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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Francesco Molinari set to put icing on the cake of incredible season

Italian could dominate at Walton Heath

Francesco Molinari became a Major champion in July
1 of 1

Starts 7.40am Thursday
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 9.30am Thursday

Justin Rose has jetted back to his homeland for a busy week hosting the British Masters at Walton Heath, and the world number two may not have enough time to focus on his own game to justify his position at the head of the market.

Rose has had lots of commitments to fulfil this week, a hectic run of interviews followed by the Hero Challenge at Canary Wharf, a noisy shootout under lights against Matt Wallace, Paul Dunne, Andrew Johnston, Thomas Bjorn and Thorbjorn Olesen.

Rose will be the centre of attention alongside Niall Horan in the Wednesday pro-am, before making his competitive debut at Walton Heath on Thursday. The demands of being official host, an idea invented in 2015 when the British Masters was resurrected, have told on Ian Poulter (finished 33rd, 2015), Luke Donald (missed the cut, 2016) and Lee Westwood (15th, 2017) and the short prices about Rose can be overlooked.


Palmer's top tip
Francesco Molinari 10-1

Italian stallion Francesco Molinari could not have wished for a better year and his glorious 2018 looks set to get even better with another prestigious title added to a straining mantelpiece.

Molinari played nicely in the spring, before his season took off in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, where he beat Rory McIlroy in a thrilling duel, producing what was the greatest golf of his career. He has returned to Surrey less than five months later having built on his Wentworth success in spectacular fashion.

A runner-up finish in the Italian Open was followed by a stunning eight-shot US Tour breakthrough in the Quicken Loans National, then a tie for second in the John Deere Classic. The little maestro had rocketed up to world number 15, but even better things were still to come - an Open triumph at Carnoustie.

Molinari had suddenly added immense courage and a hot putter to a technically perfect swing, becoming a Major champion in the process. A Tour Championship debut followed and he ended his US Tour campaign as world number five, before leading Team Europe to an emphatic Ryder Cup victory. Fearless Francesco scored five points from five matches, a feat never previously achieved by a European in the biennial clash with the United States.

Refreshed from a week off basking in the glow of his Paris heroics, and having sensibly turned down a spot in the Hero Challenge, Molinari makes the short trip from his Kensington home to a Walton Heath course which is tailor-made for his talents.

Staying out of trouble is the key to success at Walton Heath, with dangerous heather surrounding tight, heavily-bunkered fairways, which still have plenty of roll in them after a scorching summer. The control of Molinari makes him the prime candidate for success. In 2009, when world number 71, he qualified for the US Open through the qualifier at Walton Heath.

This is essentially a home game for Molinari. His practice base is The Wisley, which is just half-hour up the road, and his coach Denis Pugh will be on hand for support. More Molinari magic appears almost certain, yet there is plenty of juice in his price thanks to the presence of Rose.


Next best
Andrea Pavan 50-1

An Italian one-two is feasible, with Andrea Pavan looking increasingly comfortable on the European Tour. The 29-year-old gladiator from Rome, a four-time champion on the Challenge Tour, made his breakthrough on the main circuit when winning the Czech Masters at the end of August.

Bravely overcoming the challenge of Padraig Harrington in Prague has massively increased the self-belief of Pavan, who has finished in the top-20 in five of his last six starts, including a share of fifth place in the Dunhill Links Championship on Sunday.

Pavan has been striking his ball with supreme confidence – more accurately than ever – and should enjoy the challenge of Walton Heath. He was a US Open qualifier there in 2014.

Other selections
Jason Scrivener 125-1
Oliver Fisher 125-1
Marcus Kinhult 100-1
Thomas Detry 80-1

Four big-price outsiders can be played each-way for an event in which most bookmakers are offering at least six places and Paddy Power are paying to eighth. Jason Scrivener is the most appealing of them all.

Scrivener performs well in the wind and will have noted the forecast for a breezy week in Surrey. The improving Australian is a tidy player, well suited to Walton Heath, as he underlined when qualifying for the US Open there at the end of May. He won on the Australasian Tour by six shots in November and has eyes set firmly on a maiden European Tour title. Solid form figures of 15-12-24 hint that it could come this week.

Oliver Fisher has also qualified for the US Open through the Walton Heath qualifier (2014) and the Essex man, who turned 30 last month, knows he can handle the Surrey layout. Five of the last ten British Masters winners have been English and Fisher, who fired an historic round of 59 on his way to seventh place in the Portugal Masters last month, is the best value of the home hopes.

Accurate Swedish youngster Marcus Kinhult, who this year has finished third in the Qatar Masters, 12th at Wentworth, fifth in the French Open and fourth in Portugal, should find Walton Heath to his liking. This excellent prospect warmed up with four solid rounds for 20th spot in the Dunhill.

And Thomas Detry, who finished the summer strongly with 13th place in the European Open, 13th in the Nordea Masters, seventh in Denmark and third in the KLM Open, may also take a shine to this track. Detry's Challenge Tour victory came in nearby Oxfordshire – a 12-shot romp at Heythrop Park in the Bridgestone Challenge.

Others to note
Shane Lowry
The Irishman finished second in the 2011 Walton Heath US Open qualifier, then won the 2014 edition. The course suits this regular Wentworth contender, but he recently lost his US Tour card and was poor in the Dunhill Links last week.

James Morrison
The local man has twice used the Walton Heath US Open qualifier to secure Major competition, joint-winner of the event this year. His form has been shaky, but he should be inspired by the venue to run well at a big price.

Aaron Rai
Another accurate Englishman who could shrug off form concerns to perform well on suitable terrain. He won the 2017 Walton Heath US Open qualifier.

Matthew Fitzpatrick
The five-time European Tour champ, who turned 24 only last month, will be licking his lips at the Walton Heath set-up. He seems likely to go close to a second British Masters victory.

Soren Kjeldsen
The precise Dane has an understandably solid record at Walton Heath in the US Open qualifier, three times using the event as a springboard to the year's second Major.

Lucas Bjerregaard
The Dunhill Links champion, an unstoppable force on Sunday, has twice qualified for the US Open through Walton Heath. It is impossible to rule out back-to-back victories.

Staking plan
F Molinari
4pts each-way 10-1 Ladbrokes
A Pavan
1pt each-way 50-1 BoyleSports, Sky Bet
J Scrivener
0.5pt each-way 125-1 Betfred, BoyleSports, Sky Bet
O Fisher
0.5pt each-way 125-1 Betfred, Coral, Sky Bet
M Kinhult
0.5pt each-way 100-1 188Bet
T Detry
0.5pt each-way 80-1 Betfred, Coral

The lowdown

Course Walton Heath, Walton on the Hill, Surrey, England

Prize money €3.4m (€562,500 to the winner)

Length 7,394 yards

Par 72

Field 126

When to bet By 7.40am Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from 9.30am Thursday

Last week – Dunhill Links Championship 1 L Bjerregaard (50-1), T2 T Hatton (16-1), T Fleetwood (14-1), 4 T Pulkkanen (400-1), T5 H Li (66-1), A Pavan (80-1), T7 P Harrington (66-1), L Herbert (66-1), B Koepka (11-1)

Course overview Walton Heath returns to the main European Tour schedule for the first time since 1991, having staged the European Open in 1987, 1989 and 1991. The venue has hosted the 36-hole US Open Qualifier for the last 14 years, including the last one in the first week of June. There are two courses at Walton Heath – the Old and the New – which were both designed by Herbert Fowler. For the US Open event, potential qualifiers play a round at the Old and a round at the New. A composite course comprising holes from both tracks will be used for the British Masters. The layout is flat and set out across heathland, with wild shots often resulting in lost balls among the gorse. The fairways are narrow and well defended by bunkers. The large, undulating greens are loaded with pace when the weather allows. Walton Heath is a stiff tee-to-green test, but the three par-fives – the second, sixth and 11th – are all short by modern standards and great birdie chances. The 12 par-fours are between 396 and 475 yards. Justin Rose is tournament host. Ian Poulter did the job at Woburn in 2015, Luke Donald at The Grove in 2016 and Lee Westwood at Close House last year.

Last year Paul Dunne fired a magnificent final-round 61 to win his maiden European Tour title by three shots at Close House, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, leaving Rory McIlroy as runner-up

Weather forecast Clear and pleasant for the first two days, with moderate breezes. Some light rain at the weekend, but staying warm by UK October standards, with hardly any wind on Sunday

Type of player suited to challenge Walton Heath demands accurate tee-to-green golf – the heather is waiting to punish anyone who strays offline – and staying on the cut-and-prepared is important. A tight long-game is essential, while experience from competing in the US Open qualifiers is helpful

Key attribute Accuracy

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His practice base is The Wisley, which is just half-hour up the road
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