Andalucia Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
WORLD Number One and U.S. Open Champion Jon Rahm returns to Valderrama this week to compete in the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters. Two of the 26-year-old’s seven European Tour victories have come on Spanish soil, and Rahm now has his sights on capturing another home title after coming up short last week.
In his last appearance at Valderrama in 2019, which became the first course in Continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup in 1997, Rahm finished runner-up to Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
“I have some unfinished business at Valderrama, that’s for sure,” said Rahm. “As a Spaniard, it’s a golf course where we all want to win.
“As soon as you arrive you get a real sense of the history of the venue and the great moments that have taken place there over the last 30 years. To be a part of that would really be an honour. I’ve had nothing but great experiences of playing in front of home crowds. Spanish golf fans are truly special, and I can’t wait to see them lining the fairways again.”
Since turning professional in 2017, Rahm has amassed 13 victories across the European Tour and PGA Tour, also adding a Major title - in June’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines - to his four Rolex Series victories.
In 2019, Rahm won the Race to Dubai, becoming the first Spaniard since Seve Ballesteros in 1991 to finish the year as European Tour Number One.
He will be joined by fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, who is fresh from victory at the Open de Espana. He last teed it up in this event ten years ago and will play a competitive round at Valderrama for the first time in five years since his 2016 Open de Espana appearance.
“I’m really looking forward to returning to Valderrama,” said Cabrera Bello. “It’s a very special golf course and a fantastic test of golf that has provided a number of exciting moments over the years. It was very different playing the course virtually last year, so I’m excited to experience the real thing once again.
“To have another opportunity to play in front of our home crowds again this year is something all the Spaniards are looking forward to. It should be another great week on home soil.”
The Spaniard also assumed a hosting role at the Gran Canaria Lopesan Open in April and the Andalucia Masters will be the fifth of six tournaments held on Spanish soil on the 2021 Race to Dubai, with next week's Mallorca Open bringing the curtain down before they head to Portugal.
The tournament was won last year by John Catlin, who secured his maiden European Tour title, with Germany's Martin Kaymer finishing a shot short for the second week running. The overnight leader failed to find a birdie during a tough-scoring final day at Valderrama, with a four-over 75 enough to snatch a one-shot victory when Kaymer bogeyed his final hole. Catlin ended the week on two over to become the first wire-to-wire champion at the event, with Kaymer's runner-up finish extending his six-year wait for a return to the winner's circle.
"I think it's still kind of setting in," Catlin said. "The nerves were going nuts the whole round. This is a very difficult golf course, the greens were firm and fast and the wind was no easier than it had been the previous three days. I don't think it's quite sunk in that I've finally actually won but that was my goal at the start of 2019 to win on the European Tour, so to have actually accomplished that is pretty hard to put into words.” Catlin has, of course, gone to prove it was no fluke by winning again.
Kaymer, starting the day two behind, rolled in a 12-footer at the second and cancelled out a blemish at the next by holing from eight feet at the fourth, before moving into a share of the lead when Catlin bogeyed the fifth.
The German needed to hole a 25-footer to save par at the next but reached the turn two behind after losing his ball off the ninth tee and making a double-bogey, only for Catlin to start his back nine with a bogey to reduce the gap to one.
A two-shot swing at the par-three 12th saw Catlin find trees off the tee on his way to a bogey and Kaymer strike a stunning approach to almost tap-in range, with both players then dropping a shot at the next after missing close-range efforts to save par.
Kaymer lost his narrow advantage when he failed to get up and down from the sand to save par at the 15th, allowing Justin Harding - playing two groups ahead - to nudge in a three-foot birdie at the 17th and make it a three-way tie at the top.
Harding's hopes ended with a double-bogey at the last, while Kaymer squandered birdie chances from nine feet at the 16th and six feet at the 17th to leave him and Catlin in a share of the lead with one hole to play.
Kaymer left his long par-save chip from the fringe a fraction short at the 18th after a poor bunker shot, with the bogey allowing Catlin to secure his victory by lagging his birdie attempt to within a foot of the cup and tap-in his winning par.
Harding ended the week tied-third alongside Antoine Rozner and Wil Besseling, with Guido Migliozzi and Wilco Nienaber a further shot back on five over and in a share of fifth place.
Connor Syme double-bogeyed the last to post a three-over 74 to finish in a share of eighth, while Lee Westwood jumped inside the top-10 after three birdies in his last seven holes helped him to a best-of-the-week 67.
I apologise for sounding like a stuck record, but the world number one is simply different class and is playing brilliant golf. Won the U.S. Open, finished third at The Open, top scorer for Europe at the Ryder Cup. Need I say more? Matt Fitzpatrick finished second at the Scottish Open and 20th at the BMW PGA Championship. Valderrama is a course that is made to measure for him, especially if he putts well. John Catlin won here last year and then added another title two weeks later. He also won the Austrian Open earlier this year
After a break of six years it was won in 2017 and 2018 by Sergio Garcia, in 2019 by Christiaan Bezuidenhout and last year by John Catlin.
Valderrama hosted the 1997 Ryder Cup and is arguably the best course in Spain. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones and first opened in 1974. It is a tree-lined course that measures 7,028 yards. The most famous hole is probably the 536-yard par five 17th, featuring a green that slopes from front to back that is guarded by water and has a bunker to the rear.
Jon Rahm. In a class of his own
John Catlin. Great memories
Matt Fitzpatrick. Course is made for him
Five to Follow:
Jon Rahm. Who’s going to finish second?
John Catlin. Underrated
Matt Fitzpatrick. Brilliant short game
Robert MacIntyre. Has a point to prove
Bernd Wiesberger. Desperate to put a dreadful Ryder Cup behind him
Thorbjorn Olesen. Getting there
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Looking to recapture past glory
Andy Sullivan. Blows hot and cold
Andrew Johnston. His only victory came in Spain
Javier Ballesteros. Seve’s double
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