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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Hotshot Horsfield set to gallop to glory on course which suits

Q-School winner could get among the birdies in Madrid

Sam Horsfield could be the man to take advantage if Jon Rahm fails to sparkle
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Live on Sky Sports from 11am Thursday
Play starts 7.10am

Jon Rahm will be centre of attention on his Spanish Open debut this week and plenty of punters will be chunking on the world number four, who is a class above anyone else in the field, but there has to be a danger the intense spotlight will drain his powers.

Rahm battled back manfully from an opening 75 at Augusta last week to finish fourth in the Masters, a gutsy but exhausting effort in the first Major of the season, then trekked to his homeland. As soon as he touched down in Spain, all the media wanted a piece of the star attraction, and the youngster has a lot on his plate at Centro Nacional de Golf.

Rahm grew up playing the course as a junior so should quickly adjust to the layout, but there could be a circus following his every move and concentration may be an issue for the moody Basque Country boy. Entry to the event is free and there is an underground station just 400 metres from the main entrance. Noisy hordes seem set to follow Rahm, which could annoy as much as inspire him.

Rahm missed the cut by three shots in his only previous appearance competing on the European Tour in Spain – at Valderrama in October – and there are enough negatives to overlook the short-price jolly. He is used to rolling his rock on pristine US Tour greens and could quickly get frustrated by the quality of the Nacional dancefloors if nothing drops early in round one.

Palmer's top tip
Sam Horsfield 40-1
A better option than Rahm at a bigger price is runaway European Tour Qualifying School winner Sam Horsfield. This rising star won Q School by eight shots, an event which was played in Tarragona in similar conditions to those he faces this week.

Horsfield has returned to Spain with confidence rapidly rising. He banked a decent cheque through fourth place in the Perth Super 6 in the middle of February then finished runner-up in the Tshwane Open last month. Further self-belief must have been generated by 14th place in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last time out.

The Manchester-born 21-year-old looked entirely comfortable in high-class US Tour company. This power-packed slugger looks set for big things and is a birdie machine on easy tracks in good weather. That is the assignment at Centro Nacional and Horsfield could be the man to take advantage if a jaded Rahm fails to sparkle.

Next best
George Coetzee 25-1
The next two places on the staking plan go to players who won their last event. The assurance which comes from a recent victory could be crucial on Sunday for a tournament in the Spanish capital which seems certain to boast large crowds. George Coetzee and Matt Wallace could thrive in the atmosphere.

Coetzee fended off Horsfield to win the Tshwane Open and has been full of fitness and form from September onwards. The South African has never found winning easy, but the Tshwane was his fourth European Tour triumph, and he may be maturing in his early 30s.

Coetzee has a fine record in the Portugal Masters, an event played on another easy course on the Iberian Peninsula. The last Spanish Open at Centro Nacional was won by a South African – Charl Schwartzel – and Thomas Aiken won the 2011 edition.

Other selections
Matt Wallace 40-1
Jacques Kruyswijk 200-1
Nacho Elvira 100-1
Wallace won the Indian Open with a brave playoff success a month ago, his second European Tour title, and the 27-year-old Londoner could keep up the gallop in Spain. His maiden win came across the border in the Portugal Open last May.

Wallace, a six-times champion on the Alps Tour in 2016, seems blessed with bundles of courage and appears to relish the big occasion. He was fourth in front of noisy galleries in the Italian Open in October, a Rolex Series event, and this is another lively gathering on the continent which could be right up his street. The last two Spanish Opens have been won by an Englishman.

Complete a five-pronged attack with another South African and the best value Spaniard. Jacques Kruyswijk was second behind Horsfield at Q School and plays the game in a similarly aggressive fashion. The 25-year-old has won on the Sunshine Tour and looks good enough to nick a low-grade European Tour title on a straightforward track like this one.

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Nacho Elvira is the most appealing local. The Madrid-born 31-year-old is a four-time Challenge Tour winner and the second of those victories came in his home city. Elvira could be inspired by his surroundings again and emerge from a flat spell to threaten an overdue European Tour triumph. This swashbuckling talent loves courses which are set up for birdies.

Others to note
Thorbjorn Olesen
The Dane is a four-times European Tour champion well capable of winning a tournament of this stature, but he is not the sort of character to work too hard in down-time and has not competed since February 23. Has no record of success in Spain.

Clement Sordet
The Challenge Tour graduate is full of potential and should start winning European Tour titles soon. A share of 12th place in India last time out was a step in the right direction.

Dean Burmester
The South African finished third in the Sunshine Tour Championship last time out and is one of many dangermen from his country this week.

Oliver Fisher
This great underachiever showcased his ability with an impressive runner-up effort in the Qatar Masters at the end of February, but then withdrew from the Indian Open with a neck injury.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello
The Spaniard faded at Augusta after a bright start and has been struggling for form. His form figures at this venue are MC-43.

Pablo Larrazabal
The Barcelona man is a four-times European Tour champion who is desperate to win his national title. Bright recent form gives him a chance.

Staking plan
S Horsfield
2.5pts each-way 40-1 Betfred
G Coetzee
2pts each-way 25-1 Hills
M Wallace
1.5pts each-way 40-1 general
J Kruyswijk
1pt each-way 200-1 Betfred
N Elvira
1pt each-way 100-1 Betfred, BoyleSports, Hills

The lowdown 

Course Centro Nacional de Golf, Madrid
Prize money €1.5m (€250,000 to the winner)
Length 7,096 yards Par 72 Field 156

Course records – 72 holes 263 Ross McGowan (2009 Madrid Masters) 18 holes 60 Ross McGowan (2009)
Course winner taking part Ross McGowan (2009 Madrid Masters)

When to bet By 7.10am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 11am Thursday
Time difference Spain is one hour ahead of the UK and Ireland

Last week – The Masters 1 P Reed (50-1), 2 R Fowler (25-1), 3 J Spieth (11-1), 4 J Rahm (28-1), T5 C Smith (125-1), B Watson (18-1), H Stenson (40-1), R McIlroy (12-1)

Course overview The Spanish Open returns to the European Tour schedule after a one-year absence. Valderrama staged the last Spanish Open in 2016, with Andrew 'Beef' Johnston taking the trophy.

This event rarely stays at one venue for long and Centro Nacional de Golf takes over this year for the first time since its only other appearance in 2007. Charl Schwartzel won that edition with a 16-under-par total.

Centro Nacional is the home of Spanish golf – the Royal Spanish Golf Federation is based at the course – and Jon Rahm combined golf and studies at the venue for two years as a youngster. It was opened in 2006 and hosted the Challenge de Espana (a Challenge Tour event) that year. The 2009 Madrid Masters was also staged at Centro Nacional.

The track started the week much drier than usual, due to low recent rainfall, and strong frosts have not kept the rough short. A firm, fast, relatively open (there are hardly any trees) inland layout should await.

There are four par-fives (the first, fifth, tenth and 18th), three of which are shorter than 530 yards, so scoring should be low. The two long par-threes on the back-nine (the 14th and 17th) are arguably the toughest holes. The front nine is tighter than the back.

Weather forecast Some light rain over the first two days, before a sunny weekend. Light breezes throughout.

Type of player suited to challenge It remains to be seen whether the showers over the last couple of days have taken the sting out of the turf. Without bone-dry fairways, this course looks straightforward for professionals, and attacking players with a hot putter should flourish.

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This power-packed slugger looks set for big things and is a birdie machine on easy tracks in good weather
E.W. Terms
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