After a two-week break, the European Tour returns in low-key style with the D+D Real Czech Masters in Prague.
However, as the PGA TOUR winds down, the action heats up on the other side of the pond over the next three months with five Rolex Series events including September’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
The Czech Masters first came on to the schedule in 2014 and all five previous champions line up this week.
Once more, Albatross Golf Club plays host so gamers have plenty of course form to peruse.
Previously, it’s been a key event in terms of Ryder Cup qualification but, as we’re in an odd-numbered year, that dynamic isn’t in play this time.
The Keith Preston-designed Albatross Golf Resort is a 7,467-yard parkland par 72 with the standard quota of four par 5s. The first of those comes at the opening hole while the other three are in a burst at 9, 10 and 12. They’re important; the first two winners topped the Par 5 scoring charts for the week while last year’s champion, Andrea Pavan, ranked second after playing them in 11-under. The Czech Federation told europeantour.com that, unlike previous years, no changes have been to the course for the 2019 edition.
Past Winners and Stats
2018 (-22) Andrea Pavan (DD 41st, DA 34th, GIR 6th, PA 1st)
2017 (-13) Haydn Porteous (DD 9th, DA 25th, GIR 2nd, PA 2nd)
2016 (-15) Paul Peterson (DD 40th, DA 3rd, GIR 1st, PA 2nd)
2015 (-20) Thomas Pieters (DD 1st, DA 27th, GIR 22nd, PA 1st)
2014 (-14) Jamie Donaldson (DD 23rd, DA 34th, GIR 2nd, PA 4th)
Notes: We’ve had a bomber (Pieters) and a plotter (Peterson) lift the trophy so the course doesn’t discriminate. All the winners have been in the top five for Putting Average while all but one ranked in the top six for GIR.
There's a little bit of rain in the forecast (Friday and Sunday) but sunshine is the dominant force and temps get hotter as the week goes on, hitting the mid-80s on Sunday. Winds look modest so expect low scoring.
Haydn Porteous (2018): “I think the golf course really suits me. It's quite long, some of the par fives are quite touch and go when it comes to going for them in two and I feel like I have the length advantage to get on those par fives in two. I think that's quite a big advantage on this course."
Lee Westwood (2018): “It’s not the most demanding course when the weather is like this (sunny), you need a bit of weather. It was pretty easy conditions out here and the greens are immaculate so you’re looking for a low score on the first morning as the scores suggest.”
Thomas Pieters (2018): “I love it. It really suits my eye off the tee and it's just a matter of making the putts.”
Matthew Fitzpatrick (2017): “It's interesting, the changes they've made. I think it makes it better. The par fives are less gettable to most people now because you can't just hit 20 yards short and get up and down because there is all water in play, which is really smart.”
The Leading Contenders
The Englishman was one of those in the mix for Ryder Cup qualification at this event last year and posted T9. That added to top fives in 2014 and 2017 along with T22 in 2015 so it’s a course where he consistently shines. Runner-up at the British Masters, third at Sawgrass and fourth at the Irish Open, Pepperell’s best gets big results although he was rather off the boil at The Open and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude with 71st and 51st respectively. Ranks 14th in Par 5 Scoring and 7th in Putts Per GIR.
Outside of the majors (where he made the cut in the last two), Wiesberger has been one of the European Tour’s leading lights with two wins (Made In Denmark and Scottish Open), a second (Irish Open) along with T8 and T16 in his last five appearances. Despite MC back in the inaugural edition – his only start at Albatross – another big performance is expected although will he make enough putts if scoring is really low? Sixth for GIR this season but 147th for Putts Per GIR.
Westwood’s light schedule could pay dividends over the closing months of the season and we last saw him cracking the top four in the Open Championship. He’s played this event for the last three years and posted 61-9-27 so it looks a good one for him. Still a superb striker of the ball and sits 5th for SG: Approach this season.
Since the start of March, the South African has accumulated nine top 20s in 14 starts, the latest T20 at Royal Portrush. That run includes a pair of second places in regular European Tour events at the Qatar Masters and Trophee Hassan II. T34 on his only start here two years ago, he offers plenty of fantasy appeal this week. 24th for Putts Per GIR.
Pieters is normally installed at the betting favorite for this event having won it in 2015 and finished runner-up in 2016 but not this time. He’s still up there and T9 last year (opening 64) was a reminder of his prowess at Albatross but, despite the usual flickers of his huge talent, the Belgian is without a top ten since March. This is an obvious place for him to get another but he remains probably the most frustrating player on the European Tour.
The Scottish rookie just keeps going from strength to strength. After finishing runner-up at the British Masters and following it with another second place two weeks later at the Made In Denmark, he took it up a notch with tied sixth in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush. He’s not played since and this is his tournament debut but MacIntyre is clearly on a roll.
Broke the 72-hole tournament record last year by shooting 22-under to edge out Padraig Harrington by two. That was his first European Tour win and he added another – again on mainland Europe – when taking June’s BMW International Open in Germany (-15). Since then he’s made the top four in the Scottish Open and popped over to the PGA TOUR to bag a top 25 at the Barracuda. A word of warning: he’s also missed four of his last seven cuts.
The big-hitting Malaysian really took to Albatross on his tournament debut 12 months ago, opening with 64 and eventually finishing in solo third. After some steady play from March to May, he really found his game with three top tens across June and July (Belgian Knockout, Andalucia Masters and Irish Open). They came under a variety of conditions so a first European Tour win doesn’t look far away.
Made the top six at Albatross last year, playing the par 5s in 10-under. That followed a top three in 2017 so he’s been a leaderboard regular at this event the last two years. After a dip in form, we last viewed Lewis finishing tied 11th in The Open at Royal Portrush so that could be a turning point as he looks for a repeat of his hot form over the last three months of the 2018 campaign.
After a delayed start to the season due to injury, the American made up for lost time with a run of 20-4-2-19 on his four events back from March to May. He’s been quiet since aside from a top 15 at Valderrrama. Suri shot contrasting rounds of 68-74-68-76 for T34 on his only start at Albatross in 2017 while that same year he won a Challenge Tour event in the Czech Republic so he’ll enjoy having his passport stamped again at the border.