Sergio Garcia will hope that momentum from an encouraging week at the Masters Tournament will stand him in good stead when the Castellon man leads a strong home contingent at this week’s Open de España.
For the fourth time, Parador de El Saler in Valencia will host the revered event, this year celebrating its 87th edition, as Garcia looks to triumph in his national Open 11 years after becoming the youngest winner of the event – since it joined The European Tour in 1972 – aged 22 years and 109 days.
The 33 year old will head to the east coast of Spain fresh from a tied eighth finish at Augusta National, where Australia’s Adam Scott triumphed in a dramatic sudden death play-off on Sunday.
Garcia had held a share of the lead following the opening round at the first Major Championship of the season in Georgia after carding a joint best-of-the-week 66 on Thursday, while a two under par 70 on Sunday saw the ten-time European Tour winner claim a third top ten finish at the Masters.
Garcia will be joined by a number of his compatriots also confident after strong showings in America last week, including victorious European Ryder Cup Captain José María Olazábal, who finished in a tie for 50th place, and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, whose superb four under par 68 in the first round set up a tied 20th finish in the Madrid man’s second appearance at Augusta.
Fernandez-Castaño, Olazábal, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and indeed the rest of the home favourites will be looking to become only the fifth player from Spain to capture the Open de España since the birth of The European Tour, following Antonio Garrido – in the very first Tour event in 1972 – Seve Ballesteros (1981, 1985 and 1995), Garcia (2002) and Alvaro Quiros (2010).
Also hoping to make his comeback from injury this week is Miguel Angel Jiménez, who looks set to return for his 599th appearance on The European Tour following a four-month absence due to a broken leg suffered while skiing over the winter break.
Jiménez, the oldest winner in European Tour history, will make his first start of the 2013 campaign looking to add to the four top ten finishes he has amassed in 25 appearances in his national Open, including a tied third place at Parador de El Saler in 2001.
Defending champion Francesco Molinari, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from a difficult week at Augusta, where the Italian failed to make the cut, as he aims to become the first player to successfully retain the Open de España since the event became part of The European Tour Schedule.
Molinari put together a blistering closing round of 65 to earn a third European Tour title at Real Club de Golf de Sevilla in last year’s centenary edition of the tournament, as seven birdies in the first 14 holes – followed by four pars – handed the 30 year old a three-shot victory over the Spanish duo of Alejandro Cañizares and Pablo Larrazábal, and Denmark’s Søren Kjeldsen.
Fellow Italian Matteo Manassero, who finished seventh in 2012 and will celebrate his 20th birthday during the second round in Valencia, is also part of an excellent field with designs on Garcia’s record as the youngest winner of the event.
The record-breaking three-time European Tour champion will be looking to join a star-studded roll of honour at the Open de España, which also features the likes of Arnold Palmer, Bernhard Langer, Sir Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.
The Open de España is one of golf’s oldest events, having first been contested in 1912 before making history as The European Tour’s inaugural event 60 years later at Club Golf de Pals in Girona.