Caldwell hoping to reignite season at iconic Valderrama

by Ronan MacNamara  

Jonathan Caldwell by Golffile

The European Tour heads to Valderrama for the Andalucía Masters this week and Jonathan Caldwell is the sole Irish representative at this iconic venue.

Caldwell arrives at Valderrama looking to arrest a hat trick of missed cuts, but he can take heart from an improved second round 68 at the Spanish Open last week.

Having adjusted his targets from maintaining his playing rights to earning a spot at the Tour Championship in Dubai at seasons end, the Clandeboye native hasn’t been able to put a consistent run of form together since winning his maiden European Tour title at the Scandinavian Mixed.

At 93rd in the Race to Dubai, all is not lost for the Northern Irishman and he will need to grind it out this week at the notoriously tough Valderrama.

It shows the decline of the European Tour as it continues to struggle with the impact of the pandemic that such a world-renowned venue cannot attract a field of stellar quality.

Sure, Jon Rahm, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Bernd Wiesberger and Matthew Fitzpatrick are in the field but below that the field is nowhere near the quality this course deserves.

Originally the 8th hole, the par-5 17th has seen some amazing moments down through the years. The par-5 can make you look like a golfing behemoth, a world class genius at work, but it can also make you look like a common weekend golfer, a fool.

There have been those who have tamed it none more so than our own Graeme McDowell who held out with a 7-iron for an albatross with the pin tucked tight to the right corner of the green.

Fourteen years previous at the 1994 Volvo Masters Miguel Angel Jimenez hit a three-iron that pitched thirty feet from the pin and rolled all the way until it disappeared. A plaque stands on the 17th tee to commemorate Jimenez’s albatross.

The famous hole has embarrassed the great Tiger Woods. The 15-time major champion held a two-stroke lead over Jimenez, - who else? – at the 1999 WGC American Express. Having already putted the ball into he water at the Ryder Cup, Woods decided to play the percentages and lay up, fine, a two shot lead with two to play it seemed sensible right?

A quality third shot was not rewarded with the rousing applause that it deserved as concerned murmurs turned into aghast gasps from the gallery as Woods’ ball slowly trickled back into the water resulting in a triple-bogey.

Jon Rahm deserves credit for committing to this event, he has become what Rory McIlroy is to Ireland, the poster boy for golf in his country and he will be wheeled out at every opportunity.

He could have easily been forgiven for taking a deserved break. The world number one is exhausted and it showed over the weekend at the Spanish Open. It really has been the year of the Rahm both for the good and the bad.

Having been informed of a positive Covid test at the Memorial Tournament, Rahm then went on to win the US Open in dramatic style, it was almost inevitable really after the debacle at Muirfield Village.

The Spaniard all but carried the European Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits and he is without doubt a jaded figure, but while many in his position would choose to put the feet up he is committed to growing the game in Spain.

Accurate driving and a dazzling short game are the main requirements to go well around Valderrama and it has been reflected in the previous two winners as Christiaan Bezuidenhout – who is shamefully not in the field this week – won with a superb short game and John Catlin was solid from tee to green while not being the longest when he won last year.

After the birdie fests at the Alfred Dunhill Links and the Spanish Open, a completely different test where par is a good score can be expected this week.

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