Out of the Rough: DS Automobiles Italian Open (2023)
After a brief stint in Asia, the DP World Tour returns to mainland Europe for the Italian Open at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, Italy.
This is the third consecutive year that the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club will host the tournament although in a new slot on the schedule. The event is annually held in September but has been moved to May this year so the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club can prepare to play host to the Ryder Cup later this fall.
Prior to three years ago, the event was largely nomadic before finding a home, at least for now.
The Italian Open was first played in 1925 and this year’s event will be the 80th installment. The event has been a permanent fixture on the DP World Tour since its inception in 1972.
Marco Simone Golf and Country Club plays as a par 71 at 7,268 yards. Last year, the event was played, on average, a near stroke over par.
It is a Jim Fazio and David Mezzacane design parkland layout that is a hilly and undulating course. It was revamped by Tom Fazio and Jeremy Slessor of European Golf Design in August of 2018 and October 2020.
The greens have been described as immaculate but beyond that, the rest of the course is not particularly well received by the golfing Tour.
This is a course that requires a well rounded game to succeed. It’s a course with such a standard that it is hosting the Ryder Cup, one of the biggest events in all of the sport.
The requirement of a well rounded game is evident with the importance of Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, the statistic that is best used to measure difficult courses.
The top-seven finishers at this event a year ago ranked sixth, third, ninth, second, 12th, fifth and first for Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. In 2021 the top-seven finishers ranked first, 46th, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and second.
Greens in regulation percentage too is important when it comes to Marco Simone Golf and Country Club. Last year’s winner, Robert Macintyre only ranked 20th for Greens in regulation percentage (GIR%) but seven of the top-12 ranked inside the top-ten.
GIR% too was the most important statistic in the event in 2021. The 2021 winner, Nicolai Hojgaard, ranked sixth in GIR% and the top-three in GIR% all finished inside the top-five.
Putting on these difficult green complexes that oftentimes play above the fairways will be both tricky and therefore important.
The top three in the 2022 installment all putted nicely ranking second, seventh and fourth for putting average respectively. They too ranked ninth, 24th and fourth in strokes gained: putting as well.
As mentioned about the difficult green complexes that play above the fairways, scrambling will too be of the utmost importance this week as well.
In 2021, the front three ranked first, eighth and fifth in scrambling respectively.
The finishing stretch at this week’s course is interesting and has the ability to produce plenty of drama. After a run of three straightforward holes from 11-to-13, golfers are faced with a pair of tough par four holes before an interesting final three.
This makes for dramatics coming down the stretch and some must-watch television.
Although one of the premier events on the DP World Tour schedule and with the same course hosting the Ryder Cup later this year, the move in the calendar has weakened the field for this year’s installment.
The likes of Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Fitzpatrick, and Tyrrell Hatton played in this event when it was slated for September last year but all will be stateside for this week’s elevated PGA Tour event in the Wells Fargo Championship.
MacIntyre is the defending champion of the event and will be back in this year’s field to defend his title. However, he held off names such as Fitzpatrick, McIlroy and Hatton to claim victory in the fall, who all will not be in attendance this week.
However, no one since Auguste Boyer back in 1930-1931 and Flory Van Donck in 1938 and 1947 (World War II in between) have won back-to-back Italian Open titles.
Hojgaard, the 2021 winner of this event at the same course, will also be in attendance this week in an effort to win his second Italian Open title.
Other past Italian Open Champions, although not at this course, teeing it up include Francesco Molinari, Ian Poulter, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Hennie Otto.
For some reason, this event is dominated by the English. At least one Englishman has finished first or second in 12-of-the-last-15 installments of the Italian Open.
One of the bigger storylines to follow in this week’s field are the Ryder Cup hopefuls, especially playing at the course where the Ryder Cup will be held.
Victor Perez, Yannik Paul and Adrian Meronk are just a few names who are fighting for a spot on Luke Donald’s Ryder Cup team. They’ll look to put together a week that Donald cannot ignore.
There are four Americans in the field as well in Johannes Veerman, John Catlin, Sean Crocker and Chase Hanna, but they are highly unlikely to join Zach Johnson’s team.
Rain is set to hit the area leading up to the event. At the time of writing this, there is at least a 90-percent chance of rain everyday this week through Wednesday. This could play a toll on the opening rounds, making the course wet and slow to play along with the difficulty of the course. Beyond Wednesday however, the highest chance of precipitation for Thursday through Sunday is a 20-percent chance on Sunday. Highs are set to remain in the mid 70 degrees and winds will remain around 10 miles-per-four all four days. In all, not a bad forecast for some golf.
Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (SG: TTG)
Greens in Regulation Percentage (GIR%)
Strokes Gained: Putting (SG: PUTT)
Birdie or Better Percentage
Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: APP)
Par Five Average Scoring
Average Driving Distance
Thorbjorn Olesen (+2800)
My favorite per my model this week in Italy is Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen. Olesen is currently tops on Tour when it comes to birdie or better percentage. He is also third in all of SG: OTT, bogey avoidance and SG: APP. Olesen is also fifth in par five average scoring, seventh in scrambling, 23d in SG: PUTT and 114th in average driving distance. Olesen is elite in seven of the nine statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. Olesen hasn’t been seen on the DP World Tour since February but in the five tournaments he’s played this season, his worst finish has been T20th. He won the Thailand Classic, placed T4th at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, T6th at the Hero Indian Open, T16th at Hero Dubai Desert Classic and T20th at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. He recently played in the Zurich Classic on the PGA Tour where he did make the cut.
Marcus Helligkilde (+3500)
Helligkilde is fresh off of a runner-up finish at last week’s Korea Championship Presented by Genesis. Prior to the Korea Championship he placed T14th at the ISPS Handa Championship. He’s missed just one cut in seven events on the season. Helligkilde is currently seventh on tour in bogey avoidance, 14th in GIR%, 21st in SG: TTG, 23rd in scrambling, 35th in SG: APP, 45th in SG: PUTT, 48th in birdie or better percentage, 62nd in average driving distance and 66th in par five average scoring. In other words, he’s above average in each of the statistical categories we’re taking into consideration this week. Combine this with a recent runner-up finish, you have a formula for success.
Antoine Rozner (+3500)
Rozner came out and fired a 63 in the opening round of the Korea Championship before faltering Friday and Saturday. He climbed back into contention early on Sunday before again dropping strokes on the back nine, ultimately finishing T21st. Rozner has already played in ten tournaments on the season where he has recorded a victory at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open and four top tens. He is currently 12th on Tour in GIR%, 13th in bogey avoidance, 25th in SG: PUTT, 27th in birdie or better percentage, 29th in SG: APP, 32nd in SG: TTG, 44th in scrambling, 61st in par five average scoring and 74th in average driving distance.
Yannik Paul (+3500)
Yannik Paul is currently second on Tour in SG: APP, sixth in bogey avoidance, seventh in SG: TTG, tenth in GIR%, 11th in scrambling, 57th in birdie or better percentage, 83rd in SG: PUTT, 97th in par five average scoring and 113th in average driving distance. Paul was the leader of the Korea Championship after shooting a combined -8 through the first two rounds before faltering into the weekend. Prior to last week’s Korea Championship, Paul placed T6th at the ISPS Handa Championship. He had back-to-back runner up finishes at the Hero Indian Open and Thailand Classic before that. It’s just a matter of time before Paul gets back in the win column.
Julien Brun (+4500)
On a pure value based assessment, Julien Brun is arguably my favorite bet of the week. At +4500 to win, you’re getting a lot of value. Brun hasn’t played on the DP World Tour since the Jonsson Workwear Open in March. In his last four tournaments he has placed within the top 25, highlighted by a T7th at the Magical Kenya Open Presented by Absa. Beyond that, he placed third at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open and fifth at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. He is currently second on Tour in bogey avoidance, seventh in both GIR% and SG: PUTT, 13th in both scrambling and SG: APP, 41st in SG: TTG, 50th in birdie or better percentage, 68th in average driving distance and 99th in par five average scoring.