The European Tour heads to the British Isles for the first time in 2021 this week when Danny Willett becomes the latest star name to host the British Masters, a tournament which will be played at The Belfry just outside Birmingham.
This has become a regular event back on the circuit and gets taken around the country to showcase the game. Renato Paratore won the tournament when Lee Westwood hosted it at Close House last year and he’ll be looking to defend his title here.
2020 – Renato Paratore
2019 – Marcus Kinhult
2018 – Eddie Pepperell
2017 – Paul Dunne
2016 – Alex Noren
2015 – Matthew Fitzpatrick
We are on the Brabazon Course at The Belfry this week, the scene of Ryder Cups in the past. The course also hosted one of the events on the UK Swing last year when Rasmus Hojgaard sizzled on Sunday to win the tournament. The course is a par 72 which measures 7,310 yards which isn’t especially long by modern standards but it is still a decent test of golf, one where good ball striking and accuracy is the key despite Hojgaard winning here last year.
Hojgaard actually hit a lot of greens and when you look at the leading contenders last season GIR was a statistic that most of them ranked well in. The course is being used three months earlier this year so it will be a lot softer which is going to put even more of a premium on accurate iron shots in order to prevail. There isn’t too much wind around either so we might have soft conditions all week which will make the course play its full yardage.
Having the former Masters champion Danny Willett hosting the tournament has attracted some good, established European Tour names as well as a number of stars of the future in what should be an excellent week of golf. Martin Kaymer, Bernd Wiesberger, Andy Sullivan and the host Willett himself are all renowned European Tour winners while the likes of Eddie Pepperell, Jamie Donaldson and Thorbjorn Olesen all know how to get the job done too. All tee it up here.
Sam Horsfield, Justin Harding, Dean Burmester and JB Hansen have all won on the tour over the last 12 months or so while Robert MacIntyre is another who has won in that time, albeit not in a 72 hole strokeplay event. Adri Arnaus, Matthias Schwab, Thomas Detry, Calum Hill and Laurie Canter are all talented swingers of a golf club who are looking to break their duck this week in what looks like a very competitive field.
Robert MacIntyre has plied his trade predominantly in America for the past three months but he comes back to tee it up here despite being out in America for the PGA Championship next week. That is either weird or it is a tip in itself but either way he is a 14/1 shot to win the tournament here. On the face of it you would think he has the game to go well around here with his iron play often spot on but this is his first look at the track and having to adjust to softer and slower conditions could be an issue. He isn’t for me at this price.
The more established pairing of Martin Kaymer and Bernd Wiesberger are next in the betting at 18/1. I’ll deal with Wiesberger first as regular readers will know he was a main bet of mine last year but he hasn’t played since The Masters and is another coming back from America for this week before going back out again. Kaymer offers more hope for me. He was third in Austria last time out and third around here in the UK Championship last year but it has been far too long between drinks for me to be backing the German at this sort of price.
Sam Horsfield and Rasmus Hojgaard are next in the betting at 22/1. I’ll come onto the latter later but the former should go well around here although he can just leak a few too many drives off the tee for comfort for me. He did win twice on the UK Swing last year though and that shouldn’t be ignored but I’ve been burnt backing him a couple of times this year already. He’s tempting but I prefer the Dane and will highlight why shortly.
Tournament host Danny Willett comes next in the betting at 28/1. Those who have read my British Masters previews in the past will know I have no interest in getting involved in the host of this event because way too much of their time is taken up around the tournament, even more so this year with the event beginning on Wednesday. No host has come close to contending in this so far and although Willett is perfectly good enough to the whole thing doesn’t lend itself to it happening.
Rasmus Hojgaard won around here in August and I think he is a perfectly acceptable price to follow up that victory with another here. This will be the sixth time the Dane has teed it up in Britain and going into the week his form reads 2-6-3-1-MC. That is decent form whoever you are talking about. His win was in that UK Championship here last year where he started slowly but flew home come the weekend and although he missed the cut in the Valspar Championship on his latest outing, the last time we saw him in Europe was in Austria where he gained nearly 12 strokes on the field on approach and was third in GIR for the week. He actually led that statistic in the Abu Dhabi Championship at the beginning of the year and the one constant in Europe is how well he has putted. He already has two European Tour wins to his name and in five regular Tour events this year he has three top 12 finishes. At 22/1 on a course he has won on before he looks a cracking punt.
Eddie Pepperell seems to have a love affair for this tournament having won it when Justin Rose hosted it at Walton Heath before coming second to Marcus Kinhult at Hillside the year after. He didn’t turn up as well at Close House last year but I think we’ve learned since then how hard he found lockdown which might have attributed to why he wasn’t so great there. In fact, we can probably write off much of the last year of his poor form because of that but there are signs he is coming to life again after an extended slump. In the recent Canary Swing he went MC-31-12 with him fifth in the field for putting in the middle of those efforts and then leading the field in GIR last week. Pepperell is a player who seems to raise his game at the iconic venues and on home soil. Even when his game wasn’t in great shape last year he finished sixth in the BMW PGA Championship and as I mentioned his record in this is exemplary. Add in the top five in The Open at Carnoustie and Pepperell comes alive in British conditions where his exceptional iron play can come to the fore. I expect him to be right up for this week and would not be surprised to see him lift this trophy once again. At his best he contends at a much higher level than this so I’ll pay to see if his recent improvement continues.
Max Kieffer must be wondering what he has to do to finally win on the European Tour. The answer I suspect is not much more than he has been doing recently. He was runner up in both the Austrian Open, where maybe he should have got over the line before being edged out in a play-off by the fast finishing John Catlin, and in the event in Gran Canaria where Garrick Higgo sprung the field on the final day. We’ve seen what he has done since then so there is no shame in coming second to him. Kieffer missed the cut in the only event he has played since then which was the first of the two weeks in Tenerife but I suspect that was two weeks in contention catching up with him. He should be refreshed after a week off and with his iron play and putting looking in red hot form he should go very well here at a more than fair price.
Fabrizio Zanotti came so close to winning the first renewal of this tournament upon its return to the scene at Woburn in 2015 when he was touched off by Matthew Fitzpatrick on the final day but there is nobody of Fitzy’s class in the field this year and actually this track isn’t too dissimilar to that he almost got the job done at then. Tee to green is the game here and the Paraguayan is usually bang on in that department. Zanotti already has a couple of top 15s on the European Tour this season and he led the field at halfway in Dominica Republic six weeks ago before fading in the final round. He was fifth in greens hit in Spain last week and tends to putt better in English conditions. If that putter gets hot this week he shouldn’t be too far away.
My final bet this week comes in the form of Alejandro Canizares who has some decent form in English conditions having gone well in the BMW PGA Championship in the past. He was seventh out in Austria a few weeks ago when he probably should have converted for a win that week and while his Canary Swing went 38-28-MC I’m not sure resort shootouts are his game. He likes the tighter tracks where there is more of a premium on ball striking and then he can let his putting ability come to the fore when he finds the greens. In that event in Austria he was in the top 20 for GIR gaining more than 11.5 shots on the field on approach to the greens. If he swings the irons that well here then he is more than capable of replicating a top 10 he had here in 2008, and maybe even more.
Back R.Hojgaard to win British Masters (e/w) for a 1.5/10 stake at 23.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-7)
Back E.Pepperell to win British Masters (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-10)
Back F.Zanotti to win British Masters (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 81.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-10)
Back A.Canizares to win British Masters (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 151.00 with Betfred (1/5 1-10)
Back M.Kieffer to win British Masters (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back him here: