THE LIV Golf circus arrives at Valderrama this week with the usual suspects vying for another $4m bonus. And with the aftershocks following news of golf’s merger still being felt around the world, there is certain to be a whole new level of interest.
Valderrama is one of the best courses in Europe, the scene of the 1997 Ryder Cup, when Seve Ballesteros led his team, inspired by Colin Montgomerie, to a famous victory.
It is a fabulous venue that is certain to create drama, especially at the par-five 17th hole. Players have a big decision to make if they find the fairway from the tee. The green, which slopes steeply from back to front, is guarded by a lake. Come up short and a watery grave awaits. Got through the back and you will face a treacherous bunker shot.
Valderrama is a shotmaker’s course, and that means it should suit PGA champion Brooks Koepka and Open champion Cameron Smith.
It has to be said that Smith has struggled this season and one has to ask if the 54-hole format suits him. He played some wonderfully consistent golf last year, winning the Tournament of Champions in sensational style before storming to the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. He then crowned it all with some magnificent play at St Andrews as he strolled to the 150th Open Championship.
Soon afterwards he announced that he had signed with LIV Golf and although he ended the year with a victory in his homeland of Australia, 2023 has thus far been one to forget for Smith.
But he did show some flashes of his best form at the US PGA Championship and US Open, and you have to believe that he will rediscover his winning touch at some point.
This will be LIV’s eighth tournament of 2023. The previous seven have been won by Charles Howell III, Danny Lee, Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Harold Varner III and Talor Gooch, who is the only two-time winner.
Koepka’s sensational return to form means he is surely now a shoo-in for the US Ryder Cup team, and Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau would love to line up alongside him. But it would seem that there only chance of doing so now is to win The Open at Royal Liverpool.
And they certainly won’t be able to blame a lack of action if they fail to do so as they will be in action again at Centurion Golf Club in St Albans next week.
Look out for a big week from Sergio Garcia. Back on home soil and fresh from the US Open, the Spaniard will surely be inspired by performing in a front of a home crowd. And he has shown some decent form recently.
Designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones, Valderrama is a par 71 measuring 6,900 yards and is widely regarded as one of the finest in Europe. It is a parkland course featuring many fine holes, none better than the par five 17th where players have to decide whether to risk going for the green with their second, involving a carry over a lake to a green that slopes sharply from back to front.
Sergio Garcia. Will love being back on Spanish soil
Brooks Koepka. Back to his very best
Joaquin Niemann. Great driver of the ball
Five to Follow:
Sergio Garcia. Showing some flashes of his best form
Brooks Koepka. Fit again, and firing
Joaquin Niemann. Has few weaknesses
Talor Gooch. The form player of 2023
Mito Pereira. Great ball striker