After a chaotic week at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, that saw two days of postponements due to torrential rain before the event eventually completed on Monday after 54-holes – resulting in Matt Fitzpatrick winning an eighth DPWT title – the tour heads to Spain for the next two weeks.
We have a change of venue for next week’s Andalucia Masters, as Real Club de Golf Sotogrande steps in to replace the iconic Valderrama. But first up is this week’s Open de Espana, which returns again to Club de Campo Villa de Madrid.
A version of the Open de Espana has been played most years since 1912 and the event has been part of the DP World Tour schedule since the tour’s beginnings in 1972. It has been absent just twice during that period, in 2017 and 2020.
The roll of honour of the Open de Espana is littered with greats of the game, both in Europe and globally. Names that include Arnold Palmer (1975), Bernhard Langer (1984, 1989) and Sir Nick Faldo (1987). However, two names stand above all others in the modern era with three wins apiece in this historied event: Seve Ballesteros and Jon Rahm.
Seve won the event three times, first taking his national title in 1981 and then regaining it in 1985. He then won the tournament for the third time here at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid in 1995, which turned out to be the last win of his career.
Jon Rahm has had a stranglehold over this event in recent years. He won it for the first time in 2018; then retaining the title with a dominant five-stroke success in 2019. After 2020 was cancelled due to covid and fellow Spaniard, Rafa Cabrera Bello had his own moment to remember in 2021, Rahm regained the championship last year to match his idol’s record of three wins; doing so in even more impressive fashion than his 2019 win, hammering the field by six strokes with a record -25 winning score.
Rahm’s love for his home open is largely inspired by what Seve achieved in the event and he once again shows his commitment to it this year, as he returns to defend, looking to be the first man since the inception of the DPWT to win the Open de Espana on four occasions.
Club de Campo Villa de Madrid returns as host of the Open de Espana for the fourth consecutive renewal this year. It will be the ninth time that the Javier Arana design has played host to the event, having first staged it in 1990.
The course originally provided a reasonable challenge, averaging a winning score of -13 in the five events staged here in the 90s. Whilst Jon Rahm has torn the course apart in two of the last three editions, winning in a score of -22 in 2019 before his -25 record-breaking victory last year, he has won those events by a combined eleven strokes. Though scoring has still been generally decent in behind Rahm, it has played nowhere near as easy for everyone else; it has just been a case of one of the current golfing elite playing unmatchable golf.
As a par 71 measuring 7112 yards, this week’s venue is a relatively short course. It consists of eleven par 4s (362-505 yards), four par 3s (177-210 yards) and three par 5s (526-564 yards).
Club de Campo Villa de Madrid is a hilly, tree-lined course with frequent and sometimes striking elevation changes. Providing the golfers with some spectacular views of the city.
The two nines contrast somewhat, with the more claustrophobic front nine possessing more generous landing areas in the sloping fairways. Some of the holes are a little more open over the back nine but fairways are more narrow, though rough isn’t too troubling, with strategically placed bunkers more of a concern off the tee.
The majority of holes dogleg, which does require a more strategic approach on some holes, with overhanging trees bound to cause line-of-sight issues if players find themselves on the wrong side of the fairway.
Overhanging trees also surround the very small putting surfaces, many of which are long and narrow. Several are two-tiered on the front nine, though undulations are subtle; however they get more severe on the back nine. The greens are well protected, with run-off areas around most and a plethora of deep greenside bunkers.
There is a bunch of aspects of playing here that can find you out tee-to-green, but with par 5s that are reachable for most and an abundance of short par 4s that players will be able to attack with wedges, you realise why Club de Campo Villa de Madrid possesses one of the highest birdie averages on the DPWT since 2019.
With fairways not all that easy to find and small greens which certainly aren’t, this is a tricky ball-striking course and it’s not difficult to see why those who excel with the long game have fared better here.
Jon Rahm has driven the ball excellently in both of his wins here, ranking 1st off-the-tee in 2019 and 3rd last year. In addition to that he’s ranked no worse than 20th in approach or greens-in-regulation across either of those editions.
Matthieu Pavon was a distant 2nd in 2022 and led the field with driver, whilst also ranking 4th in GIR and 16th in approach; Min Woo Lee in 3rd hit the ball solidly, ranking top 25 in each of these areas, whilst Edoardo Molinari in 4th was superb with the irons, ranking 1st in GIR and 2nd in approach.
Rafa Cabrera was the fourth-best iron player in the field when 2nd to Rahm in 2019, something he replicated when winning in 2021, ranking 6th. Shubhankar Sharma – 3rd to Cabrera Bello there – was 2nd both in approach and GIR.
Making sure you find these greens is of primary importance but with such small putting surfaces, players are bound to miss plenty and will need to scramble well. Each of the three winners here have ranked no worse than 7th in scrambling, whilst the leading scrambler for the week has finished 3rd or better in each renewal.
Finally, you must take advantage of the par 5s. They are all short by modern standards with two of the three below 540 yards. Leaving too many of these holes without a birdie or better will feel like you’re conceding serious ground to the field.
Correlating Events (Courses)
There isn’t an abundance of correlating form due to this course only hosting three Open de Espana’s in recent years, though there are five course which have plenty of similarities and could help point us in the right direction this week.
BMW PGA Championship (Wentworth)
As a tree-lined course with smallish greens, many doglegging fairways and subtle elevation changes, Wentworth provides a comparable tee-to-green challenge to that which awaits players in Madrid this week.
Jon Rahm of course has an excellent record there, having never finished worse than 4th in three visits, however he is liable to play well pretty much anywhere. Though 2021 Open de Espana winner, Rafa Cabrera Bello has several top 10s there too.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat has finishes of 2nd and 5th in the BMW PGA to go with his 8th on his one-and-only spin around Club de Campo; Matthieu Pavon and Shubhankar Sharma – who have finished 2nd and 3rd here respectively – have top 10s there; JB Hansen has a 4th here and has finished 7th at Wentworth.
Andalucia Masters (Valderrama)
Valderrama looks a clear correlation for me this week, with most aspects of play similar to here but just heightened in difficulty. The undulating course is tree-lined, with a mix of generous/narrow fairways and small greens which are tough to find.
Form-ties are a little tougher to find here but Adri Arnaus has finished 2nd at both courses; Wilco Nienaber 6th at both and Fabrizio Zanotti, who has finished 12th on both visits to this week’s course, has recorded a 4th-place finish at Valderrama. Justin Harding, Will Besseling and Masahiro Kawamura have top 10s at each course.
European Masters (Crans-sur-Sierre)
Crans-sur-Sierre looks like another obvious comp course this week, as a densely tree-lined course that provides a tee-to-green test of a similar level of difficulty and that possesses elevation changes throughout.
Edoardo Molinari has finished 2nd there and was 4th here last year; Fabrizio Zanotti has finished 3rd, whilst Adri Arnaus and Renato Paratore have numerous top 10s at Crans.
BMW International Open (Golfclub Munchen Eichenried)
The tree-lined Golfclub Munchen Eichenried is a little less demanding a ball-striking test but ranks closely to Club de Campo in scrambling difficulty; also possessing near identical birdie and bogey averages.
Rafa Cabrera Bello and Edoardo Molinari have both finished 3rd in Germany; Kiradech Aphibarnat has finished 4th; Matthieu Pavon and Renato Paratore have hit the top 10 and Darius Van Driel also has top 10s at each course.
Irish Open (Mount Juliet Estate)
Mount Juliet hosted the Irish Open in 2021/22 and was one of the closest statistical matches to this week’s course. It ranks closely in driving accuracy and GIR percentages, as well as birdie/bogey averages.
With just five recent events staged between the two courses, form-ties aren’t especially easy to come by but there are a few.
Grant Forrest has finished 4th there and was 3rd here in 2021; Fabrizio Zanotti has finished 4th in Ireland and Darius Van Driel has a top 20.
Conditions are forecast to be dry and warm before the start of the event and continuing into the opening two rounds. There’s some rain forecast over the weekend but it doesn’t look to be anything overly troublesome and with little more than a very mild breeze, scoring should be good.
World #3 and defending champion, Jon Rahm is of course this week’s star attraction as he goes in search of his fourth Open de Espana title.
He is joined by just one other player from the world’s top 50 in the shape of #36 Justin Rose, making his first DPWT start in Spain since the 2011 Andalucia Masters.
There are a further six players from inside the top 100, including the next-best of the Spanish contingent: #76 Pablo Larrazabal and #100 Adrian Otaegui.
We also have the second and third-best Spanish amateurs in attendance this week. 20-year-old, Luis Masaveu impressed here last year, entering the weekend in 13th before finishing 34th, whilst 19-year-old Angel Ayora recently advanced to the second-stage of the DPWT Q-School as he aims to stamp his place on tour for next season.
How do we solve a problem like Jon Rahm? He’s dominated this event since 2018 and run riot at the course on two of his three visits. His game looked close to its brilliant best at the Ryder Cup and if anyone was hoping he’d be suffering a hangover from that and come here slightly unprepared, there were videos doing the rounds of him practicing at this venue whilst most of this field were still waiting to finish off their week at the Dunhill Links.
If he’s close to his best, he will take all the stopping which is reflected in his 11/5 price but his post-Ryder Cup record does give the rest of the field a little bit of hope. He finished 22nd on his first start in the WGC – HSBC Champions following the 2018 Ryder Cup and his worst finish at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid came in 2021 following Europe’s chastening defeat at Whistling Straits, as he finished 17th. This despite being in excellent form having won his first major in the US Open a few months prior.
They may only be small crumbs of comfort but they at least show that the Spanish colossus isn’t completely infallible and we can try and get him beat this week.
Justin Rose is a strong second-favourite and was of obvious interest, though outside of his Ryder Cup heroics, his form hasn’t quite been as strong over recent months as it was earlier in the year.
Yannik Paul is in excellent form and went well here on his first visit last year, whilst I was tempted to give Thorbjorn Olesen another shot following a withdrawal in the chaos of the Dunhill Links last week.
However, there is only one player in this field whose tee-to-green game comes close to Rahm’s over recent months and it’s Dutchman, Joost Luiten who goes in as my main selection in Madrid.
1.75 pts Joost Luiten each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 30/1
After playing the worst golf of his career in 2022 – for which he would’ve lost his place on the tour had it not been for his ranking inside the top 40 of the Career Money List on the DPWT – Luiten has bounced back in a big way in 2023.
Joost has missed just one cut in twenty-one starts this year and recorded eleven top 25s. He’s finished inside the top 10 on seven occasions and the top 5 five times, with his best result coming when 2nd in the BMW International Open. He’s also finished 3rd in three events. This quality of results sees him currently sit 14th on the Race to Dubai and as it stands, will earn him a PGA Tour card for next year.
He’s statistically playing his best golf since 2019, with the resurgence of his previously superb ball-striking the main factor in his improvements. He ranks 9th off-the-tee, 11th in approach and 13th in greens-in-regulation for the season.
Over the last three months, he’s been comfortably the best iron player in this field and only just ranks below Rahm in overall ball-striking over the same period. Add in the fact he’s a top 20 scrambler and ranks top 50 in par 5 scoring; there is no player better equipped right now to take it to the Spaniard this week.
Luiten finished 39th in Madrid last year when his game was in considerably poorer shape. Countless efforts at correlating courses, such as two runner-up finishes at Valderrama; a 2nd in the BMW International Open this year and a 5th-place finish at Crans four starts ago show his potential for a significantly better performance this time around.
1.25 pts Connor Syme each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 45/1
Connor Syme has been the best ball-striker in this field over the most recent starts (including Rahm) and can grab an overdue first DPWT title this week.
Syme had a solid start to the year, only missing one cut in his first eleven starts but rarely threatened the top of the leaderboard. He recorded a first top 10 of 2023 in the European Open and after another subdued run of form following that, he burst into life at the end of August in the ISPS Handa World Invitational at Galgorm Castle.
The Scotsman finished 4th there and finally found something with his long game. He followed that with a 3rd in the European Masters, 7th in the Irish Open and 10th in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, each time hitting the ball excellently.
He particularly excelled with his approach play over those events, ranking 1st at Crans, 4th in Ireland and 3rd at Wentworth. This has resulted in him ranking 1st in this field in approach over the last twenty rounds played and he is 25th for the season, as well as 19th in GIR.
Add this to the consistently solid driving, for which he ranks 5th over that excellent run of form, and we have a player currently hitting the ball just about as well as anyone entering this week.
He did miss the cut in France with a poor performance but bounced back in Scotland last week, finishing 37th and closed out his week with a bogey-free 66 at St Andrews.
Syme’s 34th here on his only previous visit is a sneakily positive result. As he entered that week in poor form, missing four cuts on the bounce and fired three under par rounds, including closing the event out with a 6-under 65. That 3rd at Crans this year, as well as top 10s at Valderrama and Wentworth should act as promising pointers towards him improving that result this year while in much better form.
1 pt Alex Fitzpatrick each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 55/1
Alex Fitzpatrick won his first professional title on the Challenge Tour in the British Challenge at the start of August. Since then he’s largely played on the DPWT and taken to the step up with minimal fuss; looking every bit a player who will be a mainstay on this tour and beyond over the coming years. I’m taking him to follow up older brother, Matt’s success in last week’s Dunhill Links with a first DPWT win this week.
Alex was a high-class amateur in his own right, reaching #4 in the WAGR and won several events in the highly competitive American collegiate system, including besting a strong field in the 2021 Valspar Collegiate.
He turned pro last year and showed instant promise, playing six DPWT events at the end of the year; missing just one cut and twice finishing inside the top 15.
Fitzpatrick started this year with a 25th in the Indian Open and then spent the next few months predominantly playing on the Challenge Tour. Recording top 5s in the Netherlands and Italy, before impressing with a top 20 in The Open at Hoylake and just two weeks after that, he won that British Challenge at a canter, taking down a trio of players by five strokes.
The DPWT starts have started to flow following that and he has taken full advantage. Though Daniel Brown ran away with the ISPS Handa World Invitational by five strokes, Fitzpatrick finished a clear 2nd and has since finished 14th in the Czech Masters and 5th in the European Masters. While his three most recent starts in the Irish Open, BMW PGA Championship and Dunhill Links haven’t bared the same level of results, he’s continued to make cuts and looked rock-solid.
Alex is at his best in approach, ranking 3rd on the DPWT this season and combines this with a quality short game, ranking 20th in scrambling. That 5th at Crans should bode well here and as a player with bags of potential who could yet be anything in the game, I felt he was reasonably priced this week.
1 pt Guido Migliozzi each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 55/1
We’re probably going to need a confident, aggressive player to take down Rahm this week; something for which Italian, Guido Migliozzi very much fits the bill.
Guido’s year has threatened to get going several times but he hasn’t quite managed to catch fire. He’s recorded six top 20s and a best of 10th in the BMW International Open. His form has been particularly solid over the last three-and-a-half months, missing one cut in ten starts and barring the odd poor iron display, his game has looked sound in most areas.
It is with the driver that he excels most and it’s been encouraging to see him find a greater level of accuracy so far this year to go with his power. Indeed he’s driving the ball straighter than he ever has and this has helped him rank 23rd off-the-tee this season.
Migliozzi drove the ball well on debut in Madrid in 2021, though was let down by other areas of his game and missed the cut. He does have some attractive comp form, with top 10s at Valderrama, Crans and in the BMW International, and as a player capable of scintillating golf when he catches fire, I think he’ll relish the chance to go toe-to-toe with Rahm over the weekend if the opportunity arises.
1 pt Nacho Elvira each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 125/1
Though still inconsistent, there has been plenty of promise in the performances of Nacho Elvira in the second half of the year and I’m taking him to be one of the leading home players this week.
Elvira has made fewer cuts than he’s missed this year but has managed some eye-catching finishes. The best of these came in Denmark when 2nd in the Made in HimmerLand in July but he has shown up again in his last four starts, recording top 25s in the Irish Open and last week in the Dunhill Links.
He was excellent over the first two rounds there in Scotland, shooting consecutive 66s to sit 2nd before yesterday’s third-and-final round. Unfortunately, he was always going to find it difficult finishing the job there at Carnoustie and succumbed to a 1-over 73, though that is something I’m happy to forgive.
His iron play has been solid this year, ranking 43rd in GIR and 65th in approach, and they are firing much more right now than they were earlier in the year. The same can be said about the putter, whilst he’s always possessed a decent touch around the greens. The driver is a slight concern and something he’ll need to control this week.
Elvira’s best finish here came when 37th in 2019, going on to miss the cut the last two years. His record at Crans does provide optimism that he can go better, with four top 20s, including two top 10s when 4th in 2018 and 9th in 2022. Whilst he has also finished 8th in the BMW International Open.
1 pt Kazuki Higa each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 150/1
I’m going to sign off with Japan’s Kazuki Higa, who should feel right at home on the more traditional tree-lined setup this week and with his irons starting to fire, he is well worth chancing at a huge price.
Higa had a strong start to the year on the DPWT, finishing 4th in the Indian Open and 11th in the Thailand Classic over his first three starts of the year on the tour. His form suffered when he went over to the states for The Masters and he struggled to get anything going over the four months following that, but a 19th-place finish at home in Japan at the start of August has been the springboard for a return to form over recent weeks.
He has made his last four cuts on the spin on the DP World Tour and looked especially good in France, finishing 6th and had every chance, entering the final round one back of the lead. It was his irons and short game that engineered this impressive showing and indeed that has been the story of his better form in recent weeks, ranking 1st ATG and 29th in approach in this field over the last twenty rounds.
Though the Japanese golfer hasn’t played here, he finished 10th at the BMW International last year and went well enough on his only visit to Crans this year, finishing 36th.
Higa has won nine times around the world, including six times on the Japanese Tour. I think he has the ability to transfer that winning habit to the DP World Tour and I see fewer likelier places than the old-fashioned tree-lined venue that awaits at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, the type of course that is commonplace in Japan.