It wasn’t too long ago, Rafa Cabrera-Bello was wondering when he’d finally break a more than four-year drought.
Just a few days, in fact.
Cabrera-Bello captured the Spanish Open on Sunday, fending off Adri Arnaus on the first playoff hole at Club de Campo Villa in Madrid, Spain for his first victory since the 2017 Scottish Open. He had slipped to 231st in the Official World Golf Ranking, before joining fellow Spaniards Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia, Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Jon Rahm in winning their country’s national title.
And the 37-year-old who now calls Dubai home is showing no signs of slowing down, using a 68 in the opening round at Valderrama to hang near the top of the leaderboard at the Andalucía Masters.
At the opposite end of the spectrum — at least temporarily — sits Rahm, the world’s top player, who struggled to a birdie-free 78 on Thursday.
For Cabrera-Bello, he’s had a few days to allow his previous victory to sink in, one that held tremendous meaning for him.
“It was a very, very special week. It’s a trophy I really, really wanted to win. For us Spaniards, nationally it’s the most prestigious event you can win. It’s definitely like a fifth major,” Cabrera-Bello said. “With so many great Spanish players who have won it before. I felt I had been close the previous year when Jon won. I’ve had a fantastic love affair with it since I played it for the first time as an amateur in 2002. I’m very proud to have added my name to that trophy.”
On Thursday, Cabrera-Bello started fast, posting birdies on two of the first three holes. He sits a single shot behind leader Julien Guerrier on a course he’s long admired.
No. 17 at Valderrama (Golfweek files)
“It’s an amazing golf course. It’s almost like the Augusta of Europe. It is one of the most intimidating, if not the most intimidating golf course I’ve ever played. Shots, don’t need to be good, they need to be perfect,” he said. “Or as close to perfect as you can produce, because the margin between a great shot and a bad one is very, very narrow. You have to be on top of your game. Whoever wins this week gains a lot of respect from players because we know how difficult a test this is. You can’t get lucky around this course. You have to play great.”
Meanwhile, Rahm didn’t share the same positive vibes as his countrymate, shooting a 42 on the back nine that included a double on No. 18.
Prior to his appearance at Valderrama — his second straight week of playing before the Spanish fans as a major champ — Rahm insisted the track produces a true champion.
“It’s extremely difficult. It’s a golf course where, on a perfect day, 80 degrees no wind, if you shoot under par it’s a good score. When the wind gets going, it’s a challenge,” he said. “It’s not a long golf course. You don’t have to hit it hard off the tee, but you do need to put the ball in play. Every shot is going to make you think about what you’re doing. Every time there’s an event here, whoever wins was truly the best player that week. There’s nowhere to hide. You have to be the best.
“There’s no luck involved here. You go into the trees, you struggle, if you’re in the fairway, you have a chance. You can’t hide.”