Rocco Forte Sicilian Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
WHISPER it, but there is every chance of a home winner when the second Rocco Forte Sicilian Open is staged at the magnificent Verdura Resort, with Spain’s Alvaro Quiros defending the title. The big-hitting Spaniard will start as one of the favourites, having got his career back on track 12 months ago with his first victory in six years.
The cream of the European Tour are in Florida, taking part in the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, so this tournament offers a great opportunity for some of the lesser lights to secure a two-year exemption. Edoardo Molinari leads the Italian challenge and would love to win on home soil, but he faces a tough challenge from the likes of Matteo Manassero. Renato Paratore and Nino Bertasio.
It is something of an understatement to say that Manassero has lost his way in recent years. He is a four-time European Tour winner and became its youngest winner after lifting the 2010 Castello Masters aged just 17 years and 188 days. He also went on to win the BMW PGA Championship. Incredibly, he is still only 25 years old but has suffered more than most players do in an entire career. His last win came five years ago at Wentworth and signalled a nosedive in his career when he decided that he needed to learn how to hit the ball further, completely ignoring the fact that he had achieved so much success with a technique that worked perfectly well. He averages about 275 yards from the tee, which is more than 30 yards shorter than the likes of Rory McIlroy but here’s the thing: the likes of Matt Kuchar and Bernhard Langer achieved huge success hitting the ball no further than the Italian.
In 2014 he missed six cuts, in 2015 he missed 16 cuts, in 2016 he failed to make it to the weekend on 14 occasions and last year there were nine more missed cuts. But finally, there are signs that Manassero is starting to turn things around. Sure, there have been a couple of missed cuts and no top-10 finishes but he has started to find a level of consistency. He finished in a tie for 20th place at the Volvo China Open, where he broke par in rounds two, three and four, and is looking forward to playing in front of a home gallery, hopeful that it will spark a return to the winners’ circle. “I think that it’s a great event to play in for everybody. Verdura is such a great place and we all love it there. It’s also a great course and if the wind blows it will be really tough. As many times as we play in Italy I’m always happy and Sicily will be great,” said Manassero.
Bertasio is currently ranked inside the top 65 of this season’s Race to Dubai after becoming an established member of the European Tour in the last three years while Molinari remains a hugely popular figure in Italian golf after a memorable career – which included representing Europe alongside his brother Francesco at The 2010 Ryder Cup.
Bertasio said: “We’ll be staying in resort on-site which is beautiful, and I think it is a fun golf course as well. Obviously, it needs a bit of wind otherwise it’s going to be another five-under-par cut like last year, but it’s a great place.”
Molinari added: “Sicily is always a fun week. The resort is fantastic and the weather is always great. It is a great week to go out with the family play the tournament and relax a little bit.”
Thorbjorn Olesen claimed the first of his four European Tour victories at the award-winning venue six years ago when he beat England’s Chris Wood by two shots to win the 2012 Sicilian Open, the predecessor to the Rocco Forte event.
Olesen, 28, who also won the 2016 World Cup for Denmark with Søren Kjeldsen and partnered Lucas Bjerregaard to success in the inaugural GolfSixes last year, said: “Verdura obviously holds a special place in my heart as it was my first win on the European Tour, and I can’t wait to get back there. It’s great that the resort is hosting the tournament for the second year running. It will be interesting to see what changes have been made to the course since I was last there and returning there will hopefully inspire me to further success.”
Olesen is a ferocious competitor and a hugely underrated player. He won the Turkish Airlines Open in 2016, the highlight to date of the 28-year-old Dane’s career – the previous year he took the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews. So the bottom line is that this is a golfer who wins proper tournaments.
Andy Sullivan and Eddie Pepperell are also in the field. Sullivan, who will be making his debut in the event, is a three-time winner on the European Tour, with the highlight of his career coming in 2016 when he qualified for Darren Clarke’s European Ryder Cup team that took on the United States at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Sullivan said: “I’ve spoken to a lot of guys who played in the inaugural event last year and they only had good things to say about the golf course and resort. Verdura looks like a sensational place to play golf and I can’t wait to get out there and enjoy some sun on my back.”
Pepperell enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017 – including registering four top-10 finishes in five starts in September and October – and has followed that up this year by winning his first European Tour title at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters to move inside the world’s top 100 rankings. Pepperell added: “It was a great feeling to get my first win under my belt this season, and I’m hoping to build on that. I am looking forward to returning to Verdura, I enjoyed the course last year and it’s one of the events of the season where you look forward to experiencing the resort and Sicily as a destination, as well as hopefully having a good week on the course.”
Having lost his Tour card at the end of 2016, Pepperell has transformed his career and now has half an eye on securing a place in Thomas Bjorn’s European Ryder Cup team.
The tournament is played on a composite course combining the best holes from the venue’s two 18-hole Kyle Phillips-designed championship courses, the East Course and West Course. Measuring 7,217 yards, the par-71 lay-out will comprise of nine holes each from the East and West Courses at Verdura and features one of the most dramatic finishes in world tournament golf, with the final six holes running adjacent to the coast and set against the magnificent backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.
Thorbjorn Olesen. Class act
Andy Sullivan. Has shown some good form recently
Thorbjorn Olesen. Few weaknesses
Andy Sullivan. Could do with another win soon
Matteo Manassero. Some encouraging signs
Alvaro Quiros. Hits the ball a mile
David Horsey. Hugely underrated Englishman
Edaordo Molinari. Would love to do it for the home fans
Haydn Porteous. Needs to kick on
Chase Koepka. Trying to break out from his brother’s shadow
James Morrison. On his day, as good as anybody out there
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