FIRST staged in 1912, the Open de Espana is one of the oldest tournaments in the world and kicked off the brand new European Tour, way back in 1972.

Venue: Parador de El Saler, Valencia, Spain. Course: Par 72, 6945 yards. Designed in 1968 by Javier Arana, Parador de El Saler was the venue for the Turespana Masters in 1996 and was used for this event on three separate occasions – 1984, 1989 and 2001.

Holes 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 17 and 18 play alongside the sea and have a distinctly links feel about them – exposed and surrounded by sand dunes. The remaining holes weave through a pine forest.

There are no water hazards on the course and the fairways are described as contoured and reasonably wide but should you stray far from the fairways, trouble awaits, with lots of bushes, trees and dreaded ice plants. The greens are undulating and firm and set to run around 10.5 on the stimpmeter.

Last Five Winners

2012 – Francesco Molinari
2011 – Thomas Aiken
2010 – Alvaro Quiros (playoff)
2009 – Thomas Levet
2008 – Peter Lawrie (playoff)

What will it take to win the Open de España?

Looking at the stats from 2001, no particular skill-set stood out. Driving accuracy wasn't important and the likes of Soren Hansen, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Joakim Haeggman were all able to finish in the top five despite ranking no better than 76th for greens hit. An ability to play links golf looks a huge plus though.

Robert Karlsson won the event quite comfortably in the end but with a round to go he was tied with Darren Clark.

Both players are fine links exponents and tremendous wind players and with the forecast suggesting a blustery week ahead an ability to play in windy conditions looks an essential prerequisite.

Only four Spaniards – Alvaro Quiros, Sergio Garcia, Antonio Garrido and the great man himself, Seve Ballesteros, have ever won it.

Alejandro Canizares and Pablo Larrazabal tied for a distant second place, alongside Soren Kjeldsen, last year but it's obvious the pressure of winning their national title is immense.

One Spanish great and multiple tour winner who has never bagged this one is Miguel Angel Jimenez and I'm delighted to see he's back in action this week, following a skiing accident at the end of last year.

It would be a remarkable comeback if he were to win on his return but even though he has course form in the locker it's hard to envisage him doing so. It's great to see him back though.

In-Play Tactics

It may or may not be relevant but looking at the four results here Bernhard Langer – the first time he won – was the only one of the four to come from far off the pace. Robert Karlsson was handy after day one and when Diego Borrego won the Turespana Masters in 1996 he was in front after every round.

I can't stress how important the weather will be this week. The forecasts are changeable though so it's not going to be easy. When I first looked on Monday morning it looked like an early-late draw would be advantageous, now it looks the other way around with Friday afternoon looking tough.

If the forecast remains set as it is now it may make sense to back those that fare well in the breezier day one afternoon conditions, even if they're a few behind.

Or alternatively wait until Friday morning and look to those doing well during round two. If the wind blows on Friday afternoon as forecast, anyone leading at lunchtime, safely in the clubhouse through 36 holes, will in all likelihood remain in front and shorten up in the market.

Market Leaders

I've gone from immediately dismissing favourite Sergio Garcia to toying with backing him. On one hand, he has to overcome a bruising week in Augusta and the poor strike rate of the Spanish in this event but on the other he's in superb form, is a tremendous links-wind player and he's won his last two stroke-play events in his homeland.

I'm just erring on the side of caution but I may change my mind and get him onside at some stage. He's been assigned an early start on Thursday though so that may be tough.

Second favourite Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano also has to overcome a hard week at the US Masters and although he too is a fine links-wind player he makes little appeal given he's never played the course before or won in Spain.

In the 40 years it's been part of the European Tour, nobody has successfully defend this title and I'd surprised if an out-of-form Francesco Molinari will achieve the feat. He too is of no interest.

Selections

Given how little we know about the venue and the weather prospects I've taken it easy from the off, modestly playing just five outsiders.

First up I've had no more than a tiny speculative just-in-case wager on Alvaro Quiros at 80.0. The likable Spaniard has had just three starts back following wrist surgery and certainly hasn't set the world alight but I thought this place may suit him and sooner or later he'll burst back to life.

Ricardo Santos was in the form of his life at the start of the year but two recent missed cuts have seen his odds lengthen considerably. Hopefully the break since Malaysia and a return to Europe (the other missed cut was in India) will see an upsurge in form.

Santos' only European Tour win came at last year's Madeira Islands Open, a venue that wouldn't be too dissimilar to this one.

Another player sure to like the venue and capable of playing in the wind is Irishman Michael Hoey. He hasn't been in great nick this year but now he's got his Trophee Hassan II defence out of the way might just kick-on.

He's a winner at Oitavos Dunes, another venue that would appear similar to this one and a triple-figure price.

Big-hitting Dane Andres Harto is a player I'm keen on for the future and I couldn't let him go unbacked here. He had a great chance to win in Madeira last year and after finishing tied 15th last time out in Morocco looks generously priced this week.

And finally, I've had an extremely small and speculative bet on Mikael Lundberg. He's a dual winner of the Russian Open at tree-lined Le Meridien and he contended at the links of Portrush in last year's Irish Open.

Marry those two form lines and you should find he's suited to this gaff and indeed he finished in the top 10 in the Challenge de España in 1999. He wasn't awful last time out in Morocco, he has a possibly favourable afternoon start on Thursday and there isn't much downside at 400.0.

Recommended Bets

Alvaro Quiros @ 80.0
Ricardo Santos @ 90.0
Michael Hoey @ 130.0
Andres Harto @ 200.0
Mikael Lundberg @ 400.0

Milesey (Betfair)

1 Comment
  1. Bruce Robertson 9 years ago

    Selections:

    1. P Larrazabal 22/1
    2. S lowry 40/1
    3. D Horsey 33/1
    4. R Santos 80/1

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