The Italian Open has been a regular on the European Tour since 1972. But its elevation to become the fifth of the 2019 Rolex Series events has exponentially increased its significance on the European Tour.
One problem in picking this week’s free tips for the Italian Open is the tournament returns to the Olgiata Golf Club for the first time since 2002. That event was won by Ian Poulter by two shots from the 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie, two fine exponents of the short game.
Despite not being used for 17 years on the main tour, Olgiata is a typical Italian design. It is a parkland Par-71 that has been extended by over 400-yards since 2002 when both Poulter and Angel Cabrera set joint course-records of 61.
The course is picturesquely tree-lined but not overly penal. However, players hitting the fairways should have an advantage when it comes to controlling their shots into the smaller than average greens. The course has been used five times on the Challenge Tour since 2002, staging a variety of named events between 2009-2011 and 2014-2015.
Last year’s hugely successful year for Francesco Molinari has made golf much more popular in Italy, and Italy’s pin-up boy is back to try and win a third Italian Open after winning the 2006 and 2016 editions. He’s joined by his brother Eduardo Molinari, as well as fellow Italians Guido Migliozzi, Andrea Pavan, and Renato Parratore.
Two of the past three winners, Tyrell Hatton and Francesco Molinari, have been near the head of the market, but the other seven winners in the last nine years have been sent-off at 80/1, 70/1, 80/1, 80/1, 40/1, 66/1, and 66/1. Despite those odds, it’s worth noting that several recent winners had posted a decent finish in the event before, several of which had come on a different course to the one they won at.
Rory McIlroy is absent this week but, with lots of Race To Dubai points and Ryder Cup points up for grabs, it’s no surprise to see many of Europe’s 2018 Ryder Cup winning team in contention. The weather forecast is also very fair, so there should be few excuses for the market leaders this week.
Paul Casey heads the market, but this is a rare foray into Italy for him. He has the motivation of wanting to make the 2020 Ryder Cup Team and he has the class to win, but at 9/1 I’m happy to pass. It’s a similar scenario with Justin Rose, and there’s a slight suspicion he’s still not at his best, despite a decent showing in the Dunhill Links tournament when last seen.
It’s harder to ignore the claims of local hero Francesco Molinari. He knows being one of the top five Europeans in the world rankings would book his place to America for the 2020 Ryder Cup and a third Italian Open win would be a great way to halt his slide down the world rankings.
Shane Lowry is another player who will be desperate to make the Ryder Cup Team, but the Irishman has yet to come down from winning the Open Championship. He also has little form in the event, so it may be that we don’t see the best of him until the final few events of the Race to Dubai, when even more money and points are at stake.
That means the second of our free tips for the Italian Open is Danny Willet at 25/1. I’m taking a chance that the former Masters winner gets his game face on this week. There’s a danger he won’t after winning at Wentworth just a few weeks ago, but this tree-lined track should rekindle those good memories. He’s also got plenty of decent Italian Open form in the bank, including three top-8s in his last four appearances.
There are lots of other Ryder Cup hopefuls in this week’s field too, but the likes of Matt Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace, and Alex Noren don’t boast any great form in the event. That’s why I’m going to give a chance to Guido Migliozzi. The young Italian could find the experience of playing in front of his home crowd too much at this stage of his career but, as his two European Tour wins have come on tree-lined courses, he looks worth a bet at a similar price to many recent Italian Open winners.