 2017 Masters, but he knows that he will have to fend off the considerable challenge of Rahm, one of the most exciting young golfers in the world.
At the end of only his first full season in the professional ranks, Rahm is already up to fifth in the world rankings. He claimed a remarkable victory in his last regular European Tour appearance, courtesy of a six-shot triumph at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July.
It came after he earned a maiden professional victory on the US PGA Tour at the end of January, beginning an incredible rise to the top of the game.
Rahm says that he can't wait to get started. “I really look forward to playing in front of the Spanish fans,” said the 22 year old. “Right after the Irish Open I went to Valderrama to practice for this tournament. I felt a big sense of anticipation as I teed up on the first hole. I want to encourage everyone to come and support us and watch some great golf. If the public enjoys it, we will enjoy it.
“My first round at Valderrama was five years ago when I played the Sotogrande Cup with the Spanish national team. It was a different experience because my game has changed a lot since then. I remember playing in a strong gale.
“Valderrama is one of the best layouts I have ever played. It is visually attractive and wonderfully maintained. Golf courses don’t need to measure 10,000 yards to be challenging. I find Valderrama very exciting and a good test. You really have to think your way through and play all kinds of shots. Mistakes can be costly, so it keeps you on your toes.”
Rahm was two years old when Valderrama staged the 1997 Ryder Cup. Rahm, who is third in the Race to Dubai, said: “I remember my first visit with my father during the 2007 Volvo Masters. The first player we saw was Thomas Bjorn on the seventh. Then we went to the first to watch Ian Poulter and Sergio tee off. On the 18th green I got my shirt signed by Nick Dougherty, Paul Casey and Miguel Ángel Jimenez – although I don’t think he remembers.
“The boy that went to Valderrama in 2007 is still there, with the same dreams and the same ambition. I am extremely fortunate that my dreams are coming true, but this year feels more like a Steven Spielberg film – winning at Torrey Pines and again in Ireland the way I did doesn’t even happen in the wildest dreams.
“I can't wait to play in the Andalucía Valderrama Masters in front of my home crowd and will do my best to give a good show.”
Garcia will, of course, always remember 2017 as the year he finally won his first major, beating Justin Rose in a playoff to claim the Green Jacket at Augusta. Earlier in the year he also won the Dubai Desert Classic. He got married during the summer. But since Augusta he has struggled to find his best form, and will have the incentive of performing in front of an adoring home crowd at Valderrama.
It is the last tournament to be played on European soil before the tour heads to China, Turkey, South Africa and Dubai.
Garcia said: “I am delighted to support the Andalucía Valderrama Masters through my Foundation,” said the Masters Champion. “As the tournament host, I would love to see everyone come and enjoy a great event and a wonderful occasion for all the Spanish players.
The Spaniard set up his charitable foundation in 2002 for the purpose of contributing to the social inclusion of economically deprived children and youths through social assistance benefits and the practice of sport as a free-time activity.
The Foundation supports, on a regular or occasional basis, a variety of initiatives in favour of persons with disabilities. The Sergio Garcia Foundation and the Deporte y Desafío Foundation joined forces in 2003 with the objective of introducing adaptive golf in Spain.
García has an outstanding record at Valderrama, winning the Andalucía Masters there in 2011, while he boasts a plethora of top ten finishes including a third place finish last year as Andrew Johnston won the Open de Espana.
“Valderrama is a very special place for me, full of good memories,” he said. “Obviously the best was when I finally managed to win in 2011. It is one of my favourite courses, one of the best in the world, and I always enjoy playing there. The course is always in top condition, with fast greens and superb maintenance. At last year’s Open de España we saw a big improvement in playability with the pruning of many cork trees, particularly on holes eight, 13 and 18.
“Each hole in Valderrama has its own attraction and I like them all, because they force you to keep thinking and stay focused from the first to the last shot. It is a very demanding course that doesn’t give you any breaks. You need to put the ball in the right places and keep the errors to the minimum, but you are bound to make errors, so patience is key at Valderrama. You must respect this course or it will turn against you at any moment. One of the things I like most is that it allows you to use all the clubs in the bag.”
“Last year I had another chance of winning at the Open de Espana. In the end I didn't make it, but it was a positive week because I kept trying up to the last putt – I gave it my best shot. I enjoyed being the tournament host and felt proud every time I saw the name of my Foundation on the course. We raised €65,480 for the Spanish Cancer Association of Castellon. The money was used to rent some apartments for the families of cancer patients who can’t afford them, so the family can be together during treatment.”
Alvaro Quiros is also sure to take a lot of home support with him. He finally got back in the winners' circle this season when he claimed the Rocco Forte Open - it was his seventh victory on the European Tour, but his first since the 2011 Dubai Desert Classic. That victory apart, he has had a shocking year, and he will be hoping that a return to home soil gets him going again.
Shane Lowry played well at the British Masters. The Irishman has not had the greatest of seasons but he is a terrific ball striker and has the touch of an angel around the greens. It was noticeable at Close House that Lowry appears to have lost some weight - something he needed to do. This would indicate that he has finally accepted that he needs to look after his body if he is add to his already impressive CV. Lowry is a touch player and when he starts rolling in the putts he tends to go low. Really low.
And there are finally some signs that Danny Willett, the 2016 Masters champion, is beginning to emerge from the slump that his dogged him for the past 16 months or so. He is finally fit again and is swinging the club well. You sense that all Willett needs is to rediscover some confidence, and this may well be the week when that happens for him.
To Win: Jon Rahm. Would love to win on home soil
Each Way: Sergio Garcia. Looking for third win of 2017
Each Way: Shane Lowry. Loves this part of the world
Jon Rahm. Difficult to bet against him
Sergio Garcia. Much depends on the putter
Shane Lowry. Ready to win again
Alvaro Quiros. Will be lifted by home support
Andrew Johnston. Looking for a big week
James Morrison. Underrated English golfer
Kiradech Aphibarnrat. A birdie machine
Lee Slattery. Enjoying a splendid run of form
Haydn Porteous. Classy young South African
Marc Warren. On a real roll right now
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