British Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
ONE of the best fields of the year assembles at Walton Heath as Paul Dunne begins the defence of his British Masters title. Dunne won the tournament in sensational fashion 12 months ago, holding off a charging Rory McIlroy at Close House with a fabulous final round of 61.
That tournament was hosted by Lee Westwood. This year, those duties are taken over by Justin Rose, fresh from playing a vital role in helping Europe regain the Ryder Cup. The Englishman was enjoying a spectacular season, winning three times, claiming the FedEx Cup and reaching the top of the world rankings. He seems to contend just about every time he tees it up.
And he will be looking forward to playing at Walton Heath in a tournament he won way back in 2002. It disappeared from the rota for a number of years but was resurrected in 2015, when it was won by Matthew Fitzpatrick. Alex Noren followed in 2016 and Dunne claimed the title 12 months ago.
While Rose will clearly be one of the star attractions, Francesco Molinari is certain to receive a rapturous welcome from a passionate British gallery after his incredible heroics at the Ryder Cup. The Italian won all his matches at Le Golf National to finish with five points. It was the icing on the cake after what has been a career-defining season for Molinari, during which he won the BMW PGA Championship, claimed his first PGA Tour title and then went on to win The Open at Carnoustie, playing flawless golf four days while under the most intense pressure imaginable.
Molinari just seems to take it all in his stride. Nothing ever fazes him. He is one the most accurate drivers of a ball that the game has ever known and he has also finally developed a putting stroke that works. He has always been a beautiful ball striker and one of the best iron players in the world, but would be the first to admit that the putter was not always his best friend. Boy, has that changed. Everything looks exactly the same, so maybe it is as simple a thing as confidence. He stands over six- and seven-feet putts now and not only expects to hole them but believes he will do so.
He broke the heart of Tiger Woods at Le Golf National and before his year is done it is safe to assume there will be a few more top golfers who will be sick of the sight of his name at the top of leaderboards as he looks to secure the Race to Dubai.
Rose said: “Having Francesco commit to the British Masters is a huge boost for this event and I’m sure the British crowds will be delighted to see the Open champion return just under three months after his win at Carnoustie.”
Molinari and Rory McIlroy are the only golfers to have won The Open and the BMW PGA Championship in the same year - and nobody has ever won those two and the British Masters.
“I’m really excited to return to the British Masters,” Molinari said. “Justin is doing a great job as tournament host and that certainly helped convince me to play. And it is great to be returning to Britain as Ryder Cup winners. Walton Heath is an unbelievable venue and I know it will provide a real test. It would be great to add the British Masters to my wins at Wentworth and Carnoustie, but I’m not thinking about that too much. I would just like to continue my good form and hopefully put in a strong performance.”
Apart from Rose, Dunne and Molinari, the field will also include Tommy Fleetwood, Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace, who has also won three times in 2018, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
Donald and Westwood were two of Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup vice-captains in Paris, but both are keen to prove that they still have the game to compete at the highest level. They are both former world No1s and while Westwood has shown a few promising signs of late, Donald has been on the crest of a slump for far too long. It is well documented that he lost his game when he decided to change a golf swing that had served him so well for so many years as he went in search of extra distance. When he finally worked out that the new swing was doing him no favours it was too late. He attempted to revert to the method he knew but the magic had gone. Worse than that, the glorious putting stroke that helped him to win so many titles - and so much money - also chose that time to desert him.
He has lost his playing privileges on the PGA Tour but his past record and place on the all-time money list will guarantee him as many starts as he can handle. However, Donald may decide that the best option might be to increase his schedule on the European Tour, where he would be welcomed with open arms. A good week at Walton Heath would surely go a long way towards helping him decide what to do. Watch this space.
“The British Masters has always been a tournament close to my heart and even more so since hosting the event at Close House last year,” said 23-time European Tour winner Westwood. “Walton Heath is a great course and with Justin hosting, it’s all set to be a fantastic week.”
Donald, who hosted in 2016, said: “I’m delighted to be cleared to play at this year’s British Masters after my injury problems – it’s such a great event which has grown year on year, and to be playing at Walton Heath is a real boost too, as well as having Justin as host. I know the famously supportive British crowds will be out in force and hopefully I can give them something to cheer about.”
Three-time Major winner Harrington said: “I’m really looking forward to returning to the Sky Sports British Masters. Walton Heath is a classic heathland course and will provide a fair and challenging test of golf. I’m sure it will be a great week with Justin as host.”
Kaymer, who was World Number One for eight weeks in 2011, said: “I really enjoyed playing the British Masters last year and the crowds were superb. I’m sure it will be another superb week, especially with Justin hosting, and I can’t wait to play a proper British course in Walton Heath.”
“The British Masters has really become a top event on the schedule since returning in 2015 and I’m delighted to be playing again this year. Justin will be a great host and Walton Heath is one of those famous English British golf courses which I’m sure all the players will enjoy playing.”
Justin Rose. Who else?
Francesco Molinari. Has taken his game to a different level
Tommy Fleetwood. A superstar
Justin Rose. Aiming to prove he is the host with the most
Francesco Molinari. Doesn’t have bad weeks any more
Tommy Fleetwood. Sure to be there or thereabouts
Eddie Pepperell. What a difference a year makes
Matt Wallace. Has become a serial winner
Luke Donald. Would be great to see him contend again
Matt Fitzpatrick. Short game to die for
Paul Dunne. Hasn’t kicked on quite as he would have hoped
Padraig Harrington. There’s life in the old(-ish) dog yet
Lee Westwood. Don’t write him off
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