Andalucía Valderrama Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
SERGIO GARCIA will aim to keep the momentum going after his tremendous play at the Ryder Cup by making a successful defence of the Andalucia Masters. When he won last year it crowned an astonishing season for the Spaniard during which he also won the Dubai Desert Classic and finally ended his major drought by beating Justin Rose to claim The Masters.
He would be the first to admit that he has suffered something of a hangover in 2018, missing the cut in all four majors and failing to contend on either side of the Atlantic. He was a controversial choice when Thomas Bjorn named him as one of his wild cards for Le Golf National. He had shown no form to justify his place in the European team, but Bjorn was convinced that he would raise his game against the Americans and that is exactly what happened. He will now head back to his native Spain full of confidence for a tournament that means a great deal to him as it is hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation. That means Garcia will have a body week, pressing the flesh, hosting dinners and making himself available to sponsors. But it may be exactly what he needs.
Nobody will expect him to win. Nobody except the player himself that is. He will argue that because the pressure is off it increases his chances of playing well. And he would love nothing more than to win again in front of his home fans at Valderrama, which also happens to be one of his favourite golf courses. He became the first Spaniard to win there back in 2011 when the tournament was last played before being resurrected last season. It means that he is effectively going for a third successive victory.
Garcia said: “It was an amazing experience to be able to win in Spain, and in my first tournament back in Spain as the Masters Champion. To win at my favourite golf course, Valderrama, and at our own event that we do with our foundation, it was the perfect mix. I’m really excited to go back there this year.
“The tournament is really important and it brings a lot to our foundation so that we can help out as many people as we can. Last year we helped with building a new x-ray room in a hospital in Madrid. It’s really important to us to and we’re excited to hopefully raise as much as possible and help out again.”
This year’s tournament will once again be sponsored by the Autonomous Government of Andalusia with the support of Garcia’s foundation. The Spaniard set up his charitable foundation in 2002 for the purpose of contributing to the social inclusion of economically-deprived children through social assistance benefits and the practice of sport as free-time activity. The Sergio Garcia Foundation donated all the funds raised at the 2017 Andalucía Valderrama Masters to Madrid’s Hospital Universitario La Paz to help support a makeover of the children's x-ray unit. The money will be spent redesigning the unit into a welcoming, bright and relaxing environment for the children who receive treatment there.
For many players this is a huge week as it is the final tournament in the regular season and anybody who ends the week outside the top 110 places in the Race to Dubai will be heading back to qualifying school. Golfers such as Scott Jamieson, David Horsey, Marc Warren and Richie Ramsey (all former winners on the European Tour) know that this week is the last-chance saloon - they need to do well to keep their cards. And they are not alone.
Garcia is not the only Spaniard will designs on victory. Adrian Otaegui, Pedro Oriol and Scott Fernandez have all enjoyed some success on the European Tour this season.
Otaegui is currently playing his fifth full European Tour season and is enjoying his best year to date. After winning the Belgian Knockout in May - his second European Tour title – the 25 year old has set his sights on winning on home soil after finishing 12th last year.
He said: “Valderrama is one of the courses I enjoy the most and it’s my favourite course in Spain for sure. It’s always in top condition. Playing at Valderrama is awesome; you need to bring your best game in order to score decently and that’s a big motivation for me. It’s a challenging layout with no room for error. The greens are small, so accuracy is key both off the tee and approaching the green; you need to find the right angle when attacking the pins and try to leave yourself uphill putts.
“It’s a thinker’s course, but strategy can vary from day to day depending on the wind and the course setup. It’s a course you need to know, and the more you play it the more you’re going to learn from it. I have been lucky enough to play it many times, so I can benefit from that experience.
“Valderrama has so many good holes that I can’t pick the best one. I particularly like the par threes. The 6th had a very steep green, but it has been flattened a bit; the 12th is a strong par three; and the 15th is also a great hole.”
Oriol earned his European Tour card by finishing 10th in the European Challenge Tour Rankings. Earlier in 2017 he collected his first Challenge Tour title in the prestigious Rolex Trophy. He enters the final stretch of the season boosted by his victory in the European Golf Team Championships together with Fernández, and he is looking to end the season strongly in a venue that means a lot to him.
Oriol said: “I always think of Valderrama as my preferred golf course for many reasons: for its history – Ryder Cup, Volvo Masters, WGC events; for its great champions – Seve and now Sergio; for the iconic 17th. But also because every single shot you hit at Valderrama is a challenge. Every swing must be pinpoint accurate. Tight fairways lined by cork trees; small, fast and sloped greens; thick rough and relentless wind make a true test of golf. My favourite hole is the 15th, and if the pin is tucked back right it’s just perfect for my fade. I love the sight of the green as it stretches downhill to the right, well defended by bunkers on both sides.
“Every time you tee it up at Valderrama, both in competitive and friendly rounds, you get a feeling of maximum challenge, and that is invaluable for a professional because you learn so much. If you play well at Valderrama, you will play well anywhere in the world. We in Spain are very lucky to have a world-class venue like Valderrama, and we owe it in great measure to Jaime Ortiz-Patiño. Personally, I am most thankful for being allowed to enjoy the facilities of this wonderful club and made feel at home whenever I come to this area.
“Last year I was busy fighting for my European Tour card on the Challenge Tour so I missed out on the Andalucía Masters. I feel honoured and excited to play this year and look forward to a good week.”
In his first full European Tour season, Fernández will return to Valderrama where he made his professional debut. After winning gold for Spain paired with Oriol at the European Golf Team Championships, he is determined to retain his tour card in his native Andalusia.
He said: “I am excited to play the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, a great event that makes me proud both as a Spaniard and as an Andalusian. I played my first professional tournament at Valderrama – the 2016 Open de España – thanks to an invite from Sergio García. I am really grateful to Sergio because I couldn’t think of a better place to start my professional career than the course that hosted the Ryder Cup in Andalusia, my homeland.
“My first European Tour event as a spectator was the Volvo Masters. I went with my father, and I remember watching Sergio and all the top players. I was impressed by the sound of the shots amongst the cork trees and by the view of the greens from the fairways and the tees. If I must choose two holes at Valderrama I would go for the 17th and the 15th, but I really like them all. The 15th is a tough par three with a stunning view. I have noticed some changes on the greens, which are now fairer and allow for more pin positions. The 11th, tough still narrow, has been widened to the left, which gives a little bit more space and creates an interesting pin option behind the bunker. The 16th used to be surrounded by rough, but now the front of the green has been left open.
“I love this course because you really have to think your way through every hole. Strategy is key for dealing with these swirling winds, so I have more or less planned my strategy for each type of wind. It’s a super golf course that tests every aspect of your game. I have been lucky to play it several times and to practice some days during the winter, so I would like to thank the club management for their hospitality.”
Sergio Garcia. Sure to be lifted by venue and crowd
David Horsey. Cometh the hour...
Pablo Larrazabal. Loves playing in his home country
Sergio Garcia. Inspired by Ryder Cup heroics
David Horsey. Too good to be struggling this badly
Pablo Larrazabal. Would be a surprise if he doesn’t do well here
Scott Jamieson. Hanging by a thread
Richie Ramsey. Missing the cut is not an option for the Scot
Shane Lowry. Showing signs of his best form again
Paul Dunne. About time he won again
Andrew Johnston. Loves playing in Spain
Stephen Gallacher. Showing some excellent form
Raphael Jacquelin. Needs a miracle
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