After an absence of seven years, the British Masters supported by Sky Sports returns to the European Tour schedule this week.
The venue – Woburn Golf Club in the south of England – is extremely well known to golf British golf fans. It’s the home course of Ian Poulter and the Ryder Cup star will be acting as tournament host.
The thirst for live golf is huge in England and the first round of the $3m event has been sold out for some time.
As well as Poulter, the tournament will welcome fellow high-profile home stars Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, both former World No. 1s. Five major winners – Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Paul Lawrie and YE Yang – also line up along with seven of the European team who took victory in the last Ryder Cup.
First played in 1946, the British Masters trophy is engraved with many star names, including Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Lee Trevino, Bobby Locke and Peter Thomson.
Tony Jacklin’s hole-in-one at Royal St George’s in the 1967 British Masters was the first live ace to be shown on British television.
This will be its 17th visit to Woburn Golf Club. The last edition held there was the 2002 event won by Justin Rose.
Firstly, note that there are three courses at Woburn and two of them – The Dukes and The Marquess – have hosted this tournament. This week they’re on the Marquess (opened in 2000) where Justin Rose was the last winner in 2002. That said, both layouts have similar traits – tree-lined the most obvious shared attribute – and plenty of players have good records on both. Long and straight driving is a big asset with the tight fairways framed by so many trees and taking your medicine is often the only solution with the pines, birches and chestnuts so densely packed. The fairways are usually immaculate and the greens true on this parkland layout in Buckinghamshire which is located about 40 miles north of London. It’s an undulating par 72 and measures 7,214 yards.
Past champions/winning scores and top 5 finishers at Woburn
2015 form: The Marquess course staged Open qualifying earlier this year. The three who made it through were Paul Dunne (70-65), Robert Dinwiddie (70-68) and Retief Goosen (67-72). Dunne takes part this week while Dinwiddie is currently sixth reserve at time of writing (2pm UK time, Tuesday)
2011: The Marquess also staged the 2011 English amateur. The one name that leaps out is Tyrrell Hatton, who reached the semi-finals.
Plenty of rain in the build-up will soften the Marquess course but, as if on cue, the sun is due to peak through the clouds on Thursday morning. More sunshine is predicted for Friday but it’ll probably be a cloudy and overcast weekend. Temperatures are modest and will settle around the mid 50s.
The Leading Contenders
After a break, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational winner hit back from an opening 74 at the Alfred Dunhill Links last week to finish T19 after carding 69-66-67 over the final 54 holes. The Irishman loves Wentworth – another tree-lined course in the south of England – and has an excellent record on English soil as a whole (top 10s on his last four starts and only one finish worse than T12 in his last seven). That suggests his debut at Woburn will be a successful one.
The tournament host will have plenty on his plate but Poulter loves the buzz and will likely thrive in the role. As this is his local club, he’ll have a big edge in terms of course knowledge and the not overly-long tree-lined track certainly plays to his strengths. It proved that way when he was runner-up to Justin Rose on the Marquess in 2002 while he’s also finished second in this event at the Forest of Arden (2003) and The Belfry (2007). The worry is current form. He’s missed two cuts and not finished better than T33 in his last four starts although he was T17 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational prior to that. Ahead of this week, Poulter told Europeantour.com: “I remember following Seve round the course in 1991, and managing to get his golf ball. When you look at the names who have won this title, they are some of the biggest names in European golf. It’d be an absolute honour to join them.”
The course looks a great fit for the London-based Molinari, who won’t have far to travel. His accurate tee-to-green play stood him in great stead at his other ‘local’ event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, and he had a great chance to win that tournament before eventually settling for T5. Molinari shook off the rust with a T20 in his home Italian Open a few weeks ago so could be ready to peak for this. His last four strokeplay finishes in England read: 5-15-7-9.
After back trouble, the Welshman has found his form again with a T5 in the Porsche European Open and a T13 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the last fortnight. His latest greens in regulation figures are good so Donaldson just needs some putts to drop. He’s 4-for-5 in this event and was T60 on the Marquess way back in 2002. “I really like Woburn as a course, it’s great,” he told Europeantour.com. “It’s tree-lined, tight, and a traditional British course.”
It’ll be a tournament debut for Willett but he’ll be a popular pick on his home English soil. It didn’t really work out for him in Scotland last week when T52 but he was third in the Italian Open before that and he remains second on the Race To Dubai behind Rory McIlroy. Many gamers will make him an automatic pick but his 165th place ranking in the season-long Driving Accuracy stats would be a cause for concern on this layout.
It’s pretty clear that G-Mac is coming back to form after a difficult season. He’s shot 70 or lower in each of his last eight rounds and they’ve helped him finish T36 at the Porsche European Open in Germany and T19 in last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links. He was 19th for Driving Accuracy in Scotland and hit over 80% of greens in regulation so he’s very much trending in the right direction. “I’ve not been to Woburn in about ten years so it is exciting to be back and we are all behind the return of the British Masters. Woburn is a great traditional, tree-lined course.”
That’s better Tommy. After losing his way since a T10 at the Scottish Open in July, a return to the ‘home of golf’ helped Fleetwood get back on track as he posted a pair of weekend 67s to finish T13 in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Sunday. Give his youth, he’s not played in the event before but a T6 at Wentworth in May’s BMW PGA Championship could prove a good pointer.
This will be Donald’s first competitive start at Woburn and also his tournament debut. As a two-time winner of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, a tree-lined track fairly near his birthplace is bound to suit him so expect Donald to show up strongly despite his rather unexpected missed cut in Scotland last week. He did shoot under par in all three rounds at the Alfred Dunhill Links so there wasn’t too much wrong.
The straight-hitting Dane should find the tight, tree-lined Marquess course at Woburn to his liking and his impressive form this season shows no signs of abating. Back-to-back T9s at the European Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship made it six top 10s since May and he’s up to 13th in the Race To Dubai. The veteran missed the cut on the Marquess 14 years ago but overall he’s 9-for-10 in this tournament with a best of T4 at The Belfry in 2007.
Westwood won this event at The Belfry in 2007 and was runner-up at the same venue in 2008 but his disappointing season continued with a missed cut at last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland. Can a return to his native soil provide a spark? The Englishman was fourth on the Dukes course in the 1999 event and T8 on the Marquess in 2001 so he’s enjoyed previous trips to Woburn. Long and straight driving used to be Westwood’s big strength but his whole game is lacking sharpness at the moment.
The Next Rung
The towering Englishman enjoyed another good result on the links last week, carding a pair of weekend 65s to fly through the field and finish fourth. That hot finish in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship halted a run of three missed cuts while it’s worth noting he also cracked the top five in his last home game – T4 in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
The former U.S. Amateur champ is 9th in Driving Accuracy this season and that should give him an immediate advantage on these narrow fairways. Before last week’s missed cut in Scotland, he’d posted a second and two top threes in his five previous strokeplay starts so he has strong credentials in an event played on his home English turf.
Middle rounds of 68-67 put the Frenchman in good position for a decent cheque at last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links but he stalled with a Sunday 72. Still, he’s now missed just two cuts in his last nine events and admits that a busier schedule in the second half of this season has helped him find some rhythm. His sometimes wild hitting could hold him back at this week’s venue however.
He’s a two-time runner-up in this event and the first of those was on the Marquess course at Woburn in 2001 so he likes this week’s track even though that result was 14 years ago. The Englishman has six worldwide top 10s since April but two missed cuts in the last two weeks obviously lessen his appeal.
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Tree-lined, parkland courses in England are right up the Spaniard’s alley and in his last two starts on such layouts he’s finished runner-up in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and T4 in the Senior British Open at Sunningdale. The 51-year-old has played in this event seven times (none at Woburn) and made the top four twice. As for latest form at his level, he took T36 at the European Open and T11 at the Open de Italia.
The Scot is 17th on the Race To Dubai and still on track to crack the top 30 for the first time in his career. He didn’t light it up in his native Scotland last week when T38 but he’s capable of making everything click on any given week. Warren is making his debut at Woburn but top 20s, including a second place in 2013, in his last three starts at Wentworth suggest he can have a big week.
If Wentworth form proves an accurate guide, An will be a hugely popular pick this week. Back in May, he blasted away a top-class field in the BMW PGA Championship, topping the greens in regulation stats in a six-shot win. He didn’t make the cut in Scotland last week but before that had finished in the top 20 in the Porsche European Open and won an event in his native Korea. Currently 11th on the Race To Dubai.
We’ve seen plenty of examples of recent winners staying hot on their very next start but those links courses on which the Dane took victory in Scotland last week are wildly different to the examination paper being set by Woburn. Olesen won the Alfred Dunhill Links on Sunday despite finishing 130th in Driving Accuracy. He won’t be able to get away with that on the Marquess so, despite his obvious class and sky-high confidence, he’s a risky play.
The Dutchman has finished T12 and T11 in the last two runnings of the BMW PGA Championship at nearby Wentworth so plays well on tree-lined parkland tracks in England. His only start in this event came in the 2008 edition at The Belfry when he crashed out at halfway but he’s a much improved player since then even though his latest form isn’t as sharp as he’d want. A missed cut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship was a surprise.
After landing his first European Tour win at the Czech Masters and following it up with another on his very next start at the KLM Open, Pieters came back down to earth with a missed cut in Scotland last week. It’s reasonable to ignore the latter but logic says this isn’t a great venue for him to shine again. He hits it a mile but his 213rd place in the Driving Accuracy stats suggests he’ll spend a lot of time ball-hunting in the trees.
One of the younger English brigade, Hatton has enjoyed a fine season and sits 34th on the Race To Dubai after five top 10s. He also posted T25 on his PGA Championship debut although since then he’s cooled with missed cuts at the KLM Open and last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He’s 3-for-4 in European/Challenge Tour events in England but, more notably, played in the English amateur at Woburn in 2011 and, on the this week’s Marquess course, reached the semi-finals.
Like Pieters, recent Open de Italia winner Karlberg is an in-form player who hits it long (36th in DD) rather than straight (165th in DA). That suggests he could find Woburn a tricky proposition. The Swede didn’t make it to the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links but had made the top 15 in five of his previous six starts so he can play well on different courses.
His uncle Bernard won this tournament back-to-back in the mid-70s and Stephen almost put the Gallacher name on the trophy for the third time when runner-up at The Belfry in 2006. The Scot’s first four appearances were all at Woburn (two on each course) but he struggled, posting 55-MC-MC-67. His putter remains cold but his iron play was much sharper in Scotland last week where he posted T19 in the Alfred Dunhill Links – his first top 25 since June.
The Spaniard looks an interesting option outside of the big names. He’s had plenty of success on tree-lined courses – top 10s in two of the last three BMW PGA Championships – and his 26th place in the current Driving Accuracy stats points to more success at Woburn. But for a closing 75 in Scotland on Sunday, he’d be heading to England on the back of five straight top 25s.
The Irishman made his pro debut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week and was third at halfway before eventually posting T19. He’s an even more interesting proposition this week given that he’s qualified for The Open for each of the last two years by winning the qualifier on the Marquess course at Woburn. Interviewed on Sky on Monday afternoon, Dunne admitted that parkland tests were his favourite form of golf.
Who’s On The Team?
The Italian has the perfect game for this sort of golf and he should be challenging for the trophy.
I’ll add a third page to this preview on Tuesday, listing my full 10 picks for the European Tour Fantasy game.
One To Swerve
Thomas Pieters is outside the top 200 in Driving Accuracy. The expected dip (MC at Alfred Dunhill Links) after his burst of two wins could well continue.
2015 Fantasy Race to Dubai
Dave Tindall is our newest contributor, but he’s been a fixture in Europe. In addition to his weekly previews of European Tour events on Mondays, he’ll share his selections and analysis for the Fantasy Race to Dubai at EuropeanTour.com.
Pick 10 golfers. Players accumulate points based on Race to Dubai (R2D) points earned. Star player’s points are doubled. Unlimited team changes and unlimited star player changes are available each week.
A disappointing combined performance (4 big names missed the cut and star player Martin Kaymer didn’t perform well) meant a drop of 293 spots. Current position: 1,627.
Team Tindall (Team name: YESSIR!)
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Star Player: Franco Molinari
That Marquess course at Woburn looks a great fit for his strong tee-to-green game. Narrowly gets the nod over Lowry.
- Shane Lowry: Firestone winner back on it with T19 at Dunhill last week. Superb record in England.
- Ian Poulter: Likely to thrive off the buzz of being tournament host and playing on home course.
- Graeme McDowell: Coming back to form. Should enjoy this test at Woburn.
- Luke Donald: Double winner at Wentworth and is a big fan of tree-lined layouts on home soil.
- Soren Kjeldsen: The Dane’s impressive season continues; can plot his way to another top 10.
- Matt Fitzpatrick: Straight hitting will serve him well on Marquess course. Three recent top 3s.
- Miguel Angel Jimenez: Can still be a big player when guile is needed. Capable of title push.
- Alejandro Canizares: Loves tree-lined courses (two top 10s at Wentworth) and in solid form.
- Tyrrell Hatton: Semi-finalist in 2011 English Amateur on this course. 34th on Race To Dubai.