The Andalucia Masters (June 27-30) returns to the stunning Valderrama Golf Course this week for the third consecutive year. The tournament was originally established in 2010, when it was won by Graeme McDowell. It was then won in 2011 by Sergio Garcia before the tournament was cancelled in 2012. The tournament was re-established in 2017, with Garcia again claiming the title before winning again in 2018 to complete the hat-trick. The course also hosted the 2016 Spanish Open, which was won by Andrew “Beef” Johnston.
Having been played in the Autumn in 2017 and 2018, the Andalucia Masters has benefitted from this year’s European Tour rescheduling. It is now the last tournament played in Europe before the tour moves to Britain, where the build-up to the Open Championship comprises the Irish Open and Scottish Open.
The three highest-placed golfers that have not already qualified for the 2019 Open Championship will book their places for the final major of the season this week at the Andalucia Masters, providing they finish in the top-10, which will be a big added incentive for some players.
To book those places, players will have to be on their games at Valderrama, a Par 71 course that measures just 7,001 yards. However, though it sounds short by modern standards, Valderrama’s tight undulating fairways and smaller than average greens demand accuracy in abundance. Players need to hit the correct side of many fairways to leave good angles into the flags and hitting the greens in the wrong places can leave fast and sloping putts.
McDowell won the 2016 edition with a score of –3 and, whilst Garcia’s three wins here were secured with scores of –6, -12, and –12, Andrew Johnston won the 2016 Spanish Open with a score of +1.
There are three world-class players in this week’s field priced-up at under 20/1, and the highest-ranked player is John Rahm. The Spaniard has mainly been a model of consistency this season, with a plethora of top-10 finishes. However, his all-out attacking style got him in so much trouble on his tournament debut in 2017 that he missed the cut.
The course really should be right up Matt Fitzpatrick’s ally, as his patient accurate plotting style and excellent chipping and putting should prove an ideal skillset. For that reason, it’s difficult to see why he hasn’t played here before, so it might be asking too much of him to win on his course debut and odds of 10/1 make little appeal.
It’s Garcia that is the 13/2 favourite with the bookies this week, and it’s easy to see why considering his remarkable course record. The problem with backing him this week is that he has missed three of his last four cuts. But whilst being tournament host proves a burden for many players, it seems to bring out the best in Garcia, just as the razzamatazz of the Ryder Cup does. Garcia will also be looking to play his way into top form before the Open Championship and there’s no better course for him to do it at than Valderrama. That’s why he looks a must bet this week.
Another player that I expect to emerge from the doldrums this week is Joost Luiten, as the Dutchman was runner-up in the 2016 Spanish Open and again in this event in 2017. He still managed to finish 11th last year, when suffering with a wrist injury, and his accurate iron play should get him into contention this week.
At a much bigger price, I’ll take a chance on Max Kieffer to put in a similar performance to the one he did when fifth here in 2018. The German has posted plenty of decent finishes this season and often shows his best form around tree-lined courses.
This test also provides Ashley Chesters with one of his best chances of winning a big cheque this season. The former top-class amateur struggles on long courses but, having finished 12th and fourth here in the last two years, he’s another that should be looking to peak this week with the tour returning to Great Britain after this week.
I’m also happy to take top-10 punts this week on three accurate short-hitting types that all finished tied eighth last year in Aaron Rai, Gavin Moynihan, and Matthew Nixon.