The British Masters returned to the European Tour schedule last year with England’s Ian Poulter playing host at his home Woburn course and another Englishman, Matt Fitzpatrick, claiming victory.
This year, the English theme continues with Luke Donald hosting and the tournament switching to The Grove in Hertfordshire, a 20-minute train ride from central London.
If the name rings a distant bell, The Grove is very much on the golfing map after staging the 2006 WGC-American Express Championship won by Tiger Woods with 23-under. As an aside, it’s also where NFL teams stay when coming over to play in London.
That big event 10 years ago remains the only course form we have to go on and Tiger’s winning score suggests it was easy. However, it’s worth noting that it was eight shots back to Poulter and Adam Scott in T2. This week’s host Donald was T6 so the elite English players performed strongly.
The purse of 3m Euros is pretty hefty by European Tour standards so it’s another chance for gamers to make a move ahead of the Final Series which starts in Turkey in three weeks’ time.
English crowds love a sporting event and over 60,000 turned up at Woburn last time. The Grove’s proximity to London will help ensure packed galleries again.
The course – The Grove
In the words of your host Luke Donald: “It is a world class facility, a great hotel and I think all the players will really enjoy playing the golf course. The Grove is a parkland course, and it has some elevation changes. It is always presented in great condition. It has a really nice variety of some longer holes, and some drivable par fours. I think it will also be a fun course for the spectators.” The course is a par 71 measuring a shortish 7,121 yards and there is plenty of opportunity to get the driver out, especially on the front nine which has some wide fairways. The par 5s come at 2 (537 yards), 15 (559 yards) and 18 (567) and offer opportunities for eagle. It was designed by Kyle Philips.
Scores and stats for Top 5 in 2006 WGC-Amex Championship
-23 Tiger Woods (DD: 3, DA: 5, GIR: 1, Scr: 4, PA: 21, AA: 4)
-15 Ian Poulter (DD: 36, DA: 27, GIR: 8, Scr: 17, PA: 1, AA: 10)
-15 Adam Scott (DD: 6, DA: 40, GIR: 4, Scr: 1, PA: 10, AA: 1)
-14 Jim Furyk (DD: 48, DA: 3, GIR: 2, Scr: 11, PA: 8, AA: 11)
-13 Ernie Els (DD: 7, DA: 24, GIR: 12, Scr: 9, PA: 6, AA: 2)
Notes: Tiger hit over 90% of greens in regulation on the way to his eight-shot win! The top four were all in the top eight for GIR while the leading finishers scored highly for scrambling, putting and all-around. And the cream certainly rose to the top. That above list shows four major winners (although Scott wasn’t one at the time).
You can’t expect too much from English weather in October but temperatures in the 50s and perhaps even touching 60 on Sunday aren’t too bad. It’s mostly cloud in the forecast with the chance of some morning rain on both Thursday and Friday. It could get a little breezy on Thursday.
The Leading Contenders
Wiesberger started poorly in Scotland last week (73) but hit back with rounds of 66-69-67 to land at T7, his third straight top 10 on the European Tour after fifth at the European Open and second in the KLM. In England, he’s made the top 15 in two of his last four starts at Wentworth while his current position of 14th on the season-long greens in regulation stats suggests he should show up strongly again at The Grove.
With an opening 64 in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, it looked as if Noren was set to add to his brilliant record in Scotland. He faded although 68 at St. Andrews on Sunday secured a decent T11. South of the English/Scottish border his form isn’t quite as hot but he does have a couple of recent top 10s, T8 at Wentworth in 2015 and T9 in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham in 2012. With two wins and a second in his seven starts, he remains one of the Tour’s in-form players.
Following second places on his last two starts (European Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship), will it be third time lucky on his local English soil? Fisher has actually missed his last five cuts in England which comes as a surprise but, in theory, his first competitive action at The Grove should go well as his greens in regulation numbers are superb of late. Despite his poor recent record at home, he did win one of his five European Tour titles in England, that coming in the 2008 European Open at the London Club.
After his difficult Ryder Cup and fallout from the article his brother wrote, perhaps it was no surprise to see Willett miss the cut by a distance in last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He shot 73-73-76. Let’s not forget he’s the current Masters champion though and pre-Hazeltine was runner-up at the Italian Open. He also finished third on his last start on home English soil, that coming in the prestigious BMW Championship at Wentworth.
One thing worth nothing with Lowry is just how well he plays in front of packed crowds on British soil. Before following a 69 with a shocking 78 to miss the cut at Wentworth this year, Lowry’s form on English soil read: 2-6-9-9-2-12. He’s been off the boil since letting victory slip at the U.S. Open (where he was still second let’s not forget) but has been sparking back to life of late and took T18 in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship after a closing 66. He can build on that here.
One of the few Europeans to emerge from the Ryder Cup with his head held high, Wood could be an interesting prospect this week. Presuming that he’s taken the positives form his individual performance rather than the negatives of the overall team result, he’ll tee it up as the current champion of Wentworth after a superb win there in May. He was also T4 in the previous year’s BMW PGA Championship and T9 in this event at Woburn last year so Wood certainly thrives when playing in front of his home English crowds.
After showing bags of potential, Hatton finally got it done in his 83rd European Tour with a superb four-shot win in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Sunday. That hefty prize elevated him to fourth on the Race to Dubai and there should be plenty of wins to follow. It’s a lot to expect another big challenge here although T7 in this year’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth shows he can shine on English parkland layouts as well as Scottish links.
Poulter finished T33 as tournament host last year and, with all the distractions, it’s easy to envisage Donald having to settle for something similar. That said, he did finish T6 on this course at the 2006 WGC event and was fifth at Woburn last year. He’s also got a superb record at Wentworth so parkland courses in his homeland are a perfect fit. He’s been inconsistent in 2016 but does have second places at both The Heritage (April) and Wyndham Championship (August).
Having had to sit and watch the Ryder Cup through probably gritted teeth after not making the team this year, G-Mac will be extra keen to make sure he’s in the 12 next time. Following a slow start he recovered well to finish T15 in last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship although you’d have expected him to play well there. He didn’t take part in this event last year while a poor record at Wentworth could be viewed as a negative.
Big things were expected of the young Englishman in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week but he could never quite get in a blow on the leaders and finished T15. Nevertheless, his form now reads 15-13-7-10-49-16 over his last six starts so he’s close. Fleetwood fired 68-65 on the weekend at Woburn last year to finish T13 while T6 at Wentworth in 2015 is another parkland nod.
The Next Rung
The little Dane made it two top 10s in three starts after following a home-soil T8 at the Made in Denmark with T7 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. That’s six for the season now and the latest one has moved Kjeldsen into the top 20 on the Race to Dubai. Adding to those already obvious credentials is his second place in this event at Woburn 12 months ago. That also followed a top 10 in the Alfred Dunhill so the omens are good.
The flag-hunting Frenchman shot a pair of weekend 69s to finish T17 at Woburn last year and before MC in Scotland last week he’d got hot with a win at the European Open in Germany and T7 at the Italian Open. Also T12 at Wentworth in 2014, he’ll enjoy being able to thrash away with his driver and he tends to thrive when scoring is low.
The Dutchman should enjoy this parkland test after missing the cut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. That idea is supported by two good efforts at Wentworth in recent times (T11 2015, T12 2014) while he was also third in the 2014 Volvo World Match Play Championship held at the London Club. Luiten is 12th in GIR this season so this offers a good chance for him to shine again after his emotional home win at the KLM Open a month ago.
Westwood is one of the few leading contenders who contested the WGC-American Express Championship at The Grove in 2006 but he had a mixed week, shooting 71-66-73-72 to finish T32. There are positives to be found in his Wentworth form but what mental state is he in right now after his Ryder Cup flop and missed cut at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week where he ballooned to an 82 in round two?
Another of the defeated European Ryder Cup team, Sullivan skipped last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship so this is his first start since Hazeltine where he was one of four Euros to end up with zero points (from two matches). T20 in Italy before that, he should certainly feel much more in his comfort zone here and has some decent-ish form at Wentworth with 22-17-26 his last three knocks.
With all the top English players pegging it up this week, Bland could easily be forgotten. But the veteran has to be worth a look. T18 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship means he’s now connected five top 20s over the last two months and three of those were top 10s. He also cracked the top 15 in this event last year when T13 at Woburn. The win still eludes him but don’t be surprised to see him high on the leaderboard this week.
Since posting T20 at the European Open, Jaidee has returned to his native Asia to contest a couple of events and finished top 10 in both (T9 in the Shinhan Donghae Open in South Korea and T8 in the Indonesian Masters). The case for him doing well this week strengthens further when noting he was T9 at The Grove in the 2006 WGC event after closing with a 65 while more recently he was runner-up on English soil in the 2015 BMW PGA Championship.
The charismatic Englishman will attract plenty of crowds this week but hopefully for golfing reasons too after his missed cut at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship followed on from an early exit on the Web.com two weeks earlier. ‘Beef’ is a strong performer on parkland layouts (winner at Valderrama, T7 Wentworth) where his ability to hit lots of greens (20th in GIR this season) counts for plenty. He was also third in the recent European Masters in Germany so despite his recent dip some more good form could be just around the corner.
The defending champion played some brilliant golf to win at Woburn last year, that first (and only) European Tour win coming on the back of MC at the Alfred Dunhill. Take out his chastening experience in the Ryder Cup where he looked like a little boy lost and he has similar form on his return with another missed cut at the Alfred Dunhill but before that T16 and T7. This shortish parkland layout is ideal for him but how he’ll perform as a defending champion is guesswork.
After a pair of missed cuts following his second place at the Made in Denmark, Dredge has found a groove again with T13 in the European Open (R2 64) and T11 in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship where he signed off with a 67 at St. Andrews. As for form in England, you’d need to go back 11 years to find a top 10 (Wentworth 2005).
Howell enjoyed this home game in 2006, opening with a pair of 66s before taking T13. He posted third in the Czech Republic at the end of August but must be considered a risk here after pulling out of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week after just nine holes due to a niggling wrist injury.
Lagergren makes the trip south from Scotland on the back of a top four finish in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He did well enough at Wentworth (T37) earlier this year to suggest he might go well again on this very different test.
If Wentworth form really is a good pointer, Wattel’s T4 there in May could be significant. He kicked off with a 66 and eventually finished T22 in this event at Woburn last year while he cracked the top 20 in Scotland last week.
The Frenchman looks interesting when perusing his form on English soil. He’s finished T4 and T8 in the last two BMW PGA Championships at Wentworth and closed with 67-69-68 at Woburn to post T9 in last year’s British Masters. A top five in Switzerland last month adds to his appeal.
Hinting at better things again after T18 in the European Masters and T25 in last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He didn’t play this event at Woburn last year but he’s got some patches of form at Wentworth and can thrive when scoring is low.
Another of the home contingent, Fisher responded to the cheers last year when T9 at Woburn after wrapping up with a 65. Fourth in the Paul Lawrie and T28 or better in three of his last five starts, he’s capable of getting in the mix.
He opened with a 65 at Woburn last year before settling for T22 and is capable of big finishes. Current form is an obvious concern given that he’s missed four of his last five cuts and not had a top 20 since June.
One of the few in the field to have played at The Grove back in 2006 and he did pretty well, finishing T22 after shooting under par every day. His appeal makes a huge jump due to his win in a Challenge Tour event in Italy on Sunday while he also won this event when it was held at The Belfry in 2006.
After a mini-revival peaked with a third place in the Scottish Open, the Italian has gone off the boil again with four missed cuts in five. The highlight of his career came in England when he landed the 2013 BMW PGA Championship so there are a couple of pointers to a decent week.
Who’s On The Team?
The big names thrived at The Grove last time so I’ll keep that in mind.
I’ll reveal my full six-man line-up for the official European Tour fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
After Ryder Cup trauma and an 82 in Scotland last week, Lee Westwood won’t be on my team here.