Czech Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE Czech Masters returns after a two-year absence and time is running out for those who still harbour hopes of making Europe’s Ryder Cup team.
Thomas Pieters breathed a sigh of relief after ending his three-year wait for a fourth European Tour title by winning the tournament for the second time in five years in 2019.
Pieters took a one-shot lead into the final round at Albatross Golf Resort in Prague and carded a closing 69 to finish 19 under par, a shot ahead of playing partner Adri Arnaus, the Spanish rookie's third runners-up finish this season.
England's Sam Horsfield was two strokes further back alongside defending champion Andrea Pavan, who surged through the field with a final round of 65, the joint-lowest score of the day.
Pieters partnered Thomas Detry to victory in the World Cup in Melbourne in 2018 but had not won an individual event since 2016, the year he won a record four points on his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine.
"I'm relieved. It's been a long time," Pieters said. "It feels good to win again. I never doubted myself but it's just been a long road of not feeling that great with the golf swing. It feels good to get back on track again and get another win.
"It's difficult when everybody says you should be winning two or three times a year. It's always nice to hear that but it's almost a negative sometimes because I always felt like I was underachieving, but hopefully, there's many more like this.
"I felt like I was in control today, almost the whole day, and I kind of did my own thing."
Pieters held a four-shot lead after going to the turn in 33 and picking up a fifth birdie of the day on the 12th but saw his advantage halved when he bogeyed the 16th and Arnaus made birdie.
Arnaus also birdied the 18th to ensure Pieters could not relax entirely but the 27-year-old safely holed his par putt from two feet.
"I'm really happy I got it done," Pieters added. "What a great last three holes by Adri. Made that two-footer a bit nervy at the end.
"I'm pretty proud of myself the way I handled 15, I found myself in a really tough spot (after a wayward drive) and did the grown-up thing and took a drop and still made par. As I said the last two days I'm still learning.”
This year's field will feature Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, playing in the tournament for the first time. Stenson is enduring a miserable run of form. He missed the cut at both The Open and the US Open and his best performance of the year came at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, where he finished in a tie for 11th place. In 18 starts on the PGA Tour this season he has made the cut on just six occasions.
It is not the first time in his career that Stenson has struggled and he remains a beautiful ball striker, but his chance of making the European Ryder Cup team has surely gone.
European captain Padraig Harrington is in the field to run an eye over some of the contenders for his team.
Former Masters champion Danny Willett would dearly love to be part of that team. He played for Europe in the 2016 match and had a week to forget. It started with his brother, Peter, saying that "for the Americans to stand a chance of winning, they need their baying mob of imbeciles to caress their egos every step of the way”. Willett distanced himself from the controversy and apologised for his brother's comments although he later defended Peter’s remarks. In the event, he played three matches without earning a point. In the Friday afternoon fourballs he teamed up with Martin Kaymer, losing by 5 and 4 to Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka. On the Saturday, he paired with Lee Westwood but lost to JB Holmes and Ryan Moore, and he was thrashed 5&4 by Koepka in the singles. He would love the opportunity to put things right.
He has enjoyed some half decent form this year, with a couple of top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour. And he was 11th at the British Masters in May.
Willett has been dogged by injury since winning The Masters in 2016 but he is now fully fit. He started The Open Championship with rounds of 69 and 67 before eventually finishing in a tie for 33rd place. Willett has a happy knack of winning big tournaments. Apart from The Masters, he has also won the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2014, the Dubai Desert Classic in 2016, the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in 2018 and the BMW PGA Championship in 2019.
Sebastian Soderberg is due another big week. The Swede earned his only European Tour victory when he defeated Rory McIlroy, Kalle Samooja, Lorenzo Gagli and Andres Romero in a five-way play-off to win the 2019 Omega European Masters. He returned to the European Tour after finishing inside the top 15 of the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2018. His breakthrough win came at the Barclays Kenya Open in 2016, the same year the Swede qualified for the U.S. Open at Oakmont and came through Qualifying School to earn a debut season on the European Tour in 2017. He first picked up a club at the age of three and joined Partille Golfclub in Gothenburg at the age of seven. Soderberg won gold representing Sweden Boys at the European Boys Team Championship before spending four-and-a-half years studying at Coastal Carolina University. He has had a poor season but will be hoping to turn things around in Prague.
Local interest will centre on the performance of Ondrej Lieser, who last year became the first golfer from the Czech Republic to win on the Challenge Tour with victory at the Andalucía Challenge de Espana to become the first Czech golfer to earn full playing rights on the European Tour.
The event was won in 2015 and 2019 by Thomas Pieters, in 2016 by Paul Peterson, in 2017 by Haydn Porteous and in 2018 by Andrea Pavan.
Albatross Golf Resort in Prague is a bit of as monster, measuring 7,457 yards. It features two par fives that measure more than 600 yards. It features plenty of water, 65 bunkers and more than 1,200 trees.
Big-hitting South African Dean Burmester won the Tenerife Open in May and has enjoyed some decent performances on American soil. He is a quality player. Sam Horsfield won twice last year. He has struggled to rediscover that form this year but finished in a tie for sixth place at the recent Cazoo Open and was fifth at the BMW Open in June, so the signs are encouraging.
Danny Willett. Trying to get back on track
Players to Follow:
Danny Willett. Fit again
Dean Burmester. Brilliant short game
Sam Horsfield. Looking for some consistency
Outsiders to Watch:
Henrik Stenson. Not here to make up the numbers
Ondrej Lieser. Will be fascinating to see how he fares on home soil
Padraig Harrington. Has actually played some decent golf this year
Renato Paratore. Having a dreadful year but possesses a glorious golf swing
Darren Fichardt. Now a veteran but still capable of producing some big performances
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