Andalucia Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
A HOST of golfers who have already won this season head to Spain for the Andalucia Masters, hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation. It marks the start of a new era for the event, with Esrella Damm, the iconic Spanish brewer, taking over as main title sponsor and increasing the prize fund by 50% to €3m.
The Andalucía Masters returned to the European Tour schedule in 2017 after a six-year gap, with Garcia supporting the event through his foundation, which was set up 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 2017 Masters champion has won the last three editions of the event at his favourite course, Valderrama.
And the good news for the tour is that Garcia will be back on home soil once again, along with Jon Rahm, one of the most exciting young talents in the game. Rahm is an explosive character. He hits the ball a mile, has a wonderful touch around the greens and is capable of producing some mind-bogglingly low scores. He would also be the first to admit that he has an explosive temper and that it has held him back. This may seem a rather odd thing to say about a 24-year-old who already has three victories on the PGA Tour to his credit, together with a further three successes on the European Tour, but even Rahm has accepted that he needs to find a way to get his temper under control.
Most top players blow a gasket from time to time, but the very best of them have forgotten about it by the time they reach their ball and prepare to hit the next shot. Rahm finds it more difficult than most to eliminate thoughts of bad shots but hopefully, as he matures, he will find a way to do so. He would do well to speak to Garcia, a player who has found himself in trouble with fellow players, fans and the authorities on more than one occasion. His latest controversy came in Saudi Arabia earlier this season when he damaged several greens and was disqualified.
Garcia was fortunate to escape suspension after admitting that he had deliberately scuffed up six greens on a day when his putter was misbehaving. He later apologised profusely and there are signs that he has finally grown up. In the past he aimed a golf shoe at spectators during the world matchplay at Wentworth, has attacked bunkers, fallen out with Tiger Woods, was seriously ungracious when losing both The Open Championship and US PGA Championship to Padraig Harrington and even walked away from the game for a while.
But through it all, he has remained hugely popular with golf fans, perhaps because they can identify with his trials and tribulations. And there would be no more popular winner.
There is a particularly strong home challenge, with Jorge Campillo likely to be a contender too. Campillo, who secured his maiden European Tour title at the Trophée Hassan II in April, is one of ten players in the field to have won so far on the 2019 Race to Dubai.
Campillo said: “It will be exciting. It was a great event last year and it’s going to be great again – we have all of the Spanish players coming to play and many other great players. The golf course is going to be in good shape and the venue is obviously great. Hopefully the weather will be better than last year, it will be good this time around and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a tight, tricky golf course and the greens are small and fast. You have to keep the ball in play and be solid with your irons. If you miss a green you have really hard up and downs and the greens are fast. It’s a real test and it might a little windy at that time of the year, so it will be tough, which I like.”
2019 winners in the field include Thailand’s most successful player, Thongchai Jaidee, who claimed the GolfSixes title as part of Team Thailand, rising Italian star Guido Migliozzi, who secured the second of two wins in his rookie season at the Belgian Knockout, and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, who battled back from seven months out of the game through injury to lift his fifth European Tour trophy at Made in Denmark.
England’s Aaron Rai (Honma Hong Kong Open), Scot David Law (ISPS Handa Vic Open) and Swede Marcus Kinhult (British Masters) all secured their first titles this season while American Kurt Kitayama has matched Migliozzi’s feat by winning twice in his debut season on tour – at the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open at Anahita and Oman Open.
Ryder Cup player Stephen Gallacher of Scotland (Indian Open) and Australian Scott Hend (Maybank Championship) both returned to the winner’s circle earlier this year, while Finn Mikko Korhonen added the Volvo China Open title to his maiden victory at the 2018 ShotClock Masters.
Also adding to the global field of winners are 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjørn and former European Number One Robert Karlsson of Sweden.
They are joined by five-time European Tour winner Matt Fitzpatrick, runner-up at the BMW International Open, who will probably start as favourite and will want to go one better than he did in Germany, and his fellow Englishman and 2016 Ryder Cup teammate Chris Wood, who has three European Tour titles to his name.
The tournament was won in 2010 by Grace McDowell and in 2011 by Garcia. It was next staged in 2017 and Garcia won it yet again, and added a third victory last year.
Matt Fitzpatrick. Does little wrong - ever
Jon Rahm. Crowd favourite
Sergio Garcia. Loves playing in front of home fans
Matt Fitzpatrick. Always there or thereabouts
Jon Rahm. Needs to learn to count to 10
Sergio Garcia. Always feels at home at Valderrama
Jorge Campillo. Could give Garcia a run for his money as top Spaniard
Chris Wood. Looking for a good week - and soon
Guido Migliozzi. Hugely promising young Italian
Bernd Weisberger. Back in the winner’s circle again
Kurt Kitayama. Could be a serious Race to Dubai contender
Scott Hend. Fiery Australian with game to match
Marcus Kinhult. His win at the British Masters was no fluke
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