Wales Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
IT IS six years since the Wales Open was last staged at Celtic Manor and was won by Joost Luiten of Holland in front of a large and passionate gallery. Much has happened since then. And here we are back at Celtic Manor for the second week on the spin as the UK Swing continues and, once again, there will, of course, be no spectators.
We have seen some astonishing golf since the European Tour returned, with a string of unlikely winners. A number of players have admitted that they find it all a bit of a struggle to perform to their best without spectators to feed off.
When Luiten won in 2014 he pipped Tommy Fleetwood in a tournament during which Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium struck a drive that was measured at 447 yards. In 2006, Phil Archer shot a 60 and five years later Elliot Saltman recorded two holes in one at the same hole.
The tournament has a troubled past. It struggled to attract Europe’s best players because it was played during the same week as The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, when players travelled to the United States to prepare for the US Open. Unsurprisingly, Sir Terry Matthews, owner of Celtic Manor and the man responsible for taking the Ryder Cup to Wales in 2010, was pretty unhappy. In 2014 he confirmed that the Wales Open of that year would be the last but vowed to bring top-level golf back to Celtic Manor.
The course began hosting the Wales Open in 2000 after agreeing a 15-year deal with the European Tour to show off its credentials prior to staging the Ryder Cup. It turned out to be a great venue, although Europe’s victory over the Americans was blighted by torrential rain.
Matthews is a passionate advocate of both Celtic Manor and promoting tourism in Wales and he will be thrilled to have two tournaments to once again showcase his magnificent venue. Back in 2014 he said: “We might not have the Wales Open here but that won’t stop golf being played here.” And vast amounts of money have been spent on accommodation and leisure facilities.
“I can’t tell you for sure what the next 10 to 15 years will hold, but that’s what we are working on. We are always working with the European Tour.”
After Denmark's Steen Tinning won the inaugural Wales Opening 2000, Paul McGinley won the second tournament the following year, helping him qualify for a Ryder Cup debut at The Belfry where he holed the winning putt. The Irishman went on to be involved in six of the past seven Ryder Cups as a player, vice-captain or skipper and won every one of them, culminating in his impeccable captaincy of Europe's latest victory at Gleneagles in 2014.
(Eddie Pepperell is Competing in Wales)
Paul Lawrie, Ian Poulter, Robert Karlsson and Miguel Angel Jiménez are among the other Ryder Cup stars to get their hands on the Wales Open trophy but the most dramatic tale belongs to Graeme McDowell. He secured his first tournament title for two years with weekend rounds of 64 and 63 in 2010, won the US Open on his very next start and then returned to Celtic Manor to clinch the winning point in the Ryder Cup four months later.
Other players to have lifted the handsome silver dragon trophy include England's Simon Khan, South African Richard Sterne, Frenchman Gregory Bourdy and current holder Dutchman Joost Luiten, who held his nerve to complete a dramatic one-shot victory over Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood.
Matthews will be praying for good weather, knowing that a large and eager TV audience will be tuning in. And he will be hoping for a classic Wales Open, even though, once again, most of Europe’s leading players are otherwise occupied.
After his heroics at the US PGA Championship, Haotong Li returns to the European Tour, hoping to continue his good play. He led after 36 holes at Harding Park but was unable to keep that great form going as the enormity of the task hit home. Li has a fabulous temperament and will have learnt much from his experience in America. Don’t forget that this is the man who shot a final round of 63 in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2017 when Jordan Spieth broke Matt Kuchar’s heart.
Look out for South Africa’s Brandon Stone, who has shown some fine form this summer without quite being able to finish the job off. Like Li, Stone is blessed with a fabulous temperament and should have won far more than the three titles he has to his credit. There is a feeling that he lacks self-belief, and it is difficult to understand why.
The tournament takes on added significance. It is the fifth since the restart and the top 10 in the mini order of merit during that time will qualify for next month’s US Open, so there really is all to play for this week.
Thomas Pieters. Hugely impressive
Eddie Pepperell. Still searching for some consistency
Thomas Pieters. Looking to get things back on track
Eddie Pepperell. An enigma
Nicolas Colsaerts. Still a fabulous ball striker
Brandon Stone. Is there a better swing on the European Tour?
Haotong Li. Produced some fireworks at Harding Park
Thorbjorn Olesen. Putting his woes behind him
Justin Harding. There or thereabouts every week
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