This week’s European Tour event might be a new addition to the circuit, but the venue certainly isn’t! Valderrama was until 2008 the long-term home of the Volvo Masters and hosted the Ryder Cup in 1997, and this week it will play host to the Andalucia Valderrama Masters.
Valderrama is a Robert Trent Jones Snr-designed layout that has been described as ‘Europe’s Augusta’. Its narrow, tree-lined fairways are accompanied by small yet elevated and undulating bent-grass greens, meaning that low scores will be difficult to obtain and level-par scoring is by no means a disaster. Even a 72-hole level-par score could be enough to win this week as Valderrama is without doubt one of the toughest courses any of the 90-strong field will play all year.
And I suspect the winner of this tournament will come from within the ranks of the Ryder Cup players, of which seven members of the victorious European team oppose.
The most notable is probably US PGA winner and three-time European Tour winner Martin Kaymer, who could leapfrog both Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods to attain the accolade of the world’s best golfer – at least according to the Official World Golf Rankings – if he finishes in a tie for second place or better this week, so there’s plenty of motivation for the German to be serious about his challenge. Add in the excellent form he has shown, winning his last three European Tour starts and coupled with some superb course form – sixth and second in 2007 and 2008 respectively during the Volvo Masters and the stage is set for another bold show from Kaymer. And although he’s plenty short enough in the betting at just 13/2, there’s no getting away from his chances this week.
Trading at longer odds is US Open champion and the man who holed the winning putt in Graeme McDowell and he can be backed at a much more attractive 16/1. McDowell hasn’t really appeared to have been in love with stroke play golf in recent tournaments but will be rested after his appearance in the Grand Slam of Golf and will be anxious to find his groove ahead of Dubai. McDowell plays Valderrama exceptionally well and like Kaymer has found the top-10 in his last two outings here with a T4 in 207 and T8 in 2008. Add in the stat of his sitting in the top three in season long Greens-in-Regulation – a real asset around here – and he is another with strong credentials.
Sweden’s Peter Hanson is another member of the victorious Ryder Cup squad and is another who boasts a good chance this week. Hanson plays well in Spain – his first Tour win came in Spain (at Cadiz in 2005) and earlier in the season won on the nearby island of Majorca. Hanson also won the Czech Open, which was played on a course not too dissimilar to Valderrama in terms of layout and he can also call on some good course form – 4th in 2005 and 13th in 2008. As a player who knows how to keep the ball in play, he is of serious interest this week at 28/1.
Chances can be given to each of the remaining Ryder Cup players appearing this week – Ross Fisher, Miguel Angel Jiminez, and the Molinari brothers Francesco and Edoardo, but there are enough niggling doubts surrounding each to temper enthusiasm on their respective chances.
I’m going to through up Joost Luiten this week – a player who has featured several times in this column during the season. Luiten had been one of Europe’s brightest stars until suffering a long-term injury, and consecutive top-three finishes in his past two events suggest he’s not far of regaining his very best form after an up-and-down season. Luiten possesses solid Greens-in-Regulation and Scrambling stats, and despite this being his course debut he looks one of the likelier ones at 50/1 to take advantage should the Ryder Cup contingent slip up and he should give another good account of himself.
Gary Boyd found only young Italian Matteo Manassero too good last week at the Castello Masters, but it shouldn’t be too long before the Englishman records a first win. He’s looked like a winner-in-waiting on several occasions this season with top-10 finishes from each of his last three starts and sits at a whopping 37-under par for his last 12 rounds of golf. That is some impressive scoring from Boyd, and coupled with a 10th place in the season-long Greens In Regulation stat, Boyd has the profile to go well again this week and his 45/1 odds make him an interesting contender.
You can generally get a decent run for your cash by backing Australian player Richard Green, and the Aussie is available at 35/1 if you fancy him adding to his Portugal Masters win a few weeks ago. Green is another player who fits the winning profile for this course and his all-round game should see him contending, given his course form which is also of a decent standard – T13 in 2002 and T15 in 2004 another decent outing should be on the cards.
Selection: Martin Kaymer
Savers: Graeme McDowell, Peter Hanson
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