Course: Club de Campo del Mediterraneo (7,111 yards, par 71), Castellon, Spain.
Purse: $2.78 million. Winner’s share: $463,600.
Last year: Sweden’s Michael Jonzon beat countryman Christian Nilsson and Germany’s Martin Kaymer by a stroke.
Two players take center stage at this week’s Castello Masters in Valencia, Spain. They just happen to be two of the biggest names in Spanish golf.
All eyes will be on Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal as they embark on different comeback trails.
Garcia is making his first appearance since a self-enforced two-month exile from competitive golf. The 30-year-old has not played since the PGA Championship. Rounds of 78 and 69 at Whistling Straits told Garcia that it was time to chill. His only golf action since was acting as one of Europe’s vice captains in the recent Ryder Cup victory at Celtic Manor.
“I had lost my motivation and felt drained,” Garcia said. “I needed the break, I had lost the desire to play, and practicing had become an obligation.
Sergio Garcia: Much is expected of the hometown favorite. Will the two–month break propel him to victory or set him back in the pack?
Jose Maria Olazabal: The two–time Masters champion won’t be thinking of winning. Just making the cut would be a huge accomplishment.
David Howell: The Englishman’s fall down the world order has been dramatic, from No. 9 in June 2006, to his current 432. However, recent signs suggest he’s on the way back.
Jorge Campillo: It doesn’t seem too long ago that Campillo was being touted as one of Spain’s future stars. Yet he is languishing in 88th place on the European Challenge Tour rankings. The 24-year-old former Indiana player is in the field on a sponsor invite.
Todd Hamilton: The 2004 Open Champion hasn’t made the most of his appearances in Europe this season. After 10 events, he is 186th on the money list. Time to make his move.
“Now, on the contrary, I feel full of energy, and actually enjoy practicing. I have set myself new goals and look forward to performing again at the top level.
“I have been doing different things these two months – other sports and relaxing with my friends and family.
“I have also been working on my mental approach with a sophrologist (self-help expert) to help me put things in the right place. I know more about myself and feel able to answer my own questions.
“I now have clear goals: for a start, I want to win the Castello Masters and the remaining tournaments, and then I want to return gradually to where I should be, and perform to my full potential, (like) be world No. 1.
“I needed to miss the game a little bit. Obviously, I missed it – that’s why I am back.”
Garcia couldn’t have picked a better venue for his comeback. The Club de Campo del Mediterraneo course is his home club, and his father works there, too. Garcia won the inaugural event two years ago and was fourth last year. A victory would be a step in the right direction for the former world No. 2, who has slipped to 68th in the world.
Olazabal also served as one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains at Celtic Manor. The 44-year-old is used to making comebacks. He has been mostly out of the game in recent years because of recurring problems with rheumatoid arthritis. He has played only once this year, in July when rounds of 80 and 70 saw him miss the French Open cut.
“I’ve managed to make successful comebacks in the past, but it gets tougher as you get older,” the two–time Masters winner said.
“Your physical condition is tougher to maintain, especially if – like me – you have gone almost three years without being able to exercise properly.
“It has been very frustrating not being able to play, not being able to practice and not feeling well. That hurts. But I’ve always been a positive person and I am already looking forward to getting myself fitter for next year.”
No prizes for guessing which two golfers will get the biggest galleries this week.