We stay in Spain this week for the Andalucia Masters, with Jon Rahm topping the betting boards for a second week in a row on the European Tour.
2021 European Tour
Real Club Valderrama, Sotogrande, Spain
The tour is still trying to catch its collective breath after uber-star Jon Rahm completely capitulated in the final two rounds of last week’s Open de Espana. I have to admit, it’s become something of a regular occurrence for the World Number One. Despite his crazy consistency, Rahm has battled to close out a slew of tournaments in recent months. But let’s give some plaudits to the silky smooth Rafa Cabrera Bello. The Spaniard won his first European Tour event since the 2017 Scottish Open. Cabrera Bello has really struggled to forge an identity for himself on the US PGA Tour. But he will have been thrilled with the way he held off the charging Adri Arnaus (one of my picks to cause the upset victory last week).
We stay in Spain for the 2nd leg of this three-week Iberian swing. The inaugural Andalucia Masters was won by Graeme McDowell in 2010. Spanish icon Sergio Garcia would then win the 2011 edition. The event would then take a hiatus until 2017, with Sergio Garcia once again picking up the top prize before making it a three-peat in 2018. It will be interesting to see if another strong Spanish contingent can break the current sequence of non-Spanish winners. Christiaan Bezuidenhout won in 2019 before the workmanlike John Catlin bagged the title in blustery conditions last year. This event is inextricably tied to the iconic 1997 Ryder Cup venue: Valderrama.
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr and opened in 1985, Valderrama is a classic throwback that is almost completely antithetical to most contemporary golf courses. Measuring just a smidge over 7,000 yards, Valderrama is famed for its narrow tree-lined fairways. This course is not cut out for the ‘grip it and rip it’ age of golf. It requires careful planning and calculated risks. The narrow Bermuda fairways lead into smaller than average bentgrass greens. It’s just lovely to see a test that favours accuracy over raw power. When Andrew Johnston won the Open de Espana at this venue five years back, he ranked 1st for Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation. Those stats should once again prove crucial.
It’s a slight pity that Sergio Garcia will once again not be in attendance this week. But all in all, it’s quite a strong field this year. Jon Rahm will understandably lead the markets. However, he may need a performance this week to secure his World Number One ranking. Rafa Cabrera Bello and Adri Arnaus can resume last week’s rivalry once again. Matthew Fitzpatrick and Bernd Wiesberger get another chance to exorcise their Ryder Cup demons. You must also spare a thought for Valderrama specialists such as John Catlin and Andrew Johnston.
2020: John Catlin (+2)
2019: Christiaan Bezuidenhout (-10)
2018: Sergio Garcia (-12) *54 holes
2017: Sergio Garcia (-12)
2012-2016: no event
To Win Outright:
Jon Rahm 32/10 | Matthew Fitzpatrick 14/1 | Bernd Wiesberger 20/1 | Adri Arnaus 28/1 | Thomas Pieters 30/1
Andrew Johnston- To Win 40/1 | To Place 17/2
I really think that Johnston could be a factor this year. He is coming off a really solid showing at the Open de Espana. He shot three rounds in the 60’s to overcome a poor opening 70. Prior to the Ryder Cup, Johnston looked back to his best with a solid 6th place at Wentworth. That’s worth noting because Wentworth is a similarly tree-lined test. Johnston obviously had his greatest golfing day with victory here in 2016 (when it was the Open de Espana). Since then, he hasn’t missed the cut here and he has two top 25 finishes.
Jamie Donaldson- To Win 60/1 | To Place 13/1
This could be an emotional week for Jamie Donaldson. The former Ryder Cupper actually secured his playing rights at this course in 2017. He ended up in a tie for 4th and showed all of his tactical nous. He was once again right in the mix last year- he was 2nd at the halfway mark. He ultimately had to settle for a tie for 10th. And there have also been some encouraging signs of late. He was 3rd at the London Club in August and was in the mix for some time at Crans. But far more crucially, Donaldson finished just one shot behind Billy Horschel at the BMW PGA Championship.
The Man to Beat- Richard Bland- To Win 40/1 | To Place 17/2
Could just be another brilliant chapter in the last career revival of Richard Bland? The 48-year-old won the British Masters in May. Since then, he has been the model of consistency, with six top 10 finishes. Lest we forget, he was tied for the lead after the 2nd round of the US Open. He earned a last-gasp top 10 last week with closing rounds of 64 and 68. This may not be the sexiest choice ever. But I think that he could be ideally suited to this tight, tree-lined test.