Rocco Forte Open betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Golf
Lucas Bjerregaard celebrates with the trophy for the Portugal Masters
Lucas Bjerregaard celebrates with the trophy for the Portugal Masters

The European Tour heads to Sicily this week and golf expert Ben Coley has selections ranging from 50/1 to 300/1 for the Rocco Forte Open.

Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Lucas Bjerregaard at 50/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Pedro Oriol at 66/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Nino Bertasio at 66/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Bradley Neil at 300/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Joel Sjoholm at 200/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record

It's decidedly low-key stuff on the European Tour this week as Alvaro Quiros defends his title in the Rocco Forte Open, played at the beautiful Verdura resort on the Sicilian coastline.

With the back-nine running alongside the Mediterranean Ocean, there will be much to admire away from the golf itself which, as was the case a year ago, may get fairly nasty as the pressure mounts coming home.

Back then, Quiros built on the faintest hint of encouragement he'd shown one week earlier on the Challenge Tour to win for the first time since 2011, but he had to survive a nightmarish back-nine and a play-off with Zander Lombard before securing a hugely popular success.

With Quiros first, Lombard second and Hao-tong Li third, there was a big-hitting feel to the podium and that was also the case the only previous time the European Tour came to Verdura, when Thorbjorn Olesen fended off Chris Wood with Nicolas Colsaerts tucked in behind.

It's not that driver is all that big a weapon on this exposed and dramatic par 71, more than players like Quiros and Lombard were able to hit bullet two-irons into the wind during the course of a difficult weekend. One way or another, power was a massive plus and that's a good starting point.

At the head of the betting are two quality operators in Andy Sullivan and Olesen, and it would be no surprise were either to win. Sullivan has been threatening to do so at a fairly low level all year, while Olesen is prolific compared to these, obviously enjoyed his first visit here and has looked in good shape but for a troublesome putter over the last few weeks.

Of the two, Olesen looks much the best bet having also gone very close to winning the Italian Open in the past, but I'd rather take a chance on friend, compatriot and GolfSixes team-mate, Lucas Bjerregaard.

Last year's Portugal Masters winner has struggled since, but much has changed in his life having become a parent over Christmas and had to adjust to graduating to the winners category on the European Tour.

The nappy factor can work both ways or not at all - some new parents find themselves at greater ease on the golf course, others struggle to find balance, there are those who appear totally unaffected - but for 26-year-old Bjerregaard, prone to shocking swings in form, it appears that his game has suffered.

However, his second start back from a near two-month break resulted in a massive weekend at the China Open, as he climbed from 58th to sixth courtesy of rounds of 66 and 64, and it's quite possible that it acts as a catalyst over the coming weeks.

Bjerregaard was third in the Italian Open three years ago, a performance which came out of nowhere, and he followed it with fifth place next time. In 2014, he sprang to life with a top-five in Hong Kong and found another on his next start in Perth and his win last year was on the back of a top-10 finish - his first in months. There's evidence, then, that China may not be a one-off.

That third place in Milan, where he contended all week, serves as evidence that a return to Italy rates a positive and he could very well do what Olesen did and win in this lower-grade event, where his power off the tee is an undoubted asset.

Olesen and Bjerregaard surrendered their GolfSixes title fairly tamely in the end, but they would've made the knockout rounds had Olesen holed a short putt in regulation and in terms of a form guide, it's of very limited value.

That may not be the case with the China Open, which produced a strong leaderboard, and it may be that Bjerregaard emulates Quiros for a second time, both having won the Portugal Masters.

Pedro Oriol is another of the most powerful players in this field and there are a number of reasons to expect him to play well.

First and foremost, Oriol has finished eighth, 39th and 29th in his last three starts, form which at this lowly level reads very well, and through those efforts he's been seventh, 39th and fifth for greens and always inside the top 10 in driving distance.

That suggests the long-game is in good shape and returning to Italy is a positive, as he was third, just behind Bjerregaard, at the halfway stage of the 2015 Italian Open when last playing European Tour golf here here - one of the few instances of contending at this level.

Although it's taken a while for him to begin to show what he can do, Oriol enjoyed the best season of his life in 2017, winning the Rolex Trophy in a play-off, and six cuts made in seven is a very good return now back on the big tour.

Like Bjerregaard, he makes his debut at this course but it should suit and the timing is ideal, as he could just take a little extra inspiration not just from the victory of Quiros, but from Seve Ballasteros, who died seven years ago this week.

Oriol wears the Seve logo on his visor and would be a fitting winner of an event which looks to play to his strengths.

Although keen to base my attack around big-hitting players, I'm surprised to see Nino Bertasio on offer at prices as big as 66/1 and he makes the staking plan as a consequence.

Bertasio was a very good amateur and he's started to establish himself as a solid European Tour operator, showing guts to go with his game when 10th in the Italian Open and seventh in Spain last year to keep hold of his card.

He missed the cut here last year, but a second-round 64 was bettered by just three players and he arrived in awful form, having missed his last three cuts on the back of an embarrassing week in India where twice he failed to break 80.

This time around, he's made his last three cuts and his performance in China last time catches the eye. Bertasio made a remarkable 21 birdies over the first three rounds - bearing in mind that the best players on the PGA Tour average little more than four per round - and anyone capable of doing that strikes me as being close to a four-round performance.

It could well come on home soil in Italy, where he's won on the Alps Tour and demonstrated in that Rolex Series event last autumn that he's comfortable in front of partisan crowds. And, given that he's twice the price I think he should be, that makes for a solid each-way bet.

Nino Bertasio
Nino Bertasio has the look of a man ready to contend

As you might expect, the shortlist for an event like this one was seriously long. Matthias Schwab is a crack youngster who is going to win European Tour events of greater stature than this one, and just like Sebastian Gros is a big-hitter who had been playing well before the Trophee Hassan II, which may not be a particularly worthwhile form guide anyway.

Ross McGowan has form at a couple of Kyle Phillips designs, notably Yas Links, and at Challenge Tour level has been a big eye-catcher twice recently. The question is whether he can produce at European Tour level, even if this is a weak event, but in many respects he'd be an apt successor to Quiros given the peaks and troughs in their respective careers.

Sebastian Heisele opened with a 63 here last year, hits it miles and was fourth on the Challenge Tour when last seen, Haydn Porteous could eat these for breakfast if he's found something from somewhere and Jordan Zunic is a big talent who has been ticking over fairly well and came close to winning the Australian PGA late last year, losing a play-off to the high-class Cameron Smith.

All are considered, but I'll end with two even more speculative plays on Bradley Neil and Joel Sjoholm.

Neil is a fine talent who hits the ball a long way, and while his first season on the European Tour hasn't produced much so far, it's perhaps significant that his best effort came when sitting 10th through 54 holes of the Open de Espana - an event played on an exposed course set up for big hitters.

Although his effort petered out there, Neil felt that he was unfortunate on the Sunday as putts continued to hit the edge and it was a big day for him, playing alongside crowd favourite Andrew Johnston and tucked in behind Jon Rahm.

"You learn a lot from your failures and hopefully, when I find myself in a similar position on the final day in the future, I can use the experience to help me see the weekend out," he told reporter Gary Henderson last week.

Neil also confirmed that the start of the season had happened a bit too fast - having only secured his card at the final event of the Challenge Tour season and by the narrowest of margins, he had no time to pause and take stock before jetting off to Hong Kong and then South Africa.

Gradually, then, we can expect him to find his feet and having been working with his new caddie for three months now, he feels like results are on the way.

"I’m not worried because historically over the years I’ve always started to peak at the beginning of the summer," he added. "Take the Challenge Tour last year for example - at this stage of the season I was sitting outside the top 80 in the Order of Merit and my best finish was tied 11th.

"I put together back-to-back second-place finishes at big events and rocketed up to fourth in the rankings. That’s how quickly it can change."

The second of those efforts came in Italy, where Neil led going into the final round and was three ahead after an eagle at the first on Sunday, and while a double-bogey at the 10th virtually ended his chance it's a mark of his quality that he responded to it with back-to-back birdies.

Neil, who beat last year's runner-up Lombard in the final of the 2014 Amateur Championship at Portrush, does have to put behind him a run of missed cuts but he wasn't far away in China and looks the type who could spring up out of nowhere in this sort of company.

Given that his length and comfort levels in the wind could be big advantages here, I'm willing to take a chance at massive odds.

When Neil blew that chance to win in Italy, the beneficiary was Joel Sjoholm who, like Oriol, was securing his first professional title after a fairly length wait.

That was the Swede's last start in Italy and the timing of his return is good, as he finished ninth on the Challenge Tour last week with compatriot Oscar Lengden winning, and room-mate Niklas Lemke in third. It may not be a coincidence that these Swedes played so well a week on from Alex Bjork's China breakthrough.

Sjoholm was fifth behind Lemke at the Phillips-designed PGA Sweden National on the Nordic Golf League last year and among the highlights of his European Tour career so far was fourth place at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where his best round was a bogey-free 65 at the Phillips-designed Kingsbarns.

With the other standout performances of his career having come in Italy, including third place in the Sicily Open, second in Rome and fifth in Tuscany, Sjoholm should feel right at home this week and he'll be keeping good company as a close friend of Olesen and Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn.

Sjoholm also led after the first round of the Italian Open on his penultimate start in that event so whether it's the pasta, the panettone or the panna cotta, there's something about this part of the world that he's particularly sweet on.

And, while he did miss the cut here in 2012, he was in awful form yet still managed to shoot an opening 68, the same score as eventual winner Olesen, one outside the top 10, and the product of six birdies over his closing, blemish-free 12 holes. On the back of last week's confidence-boosting ninth, he could go well.

Sjoholm takes part in buzzer golf at the Made in Denmark

Posted at 1145 BST on 08/05/18.

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