Raphaël Jacquelin will be hoping to become the first player to successfully defend the Open de España when the historic event returns to PGA Catalunya Resort in Girona this week.
The Frenchman had to endure a gruelling nine-hole play-off last year at Parador de El Saler before edging out first Filipe Aguilar on the third extra hole and then German Max Kieffer in the joint-longest play-off since The European Tour’s formation in 1972.
It was a fittingly thrilling finish to an event which has produced some dramatic moments and great winners down the years, none more so than three-time winner and the greatest player the country has ever seen, Seve Ballesteros.
The venue, which hosted its first Open de España a year after its opening, in 2000, and again in 2009, has held the European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage since 2008, and last summer it was elevated to Destination status within European Tour Properties’ exclusive network of 13 world-class golfing facilities.
It was recently awarded the accolade of best course in Spain by the Top 100 Courses website, while Golf World magazine has judged the Stadium Course at number five in their most recent 100 Best Courses in Continental Europe.
Jacquelin became just the third Frenchman to win the event and the 30 year old, who is the touring professional for European Tour Destination Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort, is relishing the opportunity to returning to Spanish soil.
“It’s another course for us this year, but I’m really looking forward to defending my title,” said the four-time European Tour winner, who finished tied eighth at The Championship at Laguna National two weeks ago. “Last year was a great win for me. It was a long nine hole play-off, so it was obviously very tough mentally and physically, but it finished well for me, which made it a little easier to recover from it.
“When I won in Madrid in 2005 it changed course the following year too, so I’ve done it before. I’m happy to go to Girona though. I’ve not played the course much – only the year that Thomas Levet won. It’s a great venue and it is always nice to go as defending champion. You get a good draw and hopefully that will help me to continue the form I showed in Singapore.”
“It was a nice way to finish in Singapore with a 66 and hopefully I will carry that on into the season in Europe. It was great to have that round before I defend my title in Spain.”
Jacquelin heads a strong field which includes home hero Sergio Garcia, who won the event back in 2002 thanks to a commanding four shot victory on the Canary Islands.
Garcia, winner of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters back in January, is joined by several other victorious Spaniards on The Race to Dubai in what has been a hugely successful season for the southern European nation.
Miguel Angel Jiménez has become something of a sporting icon in his native land as he continues to defy his 50 years on The European Tour and the Indian summer of his career continued as he won the Hong Kong Open in December, extending his own record as the oldest winner in the tour’s history.
A month later Pablo Larrazábal became the latest Spaniard to join the winners’ enclosure in the 2014 season as he beat Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson by a shot to claim the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
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