All eyes are on Sergio Garcia as the LIV Golf League makes its Spanish debut at the former Masters winner’s favourite course, Valderrama, from Friday.
The LIV Golf League returns to Europe this week for the first time since it announced its arrival at Centurion Club just outside London little over a year ago.
A lot has changed in that time, most significantly its relationship with the PGA and DP World Tours, who have gone from bitter enemies to prospective business partners.
Golf is still reeling from last month’s bombshell announcement of plans to merge the three circuits’ rights and interests under a new entity that will control the men’s professional game.
The full details of that are still to be thrashed out, but what is clear is that LIV Golf has gone from being persona non grata to part of the establishment.
Like the tour, its biggest players have also shown that they have no intention of going quietly by challenging prominently at this year’s majors.
Brooks Koepka followed up his runner-up finish at the Masters in April by winning the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill a few weeks later.
Koepka’s fifth major and first since 2019 rubber-stamped his return to top form and made him the first player to win one while part of the LIV Golf circuit.
Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith have also posted top-five finishes at majors this year.
At Valderrama in southern Spain this week, however, the focus is likely to be on the natives – and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia in particular.
Why Sergio Garcia is the man to beat at Valderrama’s LIV Golf debut
Spaniards seem particularly fond of home comforts; no one thrives on their home patch, which boasts some of the world’s best courses, quite like them.
Five of the last seven winners of the Spanish Open, a DP World Tour event, have been natives, as have four of the last seven at the Andalucia Masters, held at Valderrama.
Garcia himself accounted for three of those wins in Andalucia, all coming in successive editions of the tournament in 2011, 2017 and 2018.
The 43-year-old has shown the most form of the three Spanish players in the LIV Golf League this year, finishing second in Singapore in April and ninth in Tucson in March.
His young compatriot Eugenio Chacarra, who caused a stir by quitting college in the US to join LIV Golf last summer, has the next best results in 2023.
Chacarra, who is part of Garcia’s Fireballs team, finished fifth in Tulsa in May and lies 28th in the league standings.
Majesticks co-captain Lee Westwood also has happy memories of playing in Spain, albeit ones that must be growing hazier by the day.
The 50-year-old Englishman won the Andalucian Open in 2007 at Aloha Golf Club, near Marbella. Going back even further, Westwood won two points in his first of 11 Ryder Cup appearances as Europe beat the USA at Valderrama.
His Majesticks co-skipper and friend Ian Poulter, meanwhile, won the Volvo Masters at Valderrama in 2004.
Open champion Smith has also been trending in the right direction – his fourth at the US Open followed ninth at the US PGA.
But this week is about Garcia, who has finished outside the top 10 only once in 15 appearances at his favourite golf course. You can take El Nino out of Valderrama, but you can’t Valderrama out of El Nino.