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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Matthew Fitzpatrick can punch Ryder Cup ticket with Gardagolf glory

Alexander Bjork in the form of his life

Matthew Fitzpatrick is well suited to this assignment
1 of 1

Starts 7am Thursday
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 9.30am

Francesco Molinari produced a machine-like performance at Wentworth over the weekend to claim BMW PGA Championship glory and the Italian is seeking to follow up by winning his national Open for a third time.

Molinari delighted home fans in 2006 and 2016, but he faces a different course this week and may not have enough mental energy to complete the hat-trick after such a draining assignment in Surrey. There is a huge weight of expectation on his shoulders and this naturally shy man may buckle in the intense spotlight.

The PGA was Molinari's fifth European Tour victory. His form figures in events after his previous triumphs are an uninspiring MC-21-MC-6, and the sixth-place finish came after he took six weeks off between winning and resuming competition. The favourite has clearly found his A-game, but he represents no value at short prices at Gardagolf Country Club.

Palmer's top tip
Matthew Fitzpatrick 18-1

A spectacular eagle at the 72nd hole meant Matthew Fitzpatrick signed off from the BMW PGA Championship on a high, ending up in a tie for eighth place, and the sweet-swinging Englishman can be fancied to improve on that finish in the Italian Open.

Few players in this field have competitive experience of Gardagolf CC, but Fitzpatrick seems likely to fall in love with the venue immediately. Tee-to-green accuracy is essential and the tip can usually be relied upon to excel in this department. Bernhard Langer won the first Italian Open at Gardagolf and the precise Fitzpatrick shares many of the same qualities as the legendary German.

Italy, with its tree-lined tracks and emphasis on greens in regulation, is unsurprisingly a happy hunting ground for Fitzpatrick. His first visit was for the 2014 EMC Open on the Challenge Tour, where he finished seventh after a slow start, then he compiled Italian Open form figures of 3-16-15. He was only a shot shy of a playoff for the 2015 edition.

Fitzpatrick loves this tournament and will be eager to use it as a springboard into the Ryder Cup qualification positions. It is a Rolex Series event, bursting with incentives to perform, and Fitzpatrick's superb temperament should allow him to show his best over the next four days.

Next best
Alexander Bjork 50-1

A European Tour breakthrough came for Alexander Bjork in the China Open a month ago – the Swede produced a courageous, mistake-free, final-round 65 to edge home by a shot – and he looks a big price for a quick follow-up success.

Bjork had been banging loudly on the door of the winner's enclosure – second place in the Hong Kong Open in November was an agonising near-miss – and he appears to have come of age. The 27-year-old was third in the Hassan Trophy the week before his China triumph and four under-par rounds for 27th spot at Wentworth last week was another decent effort.

Gardagolf plays to the strengths of Bjork and his record in Italy is excellent. He has finished no worse than 40th in five visits, claiming fourth place in the 2016 Montecchia Open on the Challenge Tour and second spot in the Terre dei Consoli Open.

Other selections
Thomas Detry 100-1
Benjamin Hebert 80-1
Matthias Schwab 200-1
Lorenzo Gagli 125-1

Complete your attack with four maidens on offer at juicy odds. Eight places are available with Sky Bet. Thomas Detry is a top-class all-rounder who looks almost certain to become a European Tour champion.

The Belgian won a Challenge Tour event by 12 shots in 2016 and has settled nicely in the higher grade at the age of 25. He finished third in the Alfred Dunhill last season, then was second, beaten by a shot, in the BMW International.

Detry tied for third place in the 36-hole strokeplay section of the Belgian Knockout the week before last, defeated by an on-song Laurie Canter in the knockout stages, then closed with a solid 69 at Wentworth on Sunday.

Benjamin Hebert was runner-up in the Belgian Knockout, the unlucky Frenchman cursing when the drive of Adrian Otaegui at the fourth hole of the final hopped over the edge of a water hazard. Hebert was brilliant in Belgium – he finished eighth in the strokeplay element and was under-par in each of his final five matches of the knockout stages – and the six-times Challenge Tour champ will surely lift some European Tour silverware eventually.

Hebert has twice finished third in Italy on the Challenge Tour – in the 2009 Piemonte Open and the 2014 EMC Open – and progressive Italian Open form figures of 25-20-15 provide further encouragement. Gardagolf is perfectly suited to this greens in regulation machine.

This is a layout which should show Matthias Schwab in a good light – the rock-solid Austrian youngster makes hardly any mistakes from tee to green – and the Q-School graduate has quickly become a European Tour contender. Fourth place in the Indian Open in March was encouraging and his May work has been impressive.

After a tie for 20th in the Rocco Forte, Schwab was beaten by just a shot at the last-32 stage of the Belgian Knockout, then was tenth in the Czech Challenge on the Challenge Tour last week, where he outscored everyone on Sunday with a 64. His only CT start in Italy resulted in seventh spot in the Italian Challenge Open.

The best value of the home contingent is Lorenzo Gagli, who revived his career by winning the Kenya Open on the Challenge Tour in March.

He followed up with second spot in the Turkish Airlines Challenge, before two bright efforts on the European Tour. He carded a pair of 67s on the weekend of the Rocco Forte for 20th spot, then was eighth after 36 holes of Belgian Knockout action before falling at the last-32 stage, buzzing local Nicolas Colsaerts beating him by a shot.

Gagli was twice a winner in his homeland on the Alps Tour in 2007, third in the 2010 Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, and fifth in the 2011 Sicilian Open, so he clearly relishes home events.

Others to note
Tommy Fleetwood
The Southport man has finished seventh and sixth in this event in the last two years, but Wentworth was an intense and demanding gig for the Race to Dubai champion from pro-am day onwards, and he was ragged over the weekend.

Adrien Saddier
The accurate Frenchman, a South African Open title contender in January, emerged from a slump with some decent golf at Wentworth and could go well at a massive price.

Matteo Manassero
The former prodigy is teeing up at his home track this week, with some encouraging recent form behind him. He should go well if able to handle the extra attention and pressure.

Nino Bertasio
The 29-year-old, like Manassero, is a Gardagolf member. Local knowledge could be enough for him to deliver a top-20 finish.

Marcus Kinhult
The talented Swedish youngster got back in the groove with 12th place at Wentworth and could kick on to greater things in Italy. He's a tempting option at a healthy price.

Alex Noren
The Swede finished strongly for third place at Wentworth, but has a terrible record of MC-43-MC-MC-MC-38 in European Tour events in Italy.

Staking plan
M Fitzpatrick
3pts each-way 18-1 BetBright
A Bjork
1.5pts each-way 50-1 Sky Bet
T Detry
1pt each-way 100-1 Betfred
B Hebert
1pt each-way 80-1 Sky Bet
M Schwab
0.5pt each-way 200-1 bet365, BetBright
L Gagli
0.5pt each-way 125-1 Sky Bet

The lowdown

Course Gardagolf Country Club, Brescia, Italy

Prize money €7m (€995,394 to the winner)

Length 7,201 yards  Par 71  Field 156

Course records 72 holes 269 Sam Little (2004 Texbond Open), Fredrik Widmark (2005 Texbond Open) 18 holes 63 Tim Milford (2004 Texbond Open), Carlos Del Moral (2006 Texbond Open)

When to bet By 7am Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 9.30am Thursday

Time difference Italy is one hour ahead of the UK and Ireland

Last week – BMW PGA Championship 1 F Molinari (22-1), 2 R McIlroy (9-1), T3 L Bjerregaard (125-1), A Noren (14-1), T5 K Aphibarnrat (50-1), B Grace (16-1)

Course overview The preceding three editions have been staged at Golf Club Milano in either September or October, but Gardagolf takes over this week for the first time since 2003, getting a spring slot. Mathias Gronberg was victorious that year. The other Italian Open at this venue was in 1997, when Bernhard Langer lifted the trophy. The only other European Tour event at Gardagolf was the 1993 Kronenbourg Open, which was won by Sam Torrance in March. The Texbond Open on the Challenge Tour was at Gardagolf from 2004 through 2006, always in July, with Sam Little, Fredrik Widmark and Carlos Del Moral getting on the honours board. Gardagolf is a 27-hole venue, opened in 1986 with the final nine holes completed in 1990, designed by British architects Pennick, Steel & Partners. Cypresses, olive trees, oaks, pines and holm trees line the fairways at this tight parkland layout. An undulating front nine precedes a back-nine with lots of water hazards. The greens are slick, but flat and straightforward. There is one par-five on the front (seventh) and two on the back (13th and 15th). The Italian Open prize money doubled last year, with the event becoming part of the Rolex Series, attracting a stronger field

The story of last year A final-hole birdie, and a five-under-par back-nine, meant Tyrrell Hatton edged Ross Fisher and Kiradech Aphibarnrat by a shot

Weather forecast A stormy build-up has softened the track, but the tournament days should be largely clear. Hardly any breeze is expected throughout

Type of player suited to challenge Finding the greens in regulation is the biggest test at Gardagolf. Accuracy is essential, while length has become more useful after recent rain. Lots of putts should be holed on fairly easy greens by Tour standards

Key attribute Accuracy

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Italy, with its tree-lined tracks and emphasis on greens in regulation, is unsurprisingly a happy hunting ground for Fitzpatrick
E.W. Terms
Sky bet