Home favourite Scott Fernandez is hoping the experience of playing at La Cala Resort in his youth can work in his favour at the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9.
Granada-born Fernandez grew up close to this week’s venue in neighbouring Mijas on the Spanish coast, and has been competing against friends in his hometown in a bid to prepare for the match play stage of the innovative contest.
The 24 year old, who is entering his second season as a professional, took a share of 26th at the dual-ranking Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort and is growing in confidence in his second Challenge Tour campaign.
“It was really good to play in Portugal as I have started to build momentum and get back into the tournament mindset,” said Fernandez, who qualified for last year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon.
“Last week in Portugal was very different as you had to hit the driver a lot whereas this week there will not be many choosing to drive off the tee.
“The conditions are really good this week. Some of the slopes here can run away from you if you miss the fairway – if you go down the bank you’re in big trouble. I think the rough will also be really tough.
“It is very tactical and all about placing it right off the tee – it is not all about distance and just bombing it on to the fairway. The greens have very high slopes, so you are always trying to have uphill putts. Sometimes it is better to have a six-footer uphill than a three-footer downhill.
“It’s not just the golf course, I come to this area with my family a lot – so I am really excited about this week.
“Some of my family will come this week, definitely my parents, as well as some of my friends from my old club, and it will be nice to play in front of them as they don’t come to many tournaments during the year.
“The guy who is on the bag for me this week is a professional from my club, so I have been preparing by playing against him – I beat him on the 16th last week which was great!”
This week is also a special one for the Challenge Tour, with match play returning to Europe’s top developmental tour for the first time in 18 years.
Competitors will play two rounds of stroke play before the top 32 make it through to the match play stage of the weekend, where the remaining players will do battle with one another in a series of nine-hole matches.
Those nine holes, which are the tenth, 11th, 12th, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, are ones the young Spaniard knows well, and he argues there are many ways to tackle them.
“I heard the nine holes will include the tenth, 11th and 12th,” he said. “Those are nice holes, there is a lot of game play there, and they are holes where if you are really aggressive you will benefit a lot – which will be really fun in match play.
“Some holes you can reach in one and are driveable par fours, so I think they will set the course up really fun for the match play. There will be a lot of strategy – for the first two days you will just need to play the course sensibly then when the match play comes you will have to go for it.
“Number nine is a very good example. You can either hit the driver to a really narrow spot then have a nine iron to the green, or you can hit a three iron and then lay up. It is going to be fun and it is a really good course for match play.”
Fernandez will undoubtedly have the benefit of home comforts this week, but are there any other players he is wary of?
“Everyone is going to be hard to beat this week, but maybe the Spanish players,” he said. “A lot of them know the course here really well too, so they’ll be really tough to beat in the match play.
“The one other player who has caught my eye this year is Erik van Rooyen. He played well in Portugal and Turkey – and he’s a cool guy!”