BMW International Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Sergio Garcia heads a strong field at the BMW International Open at Golfclub München Eichenried, where England’s Matt Wallace defends one of the three titles he won last year. But it is fair to say that most of the local focus will be on Martin Kaymer, the two-time major champion.
The German has endured a miserable run of form since winning the US Open in 2014 and then throwing away a 10-shot lead at the Abu Dhabi Championship the following year. But he finished second in his home tournament 12 months ago and, more encouragingly, came within a whisker of winning The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village. Unusually, Kaymer says that his loss of form has little to do with any kinks in his golf swing. He says that he became increasingly distracted by social media and has taken the decision to abandon it.
It is difficult to believe that an individual as intelligent as Kaymer clearly is would allow himself to be affected by criticism on social media, but he is not the first tournament professional to reach the conclusion that his life is better without it. At his best, Kaymer is one of the best ball strikers in the game and it has been particularly sad to witness his struggles on the fairways of the world. There have been occasional encouraging performances but, in truth, it has all become one long struggle for him. He has changed caddies, he has tinkered with his swing but nothing has worked. He now says that his mind is free of all distractions and that he is starting to enjoy his golf again.
It is all too easy to forget that Kaymer reached the top of the world rankings before this alarming slump. He won this tournament way back in 2008 and is desperate to get back into the winners’ circle. His best finish on the European Tour this season was a tie for eighth at the British Masters.
Like Kaymer, Garcia has endured some struggles over the past couple of seasons but he, too, has shown some encouraging signs. Garcia made history at the Ryder Cup in Paris last year when he earned three points from four matches, taking him to 25½ individual points won at the Ryder Cup, thus eclipsing the record set by Nick Faldo. "I can't wait to return to one of my favourite cities in the world," said the 2017 Masters champion. "I'm looking forward to the fans in Munich and to the tournament."
Lee Westwood returns for the first time since 2006. The veteran Englishman won the Nedbank Challenge last year, thus proving that he can still compete with the very best on the European Tour. He has climbed the world rankings and has continued to compete and would love to win a title he last held way back in 2003, when he defeated home favourite Alex Cejka by three shots. Westwood was a vice-captain to Thomas Bjorn at last year’s Ryder Cup and is joined in the field by Thomas Bjorn, who captained Europe to that famous victory in Paris.
Bjorn has revealed in an interview with the Guardian that he nearly gave up playing after a long battle with depression which he can trace back to The Open Championship of 2003. “In the end it’s almost like I didn’t want to get up in the morning,” Bjorn said. “This happens because the problems you see in your head are so much bigger than they are in reality. They take over your mind. You can ask all the people in the world but in the end, if your mind doesn’t respond, all of that is just noise. You need to take responsibility for what you’re thinking. … My tool was having those conversations with the mirror. Those conversations were not made up. They happened.”
It is hardly surprising that his experience at Royal St George’s in 2003 had such an impact upon him. He appeared to be on course to become the first Dane to win a major before throwing it away in the final round. And it was the only thing that people wanted to talk about when they met him. Bjorn just wanted to forget about it and move on, but he wasn’t allowed to do so. “Every time you met somebody, that was the only thing they asked you about,” he said. “In the end, it gets you."
He was also deeply affected by the struggles endured by Henrik Stenson. "In later years, as you get into dark places yourself, you realise what turmoil he must have been in. I learned that you should never judge,” Bjorn said. “But from that low Henrik lifted himself to where he became, arguably, the best player in the world for a period of time. That shows how the mind shapes so much of our lives. Sportspeople are privileged with a good life. But that doesn’t mean their mental health will never be affected. They get pushed into pressurised situations all the time – and it can spin itself into a situation where they can’t handle it. This is sport’s dark side.”
Now aged 48, Bjorn has written an autobiography and is keen to move forward with the next stage of his career, and is preparing for life on the seniors tour, where he is likely to be a formidable force.
The BMW International was won in 2011 and 2015 by Pablo Larrazabal, in 2012 by Danny Willett, in 2013 by Ernie Els, in 2014 by Fabrizio Zanotti, in 2016 by Henrik Stenson, in 2017 by Andres Romero and in 2018 by Matt Wallace.
It is a big week for Wallace. Much was made of his three victories last season and the fact that Bjorn chose not to offer him a Ryder Cup wild card. But that snub has simply served to spur him on and he proved at the US PGA Championship that he has now become a world-class golfer who is totally at home on the biggest stage now. He won’t be missing out on the 2020 Ryder Cup team.
Thorbjorn Olesen. Hugely impressive
Matt Wallace. Now a world-class golfer
Lee Westwood. Quite capable of winning again
Thorbjorn Olesen. Vastly underrated - but no longer by himself
Matt Wallace. Has no weaknesses
Lee Westwood. Don’t write off the old boy just yet
Sergio Garcia. Can turn it on anytime
Alex Noren. Has had a quiet year to date
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Taking a break from the PGA Tour
Matthew Fitzpatrick. One of the most determined players on tour
Bernd Wiesberger. Good to see him winning again
Martin Kaymer. Showing welcome signs of life
Paul Dunne. Looking for a big week
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Tags: european tour