Andalucia Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
AFTER six weeks in the UK, the European Tour heads to Spain for the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama, one of three successive tournaments to be staged in Iberia and, once again, all will be played without spectators.
The European Tour returned to action in July with two dual-ranking events in Austria, followed by a six-week UK Swing, and all events since the re-start of the 2020 Race to Dubai have been played behind closed doors. There is little doubt that it has been an unqualified success and two Scottish golfers will be looking to join the ranks of the recent winners - Connor Syme and Robert MacIntyre.
Syme will be bitterly disappointed not to have won the Wales Open at Celtic Manor but he gained the considerable consolation of securing one of the 10 qualification places at the forthcoming US Open. Syme played superbly during the UK Swing. He doesn’t hit the ball miles, but he finds plenty of fairways, has a terrific short game and possesses a wonderful temperament. There are many who believe he is a Ryder Cup player in waiting.
He finished tied third at the Celtic Classic and ended up in in a tie for eighth place at the Wales Open after a disappointing closing round of 75. But through it all, Syme took everything in his stride, never once losing his cool as things started to go wrong.
MacIntyre enjoyed a sensational rookie season but things have somewhat stalled in 2020. He hasn’t been helped by the lockdown but played all four rounds at the WGC St Jude and US PGA Championship and then returned to Europe for the Wales Open, opening his challenge with a 68. Sadly, he followed it with a 78 and finished the week in a tie for 59th place. The left-hander has a glorious golf swing and will quickly shake off the ring rust.
He only turned professional in late 2017. Weeks later he played his first two events as a professional, on the MENA Tour, finishing tied for third place in the Jordan's Ayla Golf Championship and then winning the Sahara Kuwait Championship.
In November 2017, MacIntyre made the final stage of the European Tour qualifying school, finishing in 37th place to secure a place on the Challenge Tour for 2018. In August 2018, he lost in a playoff at the Vierumaki Finnish Challenge. He then finished in a tie for fourth at the Irish Challenge, lost a playoff to Victor Perez at the Foshan Open and tied for sixth place in the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final to earn his place on the European Tour for 2019.
And he had a season to remember. He highlight came at the British Masters, where he was joint runner-up after an eagle-birdie finish. Two weeks later he was runner-up again, this time at the Made in Denmark, which was won by Bernd Wiesberger. He also finished in a tie for sixth at The Open at Royal Portrush on his debut. And then came a fourth-place finish at the Italian Open. It left him in 11th place in the Race to Dubai, which was good enough to see him named Rookie of the Year. And now is his time to kick on and win his first title on the European Tour.
Your correspondent recently bemoaned the state of Scottish golf but things are looking up. Apart from Syme and MacIntyre, Marc Warren has returned to the winners’ circle this year, and David Law continues to shine.
Last year saw an emotional victory for Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa. It was a triumph that secured a place in The Open Championship at Royal Portrush. It was at that venue during the 2014 Amateur Championship that Bezuidenhout failed a doping test that would put him out of the game for nine months. He was taking beta blockers to help with a stutter he developed after drinking rat poison as a child and, while he declared that fact during his test, the adverse finding resulted in a two year ban.
That was later reduced to nine months after officials realised Bezuidenhout had not been seeking any advantage in his performance but the damage was already done as he had missed out on representing his country at the Eisenhower Trophy.
"I just broke down," he said. "It was awful. I had spent my whole amateur career working to get into that Eisenhower side to represent my nation, it was a huge goal of mine to be selected in the team. To be told two days before the event that I couldn’t go because of a two year drugs ban was simply too much for me to take in. It felt like my life was over.”
His win at Valderrama represented redemption for the 26-year-old.
There is sure to be a strong Spanish challenge but it will not include Jon Rahm, who played last year but will be competing in the Tour Championship at East Lake this week. The tournament has been staged five times and Sergio Garcia has won it on three occasions (2011, 2017 and 2018). The other winner was Graeme McDowell in 2010.
Pablo Larrazabal and Jorge Campillo will lead the home charge. Both have already tasted success on the Race to Dubai this season, with Larrazábal winning the Alfred Dunhill Championship last November and Campillo earning his second European Tour title at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
Campillo finished in a share of eighth at the ISPS Handa Wales Open at Celtic Manor while Larrazábal has shown flashes of his best. With both players currently inside the top 25 on the Race to Dubai, they will lead a strong home contingent on one of the continent’s most famous golf courses, Real Club Valderrama, which hosted The Ryder Cup in 1997. Also set to fly the flag for Spain are Adri Arnaus, Alejandro Cañizares, Emilio Cuartero, Eduardo De La Riva, Samuel Del Val, Nacho Elvira, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, Alfredo Garcia-Heredia, Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez, Pedro Oriol, Adrian Otaegui, Carlos Pigem and Alvaro Quiros.
Spaniard Eduard Rousaud will use the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters as an opportunity to tune up ahead of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot next month. As one of the top five golfers on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Rousaud is exempt for the second Major Championship of the 2020 season.
Peter Adams, the European Tour’s Championship Director for the Andalucia Masters said: “We look forward to returning to Real Club Valderrama once again in September, but it is important that we adhere to the appropriate guidelines and continue to minimise risk within the tournament bubble at each of our events. That means that we will not be able to welcome fans onsite."
All tournaments in the reshaped 2020 season are governed by the Tour’s comprehensive Health Strategy, which has been developed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Andrew Murray in consultation with health care specialists Cignpost and advisors in many of the 30 countries in which the European Tour plays. They will also be underpinned by the European Tour’s new ‘Golf for Good’ initiative which aims to support communities where the European Tour plays, reward true heroes, such as frontline workers, and promote the many health benefits that golf offers.
Connor Syme. Ready to win
Robert MacIntyre. Looking to recapture his 2019 form
Pablo Larrazabal. Flying home flag
Connor Syme. No weaknesses
Robert MacIntyre. Has the potential to become world-class
Pablo Larrazabal. Loves playing on home soil
Martin Kaymer. Still striving to find form that saw him win two majors
Adrian Otaegui. Has been there or thereabouts recently
Nacho Elvira. Impressive ball striker
Bernd Wiesberger. Shaking off the ring rust
Lee Westwood. Not been at his best since the restart
Brandon Stone. Infuriatingly inconsistent
Justin Harding. A model of consistency
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