Fabulous Fitzpatrick looks the man for Milan
English raider set to challenge local hero
Palmer's top tip
Matthew Fitzpatrick 22-1
The Italian Open has become more glamorous than ever with its elevation to Rolex Series status – fortunes are available for those who perform well in Milan this week – and one of the most stylish swingers in the world can provide a fitting champion.
Matthew Fitzpatrick boasts textbook technique, his classic, brisk action typically delivering a controlled fade which makes him a hugely effective operator on layouts which demand precision. Golf Club Milano, a tight, tree-lined track with small greens, is an excellent course for the Englishman to showcase his talent.
Fitzpatrick finished a shot shy of a playoff in the 2015 Italian Open at this venue, improving his score each day and closing with a 65. A year later, he tied for 16th after a poor final round. This time, with his game in superb nick and the fourth European Tour title of his short career secured just a month ago, there is every reason to believe this class act will be in the mix again on Sunday.
Fitzpatrick's only other visit to Italy was for the 2014 EMC Open on the Challenge Tour, where he finished seventh after a slow start. He described the Italian Open at the start of this week as “a tournament I always look forward to” and this enjoyable trip can end with the banking of a juicy cheque. The 23-year-old is blessed with incredible calmness when in contention on Sundays.
Since winning the European Masters at Crans, Fitzpatrick has finished 11th in the British Masters and 15th in the Dunhill Links. The latter performance, where he opened with a 73 before closing with three consecutive 68s, is particularly encouraging given he had never previously made a Dunhill Links cut. This week's assignment suits him much better.
Francesco Molinari 16-1
Jon Rahm tops the betting at just 13-2, but the fiery Spaniard is making his debut at a course which does not play to his strengths. This is a fiddly layout, where power is not a great asset, and it is not difficult to imagine some over-aggressive driving getting Rahm in trouble.
The weakest element of Rahm's game are his short-irons and wedges, tools which he will wear out in Milan. Inexperience and the course set-up makes the favourite poor value.
The route to success at Golf Club Milano is finding fairways, hitting greens, being patient and letting the birdies come naturally. Five or six birdies per round, with no mistakes, should get the job done, and nobody knows that better than Francesco Molinari, who won last year without being at his best.
Molinari and Golf Club Milano are a match made in heaven, and the 34-year-old Turin man should go close to completing an Italian Open hat-trick on Sunday. He has finished in the top-20 in this tournament ten times, winning last year a decade after his maiden European Tour title in the 2006 edition. That emotional triumph was by a four-shot margin.
Maturing Molinari appears mentally stronger than ever, as highlighted by his gutsy effort in the final Major of this year, where he tied for second place behind Justin Thomas. That was Molinari's ninth top-20 of the US Tour season and he signed off with a tenth, sharing 12th place in the BMW Championship.
This term, Molinari has improved with his wedges and putter, making him even better equipped for Golf Club Milano. He duelled with a Sheffield lad (Danny Willett) for last year's Italian Open honours, and a similar story could unfold this time with another raider from the Steel City providing the principal challenge.
David Horsey 66-1
One man who could stand in the way of a thrilling Fitzpatrick v Molinari joust is David Horsey, another accurate four-time European Tour champion who has proved himself at this track. Horsey closed with a 65 for fifth place on his only previous visit, 12 months ago.
Horsey has twice finished runner-up this year (Lyoness Open and Made In Denmark) and has been quietly impressive from August onwards. A ten-under-par Dunhill Links weekend suggests the little grinder has taken his A-game to Italy. Betfair, Power and Sky Bet offer seven places, while BoyleSports and Hills offer six.
Others to note
Sergio Garcia The Spaniard was quickly upset in the British Masters last time out, missing the cut, and makes no appeal on his Italian Open debut. He is testing new equipment, having just split from TaylorMade.
Alexander Noren The Swede missed the British Masters cut by five shots, becoming ragged and inconsistent in the last three months. Another course debutant who is difficult to fancy.
Tommy Fleetwood The Race to Dubai leader shrugged off rust to hit the top of the Dunhill Links board at the halfway stage, but an over-par weekend dropped him to 25th spot. Closed with a 64 for seventh place in Italy last year, so course proven, but may not be fully focused in the wake of becoming a father.
Tyrrell Hatton The Dunhill Links champion cruised to victory on Sunday in his favourite event, but finished 45th on his only previous Golf Club Milano start. Others much preferred.
Shane Lowry The Irishman's putter remains encased in ice, wasting strong tee-to-green golf. Another course debutant who may need time to settle.
David Lingmerth The Florida-based Swede finished fourth in the British Masters last time out and is enjoying a profitable stay in Europe. He may deliver another weekend birdie-fest for a Milan top-ten.
3pts each-way 22-1 Betfair, Paddy Power, Sky Bet
3pts each-way 16-1 Sky Bet
1pt each-way 66-1 BoyleSports, Hills
Course Golf Club Milano, Parco Reale di Monza, Italy
Prize money €6m (€1,019,896 to the winner)
Length 7,156 yards
Course records – 72 holes 262 Francesco Molinari (2016)
18 holes 63 Nicolas Colsaerts (2015), Joakim Lagergren (2015), Chris Paisley (2016), Chris Wood (2016), Alexander Levy (2016)
Course winners taking part Rikard Karlberg, Francesco Molinari
When to bet By 6.50am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 9am Thursday
Time difference Italy is one hour ahead of the UK and Ireland
Last week – Dunhill Links Championship 1 T Hatton (22-1), 2 R Fisher (50-1), 3 V Dubuisson (125-1), T4 R Rock (200-1), M Warren (66-1), G Bourdy (200-1)
Course overview Golf Club Milano staged the Italian Open in 1990, then had a 25-year break before returning to the European Tour in 2015. This is its third consecutive Italian Open. The parkland layout is flat and fiddly, with precision golf required.
As with most Italian tracks, dense, mature trees line the fairways, while there are lots of doglegs. There are two mid-distance par-fives on the front-nine (the first and ninth) and one short par-five on the back (the 503-yard 14th). The first three par-threes (the third, seventh and tenth) are all more than 200 yards apiece. The 166-yard 12th is much easier.
The greens are small, undulating and well guarded by bunkers. The prize money has doubled this year, with the event becoming part of the Rolex Series, attracting a stronger field.
The par was reduced from 72 to 71 last year, with the 16th playing as a tough 489-yard par-four rather than an easy 519-yard par-five.
Story of last year Local hero Francesco Molinari and then-Masters champion Danny Willett duelled for the title, the Italian emerging triumphant by a shot
Weather forecast Four days of sunshine, with hardly any breeze
Type of player suited to challenge This tree-lined venue has small greens and demands straight hitting, but 22 under par won last year and birdies are freely available through accuracy and touch
Key attribute Accuracy
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