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European Tour in Sicily for inaugural Rocco Forte Open

New Zealander Ryan Fox is the leading-ranked Australasian at the Rocco Forte Open. (Photo: Bruce Young)
From Portugal to Italy this week, the European Tour is now just one week away from its arrival in Britain for its flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, but before that, it plays the Rocco Forte Open in Verdura on the island of Sicily beginning Thursday.

The inaugural event gives Italian golf fans two local tournaments on the 2017 European Tour schedule with the Italian Open to be played in Turin in October.

Carrying only a relatively small purse (€1 million) by current European Tour standards, the field assembled is hardly the European Tour's elite but with the Players Championship having been completed just last Sunday, there is genuine reason for the weaker field and it offers the opportunity for some of the lower-ranked players to shine.

Some of those are Australasians, headed by New Zealander Ryan Fox who sits just ahead, in terms of world ranking, of the next best-placed Australasian in the field, Marcus Fraser.

Fraser’s fellow Australians Jason Scrivener, Andrew Dodt, Wade Ormsby, Nick Cullen, Nathan Holman and Daniel Fox will also tee it up.

The likely chances amongst the more in-form golfers include European Tour rookie Jordan Smith who continues to impress wherever he plays. Now 102nd in the world rankings, Smith was a star of the Challenge Tour last year and is certainly finding his feet quickly at the higher level.

Smith - the highest-ranked player in the field - has already recorded three top 10s in his rookie season and many see him as a future star of European and world golf.

Italian Matteo Manassero is slowly regaining the sort of form that saw him as a standout teenager earlier in his career and after several good tournaments of late he might just be able to leverage off local support to improve even further.

Already a winner of titles such as the BMW PGA Championship and the Singapore and Malaysian Opens, Manassero went into a slump during 2014 and 2015 but is emerging from those lows and nearer to the level of play he produced earlier in his career. A win in front of Italian fans would be an emotional one for the 24-year-old.

“I am glad to be back," said Manassero. "It’s a great place here, everyone can see that. It’s particularly great that we can all come back to the south of Italy to just be here and play golf – everything seems to taste better, the air is fresher. It’s just wonderful.

“My game is good. I played really well with Renato (Paratore) at the GolfSixes, that was a lot of fun. I’ve had a consistent start to the season.

“It was only in India where I played really well and finished third. Otherwise I’ve been at the middle of the back, but almost every time I have played four rounds, so that’s a very good thing. It keeps the consistency and it keeps the confidence high so it’s all good."

Matt Wallace was so impressive winning in Portugal last week that he could repeat the effort against a field that's not a lot stronger. He was a prolific winner of events on the Alps Tour last year which gained him access to the Challenge Tour and from there he won the jointly sanctioned European Tour event in Portugal and now enjoys European Tour status.





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