Garcia can dominate at Valderrama again
RECORD-breaking Sergio Garcia enjoyed the euphoric Ryder Cup celebrations and he can ensure the champagne corks will be popping again by winning the Andalucia Valderrama Masters starting on Thursday in Sotogrande in his native Spain.
Garcia became statistically Europe’s greatest player when his three point haul in Paris took his Ryder Cup points tally to 25½ and now more history beckons in the tournament supported by his own Foundation.
The 38-year-old from Castellon is bidding to win the title for a third successive time after he followed his success in 2011 with another victory 12 months ago when the tournament returned to the Real Club Valderrama after a six-year hiatus.
Quite simply there is no course where Garcia is more at home than Valderrama where in 1997 his idol Seve Ballesteros captained Europe to Ryder Cup glory two years before Garcia made the first of his so-far nine appearances in the biennial encounter.
Garcia has finished outside the top ten only once in 13 appearances at Valderrama – he was third in the Open de Espana when it was played there in 2016 – with eight top fives. No wonder he loves it even more than Augusta where he won the Masters last year.
Garcia’s victory in 2011 was the first by a Spaniard at Valderrama where this tournament is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week.
Jon Rahm has passed up the prospect of a piece of history of his own by winning twice on Spanish soil this year following his success in the Open de Espana and, sadly, Rafa Cabrera Bello is also missing.
But Spanish compatriots Pablo Larrazabal and Adrian Otaegui, who both finish tied 12th last year, are worthy of a second look. Otaegui is enjoying his best season in five after winning the Belgian Knockout in May – while Scott Fernandez and Pedro Oriol, who won the European Golf Team Championship in the summer, will both be chasing a maiden European Tour title.
Jorge Campillo, Alejandro Canizares, Nacho Elvira, Gonzalo FernandezCastano, Spanish legend Jose Maria Olazabal, Carlos Pigem and Alvaro Quiros are also among the ‘home’ contenders.
Canizares has decent course form – seventh in 2011 and 11th in 2016 – so cannot be dismissed but Garcia is a special player with a special affinity for this special course and he must be backed.
England’s Andrew Johnston has one European Tour victory – Garcia has 14 and 32 worldwide! – but that was the Open de Espana in 2016 so after a frustrating spell he will be delighted to teeup again at Valderrama.
Not one of Garcia’s winning European Ryder Cup team mates is competing – captain Thomas Bjorn does tee-up – so as Valderrama demands course knowledge Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen and Holland’s Joost Luiten must be included in the staking plan.
Kjeldsen won this tournament in 2008 twelve months after finishing runner-up and he was also runner-up in 2010 and tied fourth in 2016. Two of his four European Tour wins have come in Andalucia.
Luiten has twice been runner-up at Valderrama – in 2016 and again last year when Garcia beat him by one shot – and he was also fifth back in 2010.