At the start of an expected heatwave that’s arriving to sweep southern Spain over the coming weeks, it won’t just be the rising temperatures that will cause more than a few golfers to break out in a sweat at the 2019 Andalucia Masters. Many of the participants will be looking at the tournament as an important and potentially very lucrative stepping stone to greater things.
This is one of four tournaments which now provide a late opportunity for up to three non-exempt players to enter the 2019 Open Championship, one of the four major championships in professional golf, taking place in the somewhat cooler climate of Northern Ireland this year in July, at the Royal Portrush Golf Club.
Interestingly enough, it was a Northern Irishman who won the very first Andalucia Masters back in 2010, when Graeme McDowell finished -3 under-par and 2 strokes ahead of his rivals at the famous Valderrama Golf Club in Sotogrande. This was in the midst of an inspired year of gold produced by McDowell, winning three European Tour events during the same year, earning 3,896,996 Euros to rank second in the prize money list.
Needless to say, the following year Spaniards were dominant on their home fairways and greens. During his return to form having missed out on making the Ryder Cup team for only the second time in his professional career, Sergio García won the 2011 Andalucía Masters in nail-biting fashion by one stroke and -6 under-par, just ahead of fellow countryman Miguel Ángel Jiménez.
Despite the early success and healthy crowds enjoying plenty of golfing fun in the sun, a newly elected local government withdrew their support and less than a month ahead of the 2012 tournament, it was cancelled. Nevertheless, following a hiatus of five years, 2011 winner Sergio García lent his name to the cause by hosting a new Andalucia Masters tournament in 2017, securing valuable sponsorship support and a place for the event as part of the European Tour once again.
Enthusiasm for the Andalucia Masters has continued to grow with ‘El Niño’ García as the host, as has the level of prestige for competitors at the event, attracting plenty of talented golfers to participate each year. As host, García has also led by example amongst his peers and regularly played some of his best golf at the tournament.
In 2017 it looked as though Joost Luiten might win the tournament with an excellent final round, nevertheless, García was equally impressive and prevailed in the end at -12 under-par, beating the Dutchman by just one stroke in a tense finale at the 18th hole. At the 2018 tournament, García once again demonstrated his superiority and finished 4 strokes ahead of Shane Lowry, with the Irishman unable to quite match the Spaniard in the final round.
Thanks to the continued efforts of García and event organisers, the 2019 Andalucia Masters is sponsored by Spanish brewer and premium lager brand, Estrella Damm, who have committed to a five-year deal and partnership. This has raised the prize fund on offer to 3 million Euros, which is 1 million Euros more than the 2018 event and could continue rising in subsequent years.
Compared to the lack of previous support from local authorities between 2012 and 2016, the modern Andalucia Masters tournament is also welcomed and fully supported by the Junta de Andalucía, the regional government of southern Spain. Local authorities have recognised the sporting event as being highly beneficial to the local economy in Sotogrande, just down the coast from Gibraltar, as a great boost for golf-related tourism in the region.
Of course, a bigger prize fund could also lead to much stronger competitions amongst the golfers competing at the tournament. Having won the last three editions of the event, Sergio Garcia is favourite to win the 2019 Andalucia Masters, according to the bookmakers, with the Spaniard widely expected to land his fourth consecutive tournament triumph. After missing the cut in six consecutive major championships in recent times, García will certainly welcome this ‘home’ tournament as a great opportunity to get back into top form.
However, fellow Spaniard John Rahm at 15/2 odds, who currently sits at 11th in the PGA Tour World Ranking, is widely tipped to provide García with his toughest challenge to date at the Andalucia Masters. Quietly confident heading into the tournament and showing positive form of late is another Spanish golfer, Jorge Campillo, who recently secured his first ever European Tour victory in 229 starts at the Hassan II Golf Trophy, just across the Mediterranean in Morocco.
Along with a strong list of hopefuls who are keen to use this tournament as their passage to the Open Championship, there are plenty of strong golfers aiming to upset the Spaniards on their home fairways. Despite what the odds say, talented young English golfer Aaron Rai continues to make excellent progress and the Valderrama course will suit his style, making him an interesting outsider to follow carefully.
Having narrowly lost a tight playoff at the BMW International Open in Munich recently, Matthew Fitzpatrick will be keen to continue his excellent European Tour form of late, while last but by no means least, Joost Luiten staking a triumphant claim can’t be ignored. He came agonisingly close to toppling Sergio García at this very tournament in 2018, so will be driving his way to going one better this year.