British Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
AFTER a break of more than four months, the European Tour's resumption began in Austria, but now that return moves to another level with the British Masters at Close House. What a year it’s been. The last time we saw any meaningful action was when Jorge Camplio won the Qatar Masters at the beginning of March, just before Covid-19 changed the world forever. We have lost the 2020 Open Championship, the Ryder Cup has been postponed for a year and the US Open, The Masters and the US PGA Championship will be played without spectators.
And the British Masters will be played without fans and with a reduced prize fund of around £1m. Many of Europe’s leading golfers will be missing as they continue to ply their trade on the rather more lucrative PGA Tour. This is the first of six successive tournaments to be played on British soil, with the European Tour mindful of travel restrictions affecting the players.
So we kick off without the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Paul Casey, all of whom have bigger fish to fry. The good news for those with Ryder Cup aspirations is that the qualifying process has been suspended until the end of what is a rather strange and fractured season.
We will not be seeing a star-studded field but let’s just be thankful that we are finally going to see some live golf. And those who do turn up at Close House will be desperate to put on a show for those watching at home.
The tournament is being hosted at Close House for the second time by Lee Westwood, who now finds himself back in the top 50 in the world rankings after his victory in the Abu Dhabi Championship, the season’s first Rolex Series event. It was his 25th European Tour title and it revived his hopes of making an 11th appearance for Europe in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.
His world ranking meant that Westwood is eligible to compete on the PGA Tour but he made it clear that he was not prepared to subject himself to a two-week quarantine period before being able to pick up his clubs in anger. And that can only be good news for the British Masters.
Westwood previously hosted the tournament at Close House in 2017, when nearly 70,000 fans came out to support the event as the European Tour visited the north east of England for the first in 15 years. Ireland’s Paul Dunne chipped in on the final hole to finish three shots clear of McIlroy for his maiden European Tour title.
“I’m really looking forward to hosting the Betfred British Masters again,” said Westwood, who follows Tommy Fleetwood in the role. “I had a great time hosting it in 2017. You are busy during the week and it is hard work as you haven’t just got golf to concentrate on, but it is great fun. Last time it was a successful tournament and hopefully it will be again.
“I think we got it pretty much right last time. We had a great turnout. Obviously it is earlier in the year this time so hopefully the weather will be better. We’ve also made a few alterations to the golf course, so hopefully that will be even better, and hopefully the north east people will turn out as they always do."
Westwood finished tied 15th three years ago and after his strong start to the season, Close House’s Touring Professional is targeting a second British Masters title following his first victory at The Belfry in 2007.
“Winning in Abu Dhabi was great. I didn’t really know what to expect going into the week. I hadn’t really practised that much but I got my game together and pretty sharp very quickly. I played well and controlled my emotions well and felt comfortable on the golf course and started holing some putts. It was nice to be out there relaxed with things going my way.
"My name is on the British Masters trophy once already so it would be nice to add another one, especially with it being at Close House, which is a home tournament for me. I’m looking forward to it very much and I’ll be trying to play well that week and get some of that home support behind me.”
Westwood paid tribute to the venue’s owner Graham Wylie, not only for helping to get the event to head back to the north east, but also for his wider contribution to the region after he received a knighthood in the New Year’s Honour’s list.
“Graham’s knighthood was very well deserved,” said Westwood. “He does an incredible amount for charity and people in that the north east, in Newcastle and the surrounding areas. It was great that he was knighted. It’s a bit strange calling him Sir Graham now but I’m getting used to it!”
The British Masters was won in 2015 by Matthew Fitzpatrick, in 2016 by Alex Noren, in 2017 by Paul Dunne, in 2018 by Eddie Pepperell, and last year by Marcus Kinhult.
Lee Westwood. Still one of the best ball strikers in the business
Brandon Stone. Has the potential to be a world-beater
Lee Westwood. Still believes he can win - and he can
Brandon Stone. Beautiful golf swing
Andrew Johnston. In a really good place
Eddie Pepperell. Desperate to arrest his rankings slide
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