What a crazy game golf is! The two favourites for their respective tournaments in the USA and Europe, Bryson DeChambeau and Joost Luiten, both shot a TEN on a par five on freaky Friday as punters stared in disbelief at their laptops and TV screens.
In Luiten’s case the Dutchman was leading in Austria and it cost him the prize; for the eccentric DeChambeau the five penalty strokes led to him having a run-in with two rules officials and missing the cut in Ohio where Jon Rahm’s victory saw the Spaniard take over the world No. 1 ranking from Rory McIlroy in only his fourth year on tour.
Neither man tees it up this week when the British Masters kicks off an unprecedented run of six tournaments on UK soil, four in England and two back-to-back on the same Welsh course, Celtic Manor, that hosted a famously nailbiting European Ryder Cup triumph ten years ago.
Sadly, all six must be played without a crowd and equally sadly the British Masters, for all its grandiose title, is missing all Europe’s marquee names. They have to stay in the States under US quarantine regulations if they want to play the first Major, the US PGA (August 6-9), and next week’s mega-rich WGC St Jude bonanza in Memphis.
But, hey, let’s be positive. Six straight weeks of competitive televised golf in Britain is a feather in the cap of the European Tour in a hellish COVID-blighted year that has claimed the Open Championship, the Olympics and the Ryder Cup among so much else.
Lee Westwood (9/1) is the one big name who has sacrificed his place in the first Major to host the British Masters for a second time on the Close House course in Newcastle he represents on tour. He finished 15th to Irishman Paul Dunne three years ago and starts favourite now, a new streamlined Westwood who has shed two stone on a controlled diet, more exercise and no midweek alcohol.
At 47 and after 82 Majors, he is losing no sleep about staying home as he is wary about what is going on in the States since they restarted on June 11. The US PGA Championship is in California, one of the “red zone” states where the corona death toll has spiked alarmingly after the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Each British Masters since the tournament was revived in 2015 has been hosted by a Ryder Cup hero, a great idea, but it will worry potential Westwood backers that none of the hosts – the others were Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood – has come remotely close to winning. Off-course duties do take their toll. Rose and Fleetwood did best but were only eighth.
If not Westwood, past Masters Eddie Pepperell (25/1) and defending champion Marcus Kinhult (28/1) have more obvious claims that the last Close House winner Dunne who beat McIlroy no less in 2017 but has lost his way since.
Pepperell has taken a shine to this tournament. Not only did he win at Walton Heath two years ago, he was only a shot out of a play-off with Kinhult at Hillside last year. He’s the main bet at 25-1.
South African Brandon Stone, Oman Open runner-up in March, can be very good while exciting Min Woo Lee, only 21 and winner of the Vic Open in February, and flashy Italian Guido Migliotti, twice a winner last year and fourth in Oman, have more potential than most.
Marc Warren ended a long barren spell with a 150-1 success in the weak Austrian Open two weeks ago and the buzz from that could easily make the Glaswegian a contender. He didn’t beat much but at least we know his game is in good nick.
Unusually, this is a Wednesday to Saturday tournament so do get those bets on in good time!
Tommy Fleetwood (14/1), host of last year’s British Masters, makes his first American start since the PGA Tour’s resumption at the 3M Open at Twin Cities, Minnesota.
He chose family life in Southport over golf for the first six PGA events but needs to be in America now with the first Major so close at hand. This is his first 72-holes since finishing third in the Honda Classic in March (led after 54 holes) and he’ll be a whole lot fresher physically and mentally than the three ahead of him the betting.
While favourite Dustin Johnson (9/1) is a recent winner, he was 16 over par for two horrendous rounds at Memorial in finishing second-last in a field of 131.
Brooks Koepka (12/1) shot 80 on Sunday, has no confidence, and is still bothered by a knee problem. I wouldn’t bet a counterfeit fiver about him winning three USPGA Championships in a row in two weeks’ time.
And Tony Finau (12/1) will still be having nightmares about leading Jack Nicklaus’s tournament by four after 47 holes, then shooting ten over par for the last 25 last weekend.
More dangerous is last year’s young winner Matthew Wolff (25/1), only 20 when holding DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa at bay on only his third pro start a year ago.
Wolff led by three going into Sunday in Detroit at the start of July but got overhauled by DeChambeau and again played nicely for 22nd at Memorial. Defending a title is never easy though.
Lucas Glover, seventh last year and consistent in five outings since the resumption, has each-way prospects as do Brendon Todd, Paul Casey and Luke List in a low-scoring week when there will be plenty of birdies flying around.