English Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
Hanbury Manor hosts the English Championship as the new-look European Tour continues in the same week as the US PGA Championship. A number of players in the field were eligible to play at Harding Park but have chosen to give the United States a miss on account of the quarantine restrictions.
Several European Tour members have said that they almost feel like they are in prison on account of the coronavirus restrictions being imposed upon golfers, caddies, officials and media. But here’s the thing - while there have been several cases of diagnosed Covid-19 on the PGA Tour, there has been not one in the bubble created during the UK Swing. So players have some choices to make - do they pack up their clubs and head for home until this is all over, or do they carry on playing?
Keith Pelley, the tour’s chief executive, has made it plain that he has no intentions of changing anything anytime soon - and he is correct. The safety of everybody involved is paramount, and the quality of the field heading to Hanbury Manor indicates that the players feel the same way. Pelley and his team have worked incredibly hard to get this show on the road and although it was eerily quiet at Close House and the Forest of Arden, it is pretty clear that the quality of golf has not suffered in any way.
Lee Westwood, who hosted the British Masters at Close House, went into that tournament as a warm favourite, especially as it was staged on the course to which he is attached. He played poorly - really poorly - and later admitted that he had found the whole bio-secure bubble difficult to cope with. Eddie Pepperell also announced that he wouldn’t be playing in the US PGA Championship.
There are not decisions these guys have taken lightly - this week the total prize fund at Hanbury Manor is just one million euros. In America they are playing for, wait for it, $11m, with the champion at Harding Park pocketing the thick end of $2m.
Many players are struggling to find their form, and that is hardly surprising consider the amount of time they have been clicking their heels at home. As Pablo Larrazabal said, it is one thing going out and playing on your own, but it is something entirely different to head out there in competitive conditions with a scorecard in your hand, knowing you can’t simply throw another ball down if you don’t fancy the shot you have just hit. “It is brilliant to be back out here,” he said. “But it has also been strange, and many of us didn’t know how we were going to perform.”
Larrazabal is a five-time winner on tour, his most recent success coming at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last year. He may not have known how he was going to perform after the shutdown but he managed a decent tied 21st finish at Close House after an opening round of 67 and played some wonderful golf at the Forest of Arden. The Spaniard, who is 37, has one of the best short games in Europe, possessing a truly magical touch around the greens. When he drives the ball well he contends.
South African Justin Harding has returned from the break looking like a man who is on a mission. Harding is a relatively late developer. He has always been a fantastic ball striker but struggled on the greens. He has no found a way around that, using a long putter to great effect. He finished third at the British Masters after a disappointing final round of 72.
He earned a place on the Sunshine Tour at the first attempt, finishing third at qualifying school in 2009 while still an amateur. He won a tournament in each of his first three seasons (2010, 2011 and 2012) and won again in 2015 and 2016 and twice in 2018, claiming the Indonesia Open on the Asian Tour and the Royal Cup in Thailand two weeks later. So there was never any doubt that he knew how to finish the job. But the 34-year-old finally announced his arrival in the big time when he landed the Qatar Masters by two strokes last year, and then finished second in the Kenya Open the next week - a result that took him into the world’s top 50 for the first time in his career. It gained him entry to The Masters, where he finished a tie for 12th place on debut, earning a return trip later this year.
Harding is a streaky player who, when he finds his best form, tends to keep it going for a few weeks, so back him to enjoy another good finish this week.
It is hard to believe that Rasmus Hojgaard is still only 19 years of age. At 18 years and 271 days old, he became the third youngest winner in European Tour history with a dramatic play-off triumph at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open in just his fifth European Tour start. The victory made him the fastest Dane to a European Tour title, beating 15 time European Tour winner Thomas Bjørn's record of 24 events.
He secured his card for the 2020 season at European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage, becoming the first player born in the 21st century to graduate from the Qualifying School. Hojgaard enjoyed a prolific amateur career, triumphing at the 2018 Eisenhower Trophy for Denmark alongside identical twin Nicolai and John Axelsen. The twin duo also represented Europe at The 2018 Junior Ryder Cup.
He very nearly picked up his second title at Close House, finishing second behind Renato Paratore.
And the Italian, who is brimming with confidence after winning the British Masters, is also in the field this week. Only 23 years of age, Paratore is a breath of fresh air renowned for the pace of his play. He claimed his maiden European Tour title at the age of 20 at the 2017 Nordea Masters. He is the third youngest player in history to earn a European Tour card through Qualifying School in 2014, aged just 17 years and 341 days.
Paratore took up golf, alongside his mother, at the age of eight after being inspired by a family friend and quickly discovered he had a natural talent, first shooting under par aged just 13. He enjoyed a brilliant amateur career in which he won the Men’s Individual Strokeplay Gold at the 2014 Youth Olympics, made two Junior Ryder Cup appearances for Europe and triumphed at the 2014 Portuguese Amateur Open.
Justin Harding. Ready to win again
Rasmus Højgaard. Old head on very young shoulders
Renato Paratore. Full of confidence
Justin Harding. Relatively late bloomer
Rasmus Højgaard. A superstar of the future
Renato Paratore. Plays refreshingly quickly
Pablo Larrazabal. Feisty Spaniard with a wondrous short game
Thomas Detry. Must make the big breakthrough soon
Matthew Southgate. Showing some fine form again
Jack Singh Brar. The best putter out there
Oliver Fisher. Capable of going really low
Callum Shinkwin. Hits the ball a mile
Paul Dunne. Still desperately looking to recapture his best form
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