Czech Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
YOU can be certain that Martin Kaymer would far rather be in Boston this week playing in the Dell Technologies Championship, but a poor season means that the FedEx Cup playoffs have passed the German by, so he heads to the Czech Masters instead, desperately looking for some confidence and a morale-boosting victory.
It is only the fourth time this event has been staged. It was won in 2014 by Jamie Donaldson, in 2015 by Thomas Pieters and in 2016 by American left-hander Paul Peterson, who has enjoyed a fruitful spell on the European Tour. All three are in the field and could easily contend again.
The Czech Republic not known as a hotbed for golf, and 10 local golfers have been invited to take part. It would be a major surprise if any of them made the cut, and they are actually all more likely to struggle to break 85 than make it through to the weekend at the impressive Albatross Golf Resort in Prague. The tournament has attracted a decent field, however, and the organisers expect decent crowds.
Every country needs to start somewhere, and who is to say that golf will not eventually catch on in this part of the world. Promoters Relmost certainly seem to have confidence, having just announced that they have extended their agreement with the European Tour to continue the event until 2023.
Kaymer is a double major champion and will be playing in the tournament - D+D REAL Czech Masters, to give it its full name - for the first time. It marks the start of the race to qualify for the 2018 European Ryder Cup team, and Kaymer will be keen to get off to a good start to the campaign. You may remember that it was Kaymer who holed the winning putt to beat Steve Stricker on the final green at Medinah, when Jose Maria Olazabal's team produced that stunning fightback to leave the USA reeling. Kaymer rolled his first putt fully six feet beyond the hole and then nervelessly drained the return.
He was also a star of the team that won at Gleneagles in 2014, and it was Donaldson's victory here that year that clinched his place in Paul McGinley's team. He, in turn, also went on to hit the winning shot, a magnificent wedge to six inches to beat Keegan Bradley and secure yet another victory for Europe.Kaymer said: “This will be my debut at the Czech Masters, and I am really looking forward to playing at the Albatross Golf Resort. I have heard a lot of good things about the event and the golf course, so I am excited to have the chance to come to Prague and play in the Czech Republic for the first time in my career.”
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, said: “The Czech Masters occupies a key spot on the European Tour International Schedule, as the players who have aspirations to represent Team Europe at The 2018 Ryder Cup look to catch the eye of captain Thomas Bjorn. The start of the Ryder Cup qualification process reminds us all of how close we are to the excitement and drama of the great event once again, and it’s fitting that the Czech Masters field will include players such as Kaymer, who is synonymous with some great European moments over the past few years.
“The support of Relmost has been crucial in the growth and development of this tournament in recent years, and we are delighted that they have reaffirmed their support not just for the tournament, but for golf in the Czech Republic as a whole, by agreeing such a lengthy contract extension.”
Petr Dedek, Owner of Relmost, said: “Although the current agreement runs until next year, we decided to renew with the European Tour in advance. With the agreement up to 2023 we wanted to confirm our interest in the further development of this tournament and further our support of Czech golf.
“We strongly believe, that by this time, the Czech Republic will have at least one established player on the European Tour. The tournament has a worldwide marketing impact, and is ideal for promoting Prague and the Czech Republic as a golf destination. This long term contract also helps us to close long term sponsorship deals, which have been very favourable since last year.”
And speaking of golfers who have been associated with memorable moments in European golf, also in the field is Lee Westwood, the veteran Englishman who retains hopes of making a 10th appearance in the Ryder Cup. The 44-year-old has won 23 times on the European Tour, but not since 2014 and has only managed two top-10 finishes all season. He did make the cut in all four majors, and has missed just one cut in 14 starts. Westwood is 29th in the Race to Dubai and has seen his world ranking slip to 59. Before the year is over, he will want to get back into the top 50 to ensure that he still finds a place on the first tee at all four of the majors in 2018.
Westwood still strikes the ball as well as ever. He is a wonderful driver of the ball but in recent years has struggled on the greens, and if he is to win again then he needs to put that right.
Keep an eye on Matt Fitzpatrick too. He was fifth in the Dubai Desert Classic and tied second at the Nordea Masters, but the Yorkshireman is only interested in winning and he will be disappointed with his progress in 2017. His recent form is nothing to write home about. He finished well down the field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and missed the cut at the US PGA Championship and hasn't played since. Be sure of one thing - in the meantime, Fitzpatrick will have been working his socks off, and he will arrive in Prague with his A-game in his bag.
And Jordan Smith will step onto the first tee still pinching himself. In his first season on the tour he already has one victory to his credit and a sensational performance in the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. Confidence is everything in this sport and Smith has it in spades. He secured his card early in the season and it clearly lifted a huge weight from his shoulders. It would be no surprise to see him pick up another title or two before the year is over - and how good would it be to see Smith and Fitzpatrick going head to head during the final round in Prague?
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Could be very difficult to beat
Thomas Pieters. Good memories of the Albatross
Jordan Smith. Walking on air
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Determined, feisty
Thomas Pieters. Can win anywhere, anytime
Jordan Smith. Latest of England's golden generation
Jamie Donaldson. Good signs recently
Paul Peterson . Hugely underrated
Lee Westwood. Looking for a big finish to the season
Victor Dubuisson. Who knows which Victor will turn up?
Martin Kaymer. Brilliant when at his best
Alexander Knappe. Showed fine form at the Paul Lawrie Matchplay
Haydn Porteous. Gifted player, finding form again
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