Valderrama is one of the most iconic golf venues in Spain and the course on which Europe won the Ryder Cup in 1997. The team was captained by Severiano Ballesteros and included Ignacio Garrido and Jose Maria Olazabal from Spain. Thomas Bjorn, the captain of Europe this year, also qualified as a rookie. The matches against the United States 21 years ago came too soon for Sergio Garcia who was still an amateur. His golf foundation hosts the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama this week.
Garcia was one of Bjorn’s wildcard picks and justified his inclusion in the team that won impressively at Le Golf National near Paris. He is the clear favourite for his own tournament but hosting an event can go one of two ways. Jobs off the course may make practising unfeasible or the course can be a refuge form interviews and other responsibilities. Garcia is in the former camp and is too short in the betting even against a moderate field and other players are preferred.
The 2017 Masters champion is odds-on to be the top Spanish player. He has followed Ballesteros and Olazabal as world class players from Spain. Jon Rahm is next in line but he is not playing this week. He beat Tiger Woods in the singles in the Ryder Cup and is a winner on both main tours. Rahm should win majors and would be a big favourite if competing this week. There are 16 players from Spain in the field and that includes a guest appearance from Olazabal, maybe in memory of Seve but definitely in support of Garcia. Valderrama is a worthy venue for Garcia’s event.
Garcia is Europe’s leading Ryder Cup point’s scorer and a two-time winner of this tournament. He won the second edition in 2011 and is the defending champion this week. Garcia won three titles in total in 2017, including that elusive first major. He has been trying to win one of the tournaments that matter most for over 20 years. Winning the Masters was the ultimate dream but winning his own event will be very special. Garcia will be suited to the second shot track but will be busy away from the course and juggling both activities will be tough.
Valderrama was the first Ryder Cup venue in mainland Europe. The home team won by one point and have now won six Ryder Cups in succession on home soil. Ballesteros has inspired many Ryder Cup wins especially in matches involving his compatriots. Apart from Garcia Spain will struggle to produce a genuine contender in southern Spain this week. The Rock of Gibraltar is visible from the area and the UK dependency is the last land in Europe before the crossing to Africa. Lee Westwood is the favourite in the top English player betting.
The captain and three of his vice captains from last month’s Ryder Cup are playing this week. Padraig Harrington has joined the field and he was one of Bjorn’s assistants in France. Harrington has won three majors and Valderrama suits his game. The tournament will raise funds for deprived children in Spain and the fan’s favourite to win will be Garcia. Shane Lowry will feel at home on the course that is parkland but with a links feel due to breezes even though the course is a few miles inland. Accuracy is more important than distance for good scoring.
Andrew Johnston, or Beef, is a course winner and he made the top 25 last year. He won the Spanish Open at Valderrama in 2016 after graduating to the Tour the previous year, heading the Challenge Tour rankings. His winning score of one over indicates the degree of difficulty around Valderrama. Johnson can win at one of his favourite venues again and set up the barbecue of steak and some beers. The drinks could be on Beef on Sunday night.