Celtic Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE European Tour’s UK Swing heads to Wales for the first of two tournaments at Celtic Manor, kicking off with the Celtic Classic. We have now seen three tournaments come and go and anybody who put money on Renato Paratore, Sam Horsfield and Andy Sullivan winning those events will have seen a very healthy boost to their bank balance.
Celtic Manor has hosted the Welsh Open several times and, of course, was also the scene of Europe’s dramatic victory in a rain-drenched Ryder Cup when Colin Montgomerie’s team, inspired by Graeme McDowell, won the trophy.
The UK Swing runs from the Betfred British Masters until the UK Championship at The Belfry, from August 27-30. As part of the new Golf for Good initiative - which underpins all events for the remainder of the 2020 season - a mini order of merit will run for all six events in the UK Swing, with the top 10 sharing an additional £250,000 to donate to charities of their choice.
Additionally 10 spots in the 2020 U.S. Open Championship will be available for the highest placed finishers in the mini order of merit after the first five events. The USGA has confirmed that the top 10 aggregate points earners in the mini order of merit who are otherwise not exempt at the conclusion of the fifth event – the Wales Open at Celtic Manor - will be exempt for the rescheduled U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club on September 17-20.
The traditional U.S. Open sectional qualifying events, including the European qualifier at Walton Heath in June, were cancelled this season following the upheaval in the global golf calendar due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, with the field now comprised entirely of exempt players. It remains to be seen how many of those top 10 will decide to cross the Atlantic, knowing that they will have to go into quarantine before they can pick up their clubs in anger.
One player who seems certain to have to make that decision is Rasmus Hojgaard, the sensational 19 year old from Denmark. Ahead of the Celtic Classic he found himself in 3rd place in the Race to Dubai after finishing second at Close House, in a tie for sixth at the Forest of Arden, and 3rd at the English Championship. Remember, too, that he won the Mauritius Open back in December. He then lost his way a little but is now living up to all the hype. Make no mistake - Hojgaard is a genuine contender for Padraig Harrington's 2021 Ryder Cup team.
Alexander Levy had a miserable time of it last season, making just seven cuts in 25 starts. He is a much better player than that. Still only 30 years of age, he has already won five times on the European Tour and he used the lockdown as an opportunity to work on all parts of his game. He is a terrific ball striker who is capable of shooting some sensationally low scores but there hasn’t been much evidence of that lately. However, there were some hugely encouraging signs at the Hero Open at the Forest of Arden where, finally, he worked out where his putting stroke had been going wrong. He made some radical changes and started holing some putts.
It is surely only a matter of time before everything clicks back into place for the popular Frenchman.
Thomas Pieters will be among the favourites. The big Belgian is another with Ryder Cup aspirations. You will remember that he was the star of Europe’s team when they lost on US soil in 2016. He was expected to kick on after that performance but it hasn’t really happened. Nobody hits the ball better. Still only 28, this will be the four-time winner’s first appearance since the restart and it is always difficult to predict how the inactivity will have affected him.
He turned professional in 2013 and made his debut in the French Open, where he finished 29th. At the end of that year he came through qualifying school to win his tour card. It didn’t take long for him to make his mark, finishing second at the Open de Espana, sixth at the Russian Open and eighth at the Malaysian Open to comfortably retain his playing privileges. He started 2015 by finishing fourth at the Abu Dhabi Championship before with the Czech Masters and KLM Open in successive weeks, finishing the season in 29th place in the Race to Dubai.
In 2016 he was runner-up at the Abu Dhabi Championship and later that year represented Belgium at the Olympic Games, where he finished fourth. He was second in the Czech Masters and won the Made in Denmark, which convinced Darren Clarke to make him a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup.
Pieters' strong play continued in 2017. He opened the season with a tie for second at the Genesis Open in February. He rose to 29th in the world rankings and qualified for The Masters, where he finished fourth on his debut..His good play continued throughout the summer, finishing fourth at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
The following year he and Thomas Detry won the World Cup of Golf in Melbourne and last year he added the Czech Masters, becoming the first golfer to win the tournament twice. And now he needs to win again.
Thomas Pieters. World class
Andy Sullivan. Playing some great golf
Thomas Pieters. Ready for another victory
Andy Sullivan. Feisty character
Alexander Levy. Swing changes taking effect
Thorbjorn Olesen. Putting his off-course woes behind him
Justin Harding. Beautiful ball striker
Alexander Bjork. Finding his way back
Sam Horsfield. Brimming with confidence after first win
Lucas Bjerregard. Due another big week
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