The Rolex Series returns this week as many of the European Tour’s biggest stars gather at Golf Club Milano for the Italian Open, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and Rafa Cabrera Bello by adding their name to the list of winners of the European Tour’s elite series of tournaments. Here is the lowdown..
In a somewhat picture-perfect finale for the fans and sponsors alike last year, home hero Francesco Molinari triumphed after a thrilling battle with then-Masters Champion Danny Willett.
He became the first Italian player in European Tour history to win the event, or indeed any event, twice, courtesy of a superb closing 65 and a 22 under total as Golf Club Milano played host for the very first time.
It was Molinari’s first victory in four years but it did not come easy as Willett mounted a strong challenge, going birdie-eagle on the 13th and 14th holes to close to within a shot of the local favourite’s lead.
There were nervy moments from both players in the closing stretch but Molinari held on to become the second home player to win their national Open in as many weeks after Joost Luiten's victory at the KLM Open.
"It's been a rollercoaster," he said. "It's amazing to see this amount of people out here supporting me. Coming in I had nothing left, I was just playing with my soul.”
A star-studded field worthy of the Rolex Series converges on the northern Italian metropolis of Milan this week, including Masters Champion Sergio Garcia and his compatriot, World Number Five Jon Rahm.
Rahm is joined by two more Rolex Series champions, BMW PGA Championship winner Alex Noren and HNA Open de France winner Tommy Fleetwood.
Defending champion Molinari heads an Italian contingent which also includes four-time European Tour winner Matteo Manassero and Renato Paratore, who claimed his maiden title earlier this year at the Nordea Masters.
All of the last seven winners on the European Tour are also in the field, including last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship winner Tyrrell Hatton, while Ross Fisher will arrive in Italy beaming with confidence after breaking the course record at the famous Old Course at St Andrews with a final round 61 in last week’s unique pro-am event.
The presence of last year’s runner-up Danny Willett means that the last two Masters Tournament champions are in the field, joined by numerous other former Major winners, including Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and José María Olazábal.
The 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjørn is also joined in the field by Ryder Cup legend Lee Westwood, while his team-mates from the 2016 matches in Hazeltine - Matthew Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan - will also be hoping to impress the big Dane this week.
Located right next to the famous Monza racetrack in Parco di Monza, Golf Club Milano made an impressive return to the European Tour in 2015 after a 24-year absence and this is the ninth time the tournament well be held here.
Once again, the event will be played over a composite course comprising the nine-hole Red and Yellow courses at a 27-hole venue, which is a relatively flat classic parkland featuring mature pine trees and small greens well protected by greenside bunkers.
Did you know?
• Molinari became the first player to win the Italian Open twice since Hennie Otto (2008,14) and followed Bernhard Langer (1983, 97), Sandy Lyle (1984, 92), Sam Torrance (1987, 95), Ian Poulter (2000, 02), and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño (2007, 12) and Otto as players to win multiple Italian Open titles since the event became part of the European Tour in 1972
• His was the fourth home victory in the Italian Open since the event became part of the European Tour, after Baldovino Dassu in 1976, Massimo Mannelli in 1980 and his own victory in 2006
• With his triumph last year, Molinari maintained his outstanding record in the Italian Open with five top ten finishes in his last ten appearances, including his win in 2006, which was followed by a tied third in 2007, tied sixth in 2009, tied eighth in 2011 before his second victory last year
• The Italian Open has a rich tradition of Major Champions who have added their name to the trophy: Sir Henry Cotton (1936), Peter Thomson (1959), Tony Jacklin (1973), Billy Casper (1975), Bernhard Langer (1983, 97), Sandy Lyle (1984, 92), Greg Norman (1988) and Graeme McDowell (2004)
• The Italian Open will be played for the 74th time in 2017, having started in 1925. The event is one of only six tournaments to be played every year since the European Tour’s first year in 1972. The other events are: The Open Championship, HNA Open de France, KLM Open, Omega European Masters and BMW PGA Championship
• Now a Rolex Series event, the prize fund of US$7 million is the largest in the history of the Italian Open
• Fleetwood, Noren and Rahm will all be hoping to become the first multiple Rolex Series event winners. Noren won the maiden Rolex Series event at the BMW PGA Championship, followed by Fleetwood at the HNA Open de France, and Rahm at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation, while Cabrera-Bello won the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open
• It was recently announced that next year's Italian Open will change date to May 31-June 1, making it the second Rolex Series event on the 2018 European Tour schedule, after the BMW PGA Championship.