British Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE European Tour finally arrives on home soil and with it comes a stellar cast to the British Masters at Hillside Golf Club on the outskirts of Southport. It is going to be a huger week for the tournament host, Tommy Fleetwood, who is a local boy and will be doing his utmost to give the home fans something to cheer about.
Fleetwood grew up in Southport and he is looking forward to the tournament and to welcoming several of his Ryder Cup teammates to the area. Among them is Tyrrell Hatton.
“Tyrrell is a top player and it was great having the opportunity to make our Ryder Cup debuts together in the same European side at Le Golf National,” he said. “He’s been one of the leading English players over the last two years and along with Eddie Pepperell, it’s great to showcase some of the best young British players at the Betfred British Masters.”
Lee Westwood will be bidding for his 25th tour title as he bids to continue his career revival. The Englishman, who claimed a Rolex Series title in the Nedbank Golf Challenge last November, is in pursuit of the milestone win, and his second British Masters title, as he returns to action after a month off. He is part of a strong line-up of British players which includes Ryder Cup stars Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Wallace and defending champion Eddie Pepperell.
Westwood hosted the 2017 tournament at Close House and has an impressive record in the British Masters. He won the title in 2007 at The Belfry and lost in a playoff the following year, while he also finished third at The Grove in 2016.
“The British Masters is one of my favourite events to play in,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed my hosting duties at Close House in Newcastle two years ago and I’m sure Tommy will have a great experience this year.
“It’s great to take the tournament to different parts of the country and we’re all looking forward to seeing what Tommy has in store for us. Southport is obviously a strong golfing area and it’s always nice for the British players to play in front of the home fans, so it should be a great week.”
Westwood claimed his first European Tour win in 1996 and has gone on to become one of the most decorated players in British golfing history. He is one of only four Englishmen to have reached World Number One and has won professional tournaments on five different continents. In 2000, he topped the European Tour Order of Merit and then accomplished the feat again in 2009, winning the Race to Dubai.
Fleetwood is following in the footsteps of Westwood, and other former hosts Ian Poulter (2015), Luke Donald (2016) and Justin Rose (2018), all of whom have helped return the British Masters to prominence after its reintroduction to the European Tour schedule.
Like tournament host Fleetwood, Hatton rose through the ranks on the European Challenge Tour, earning his card in 2013, two years after his compatriot, and their careers have shared some notable similarities since.
Both players won a Rolex Series event in 2017 – Fleetwood in the Open de France and Hatton in the Italian Open – and Hatton rose to a career-high 13th on the Official World Golf Ranking in 2018, with Fleetwood breaking into the top ten. They each earned a Ryder Cup debut in France last September, contributing to a famous European win against the United States.
Hatton last played the British Masters in 2017 at Close House, finishing eighth - one place better than his result at The Grove the year before. “The British Masters is a tournament I have always enjoyed playing in, and I’m really looking forward to joining Tommy at Hillside next month,” said Hatton. “It’s a course with great pedigree, and Tommy will be a great host. I’ve won in Scotland a couple of times now, so it would be nice to get another European Tour win in England to add to those.”
Hatton has three victories on the European Tour since 2016, including winning and successfully defending the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2016 and 2017, and securing his first Rolex Series title at the Italian Open in 2017.
He has enjoyed a solid start to the 2019 season, including finishing in a share of 19th place at the WGC-Mexico Championship and reaching the round of 16 at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, losing to eventual runner-up Matt Kuchar in the first knockout stage. The 27 year old Englishman is now looking forward to playing in front of his home fans. “The British Masters is an important event for the British players because it gives us a chance to enjoy some home support,” he said. “Southport is a big golfing area, and I’m looking forward to playing there and hopefully I can do well.”
As for Pepperell, he can’t wait to defend his title. He won it at Walton Heath and it was his second victory of the 2018 after his success at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and he said he discovered some newfound self-belief as a result.
“It was nice leading all week, feeling very comfortable in that position and actually expecting myself to win from Thursday,” said Pepperell. “I definitely unlocked some confidence that week which I hadn’t felt before. I’m now looking forward to going to Hillside this year and trying to upset the Northerners.
“I’ve grown up with Tommy and the fact he’s hosting the event is great for him and I’m excited to be part of it for him and the Tour. I want to play well, put on a good show and get in amongst it.”
Pepperell has enjoyed some success on the PGA Tour in 2019 and will believe that he has the game to make a successful defence.
The players are in for a treat. There are many who believe that Hillside is at least on a par with Birkdale, and whether you agree with that or not, it is a magnificent links course that is certain to provide a high-class field with a real test. Fleetwood will be hoping for four days of good weather - as will everybody else involved with the tournament.
It was won in 2015 after a seven-year absence from the tour schedule by Matthew Fitzpatrick, in 2016 by Alex Noren, in 2017 by Paul Dunne, and last year by Pepperell.
Tommy Fleetwood. Will be inspired by home crowd
Matt Wallace. Ready for another big week
Eddie Pepperell. Will relish title defence
Tommy Fleetwood. Home advantage matters
Matt Wallace. How does he follow his stellar 2018?
Eddie Pepperell. Full of confidence
Lee Westwood. Life in the old dog yet
Chris Wood. A links specialist
Paul Dunne. Too good not to win again soon
Tyrrell Hatton. Hugely talented - if only he can keep a lid on his temper
Erik Van Rooyen. One of the most consistent performers on tour
Ross Fisher. Still underrated after all these years
Thomas Detry. Looking to kick-start his season properly
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