The lucrative British Masters returns to the European Tour Calendar this week and will be held at Woburn G&CC, hosted by Ian Poulter. Poulter is a Woburn Tournament professional and touring pro. This event was last seen at The Belfry back in 2008 where Gonzalo Fedez Castano emerged victorious over England's Lee Westwood - 41.00 - in a playoff. Westwood was the defending champion that year having won on the same track in 2007 but he also holds Woburn in high esteem and is looking forward to the return of the British Masters.
Woburn has held the British Masters 16 times and this year's course - the Marquess course, was last used back in 2002 where Justin Rose emerged victorious over aforementioned club pro Ian Poulter - 15.00. The track was used for Open Championship qualifying in 2014 and interestingly, rising Irish star Paul Dunne - 81.00 - qualified for the Open Championship here in 2014, and also at Woburn in 2015, actually winning both qualification processes. Dunne recorded a top 20 in his first pro start at the Dunhill Links last week and may be one to watch again. The 2011 English Amateur Championship was also contested at Woburn's Duchess and Marquess courses, won by Steven Brown.
Woburn's three courses share some similarities with Wentworth's Old Course and Shane Lowry - 15.00 - who generally thrives there - has been installed as market leader. GB & Ireland players unsurprisingly head the market with the likes of Danny Willett - 21.00 - and Graeme McDowell - 26.00 - joining Poults as the men to beat. Francesco Molinari - 23.00 - spent many years residing in relatively close proximity to the course, as did Soren Kjeldsen - 29.00.
The course - Woburn G&CC (Marquess course)
The Marquess course at Woburn will be new for many, including myself. It's a Woodland style track winding through tall Pines and Oak trees, amongst others, incorporating pristinely manicured fairways and greens. The course is aesthetically similar to Golf Club Milano - host of the recent Italian Open, and it may be worth looking at the golfers who excelled in that test.
The Marquess course measures circa 7,200 yards to a par 72 and judging by Social Media, it's highly rated amongst the tour pros. The Marquess is built on "undulating and rolling terrain" and there's a strong premium on finding the right spot on the fairway. Avoiding big numbers may prove difficult for some so focus is predominantly on the accurate, positional players this week.
Here are a few snippets from the players and commentators:
"You have to manoeuvre the ball around the treeline" - Richard Boxall
"Both but you gotta play smart in the right places" - Richard Bland, in response to my question to him on Twitter about the course suiting accurate or aggressive players.
"I hit a few bad shots here and there, it's a very punishing golf course" - Jack Senior, after his 2011 English Amateur 1/4 final defeat
"The most fun I have ever had on a golf course" - Justin Rose
Three from the pack
Matt Fitzpatrick - 34.00 or 7.50 - is one of only two players to rank inside the top 10 for Driving Accuracy and Greens in regulation on the European Tour according to their official website and a missed cut at the Dunhill Links last week can be overlooked in my opinion. He said on Twitter he just didn't play his best stuff, but still seemed upbeat for a much more suitable test on the tight Marquess course. The rookie has finished third in two of his last four events with the second of those interestingly coming on the aforementioned Golf Club Milano track in the Italian Open. Fitzpatrick also narrowly missed out on the tight tree-lined Crans track in the Omega Masters a few months ago so has pedigree on this style of test.
David Horsey - 67.00 or 14.00 - is another player you may want onside where the premium is on accuracy and precision. Horsey is in a fine run of form with a win in Denmark and a third place in Russia in the last couple of months. David makes birdies in bunches when the putter is hot and closed 64-68 last weekend to propel himself into the top 10 in Scotland. Like I said, the primary focus for me this week is targeting players who are most likely to keep away from the severe punishment for stray shots and the Englishman is one of the straightest in the game with a driving accuracy clip pushing 70% avg. over the last handful of seasons.
James Morrison - 61.00 or 13.00 - is a man with form in this part of the world and he has some really strong trends close by at Wentworth. Morrison has arguably been the most improved player in 2015 and is returning to first gear with two successive top 15 finishes. James won in Spain and followed with a T11 in Wentworth. He was runner up in France at a Le Golf National track where the emphasis was the same as it will be at Woburn - precision over power. Again, James is averaging well over 65% of fairways hit in his time on the European Tour and his last 8 rounds have all been 70 or better. He looks to be peaking for a solid end of season run in.
Peter Hanson, 11th on the Marquess course all the way back in 2002 has been simmering after a long recovery from injury. The big Swede has hit back to back top 20s and finished 66-67 over the weekend at the Dunhill Links. He's averaged over 60% of fairways in his last eight years on Tour and is the type to fit the profile this week. He'll be looking to make it win number seven on the European Tour at 67.00 or 14.00.