The European Tour proper returns this week, and heads to Sicily for the inaugral Sicilian Open event, and the first time ever the European Tour has visited the Mediterranean island off the coast of Italy.
The venue for the event is the Gary Player-designed parkland course at the Donnafugata Golf Resort, which will present a near 7200-yard, par-71 test to the assembled field. The course itself is a tight affair with small, flat greens and deep bunkers. As is common with many Player-designed courses, there is a lot of emphasis on course management rather than brute power; but recent unseasonable weather could make the course play a little longer.
We start the preview this week with the tournament favourite, England’s Chris Wood, who is entered at 20/1. Wood clearly possesses bags of talent, but is still seeking a first Tour win since turning pro in 2008. Winner of the Amateur medal in the 2008 Open, Wood has often flattered to deceive since, failing to capitalise on good opportunities to win.
However, it is surely only a matter of time before Wood does get his head in front and likely windy conditions could help bring about an overdue first win. Wood’s last event saw a T10 finish in Dubai where he ranked inside the top-30 in ball striking, putting and driving distance; and a repeat of that performance this week should see him go close to that elusive first win.
Forecast winds could also see Woods’ fellow Englishman Robert Rock take a hand in proceedings. Like Wood, Rock is a Tour maiden, but much of his best form has come when the wind gets up, and he has the game to do well here. He’s long enough of the tee, while his putting can be deadly when on a going day. Rock is yet to really sparkle on the Tour this week, with his previous efforts being nothing spectacular, but he has played well in Italy in the past, and also has some good form on Gary Player-designed courses.
Frederik Andersson-Hed is available at 25/1 and is perhaps one of the longest hitters in the field for this event. He’s also the current Italian Open champion, and so a return to Italy could bring about positive vibes for the big Swede. Andersson-Hed finished inside the top-10 in Dubai last time out, and has a strong record in past events in Italy – 2010’s win notwithstanding. He looks priced to go close.
Stephen Gallacher also takes his place in the field, and on his best form the Scot would go very close indeed to a first tour win since 2004. Gallacher was extremely consistent in 2010, and showed earlier in 2011 on the Gulf Swing that his game was in good shape, with top-10 finishes in two out his last three events. Those were far stronger events than this, and he should contend again at 22/1. The worry with Gallacher, however is much the same as that of Wood in that he struggles to convert when in contention.
Johan Edfors often pops up in this column, and there is a lot to like about the Swede this week. Although winless since 2006, Edfors has posted several good results and his last two starts on Gary Player layouts have returned finishes of 4th and 2nd, so he should like the course layout.
The Swede was in contention earlier in the season in Bahrain, but his putter went cold at the wrong time as he struggled for birdies late in his round. While Edfors’ driving can be somewhat erratic, it was interesting to see there that he elected to leave his driver in the bag a lot more, and concentrated on finding the fairways, where his strong iron play came into effect, and that will be important this week. The 50/1 on offer in places is simply huge about Edfors.
Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen has gone pretty quiet since putting up strong showings during the African Swing, but the youngster showed himself to be an emerging talent. A winner on the Challenge Tour, Oleson posted a pair of top-10s on the Swing, and in 2009 finished 4th on his first ever main Tour event. This field is relatively week, and if he can get it together this week, he could spring a 150/1 shock against better fancied rivals.
Selection: Johan Edfors
Savers: Chris Wood, Frederik Andersson-Hed