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Spanish Open Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 09 Apr 2018 | Comments

AND so, the European Tour finally arrives in…Europe. Hurrah! After visiting Australia, South Africa, Dubai, India, Qatar, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Oman, we are back on “home” turf with the Open de Espana being played at Centro Nacional de Golf in Madrid, with Andrew “Beef” Johnston defending the title he won in 2016 (the tournament wasn’t played last year). But he will have his work cut out for him, with a field that includes Spanish golfers John Rahm, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Pablo Larrazabal and Alvaro Quiros.

It is one of the oldest tournaments in Europe. It was won in 2011 by Thomas Aiken, in 2012 by Francesco Molinari, in 2013 by Rafael Jacquelin, in 2014 by Miguel Angel Jimenez and in 2015 by James Morrison.

"The Open de Espana brings back a lot of happy memories and I can’t wait to be out in Madrid defending my title in front of the big Spanish crowds,” said Johnston. “It’s a fantastic tournament, rich in history and won by so many legends that I grew up watching in Seve, Faldo, and Langer. I still pinch myself when I see my name on that trophy next to so many great players.”

Johnston won his first European Tour title when he held off the challenge of Dutchman Joost Luiten, setting him on his way to his best season to date on the European Tour, where he recorded five top ten finishes, including a tied seventh finish at the BMW PGA Championship and eighth place at The 145th Open Championship.

“It’s the first time I have defended a title on the European Tour so I’m not sure what to expect and playing at a new course is something different, but I know I will give it my all, and hopefully produce some great golf for the Spanish fans. The victory in Spain was special, and it was part of a really good year for me. I found my rhythm that season and had a lot of good finishes. Winning the Open de España gave me a lot of confidence and I feel like I am in some decent form after playing well in India.

“The course is so close to the city and it’s going to be great for the fans coming in from Madrid. It’s great that it is a free event for the fans because it is going to generate an amazing atmosphere.”

Johnston is a one-off, a real character who plays the game with a smile on his face and his approach has won him an army of fans. He struggled last year as he tried to juggle membership of both the PGA and European Tours, but has shown signs of a welcome return to form this season.

The star attraction in Madrid will be Rahm, who has taken the game by storm in his short career. The 23-year-old, who played some sensational golf at The Masters, will be returning to the home of the Spanish Golf Federation for the first time since turning professional, and he can’t wait to play in front of his home fans. Rahm used the practice facilities here as a junior player, combining his studies and golf during a stellar amateur career, before going on to represent Arizona State University in the American collegiate system and win 11 titles - reaching World Amateur Number One along the way.

Rahm said: “I spent my last two years of high school at Centro Nacional de Golf. I’ve played the course many times and that was where I formed as a golfer. I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully one day to be the Open de España champion. I haven’t played there for six years, so I’m not sure how much will have changed, but I hit it way different than I used to when I played there. I’ll be familiar with the golf course but still it will be a little bit different. I have memories of when I was 16 or 17 years old but I hit it longer and I hit it better now, so hopefully the course seems easier than it did back then.”

Rahm had a remarkable breakthrough season on the European Tour in 2017, winning two Rolex Series events, including a record-breaking victory at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation in July and a dramatic triumph at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai in November, and he has already won on the PGA Tour this year.

“I’m very much looking forward to playing in Spain again and at this event,” Rahm said. "The Spanish Golf Federation have done so much for me. I know Sergio [Garcia] has won the tournament, Seve has won the tournament, so it would mean a lot to me to be crowned national champion as a professional. It would be amazing. Hopefully I can just have a good week and be national champion once again. I have been as an amateur in many different categories and it would mean the world to me to be able to do it as a professional.”

Cabrera Bello has also confirmed that he will be playing after competing in The Masters. A three-time winner on the European Tour, Cabrera Bello has had terrific start to 2018. The 33-year-old has enjoyed three top 10 finishes, including tied third at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was also part of Team Europe’s victory over Team Asia at the EurAsia Cup in January and is surely a shoo-in for Europe’s Ryder Cup team.

“It would mean a lot to win the Spanish Open,” said Cabrera Bello, who is set to make his 15th appearance in his national Open. “In my case, I’m very proud having won as an amateur from seven years old up to 18 in every single category. It’s obviously a dream to win the Spanish Open. It’s the biggest thing that you dream of when you’re a kid and you’re a Spaniard.

“It’s one of the oldest events in European Tour history and we’re very proud that it is the Spanish Open. It has great winners – a lot of them Spaniards as well, who are my idols – and it is definitely one trophy that I would like to add to my CV.”

Cabrera Bello, who went undefeated in his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine National in 2016, is looking forward to playing in front of big crowds at Centro Nacional de Golf in Madrid – a venue well serviced by public transport from the heart of Madrid – and is pleased to see the Spanish tournament make its return to the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

“I’m sure that we’re going to have really big crowds and I’m sure there will be a really big support by Spanish golfers. I’m very excited. For all Spaniards, it’s our fifth Major!

“We missed out on it last year and it’s been hard for the Spanish Federation to keep the event going. I know they’ve put a huge amount of work, together with the European Tour and the Madrid Golf Federation, for the event to be held this year. I know it came out a little late and we had to find a gap in the schedule to sneak it in, but I’m very happy it is back.

To Win:

Jon Rahm. Difficult to bet against him

Each Way:

Rafa Cabrera Bello. Keeps grinding out the top-10 finishes

Each Way:

Andrew Johnston. Finding form again

Fantasy Picks:

Jon Rahm. Class act

Rafa Cabrera Bello. Proud Spaniard

Andrew Johnston. Time to get his game face on again

Pablo Larrazabal. Hugely underrated

Matt Wallace. Could challenge for a Ryder Cup berth

Paul Dunne. Played brilliant golf in America recently

Jordan Smith. Still looking for last season’s form

George Coetzee. Getting back to his best

Andy Sullivan. Enjoys playing in Spain

Scott Jamieson. No middle ground with Jamieson – brilliant or just plain awful

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