Garcia and Rahm take centre stage at Valderrama but Irish can upset odds
Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington will get a close-up view of the welcome accorded to Spanish golf heroes Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters today.
Masters champion Garcia, whose charitable Foundation hosts the tournament, plays only his second event in Europe since his stunning victory at Augusta last April.
Rahm, 22, who won of the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour and of the Dubai Duty Free Open, makes a debut appearance in his native land as a professional.
Ten years ago Rahm was an enthusiastic spectator at the 2007 Volvo Masters at Valderrama where he waited in line to get an autograph from Henrik Stenson.
Today, he is one of the most exciting golfers on the planet.
The home galleries will flock to watch these two conquistadors and Irish duo Lowry and Harrington, both playing in marquee groups, will hope to feed off the excitement to ignite their own game.
Lowry tees off the 10th at 9.15am local time (8.15am Irish time) alongside Garcia and Andrew 'Beef' Johnston who won the tournament last year.
Harrington joins Rahm and two-time Major champion Martin Kaymer for a 1.45pm starting time (12.45pm Irish) off the first tee. Rahm, third in the Race to Dubai rankings and fifth in the world, is buzzing at the thought of the atmosphere around that first tee.
"It's going to be like an atomic bomb going off when I go to the first tee, which I'm really excited about," he said.
"The last time I was in Valderrama, I was there for the Volvo Masters.
"There have been some pictures floating around on social media and obviously I've been waiting for this moment for ten years.
"The photo is of me waiting for some autographs right here in Valderrama and it was Henrik Stenson who signed my shirt.
"It's funny how I've come from that ten years ago to now being able to compete alongside him, and to accomplish the things I've accomplished so it's quite a special feeling to be back."
Garcia, the host and winner of the Andalucia Masters in 2011, is delighted with a return to a lay-out he describes as "my favourite golf course ever."
"It's the kind of golf course that even though it's not long, it challenges you," he said.
"It's tight and it's always asking you to hit good shots, all kinds of shots.
"They are small greens so your iron play has to be spot on, and if you miss the greens, it's tricky. It's just a great, solid golf course. I'm sure the support will be great this week.
"Obviously I played in Munich earlier this year and it was the first time I played in Europe since the Masters and I got an amazing reception, so I'm sure this week will be no different," he said.
Harrington goes into the tournament having missed the cut in his last two events - the Dunhill Links and the Italian Open - but Valderrama's renowned toughness could suit him and Lowry if they can get off to a good start.
Gary Hurley is the third Irishman in the field and he tees off at 2.15pm (1.15pm Irish). Steven Tiley and Stephen Gallacher complete that three-ball.
Challenge Tour action centres on the Foshan Open in China where Gavin Moynihan is the only Irish competitor.
Meanwhile, the European Senior Tour has a Ryder Cup flavour with 14 former European Tour team members playing in the Farmfoods European Senior Tour Masters at Forest of Arden which starts tomorrow.
Ryder Cup 2014 winning captain Paul McGinley is joined by Des Smyth, Philip Walton, Eamonn Darcy, and Ronan Rafferty in the tournament.
McGinley finished tied-seventh in the Dutch Masters on his last outing. Graeme McDowell, meanwhile, is in South Korea for the CJ Cup, a PGA Tour event. On the women's scene, Leona Maguire plays in LPGA and Symetra Tour qualifying stage II at the Plantation Course in Florida.
- Andalucia Masters, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 11.0am
- The CJ Cup, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 3.0am