THERE is plenty of stardust sprinkled around the field for this week’s Italian Open, with Ryder Cup wannabes eager to check out the Marco Simone course in Rome, which will host next year’s shoot-out with the Yanks.
Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Tyrrell Hatton – who must all be stick-ons to make Luke Donald’s 2023 team – are among the big names in action.
Not surprisingly, that quartet occupy the top four places in the betting, ahead of Francesco Molinari, who is showing signs of recapturing the form that made him invincible when Europe hammered the Americans in 2018.
McIlroy will be a popular choice to make up for his near miss at the BMW PGA Championship, while Viktor Hovland is also out for redemption after failing to close the deal at Wentworth, where he was joint leader heading into the final round.
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But I’m not sure the big boys will be quite as motivated this time, and I’m happy to look elsewhere for the best value.
I’ll also throw in a tip for this weekend’s LIV event in Chicago, hoping to go one better than Boston, where Joaquin Niemann lost in a play-off.
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Hot shot: Fabrizio Zanotti, 33-1.
Despite his name, Zanotti is not Italian but Paraguayan, which means he will not have the added pressure of trying to impress the Rome crowds.
I was certainly impressed by him at Wentworth, where he was right in the hunt until he carved one out of bounds at the par five 17th on Sunday. That led to a double bogey, and he eventually finished tied 13th.
That was still his third top twenty finish in a row, and there is better to come. If Zanotti had played the closing par fives at Wentworth half decently he would have finished a lot higher.
He made only one birdie in six attempts – but that underlines how good he was elsewhere.
Mid price: Min Woo Lee, 40-1.
Lee must also have left Wentworth wondering what might have been, after an extraordinary few days.
An opening 76 left him staring at a missed cut, but he followed up with a sensational 62 that featured two eagles, seven birdies, and a six at the 17th.
Lee was at it again in the final round, carding a hat-trick of birdies twice before a dismal finish saw him play the final three holes in three over par.
Consistency is not his middle name, but I prefer to concentrate on the positives – 19 birdies and two eagles in 54 holes is impressive stuff. A share of 12th in Rome last year, built around an opening 64, suggests there should be more fun this time.
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Long shot: Scott Hend, 750-1.
I was tempted to give Francesco Laporta a second chance after he proved a disappointment at Wentworth, failing to match last year’s bold showing by missing the cut.
Laporta was also impressive in Rome a year ago, finishing a close fourth to Nicolai Hojgaard. He could make me regret not snapping up the 100-1, but I’m prepared to take a chance with Hend at these odds.
The big-hitting Aussie has had a shocking year, missing the cut on twenty occasions and dropping out of the top 500 in the world rankings.
But he may have found something, as he played well at Wentworth, where he made it to the weekend for the third time in his last four starts. Rounds of 70-70-67 suggest he is worth a small each way interest.
And one for LIV Chicago – Anirban Lahiri, 33-1.
Hard to understand why Lahiri is such a big price after his impressive showing in Boston last time, where he was the other fall guy in the play-off won by Dustin Johnson.
Johnson’s eagle putt from 35 feet was travelling at speed when it dived into the hole – and the bookies seem to have forgotten Lahiri had a five footer for eagle on the same hole to win without the need for extra holes.
Despite squandering that chance, this was still his best performance since finishing runner-up to Cameron Smith at The Players. He could easily go one better.
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