The European Tour action kicks off on Wednesday this week so Steve Rawlings here with an early delivery of his in-depth preview of the British Masters...
“Olesen’s been playing really well of late, finishing 5th and 12th on the Canary Islands Swing thanks to some brilliant iron play and putting.”
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 this week's venue, 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 (twice), Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood have all hosted and this year it's the turn of the 2016 US Masters winner - Danny Willett.
With the USPGA Championship looming large, the British Masters starts on Wednesday to give players involved in the year's second major an extra day to travel so fon't get caught out by the early start.
The Belfry, Wishaw, Warwickshire, England
Par 72 - 7, 255 yards
Stroke Index at 2020 UK Championship - 72.4
After a break of 12 years, having last hosted this event in 2008, the Belfry made a welcome return to the European Tour last year when it hosted the one-off UK Championship - won in extra-time by Rasmus Hojgaard.
The Belfry hosted this event for three years in-a-row between 2006 and 2008 and it also hosted the last four editions of the now defunct Benson & Hedges International between 2000 and 2003, as well as four editions of the Ryder Cup.
The Belfry is a relatively flat, mostly tree-lined course, with some narrow fairways. Water is in play on seven holes - most noticeably at the short drivable par four 10th which last year averaged 3.86.
The majority of the Poa Annua greens are fairly small and the bigger ones have tiers and undulations, placing a premium on long putting and scrambling.
Last Eight Winners at the Belfry
2000 B&H International - Jose Maria Olazabal -13
2001 B&H International - Henrik Stenson -13
2002 B&H International - Angel Cabrera -10
2003 B&H International - Paul Casey -11
2006 British Masters - Johan Edfors -11
2007 British Masters - Lee Westwood -15
2008 British Masters - Gonzalo Fernandez Castano -12 (playoff)
2020 UK Championship - Rasmus Hojgaard -14 (playoff)
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 13:30 on Wednesday
Last Six Tournament Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - Renato Paratore -18 70.069/1
2019 - Marcus Kinhult -16 370.0369/1
2018 - Eddie Pepperell -9 42.041/1
2017 - Paul Dunne -20 70.069/1
2016 - Alex Noren -18 23.022/1
2015 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -15 40.039/1
What Will it Take to Win the British Masters?
I couldn't find any stats for the 2001 and 2002 editions of the Benson & Hedges International but there are enough clues from the six events staged here this century to suggest accuracy is very important - especially on approach.
The two playoff protagonists at the UK Championship last year, Rasmus Hojgaard and Justin Walters, ranked tied sixth for Greens In Regulation and in behind them, Martin Kaymer, who finished tied third, ranked second for GIR, with Craig Howie (T5) and Calum Hill (T9), ranking fourth and fifth for that stat.
When Lee Westwood edged out Ian Poulter in this event in 2007, the pair ranked second and first for Greens In Regulation and Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul Casey both topped the GIR stats when they won here.
The worst any of the six ranked for Driving Distance was 28th (Olazabal), although ninth (Hojgaard and Casey) was the highest any of them ranked and that looks slightly more important than accuracy from the tee if the winners' stats can be believed.
All Lee Westwood's stats were really good. In addition to ranking second for GIR, he also ranked third for Driving Accuracy and first for Scrambling but when Johan Edfors won here he ranked only 54th for DA and 45th for Scrambling. The first two home last year ranked ninth and 10th for Driving Distance and only 40th and 25th for Driving Accuracy and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano missed 40% of the fairways - ranking 31st for DA. He did rank highly for Scrambling though (fourth) and the worst any of the winners (with stats) ranked for Putting Average was 11th.
Hojgaard putting particularly well last year, ranking first for Putting Average, but the top-six all did. The worst any of the top-five and ties ranked for PA was 14th.
Is There an Angle In?
Looking at the list of Belfry winners, the first thing to notice is what a stellar list it is. The three B&H winners have all won major championships and both Lee Westwood and Paul Casey's names will pop up in any discussion surrounding the best players that are yet to win one.
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano hasn't won a major, in fact the closest he ever came was tenth in the 2013 US Open, but he's won seven times on the European Tour and Johan Edfors was very much the man to beat back in 2006. He's only ever won three European Tour events but all three were between March and July in 2006, so even though that pair can't be described as out of the top drawer, they're multiple winners who were in great form. Fernando-Castano's win here was his fourth title in four consecutive seasons and last year's UK Championship winner, Hojgaard, looks to have an incredibly high ceiling given he's already won twice and he's still only 20!
A fairly slow start can definitely be overcome at the Belfry.
Having gone off at around 22.021/1, Hojgaard was matched at a high of 200.0199/1 in-running last year after an opening 73 had seen him trail by nine and he was still seven back at halfway and five adrift through 54 holes. His seven-under-par 65 in round four was his best of the week and the joint-best of the day.
Jose Maria Olazabal started slowly here in 2000, with an opening round of 75 that saw him sit tied for 25th and six off the lead, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood both trailed by five after round one when they won here and Fernandez-Castano was four adrift and tied for 24th after the opening round in 2008.
Casey was tied for the lead after three rounds in 2006 and Henrik Stenson won wire-to-wire but five of the last six course winners came from behind, trailing by two, three, three, four and five strokes, so it can't be described as frontrunners course.
The UK Championship produced a dramatic finale with Martin Kaymer trading at a low of 1.341/3 and Walters touching even money, so this looks a great track for Sunday trading and taking on the leaders.
After his quite brilliant debut in the US Masters where he finished 12th and ranked second for Putting Average, and an understandable missed cut the week after in the RBC Heritage, Robert Macintyre arrives at the Belfry well-rested and quite rightly well-respected in the market.
He's never played the Belfry and this is only he's fifth appearance in England but he finished second in the British Masters in 2019 at Hillside. Still improving, Macintyre is the correct favourite and he's the one they all have to beat if his irons are dialled in.
As already mentioned, Martin Kaymer traded at odds-on here last year when finishing third and he too arrives fresh having swerved the Canary Islands Swing.
The two-time major winner was in fine fettle when last sighted, finishing third in the Austrian Open, but as good as that result looks on paper, it was yet another tournament in which he failed to get across the line. Trading at a low of 1.981/1 during the third round, he began the final round tied for the lead with Alejandro Canizares, but he played his first three holes in round four in three-over-par and he was soon out of the hunt. He finished strongly to finish third but he's one to be very wary of in-contention now and for that reason alone he looks too short.
Bernd Wiesberger is another to arrive well rested having not played since finishing 40th in the US Masters. He was a fast finishing fifth at Belfry in the UK Championship so we know he likes the venue but will he putt well enough to contend. His stats in that department haven't been great for a while, barring the decent week, and I'm happy to leave him out.
Matt Cooper's fancy, Sam Horsfield, ticks all the right boxes.
He's playing the Belfry for the first time but he won the English Open last summer at the Forest of Arden and although he missed the cut last time out at the Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour, he's been in fine fettle of late, finding plenty of greens and putting nicely. He has a big chance but at a slightly bigger price, I preferred the course winner, Rasmus Hojgaard...
This isn't a considerably stronger field than the one that lined-up here in August so I was a little surprised to see Hojgaard trading at a bigger price than he opened up at then. The aforementioned Wiesberger is shorter than he went off at in August and that doesn't make an awful lot of sense.
Rasmus isn't tearing up trees at present but he's not in awful form either. He may have missed the cut at the Valspar last time out but he shot a very decent bogey-free three-under-par on the ultra-tough back nine on Friday and prior to that he was a fast finishing 12th in Austria.
Top-tens in the Dubai Desert Classic and Saudi International were decent efforts just five and six starts ago and I thought he was worth chancing. And I felt the same two more Danes - Thorbjorn Olesen and Jeff Winther...
Olesen has a massive cloud hanging over him in the shape of a court case that won't be heard until December at the earliest, after he was arrested and charged with sexual assault, being drunk on a plane and assault by beating after an alleged incident on a flight from Nashville to London way back in July 2019.
He was suspended by the European Tour to start with but with the case being repeatedly put back due the pandemic, he's been back playing since July last year and he's been playing really well of late, finishing 5th and 12th on the Canary Islands Swing thanks to some brilliant iron play and putting.
Olesen had a dozen starts last year but didn't show much until he signed off with a 13th place in the Golf In Dubai Championship and his 17th in the UK Championship her at the Belfry was his best effort before then and his only top-20.
My final Danish Delight is Jeff Winther, who is just too big to ignore with the Sportsbook at 90/1. He missed the cut at the Tenerife Open two weeks ago but that was perhaps understandable after his near miss the week before when he finished third behind Garrick Higgo in the Gran Canaria where he putted brilliantly. He was only 47th here last year and I do wonder if he's quite long enough off the tee but the price is just too juicy.
I'll be back tomorrow with the Byron Nelson Championship preview.
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