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Sergio García teeing off in the first round (credit © Real Club Valderrama)

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Sergio Garcia continued his remarkable love affair with Real Club Valderrama to sit just one shot off the lead after round one of the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation. The Spaniard has won the last three stagings of this event - in 2011, 2017 and 2018 - and has ten other top tens from 14 appearances at a course he admits is his favourite in the world.

An opening bogey-free round of 66 in Sotogrande left him amongst a group of five players at five under par, one shot behind Frenchman Victor Perez.

European Challenge Tour graduate Perez was also bogey-free in his round of 65 in an impressive start to his debut at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters.

South Africa's Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Malaysian Gavin Green, Swede Anton Karlsson and American Sihwan Kim are also one shot off the lead, with Welshman Bradley Dredge, Japan's Masahiro Kawamura, Frenchman Matthieu Pavon and American Julian Suri one shot further back at four under par.

South African Haydn Porteous, who recorded the third albatross of the season on the 17th hole, joins Spanish pair Pablo Larrazabal and Adri Arnaus amongst a group of ten players at three under par, while world number 11 Jon Rahm joins seven other players one shot further back after lighting up his round with a chip-in eagle on the 11th hole.

Player quotes
Victor Perez:
“I'm very pleased to keep the card clean, it's one of the toughest places to do it. I was just really happy, we had a really good game plan going in to take advantage of the softer conditions.

“The fairway is key here. Once you start missing fairways, the greens are so small you're basically meant to be shortsided on your approaches into the greens. There's a lot of slope, it's fast and the greens are really small. The moment you start missing greens it gets tricky.

Sergio Garcia: “I love this place, there is no doubt about that. It kind of has something that helps me. Today was a great round, I hit the ball very well. It's probably the best that I've felt in quite a while.

“Even though the conditions were great, you still have to hit the shots in the right places and to be able to go bogey free here, it's always good.

“It's just the first round and we have to keep building on that and look forward to a good week. It's still Thursday, you've got to go one step at a time, there's still a lot of golf to be played.

Anton Karlsson: “I played great out there today. Had a bogey on the last, but it’s the only tee shot around here that you really have to draw the ball and I’m not really a drawer of the driver, so I’ve bogeyed that hole a few times before.

“Some solid golf, didn’t miss a lot of shots at all out there and that’s kind of what you have to do around here. It’s a great course, it’s definitely one of my favourites.”

Jon Rahm: “Things did turn around on 11 when I chipped it in. I was fully aware before the round started that if you play 12 to 15 even par it’s a great score. I was able to make par in those and then I hit a lot of good shots coming in, but I just didn’t make the putts I had.

“On the other hand, I was happy I two-putted the last because you just don’t want to finish on a bad note. Still, two under par is a great round; hopefully I can come early in the morning and do what the leaders did and shoot something lower.”

A new era for the event was heralded this year when Estrella Damm, the iconic premium lager brand of the Spanish brewing company Damm, became the new title sponsor in a significant five-year deal, which will also see the prize fund rise to €3,000,000 - an increase of €1,000,000 from 2018.

Tickets for the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters 2019 hosted by the Sergio García Foundation are on sale now at the event website. For more information, see the event website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio García Foundation, an event in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai made possible by the essential contribution of the Real Club Valderrama, is sponsored by Estrella Damm and the Consejería de Turismo, Regeneración, Justicia y Administración Local of the Junta de Andalucía, jointly funded by EU and declared Event of Exceptional Public Interest by the Spanish Government. This tournament is also supported by the Diputación de Cádiz, Dubai Duty Free, Rolex, Exterior Plus, La Reserva Club de Sotogrande, Santander Private Banking and Shell. Callaway, Coca-Cola, Enterprise, Grupo Raga, ISDIN, Korporate Technologies Group, Marca, Maui Jim, el Hospital QuirónSalud Campo de Gibraltar, the Real Federación Andaluza de Golf and Volvo are official suppliers. 5J, Gadira, Grupo Joly and Varma collaborate in the event as well.

Sergio García, durante la rueda de prensa del miércoles (foto © Real Club Valderrama)

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Sergio Garcia is aiming to continue his remarkable love affair with Real Club Valderrama as his Foundation once again hosts the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters. The 2017 Masters Tournament champion arrives in southern Spain as a three-time winner of the event, after his victories in 2011, 2017 and 2018, but his record at Valderrama goes far beyond that.

The Spaniard was a runner up three times at the Volvo Masters with three other top tens, finished third at the 2016 Open de España and fifth back in 2000 at the WGC-American Express Championship.

It is no wonder then that Garcia regards Valderrama as his favourite golf course and he is delighted to be back and looking to challenge again.

One man looking to break Garcia’s hold on the trophy is compatriot Jon Rahm. The world number 11 is returning to the place where his family’s love for golf began, and he is keen to reverse his last appearance at this event in 2017 which resulted in a missed cut.

Rahm was a young child when friends of his father came round to watch the 1997 Ryder Cup being hosted in continental Europe for the first time and that was when the golfing bug was caught in the Rahm household.

Fast forward ten years and Rahm was attending his first European Tour event, watching future Ryder Cup playing partner Justin Rose win, with Captain Thomas Bjorn and several of his 2018 team-mates in the field.

A two-time Rolex Series winner, Rahm is now a peer of many of the men he watched play 12 years ago, and he admits none of it would have happened were it not for Valderrama.

Jon Rahm, en el tee del hoyo 17 de Valderrama (foto © Real Club Valderrama)
Jon Rahm, en el tee del hoyo 17 de Valderrama (foto © Real Club Valderrama)

Player quotes

Sergio Garcia:

"Coming back to Spain is always special but to come back to Valderrama, my favourite golf course where I have done so well, it's really really something else.

"I'm excited about it, excited about the week, excited about the tournament. I'm very thankful for Valderrama and Andalucía and Estrella Damm for all their efforts for making the tournament bigger and better and even better looking into the future.

"We’re excited to see how the course is going to play with good weather. It looks amazing, it's getting quite firm so it's going to be very challenging.

"The course is playing totally different than it has the past few years. There'll be some scores because it doesn't look like it's going to be too windy but I would expect it to be around the five or six under par that usually wins here.

"It’s true that I haven’t won this year, but I wouldn’t call it a bad year. I have played some good tournaments, but my sensations have not been consistently good. I am looking to recover my good sensations for the rest of the season, and this week could be the turning point."

Jon Rahm:

"The 1997 Ryder Cup, friends of my dad came over to watch it. They didn't know what it was and  they realised what a big deal it was and started playing golf because of that. I'm here because of that Ryder Cup.

"Then the Volvo Masters in 2007 when Justin Rose won is when I came to watch my first professional event. The first shot I ever saw anybody hit was Thomas Bjørn - a bunker shot on seven where he got up and down for par.

“Henrik Stenson signed my shirt, Paul Casey signed my shirt, some of my Ryder Cup team-mates signed my shirt and I ended up watching Justin Rose win. There's just a lot of memories and it's funny to see that I'm actually competing with those guys and being team-mates with a lot of them.

“I would love to take a small revenge from last year and play nicely this week. Last year I took the wrong strategy. I faced Valderrama as a U.S. course and started hitting drives everywhere. I know now that the key for me here is to make the right decisions off the tee.

“I would need to play really well to beat Sergio at Valderrama, because he loves this course and it suits his game very well. I would like nothing better than to be playing with Sergio in the last group on Sunday and give him a good fight.”

Jon Rahm, at the 2017 edition of the event (credit © Real Club Valderrama)

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Jon Rahm will tee it up at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio García Foundation from June 27-30 in the wake of sharing the third spot at Pebble Beach. His return to Valderrama, where he made his first appearance in Spain as a pro, is sure to attract big crowds, together with tournament host Sergio García.

Rahm is progressing steadily in his meteoric rise to the top with four top ten in the Majors since 2016, when he turned pro after a glittering amateur career both in Spain and the U.S. Besides breaking Jack Nicklaus’s record as the leading individual at the 2014 Eisenhower Trophy, he was the only player ever to win the prestigious Ben Hogan Award twice, in 2015 and 2016. His total of 60 weeks spent atop the World Amateur Golf Ranking is the all-time record.  

Having earned his European and PGA Tour cards the fast way, he had an impressive rookie season – he notched his maiden PGA Tour title at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, he earned his first European Tour victory at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open by six strokes in July, and won the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, the final event of the 2017 European Tour. Early in 2018 he reached a career-high ranking of No. 2 in the world. His emotional and spectacular win at the Open de España, together with his other international achievements, and his Ryder Cup debut in Paris, round up his remarkable statistics.

Out of his 80 professional tournaments since his debut at the 2015 Phoenix Open as an amateur, Rahm has achieved seven wins and 37 top ten (46.25%). He has won three of the nine regular European Tour events he has entered and got seven top ten (excluding Majors and WGC events). These numbers make up a conclusive statistic of 21 months as the leading Spaniard in the world rankings.

Next week Rahm will be looking to add to his record with a good performance at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters in a venue that played a big role in the origin of his career, as recalled by his father Edorta two years ago:   

“I belong to a group of sporting friends from Bilbao, and two of them were invited to the ’97 Ryder Cup. They had no idea of golf, but returned home full of enthusiasm. In June ’99, Eduardo Celles opened his golf academy in Bilbao, and four months later we started taking lessons. My wife Ángela, and our sons Jon and Eriz took up golf in 2003.” 

Rahm was two years of age when Valderrama famously staged The 1997 Ryder Cup, but his father took him to watch the 2007 Volvo Masters, where the lad enjoyed immensely having his shirt signed by his heroes and never got tired of watching some of the players who are now his rivals on tour or his Ryder Cup teammates, such as Sergio García, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey or Thomas Bjørn.

Ten years later Rahm returned as a superstar for the 2017 Andalucía Valderrama Masters, his first professional appearance on Spanish soil, but missed the cut.

“I believe the problem was mainly mental – too much pressure on myself, too big expectations.  I was playing well and I was very much looking forward to playing for the Spanish public. I tried too hard on every shot and didn’t allow my swing to flow. I put too much responsibility on myself to give a good show instead of playing within myself; but the public was great to me and I felt their support all along the way.”

Next week Rahm will share the headlines of the 2019 Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters with Sergio García, and he is determined to avenge the bitter experience of two years ago. Boosted by his recent performance at the U.S. Open, he returns to a course he loves with the same thrill that the lad who followed his sporting heroes for the first time.

“Valderrama is one of the best layouts I have played. It is visually attractive and wonderfully maintained. Golf courses don’t need to measure 10,000 yards to be challenging. I find Valderrama very exciting and a good test. You really have to think your way through and play all kinds of shots. Mistakes can be costly, so it keeps you on your toes.

“The boy that went to Valderrama in 2007 is still there, with the same dreams and the same ambition. I am extremely fortunate that my dreams are coming true.”

Tickets for the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters 2019 hosted by the Sergio García Foundation are on sale now at the event website, starting from just €7 for juniors and €18 for adults (free entry for children aged under 12 when accompanied by an adult). For more information, see the event websiteFacebookInstagram and Twitter.

The Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio García Foundation, an event in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai made possible by the essential contribution of the Real Club Valderrama, is sponsored by Estrella Damm and the Consejería de Turismo, Regeneración, Justicia y Administración Local of the Junta de Andalucía, jointly funded by EU and declared Event of Exceptional Public Interest by the Spanish Government. This tournament is also supported by Diputación de Cádiz, Dubai Duty Free, Rolex, Exterior Plus, La Reserva Club de Sotogrande, Santander Private Banking and Shell. Callaway, Coca-Cola, Enterprise, Grupo Raga, ISDIN, Korporate Technologies Group, Marca, Maui Jim, the Hospital QuirónSalud Campo de Gibraltar, the Real Federación Andaluza de Golf and Volvo are official suppliers. 5J, Gadira, Grupo Joly and Varma collaborate in the event as well.

Jorge Campillo hitting a shot in the 2018 edition (credit © Real Club Valderrama)

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Jorge Campillo set foot on the Real Club Valderrama for the first time when he was just thirteen or fourteen years old. He was one of the most promising golfers of the prolific young Spanish talent pool at the time. He hadn’t even played it yet, only hit balls on the driving range, but that experience was enough for the Sotogrande course to make a big impression on him. “The first time I saw it, I thought I was at the Augusta National”, he remembers with a smile. Now, around 20 years later, he’ll arrive to the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters as one of the favourites to win the title. He’s currently sixth in the Race to Dubai, the highest-ranked Spanish golfer, and he already won a title this season.

What are your memories from your first time at Valderrama?

The first time I was hitting balls on the driving range, I thought it was incredible. Not long after, I went to play with my father. Jaime Ortiz-Patiño invited us, and I quickly realized that it was a very different course from anything I’d seen before. It’s got something very special to it. 

And the first competitive round?

I think it was a Pro Am long time ago… I’ve played it several times, but I remember that the first time I finished in second place, just behind Alejandro Cañizares, with two rounds of one and three under par. Perfect playing conditions, no wind and slightly foggy. 

What do you think of Valderrama? How would you define it?

I’ve always said it, it’s an incredible plot of land, just beautiful. Always perfectly kept, I would even go so far as to say it’s maintenance is unsurpassable, but what stands out the most in my mind is that it’s gotten even better over time. A few changes have been made to the course which, in my point of view, were for the better. For example, the changes on the green on the 6th hole, which was very delicate before, or the trees they removed from some of the fairways, like on the 8th hole. I think it was a good move because it made the course more playable and, above all, fairer.

What would you say is the most difficult hole at Valderrama?

Hmm...There are quite a few...Let me think...I would say the 7th and the 16th. The 7th is very long, with a fairway that stretches from right to left while the hole, however, goes in the opposite direction, to the right. The second shot is always with a long club to a very small green. And the 16th, that fairway...It’s really about hitting that fairway. It's very similar, with an embankment from right to left, and the hole veers off to the right. If you don’t hit the fairway, it’s almost impossible. 

What would you say has been your best shot at Valderrama?

I would say it was in one of those Pro-Ams, on the 17th hole. I had a great tee shot, long, above the bunker to the left, although it landed in the rough… That week there wasn’t a lot of wind, but it was still risky to shoot to green. The ball was higher than my feet, but I took a risk and hit it with a 3 wood. It was an incredible shot. It landed on the green. Eagle putt. 

And the shot you dream of hitting one day?

The winning putt, like everyone, I imagine… (laughs). No, but seriously, I set out to hit the fairway all four days on the 16th...Sorry, sorry, what am I talking about four, I made it my mission to hit the fairway three out of the four days on the 16h.

Is it an added pressure or responsibility going into the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters as the highest-ranked Spanish golfer?

No, I don't think so. I think I was the highest or close to the highest-ranked last year… In fact, I remember that talking to Sergio García, we were asking each other about how the season was going, and I told him: “it’s going well for me, I can’t complain, I’m ahead of you in the rankings, so I can’t be that bad off...”. And he responded: “Yes, you’re ahead, but I’m right at your heels...”. Some playful jabs. But back to the point: it’s not pressure, on the contrary, an honor and clear demonstration that I’m doing something right this season. The most important thing is to be first in the Race to Dubai at the end of the year. That's what really counts. 

Apart from the Majors and WGC, what would be the most important tournament to win in Spain?

There’s nothing more powerful than winning in Spain, without a doubt. Honestly, you always prefer to win a tournament that has your country’s name attached to it, but Valderrama is a legendary club and holds a very special place, it would be a win much different than any other, and the best tournament in Spain as far as prize pool and lineup. 

Any special preparation for this week?

Well, yes, I’m going to do something different. Normally I arrive for the tournaments on Monday afternoon, but I’m going to arrive in the morning this time to practice on the greens. They're always very fast, and it’s important to try to get a feel for them. 

Tickets for the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters 2019 hosted by the Sergio García Foundation are on sale now at the event website, starting from just €7 for juniors and €18 for adults (free entry for children aged under 12 when accompanied by an adult). For more information, see the event websiteFacebookInstagram and Twitter.

The Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio García Foundation, an event in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai made possible by the essential contribution of the Real Club Valderrama, is sponsored by Estrella Damm and the Consejería de Turismo, Regeneración, Justicia y Administración Local of the Junta de Andalucía, jointly funded by EU and declared Event of Exceptional Public Interest by the Spanish Government. This tournament is also supported by Diputación de Cádiz, Dubai Duty Free, Rolex, Exterior Plus, La Reserva Club de Sotogrande, Santander Private Banking and Shell. Callaway, Coca-Cola, Enterprise, Grupo Raga, ISDIN, Korporate Technologies Group, Marca, Maui Jim, the Hospital QuirónSalud Campo de Gibraltar, the Real Federación Andaluza de Golf and Volvo are official suppliers. 5J, Gadira, Grupo Joly and Varma collaborate in the event as well.

Miguel Ángel Jiménez, playing the 17th hole in the Andalucía Valderrama Masters 2011 (credit © Fernando Herranz)

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The faint cry of the emotional outburst can still be heard among the cork trees at Valderrama, venue of the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters that will be held from June 27th to June 30th. It was a one-of-a-kind moment deserving of a one-of-a-kind celebration. “I got goosebumps all over”, a still emotional Miguel Ángel Jiménez reminisces. We’re talking, of course, about the albatross the golfer from Malaga made in the second round of the Volvo Masters in 1994. One of the most famous shots in the history of the European Tour. The 17th-hole magic at Real Club Valderrama in all its splendor, an icon which years earlier had managed to exasperate Tiger Woods.

Jiménez wasn’t exactly coming off a good moment in the round. He made a double bogey on the 13th hole and a bogey on the 16th. In fact, in a nutshell, he went from being in the lead in the grand finale of the European Tour to getting lost in the leaderboard. However, maestros don’t need a lot to be awakened and to call on their God-given talent. He hit a solid drive off the tee on the 17th hole, and left the ball 191 meters from the flag, the perfect distance for a 3 iron.

Any other golfer would have doubted the situation. He hadn’t played well the previous holes and it was a high-risk shot to a green perfectly defended by a lake in the middle, a stream to the left and various bunkers. Glory or chaos. Risk and reward, or tragedy. Only the perfect shot would avoid ending up in ruins. And Miguel made the shot, indeed...

“The ball soared through the air and ended up carrying the right distance, bounced on the green, solid, five meters away from the flag and started to roll until it eventually went in”, Miguel recalls. Goosebumps all over his body. Majestic shot. The crowd went mad. An emotional outburst of happiness and excitement flooded the stands in Sotogrande. Everyone knew in that moment that they had witnessed something special that would go down in history. Jimenez was grateful for the significant changes that had been made to that hole for the 1997 Ryder Cup under Seve Ballesteros' supervision.

Jimenez fought for the win in that Volvo Masters to the very last breath, although in the end Bernhard Langer took home the victory. That Friday, October 28th, Langer starred in another grandiose moment at Valderrama. The German golfer handed in a 62 card, a score which, 25 years later and to this day, is still the course record. However, there is nothing more memorable than Jimenez's albatross.

The M for Miguel isn't the only one that's worked its magic on the 17th hole. Thirteen years later, in the same tournament, the Volvo Masters, Graeme McDowell made the second albatross on that very course, on that same corner of the map, on those very grounds, previously known as Las Aves. It happened in the last round while the Northern Irish golfer was fighting for the win.

Gmac hit a 7 iron in his second shot on a day when the ferocious wind at Valderrama helped. Another magical moment. “It was incredible. I had never felt anything like that on a golf course. I know that it will be something I'll never forget and will treasure it forever. Every time I think of it, it makes me smile”, McDowell recalls with a big smile spread across his face.

It's the silver wedding anniversary of Miguel's albatross, and it's been 12 years since McDowell's. In any event, both are eternal, and they've both been commemorated by plaques that mark their place in history at Valderrama. Within just a few days from now, another 144 golfers, those who will compete in the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters, will have the opportunity to earn their spot in history next to Jimenez and McDowell in another silver wedding anniversary, seeing as how it will be the twenty-fifth time the European Tour has passed through the impeccable course in Sotogrande.

Tickets for the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters 2019 hosted by the Sergio García Foundation are on sale now at the event website, starting from just €7 for juniors and €18 for adults (free entry for children aged under 12 when accompanied by an adult). For more information, see the event websiteFacebookInstagram and Twitter.

The Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters hosted by the Sergio García Foundation, an event in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai made possible by the essential contribution of the Real Club Valderrama, is sponsored by Estrella Damm and the Consejería de Turismo, Regeneración, Justicia y Administración Local of the Junta de Andalucía, jointly funded by EU and declared Event of Exceptional Public Interest by the Spanish Government. This tournament is also supported by Diputación de Cádiz, Dubai Duty Free, Rolex, Exterior Plus, La Reserva Club de Sotogrande, Santander Private Banking and Shell. Callaway, Coca-Cola, Enterprise, Grupo Raga, ISDIN, Korporate Technologies Group, Marca, Maui Jim, the Hospital QuirónSalud Campo de Gibraltar, the Real Federación Andaluza de Golf and Volvo are official suppliers. 5J, Gadira, Grupo Joly and Varma collaborate in the event as well.

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