Frenchman Raphaël Jacquelin is looking forward to a “special” week at the Sicilian Open, where he will seek to successfully defend the title he captured 12 months ago.
After the event had been extended due to thunderstorms on Sunday, Jacquelin survived a fifth day charge from Anthony Wall to prevail by a single stroke and secure his third European Tour victory.
This year, the second edition of the €1million event will be held at the magnificent Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, in Sicily, and Jacquelin is relishing his return to the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.
He said: “I hear the new course is very good, so I’m looking forward to it. I think every player would like to defend more titles in his career, no matter who you are, and the majority of us don’t get to do it too often, so there is always something special about going back to a tournament as a defending champion.
“It’s cool to be the defending champion. It’s what every professional aspires to, it’s why we play the game – to win titles and have as much success as we can.”
With the likes of teenage sensation Matteo Manassero, Major Champion Rich Beem and rising star Tom Lewis in the field, Jacquelin knows he will not have it all his own way next week; but is hopeful of bringing all his experience to bear when he tackles the 7,375 yards, par 72 composite course, made up of holes from Verdura Golf & Spa Resort’s East and West Courses, for the first time.
He said: “It’s always difficult to do it [defend your title], but you have to try and treat the week like any other and hope that you can play the same golf as you did the year before. The one thing for me is that, after 15 years on Tour, I have enough experience not to let the ‘defending champion’ title affect me. I will try to treat the week normally.
“My confidence is okay at the moment. I have been playing pretty well recently, and hopefully the good memories of last year can help me go up another level when I get to Sicily.”
Those good memories include an opening 66, the first of four sub-70 rounds that Jacquelin would go on to compile.
He went into the final day with a one-stroke lead, but fell behind Anthony Wall after the Englishman racked up three birdies in five holes when play resumed on Monday morning.
But when Wall’s misplaced approach shot to the 17th green found water, the initiative was handed back to Jacquelin, who parred the last two holes to collect the €166,600 winner’s cheque.
He recalled: “It was a tough tournament last year because of the delays and everything, and the Monday finish was especially hard. We had a re-start time of seven o’clock in the morning, and I remember being on the range with nine other players thinking it was all a bit strange.
“But I played well, and when you win those strange feelings quickly disappear. I played some great golf throughout the tournament last year, but it was a tough battle with Anthony, especially on the Monday morning. He made a great birdie as soon as we restarted to get all square with me so I knew straight away that I had to play well to get the victory.
“He made a mistake on the 17th which helped me to win because no matter how well you play, you always need a little bit of help, or luck, or whatever you want to call it, to get the job done. Hopefully next week the luck can go my way again.”