The European Tour moves from Austria to England for the first of six events in the UK. Read Steve's preview of the British Masters ahead of Wednesday's start here...
"Nacho Elvira, at [180.0], was my idea of the best bet this week given he finished tied 11th in 2017 having opened up with a round of 70 that saw him sit tied for 70th."
The British Masters was first staged in 1946, when originally known as the Dunlop Masters. There was no edition in 1984 and the event was lost from the schedule altogether after Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano won at the Belfry in 2008 but with the help of Sky Sports, it made a successful and very welcome return to the schedule in 2015 when Ian Poulter hosted the event at Woburn.
Since then, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood have all hosted and this year we return to Close House in Northumberland (the 2017 venue) as Westwood takes his second stint around his local course.
Having different players hosting the tournament and having the tournament moving around from course to course has revived and reinvigorated what is now an eagerly awaited event and it's great to have it as the first of six tournaments in-a-row in England and Wales known as the "UK Swing".
Just like the Euram Bank Open in Austria last week, the British Masters starts on Wednesday, so don't get caught out.
The Lee Westwood Colt Course, Close House, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Par 71, 6,872 yards
Designed by Scott Macpherson, and opened in 2011, the Colt Course was the first Macpherson design to feature on the European Tour when it hosted this event in 2017.
Described as an undulating parkland course, it's not very long and after Paul Dunne knocked it round in 61 on Sunday, to amass a 20-under-par winning score, I suspect we'll see some very low scores again this year.
The course was also used on the Senior Tour back in 2015 for the ISPS Hand PGA Seniors Championship and it's also been used on the Europro Tour a couple of times. Here's the leaderboard for the Tree of Life Championship in 2015, won by Marcus Armitage, and here's the Lookers Championship leaderboard, which was won by Ireland's Gavin Moynihan.
The yardage is slightly different this year and there are two new tee boxes on the seventh hole, which this year plays as a par five instead of a par four. As per usual, there's no info on the European Tour website but I managed to grab a conversation with a member of the green staff who kindly informed of the following.
"There's less rough this time around. With no spectators the Tour doesn't want players looking for balls if they hit them in the rough so to make up for the lack of spotters we have thinned it out a little.
"The rough is a lot nicer this year. Way more wispy than previous years."
Please see below for a flyover of the Colt Course.
Live on Sky Sports form midday on Wednesday.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Marcus Kinhult -16 [370.0]
2018 - Eddie Pepperell -9 [42.0]
2017 - Paul Dunne -20 [70.0]
2016 - Alex Noren -18 [23.0]
2015 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -15 [40.0]
What Will it Take to Win the British Masters?
When Paul Dunne won here three years ago, he spoke about how much room there was off the tee and how much that helped him. He ranked only 42nd for Driving Accuracy and although Graeme Storm, who finished tied fourth, ranked second for that stat, Rory McIlroy finished runner-up ranking 51st and Florian Fritsch finished alongside Storm ranking 56th.
On such a short layout, Driving Distance was an irrelevant stat too. McIlroy ranked fifth but the other five players to finish inside the top-six ranked 14th (Dunne), 34th, 39th, 50th and 51st. What you do off the tee here appears to matter not.
Storm and McIlroy ranked sixth and eighth for Greens In Regulation but David Lingmerth (tied fourth) ranked only 46th and Dunne only ranked 32nd. Dunne won the event courtesy of his touch around the greens and he putted well really well too. He ranked number one for Scrambling and fourth for Putting Average.
Is There an Angle In?
I felt last week that an appearance the week before would be beneficial and that proved to be the case with the first five at the Euram Bank Open all having started at the Austrian Open the week before.
The winner, Joel Stalter, had contended at the Austrian Open (eventually finishing tied for 15th) but the runner-up, Richard Mansell, and two of the three to finish tied for third, had missed the cut. And Alexander Knappe, who also finished tied for third, had had a poor weekend the week before, shooting 78-73 to finish tied 62nd.
I'd consider playing in either or both of the two events in Austria as a quite sizable plus, whether in-contention or not.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The English have a strong record in the British Masters and an Englishman has won six of the last 12 renewals, although we have to give a nod to the Swedes of late. Had Alexander Bjork finished first instead of second at Walton Heath two years ago, three of the last four winners would have been Swedish.
Outsiders have a decent recent record in the tournament and as highlighted in yesterday's De-brief, the first two winners on the European Tour since the restart have both been trading at a triple-figure price before the off.
Paul Dunne trailed by three in a tie for 13th after round one in 2017. He was six adrift at halfway in a tie for 10th but after a 65 in round three, he trailed by just a stroke with a round to go before blasting 61 on Sunday to win by three.
George Coetzee, who was tied for the lead after the opening round, fell away to finish tied for 15th and Tyrrell Hatton, who had been alongside Coetzee after 18, could only finish tied eight, having led by three at halfway. Robert Karlsson led through three rounds but could only finish third so the extremely limited evidence we have, suggests it's not an easy place to front run.
The par three 18th was the hardest hole on the course three years ago so a par there is never a given.
Lee Westwood knows the course extremely well and he was in-contention here in 2017 until a poor third round put pay to his chances. He'd sat tied for second at halfway before going on to finish tied 15th.
Having won the Abu Dhabi Championship in January and having finished fourth at the Honda Classic on the PGA Tour before the break, the 47 year-old was playing some of the best golf he'd played for years and it's very hard to pick holes in his credentials. He's a worthy favourite.
Thomas Detry is clearly a high-class young prospect and he has the benefit of having played in the Austrian Open two weeks ago, where he finished eighth. He also won in England on the Challenge Tour back in 2016 but he's just a bit too short for me given he's yet to get off the mark on the European Tour.
I very much respect the chances of promising Spaniard, Adri Arnaus, and I was interested in both Scott Vincent and Rikard Karlberg, who have also played in both events in Austria but other than Will Besseling, who I backed at a tasty price when he was third two weeks ago, and even though I think it's an important angle in, I just couldn't pull the trigger on any others that have played in the last fortnight.
Instead, I've backed a trio of recent European Tour winners in Guido Migliozzi, Rasmus Højgaard and Andrea Pavan and two players with course form Marcus Armitage and Nacho Elvira.
Nacho, at [180.0], was my idea of the best bet this week given he finished tied 11th in 2017 having opened up with a round of 70 that saw him sit tied for 70th. He's yet to win on the European Tour but he's been very unlucky not to. He's lost a couple of playoffs - in Morocco (2015) and China (2019) - and he's fairly dependable in-contention given he's won four times on the Challenge Tour.
Guido Migliozzi @ [65.0]
Marcus Armitage @ [100.0]
Rasmus Højgaard @ [120.0]
Will Besseling @ [130.0]
Andrea Pavan @ [170.0]
Nacho Elvira @ [180.0]
I'll be back later with my 3M Open preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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