With Ryder Cup reject Bubba Watson still smarting over the snub by Davis Love III, the European focus switches to the Italian Open – two weeks out from Hazeltine.
Martin Kaymer experienced a Hillary Clinton-type meltdown here last year, dropping three shots on the back nine, before eventually having his pocket picked by Rikard Karlberg in a play-off.
Karlberg looks to become the first player to retain the title since 1972 but as of midday on Wednesday is not among the 7 players you’re backing ahead of Thursday’s tee off.
1. Scott Hend
It’s been a mostly productive year for the Aussie on the European Tour who has arrested a couple of wayward months with two top five finishes on the European Tour in as many weeks.
A winner in Thailand in March, the 43- year-old then went T4-T6-12 in Asia before finding life in the Majors a little more trying.
Has bounced back to form recently and was just denied on Omega Masters glory when losing a play-off to the fast-finishing Alex Noren after shooting four rounds in the 60s. And he threatened to go close again last weekend in the Dutch Open before a final day 73 knocked him off-course, but still managed a respectable T4.
2. Lucas Bjerregard
Only one top 5 this year at the China Open to the Dane’s name but punters with long memories are putting their faith in him being able to build on a T3 finish to Rikard Karlberg last year – where he led at the half-way stage.
It’s a big ask for the Dane as he looks to shed his maiden tag, but if he can avoid jumping on the bogey bus again (just three) like the Celtic defence dodged challenging Lionel Messi midweek, it would be a good start.
3. Rafael Cabrera-Bello
The Spaniard has one eye on his Ryder Cup debut but needs to sharpen his game ahead of the Hazeltine smash-up at the end of this month.
A ninth-place finish in 2012 is the high watermark of his last seven appearances in Milan and his form since reads MC-59 and a 74 on his first run at Golf Club Milan last year. Needs to arrest that slump sharpish this weekend with the RC just a fortnight away.
4. Francesco Molinairi
The form pony in the field with four top eight finishes, including a ‘homer’ win at his native Open in 2006. But the last four seasons haven’t been as kind to the former Ryder Cup star as he’s posted a run of 46-16-18-20 in that time. Needs to hack his mojo out of whatever bunker he left it in to trouble the judge this weekend.
5. Matthew Fitzpatrick
A top-three finish last season for the Nordea Masters winner who is one of Darren Clarke’s six rookies on Team Europe. Since confirming his place on the bus Fitzpatrick has put a mid-season wobble behind him posting three top 10 finishes in his last four starts.
If he stays calm and carries on from last year’s debut third at Golf Club Milano, the dual winner has the game and the cojones to get the job done.
6. Nicolas Colsaerts
The original Belgian bomber before Thomas Pieters starting getting all the love has been a regular at this event – posting some pretty consistent numbers. Three top five finishes in four starts were marred by a missed cut in 2014 before he finished 20th last season at this track.
Has been steady away in the Top 30 for most of the season but could do with a return to the form he showed at the Scottish Open & Nordea Masters when breaking into the top 5.
7. Tommy Fleetwood
It’s been a long time between drinks for the 25-year-old who hasn’t won on Tour since the Johnny Walker Championship in 2013.
Finished just outside the places in Holland last weekend when T10 to Joost Luiten – his best placing since January. Needs to get cracking if he wants to end the season with a rattle and finished 33rd here last year.