Italian Open 2017 Golf Preview: Can Molinari Double Up On Home Soil?

You might assume that the in-form defending champion, in front of his adoring home fans, would be a runaway bookmakers’ favourite for any event in any sport.

Ordinarily that would be true, and Francesco Molinari’s price of 16/1 to win the Italian Open this week is reflective of the very real chance he has of retaining the trophy after he waltzed to victory here at Golf Club Milano 12 months ago.

But that doesn’t take into account a young phenom that has taken the golfing world by storm. Jon Rahm has finished inside the top-10 on each of his last four starts – all of which happened to be high profile FedEx Cup tournaments, and the last time he took to the field in a European Tour event he blitzed the field to win the Irish Open back in the summer.

With a host of other high profile players in the field, including Masters champion Sergio Garcia and last week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship winner Tyrrell Hatton, it is clear that Molinari has his work cut out even getting into the frame on home soil.

So who are the leading contenders to watch this week?

The Leading Candidates

The installation of Rahm as a 6/1 favourite speaks for itself, although it must be said that the Spaniard is occasionally wayward off the tee – not ideal given the tree-lined nature of this Golf Club Milano layout. At that short price, and for that reason only, we’re happy to give him the swerve.

We remain unconvinced that Sergio Garcia wins enough – madness given that he is the reigning Masters champ – but take a look at his record over the past decade and he’s not somebody that has perhaps made the most of his obvious talents. At 16/1, we’re giving yet another Spaniard the fade.

The pressure on Molinari this week will be monumental, and he like Garcia perhaps does not have enough career victories to show for his ability. Alex Noren missed the cut on his last start – a worry for the Swede, while it takes an inhumane effort to win two weeks on the spin – we’re not sure that Hatton is quite at that level just yet.

So the two towards the head of the market that appeal are Matt Fitzpatrick (22/1) and Tommy Fleetwood (25/1). To the naked eye this Golf Club Milano stretch looks typically English, with its lush parkland style, tree-lined fairways and small greens protected by strategic bunkering. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Molinari and Rikard Karlberg, the last two Italian Open winners, have also both finished second at Wentworth?

If there is a link, then Englishmen Fitzpatrick and Fleetwood look well placed to thrive. The former has finished inside the top-20 on his last two visits to Italy, including a tie for third in 2015, and has also been playing well of late with 15th at the Alfred Dunhill and 11th at the British Masters backed by that excellent title win at the European Masters early in September.

Fleetwood, meanwhile, appeared to be enjoying the bubble of what is known as the ‘nappy factor’, which is a new parent playing excellent golf – perhaps due to the perspective that being a new dad brings.

The Southport man broke the course record at Carnoustie last week in typically trying Scottish conditions, and some of the stats he posted at the Alfred Dunhill suggested a far higher finish than 25th was likely.

Fleetwood leads the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, and he has spoken of his determination to finish the year as the number one ranked player on the continent. Victory in Italy would all but cement that position.

The Outsiders

The key to finding golf betting value is in finding players that appear to be under-priced by the bookmakers, and in four-time European Tour winner Alexander Levy we have a 66/1 with a genuinely live chance of victory.

He finished seventh last week in Scotland, where he putted brilliantly, and also finished seventh in this event last year, where he was outstanding from tee to green.

Since the 2016 edition of the Italian Open, Levy has added another trophy to his cabinet (the China Open) and four other top-10 finishes at the Maybank Championship, Shenzhen International, the Alfred Dunhill and, most impressively, his solo second at the European Open. The Frenchman continues to grow as a player, and he is a sound each way investment this week.

You may recall we mentioned Rikard Karlberg earlier, and the Swede looks an astonishing price at 150/1 both each way and in the First Round Leader market. He won here in 2015 (and finished 12th last year), and of course has a second place at Wentworth to his name.

He hasn’t been in sparkling form of late, but the 19th and 20th place finishes at the European Open and Masters respectively in the past month or so indicate his best is not a million miles away.