Step forward 23-time European Tour winner Lee Westwood, who welcomes a mouthwatering field to Close House in Northumberland.
The last two winners of the event, Matt Fitzpatrick and Alex Noren, also head to Close House and the talent doesn’t stop there.
Poulter finished T33 as host at Woburn while Donald missed the cut at The Grove so Westwood will have to try and prove that a title bid is possible despite all the extracurricular activities.
The tournament itself was founded in 1946, with Bob Charles the first winner when it became a European Tour event in 1972.
The event disappeared off the schedule from 2009 to 2014 before returning at Woburn two years ago.
Sky Sports helped bring the tournament back to life in 2015 and their innovations include some players wearing live microphones for on-course interviews.
Top Fives last two years
Close House’s Colt Course was opened in 2011 and immediately was voted one of the top 100 courses in the UK. The Scott Macpherson design is a parkland track measuring 6,906 yards with a par of 70. It’s quite undulating and can be extremely hilly in parts. The two par 5s measure just 497 yards (6th) and 540 yards (13th) while the layout closes with a testing 221-yard par 3. There are five par 4s under 400 yards so birdie opportunities abound. Westwood offers a http://closehouse.com/golf/lee-westwoods-guide-to-the-colt/>1-18 guide> here.
Northern England at this time of year isn’t exactly tropical and there could be steady rain on both Thursday and Friday and also some more wet stuff Sunday. The inland location helps keep winds to a modest level and expected temperatures look pretty fair for this time of year, hovering around 60 degrees and a little warmer than that on Thursday.
The Leading Contenders
A real coup for Westwood to get McIlroy here, especially with Rory still struggling for fitness. That’s revealed itself in some lacklustre play in the three FedExCup Playoff events he played (34-MC-58). The Northern Irishman has two wins and a top four (this summer’s Open Championship) on his last four starts in England but do we just disregard that and focus on his current ailments? His health issues can’t be ignored so he has to be ranked as a risky play.
The only player flying in from the TOUR Championship where he finished 66-68-67 for T10 and ranked 2nd for both Driving Accuracy and GIR. Sergio was also T12 at the BMW with four rounds in the 60s so is finding some sharpness again. His only starts in this event were back in the late 1990s (T12 at the Forest of Arden in 1998). Garcia should like the course and he has lots of good form in England, including second place in the 2014 Open at Hoylake.
The defending champion, who shot 67-65-65-69 to win at The Grove last year. On Noren’s next trip to England he closed with a sensational 62 to capture May’s prestigious BMW PGA Championship and he followed that with a top six at Royal Birkdale in this summer’s Open so his country form is 6-1-1. He’s not played much in recent times but did put up a bold defense of last month’s European Masters in Switzerland (T6) so that has to bode well for this week.
The Austrian finished runner-up to Noren at The Grove last year so will have plenty of positive mental associations with this event. A winner in China back in April, Wiesberger suffered a dip in the summer but bounced back with T9 in the Swiss mountains last time. Notably, he was back to doing what he does best, hitting lots of greens, and his GIR figures of 86.1% (ranked 1st) were exceptional. If the putts drop, he’ll expect to be in contention.
Westwood will know the course better than anyone but the smart money says all the added hosting duties will take a toll – just as they did with Poulter (T33) and Donald (MC) the last two years. The Englishman is a social being so this week is probably more about putting on a good show and enjoying the buzz off the course rather than focusing on his golf. If you don’t believe any of that, his third place at the KLM Open two weeks ago and third place at this event last year suggests he’s a strong candidate!
The youngster needed no persuading to take part given that this tournament was the scene of his first European Tour win when he scored a two-shot victory at Woburn in 2015. He now has four victories at this level, the latest coming on his very latest start at the European Masters in Switzerland earlier this month. The course should suit and this time he won’t have the added pressures of being defending champion (T49 when trying to follow up at The Grove last year).
Lowry has always admitted that he loves playing in front of big UK crowds and his record shows it with six top 10s in his last nine starts on English soil. That run includes finishing runner-up in this event at Woburn in 2015. The Irishman won’t mind the iffy weather forecast and he’s fired a 64 in each of his last two events, T7 at the Wyndham Championship and T29 in last week’s Portugal Masters where he ranked 1st for greens in regulation.
Lee Westwood and Luke Donald have had top fives in this event at their fellow hosts’ tournaments so perhaps it’s Poulter’s turn to enjoy himself playing away from his home venue. He’s had some big weeks this year (runner-up PLAYERS, 3rd Canada, T9 Scottish Open) and was also a leaderboard presence before finishing T14 at Royal Birkdale on his last trip to England. Made it through three stages of the FedEx Cup Playoffs where his last six rounds were 69-66-69-69-70-69.
After a stellar 2017, the local hero found it tough to meets the wild expectations at his home course, Royal Birkdale, before battling back for T27 in The Open. Fleetwood has gone a little quiet since winning the French Open in July but in this event he boasts a T13 (Woburn, 2015) and a T4 (The Grove, 2016). MC in Switzerland last time was hopefully a blip but note that his own website doesn’t have this event on his schedule so he could be a non-runner.
Emerged from a slump to finish tied third at the European Masters last time and now he gets a home game to try and continue his good play. Hatton has done well in this event the last two years with T13 at Woburn in 2013 and T9 at The Grove last year. He also posted T7 in the 2016 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth so has a habit of playing well in front of his own fans. He’ll hope that continues in northern England as well as it has in his native south.
The Next Rung
The European Tour’s best blogger is now one of its most in-form players. So far in September, Pepperell has finished T5 at the Czech Masters, T3 at the KLM Open and T3 at the Portugal Masters to rise to 54th on the Race to Dubai. He’s 36-under for his last 12 rounds. T33 in the 2015 British Masters and T22 last year, everything looks in place for him to keep that upward trend going.
Another of the home contingent and he boasts an eye-catching record on his own turf with a win (2016 BMW PGA Championship) and just one finish outside the top 25 in eight starts in England. The Ryder Cup star is 35th on this year’s Race to Dubai after cashing in 13 of his 17 starts and banked a third top 10 of the season with T9 on his latest start (KLM Open) after closing with a 65. Lots to like.
Despite a home win at the European Open at the London Club in 2008, Fisher’s form in England went through a bizarre slump with seven missed cuts in nine appearances from 2011 to this event in 2015. He’ll hope T9 at Wentworth in May has got him back on track location-wise and T31 at the recent KLM Open has turned his fortunes form-wise after back-to-back missed cuts. Fisher was superb from March through July with six top 10s and he’d be a title contender with a repeat of that form.
You’d have thought a first decent finish at Augusta National would have inspired Kaymer. Instead, he hasn’t even managed a top 30 since that T16 at The Masters and the dry patch now spans 10 tournaments. Kaymer has five top 20s in his last 10 starts in England and was just outside that when T21 on his last appearance in this event way back in 2007 at The Belfry.
The Scot missed the cut at this event last year but he’ll arrive at Close House – a short hop from his native Scotland – showing some of his most consistent form in years. Sparked by a second place at the Irish Open in July, Ramsay hasn’t delivered worse than T35 in his last seven starts and finished well to take T25 in the KLM Open. He’s hitting lots of greens and his good run includes T22 at Royal Birkdale on his last trip to England.
The South African really has his irons dialled in and that’s contributed to him being high on the leaderboard all week in the last two events. Coetzee took third place at the KLM Open and opened with 64 before posting T7 at Sunday’s Portugal Masters. With no course form to go on, current form increases in importance so he’s well worth a look. Didn’t make the cut at The Grove last year.
The doubts over Sullivan’s recent form increased after a third straight missed cut in Portugal last week. What’s more, his halfway exit came at a course where he’d finished first and second the previous two years. As an Englishman, he’ll have his usual strong support and he’s cashed on his last seven starts on home turf. However, T17 is his best result during that run.
The European Tour’s latest winner after shooting a pair of 65s on the way to victory in Portugal on Sunday. That followed T9 in Switzerland so his confidence is sky high. The bad news, although the good surely outweighs it, is that the Dane has played six events in England and missed the cut in all of them. That includes early trunk slamming at this event in both 2015 and 2016 although a new course will help him wipe the slate clean.
The US-based Scot stays in Europe to make his 12th start of the ET season. On these shores, he’s rather struggled to adjust back (MC at BMW PGA Championship, Scottish Open and Open de France) but T34 in Portugal last week was a step in the right direction and let’s not forget his T5 at Firestone. Given the location, he’ll have plenty of support from those crossing the nearby Scottish border.
If still not kicking himself for his spectacular collapse at the KLM Open when leading with five to play before finishing T9, the Thai must fancy his chances here given that his event form reads T5 and T12. MC in Portugal last week was a predictable hangover to events in The Netherlands.
It’s been feast or famine of late for the attacking Frenchman with three missed cuts (latest at European Masters on his only September start) and a should-have-won second place at the European Open in Germany. He’s enjoyed this event the last two years with T17 at Woburn at T4 at The Grove and he has plenty of big weeks so always offers good upside.
Extremely surprising to see the Englishman at a three-figure price with the bookies after his recent exploits which include a breakthrough win at the European Open in July followed by T9 at Quail Hollow in his first start in a major. T60 and MC in very latest starts but too talented to be quiet for long.
A winner of the Volvo World Match Play in England in 2014 and also T12 at this event 12 months ago. Recent form strong too with 8-17-5-25.
Storm was born and raised in nearby Hartlepool (40 miles away from Close House) and was at the course last week to help promote the event. A wrist injury had hampered him through the summer but he bounced back in style with T3 in Portugal last week. T6 at Wentworth on his last start in England.
Another local from the north-east of England so knows the area well. The chance to impress his home galleries comes at a perfect time given a run of 5-3-MC-12 in his last four starts, the T12 coming in Portugal last week.
Form horse. A run of four top 20s, three of those top 10s, was finally ended in Portugal last week but he still managed a 68 and two 69s there. Superb greens in regulation figures of late and has event form too with T12 and T22 at the last two British Masters.
Sticking with the English players, Lewis has a T3 (Czech Masters) and a T20 (European Masters) in his last four starts and shot three rounds in the 60s for T39 in Portugal on Sunday. Famously led the 2011 Open when an amateur at Royal St. George’s in southern England.
Third in his home Open de France, T9 at the Czech Masters and T30 in the European Masters on his most recent outing. Also cracked the top five in this event at Woburn two years ago.
A winner on his last start (KLM Open) and yet already being written off. Wisely took a rest last week and top four at Wentworth in England last year suggests he could be a bargain for gamers.
Who’s On The Team?
A big decision needs to be made on Rory and perhaps a flat week would be less surprising than a top three.
And what of Lee Westwood? I’m veering towards leaving him out given his hosting duties.
Sergio looks a more reliable play after some decent performances in America in the last two weeks while Chris Wood will get a place on my team.
I’ll reveal my six-man line-up for the official European Tour Fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
McIlroy and Westwood are possibles for those brave enough but I’m definitely not keen on Martin Kaymer after his sustained run of average results.