Czech Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
AFTER a four-week hiatus following The Open, the European Tour season gets under way again with the sixth edition of the Czech Masters at the Albatross Golf Resort. It has attracted a field led by major winners Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington as well as former World Number One Lee Westwood and triumphant 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjørn. It was won in 2014 by Jamie Donaldson, in 2015 by Thomas Pieters, in 2016 by Paul Peterson, in 2017 by Haydn Porteous and last year by Andrea Pavan.
Pavan, from Italy, had struggled, spending much of his career on the Challenge Tour, where he won four times. His victory last year was a surprise but it did wonders for his confidence and he has gone on to win the BMW International Open in Germany this season, beating a top-class European field. He also finished fourth at the Scottish Open but there have been eight missed cuts too, including at The Open, where he had rounds of 73 and 76 and failed to reach the weekend by five strokes.
Westwood will believe there are still more victories left in the tank. He won the Nedbank Challenge last year and his tied-fourth finish at Royal Portrush was his third top-10 of 2019. Incredibly, he is on the cusp of the top 50 in the world rankings once more. His ball striking during The Open was hugely impressive and, encouragingly, the English veteran also holed more than his fair share of putts. He will enter the finishing stretch of the season in high spirits. And who knows? He may just make the European Ryder Cup team next year in what would be his 11th appearance after serving at Bjorn’s vice-captain in Paris in 2018. Westwood is competing in this tournament for the fourth time in a row. Winner of 43 tournaments around the globe, Westwood claimed his maiden Rolex Series title last November at the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Els, a two-time U.S. Open winner and a two-time Open Champion, has 71 international titles under his belt, including 28 European Tour victories, and is preparing himself for life on the Champions Tour in America. But he still believes he can teach the youngsters a thing or two and would not be competing unless he thought that he could win. He turns 50 in October and, incredibly, his last victory came at The Open Championship in 2012 when he took advantage of Adam Scott’s collapse on the back nine.
“I am really happy to be playing in the Czech Republic this year,” said Els. “I have only been to Prague once and that was several years ago. I would like to take this opportunity to invite spectators to Albatross to see some world-class golf and, I hope, a lot of birdies.”
Harrington, who will lead the 2020 Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits in the USA, came close to victory at Albatross last year but was eventually beaten to the title by Italian Pavan. Although most of his focus is on his Ryder Cup duties, Harrington has shown glimpses of his best form this year without being able to keep it going for 72 holes. He led the Irish Open after the first round with one of the best rounds he has ever produced on the European Tour before dropping down the leaderboard. But he loved interacting with the Irish galleries and confirmed that competing at this level still gets his juices flowing. Bjørn has 15 European Tour wins to his name and is enjoying playing again without his captaincy responsibilities.
Keep an eye on Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre. He is enjoying a dream rookie season on the European Tour, with runner-up finishes at both the British Masters and the Made In Denmark, and a tie for sixth at The Open, where he proved that he could hold his own with the very best in the business. He is riding high in the Race to Dubai and is surely a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year honours. All that is missing from his CV is a victory and you sense that is just around the corner. Erik van Rooyen, of South Africa, is another who acquitted himself well at Royal Portrush. He possesses one of the smoothest swings in the professional game and has enjoyed eight top-20 finishes this season. If he does have a weakness it is on the greens but his time will surely come.
Bernd Wiesberger will probably start the week as favourite, but your correspondent’s man to follow is Thomas Pieters.
The event was first played in 2014, when it was won by Jamie Donaldson. It was won in 2015 by Pieters, in 2016 by Paul Petersen, in 2017 by Haydn Porteous and last year by Pavan.
The organisers will be delighted if they get a repeat of last year’s dramatic finish when Pavan overcame Harrington in an enthralling final-day battle to win his first European Tour title. The pair entered round four at Albatross Golf Resort in a share for the lead but Harrington looked set for European Tour win number 16 when he opened up a three-shot lead at the turn. Pavan had other ideas, however, coming home in 31 to sign for a 67 and beat his Irish rival by two shots. The Italian's 22 under par total set a new record for the event, eclipsing Thomas Pieters' winning score from 2015 by two strokes.
Malaysia's Gavin Green matched Harrington with a closing 69 to finish at 17 under, two shots clear of Scotland's Scott Jamieson and Englishman Lee Slattery.
Pavan was thrilled. “It's amazing, it's massive,” he said. “I've won four times on the Challenge Tour but it was a long time ago. I'll enjoy this one because it's really hard to get and I'll just keep working on the stuff that seems to be working and enjoy the success. I'm going back home tomorrow and we're having a second baby, a little girl is coming on Wednesday. We're really excited about that and I can't wait to celebrate with my family.”
“We are delighted to be able to welcome great players to the Czech Republic year after year,” said Petr Dedek, owner of the Relmost promotion company. “Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington and Thomas Bjørn rank among the best golfers of the modern era. The prestige of this tournament is growing and the audience will enjoy an exceptional golfing experience in August."
At least ten Czech golfers will again be participating in the tournament, including two amateurs. One of them is nominated by the Czech Golf Federation. The most successful Czech at the D+D REAL Czech Masters was Filip Mruzek who has made the weekend’s play twice.
Thomas Pieters. Long overdue
Bernd Wiesberger. Playing some sensational golf
Tom Lewis. Full of confidence again
Thomas Pieters. Needs another win
Bernd Wiesberger. Back in business
Tom Lewis. Enjoying a second wind
Andrea Pavan. Will have great memories
Lee Slattery. Looking to turn his season around
Lee Westwood. Playing some beautiful golf again
Padraig Harrington. Still capable of producing the goods
Scott Jamieson. Needs to start believing in himself
Erik van Rooyen. Beautiful golf swing
Robert MacIntrye. Taken to life on tour like a duck to water
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