Gar­cia can dom­i­nate at Valder­rama again

The Racing Paper - - Golf - by Mitchell Platts

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.

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