Dave Tindall

Across the Pond

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British Masters Preview

Monday, October 8, 2018


After being dormant since 2008, the British Masters returned to the European Tour schedule with much fanfare in 2015 when Sky Sports added their name to the event.

 

Ahead of the relaunch, organisers revealed that a quartet of England’s great Ryder Cup stars would rotate as the tournament host.

 

Ian Poulter was first to assume hosting duties at Woburn, Luke Donald stepped forward at The Grove while Lee Westwood got the gig for Close House last year.

 

This year the tournament returns to the south of England and one of the classic courses, Walton Heath. Your host? It’s the one and only Justin Rose. He's the betting favorite too.

 

Also on show at the iconic Surrey venue is golf’s hottest new double act, ‘Moliwood’, while joining Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood is another of Europe’s Paris heroes, Thorbjorn Olesen.

 

 

The Course

 

The Old Course at Walton Heath is one of the classic inland UK layouts and staged the 1981 Ryder Cup. The heathland track, once described by Jack Nicklaus as “wonderfully pure”, was designed by Herbert Fowler and can stretch to 7,406 yards although it’s listed a fraction under at 7,394 on the official European Tour website. The opening stretch is particularly tough and the heather-lined fairways punish errant drives while the bunkers are deep and penal so no indiscriminate bombing here. The middle third offers good scoring opportunities before a tough finish. The fast greens are large with subtle slopes while the springy turf offers bump and run options so there’s a links element here too. The par 72 features three par 5s and three par 3s.

 

Walton Heath is also the regular host course for 36-hole US Open International Sectional qualifying so it’s worth noting who came through and has recent happy memories. Note that they play 18 holes at the Old and 18 at the New.

 

2018 James Morrison, Andrew Johnston, Matthew Southgate, Richie Ramsay, Scott Gregory, Ryan Fox, Matt Wallace, Tom Lewis, Matthieu Pavon, Dean Burmester, Jason Scrivener, Thorbjorn Olesen, Kristoffer Reitan, Paul Waring.

 

2017 Aaron Rai, Hao Tong Li, Alexander Levy, Richie Ramsay, Joel Stalter, Oliver Bekker, Eddie Pepperell, Bradley Dredge, George Coetzee, Brandon Stone, Andrew Johnston, Thomas Aiken, Paul Dunne, Matt Wallace, Wade Ormsby.

 

2016 Gregory Bourdy, Mikael Lundberg, Lee Slattery, Gary Stal, Romain Wattel, Alex Noren, Matthew Baldwin, Andrew Johnston, Matteo Manassero, Peter Hanson, Maximilian Kieffer, Soren Hansen, Sebastian Soderberg.

 

Well, ‘Beef’ certainly likes it! That’s three straight years Johnston has gone to Walton Heath and punched his U.S. Open ticket.

 

British Masters recent results – top five and ties

 

2017 (Close House) Paul Dunne, Rory McIlroy, Robert Karlsson, David Lingmerth, Florian Fritsch, Graeme Storm

 

2016 (The Grove) Alex Noren, Bernd Wiesberger, Lee Westwood, Peter Hanson, Tommy Fleetwood, Graeme McDowell, Alexander Levy, Richard Bland

 

2015 (Woburn) Matt Fitzpatrick, Soren Kjeldsen, Shane Lowry, Fabrizio Zanotti, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Luke Donald, Marcus Fraser

 

Performance of host

 

2017 Lee Westwood T15

2016 Luke Donald MC

2015 Ian Poulter T33

 

 

Weather

 

We have rain in the forecast on both Thursday and Saturday although temps will be warmer than they were in Scotland last week. Not by lots though (mid 60s dropping to 61 on Sunday) and it could be quite windy during the first two rounds.

 

 

The Leading Contenders

 

Justin Rose

Last December, when Rose was revealed as host, he said: “Walton Heath is a golf course I really, really enjoy playing, in fact I love it. I went back to Walton Heath in the summer just to ensure I wanted to take the tournament there and I had forgotten how good a golf course it is. It has got teeth but it is traditional and hopefully the players will really enjoy it.” The Englishman had two wins and two defeats at the Ryder Cup and before that had scooped the $10m FedExCup jackpot after finishing 2-2-4 in the final three events. The only doubt would be that previous hosts have slightly struggled to piece it together for all four rounds but Rose could easily break the mould in his current form.

 

Francesco Molinari

These are extraordinary times for the Italian, who followed up his superb Open victory by winning an unheard of five points out of five at the Ryder Cup. And if he wanted things to get even better, this year’s British Masters just happens to be on Molinari’s Surrey doorstep. His incredible 2018 also includes a victory at Wentworth in this year’s BMW PGA Championship (runner-up there in 2017) so, with Rose slightly sidetracked by hosting duties, Molinari is perhaps the one they all have to beat.

 

Tommy Fleetwood

After his week to remember at the Ryder Cup, Fleetwood rode that high to take second place in last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. It means that starting with The Open in July he’s finished outside the top 25 in just one of his last nine starts. He’s finished T4 and T13 in his last two appearances in this event but couldn’t make it last year due to the birth of son Frankie. A fan of Walton Heath, Fleetwood should be expected to shine again.

 

Thorbjorn Olesen

After spanking Jordan Spieth in the Ryder Cup singles, Olesen opted so recharge the batteries rather than head to Scotland to try and win the Alfred Dunhill Links for a second time. That could be a smart move. The in-form London-based Dane will be able to sleep in his own bed this week and he came through qualifying at Walton Heath in 2016 to reach the U.S. Open so has plenty of positive vibes floating around him.

 

Matt Fitzpatrick

The Englishman scored a home win in this event at Woburn in 2015 and took T11 at Close House last year. He’s added to his reputation of playing well in front of local fans with T8 in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth back in May. A questionable links record suggested it was no great surprise he missed the cut in Scotland last week but let’s remember that a couple of weeks before the Ryder Cup the straight hitter had landed the European Masters in Switzerland. Walton Heath? He’s hard oozing confidence. “My experiences of Walton Heath have been a mixed bag, I wouldn’t say I have too much good form around there, apart from a good practice round once!”

 

Shane Lowry

The Irishman will be happy to see the tournament head to Walton Heath as he led U.S. Open qualifying here in 2014, shooting 69-67. Owner of a great record on English soil, he’s had six top 15s at Wentworth and in this event was runner-up at Woburn in 2015 and T7 at Close House last year. He didn’t make the cut in Scotland last week but prior to that was T6 in Portugal while August saw him post T12 at the PGA Championship.

 

Lucas Bjerregaard

After seven top tens in his previous 13 starts, the Dane struck a blow for #Currentform over #Courseform when shaking off three previous missed cuts to catch a tiring Tyrrell Hatton and capture the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland. The victory moved him into the top ten on the Race to Dubai. Adding to his appeal here is tied third at Wentworth earlier this year, T8 in this event at Close House in 2017 after connecting four 67s and successful U.S. Open qualifications at Walton Heath in 2014 and 2015 (T5).

 

Eddie Pepperell

The local man shot 67-66 at Walton Heath to qualify in tied fifth place at the U.S. Open regional qualifier in 2017 and also made it through here in 2013 so clearly enjoys this venue. He didn’t have his best stuff in Scotland last week (T44) but prior to that had posted two second places and three further top tens in a hot run from July to September. British Masters form of 33-22-MC.

 

Charl Schwartzel

The 2011 Masters champ has two recent top tens on the European Tour – T9 at the European Open in Germany and T8 at the European Masters in Switzerland – and let’s not forget that he was runner-up at Sawgrass earlier this year. He’s not played much golf in England recently and this is his tournament debut but T7 in the 2014 Open at Hoylake was a good effort and, at his best, he’d be a strong title contender this week.

 

Matt Wallace

A three-time winner in 2018, Wallace shared the first-round lead at the Alfred Dunhill Links before fading to T28 at the finish. The latest of his victories came in Denmark last month so confidence remains high and he’s got some impressive Walton Heath form too. The Englishman qualified for the U.S. Open in T7 this year and in T12 in 2017, shooting a combined 16-under over those four rounds at the Surrey venue.


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Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky Sports.com in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on tindall_david@hotmail.com and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.
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