The highly anticipated European Tour’s UK Swing gets underway this week at Close House for the British Masters.
Leading the way in the market is tournament host Lee Westwood (8/1), who has plenty of experience at this golf club.
Tournament host for the British Masters at Close House in 2017, the Englishman found it exhausting juggling being host and playing, but believes it will be easier this year without fans and some reduced responsibility due to COVID-19.
“It was tough to do it that week and play golf too, I sort of ran out of steam towards the end, but it is going to be different this year. No crowds, a little less media and things like that, which will allow me to focus more time on trying to win the golf tournament this time round,” Westwood said this week.
He alluded to his experience at Close House too, while signalling that his preparation has been going pretty well.
“I have played a lot of golf of late and certainly no one will have played the golf course as much as I have,” he added.
The Englishman undeniably has the best chance of winning here with him knowing this course like the back of his hand, but taking on an 8/1 shot after a four month absence seems silly.
Someone who seems more worthy of my backing is Adri Arnaus (33/1).
The Spaniard was not a participant in 2017 and has no experience here, but what he does have is some rounds in the tank, having played the last two events on the European Tour in Austria.
With an 11th placed finish last week, Arnaus will head to England with some encouragement following a solid 67-69 on the weekend at the Euram Bank Open.
After those positive four days at the Euram Bank Open, I’m expecting Arnaus to bring that form to the UK, starting at the British Masters.
Generally speaking, it has been a very good 13 months for the Spaniard, posting two 2nd’s, a 3rd, a 4th and a 6th since a runner-up finish at the Andalucia Masters.
It has been slightly topsy-turvy with his fair share of missed cuts in there, but he has often shown a real bounce-back ability, brushing off any bad form extremely quickly.
Arnaus will be eager to take advantage of having some tournament golf under his belt unlike a lot of others in this field, especially those considered more likely to win by the bookies.
As well – although it may have no real added effect – Spaniard Jon Rahm overtaking Rory Mcilroy for the world number one spot at the Memorial last week might give Arnaus some added incentive to keep the hot streak going for his nation.
Brandon Stone (50/1) was the next man to get my vote for the staking plan, even despite very little action or form on the European Tour pre-COVID.
A 31st here in 2017 is certainly respectable, and Stone is somebody who is more than capable of springing a surprise based off his past victories.
Winner of the Scottish Open back in 2018, it came completely out of the blue with the South African reeling off three missed cuts and three finishes in the high 60s in the weeks leading up to it.
Therefore with Stone, I read very little into his form, but more into the raw talent he possesses and how good he can be, if you are to catch him on a good week.
And although his form wasn’t spectacular before the enforced break, he did manage a top 10 in the Tour Championship for the Sunshine Tour, as well as a runner-up finish in a devastating play-off defeat to Sami Valimaki in Oman.
I expect some hard work has been done by Stone in his months off, trying to work his game back to his best and he could cause a shock once again here in the UK, just like he did in Scotland.
Marcus Armitage (80/1), A.K.A “The Bullet” has built up a small fan base for himself with his Twitter antics, but has also played some splendid golf in the past year, earning his European Tour card for the 2020 season in the process.
In his last four outings, obviously before a long lay-off, The Bullet had gone 3-MC-36-12, which is very impressive considering the majority of his starts before those four European Tour events had been on the Challenge Tour.
That form continued into lockdown too, winning, albeit in a small, weak field on the 2020 Pro Tour, just a month ago.
As I say, there wasn’t exactly any high level opponents with which he had to compete with that day, but it will not have harmed his confidence by any means.
Winner at Close House on the Europro Tour back in 2015, Armitage is certainly fond of this golf course, even despite a missed cut in the British Masters in 2017.
With that Europro victory in mind, I expect the Englishman to raise his game again this week like he has done previously on the European Tour, while also taking advantage of the fact that there will be no crowd pressure in Newcastle.
As for the PGA Tour this week, we have the 3M Open, which is being defended by Matthew Wolff.
Like the Rocket Mortgage Classic a few weeks back, this tournament was only added to the PGA Tour schedule last year.
This obviously means there is next to no course form, but I expect TPC Twin Cities will be a huge relief for those that took part in the brutal Memorial Tournament last week.
Sepp Straka (55/1) is the first name that jumped off the page when previewing this week.
The reason for that being is this is exactly the type of field that he particularly thrives in.
Yes this week may contain Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, but outside of that the two biggest names are Tony Finau and Tommy Fleetwood, two players that have just one PGA Tour victory between them.
So the Austrian certainly has reason to be encouraged with him performing well against these sort of players in the past and earning himself multiple top 10s.
The American Express, the Houston Open, the Rocket Mortgage Classic (twice), the Barbados Championship and the Barracuda Championship are just a few of the tournaments where he has either posted a top 10 or a top 15.
And I see the 3M Open as no different, an event that granted Wolff his first PGA Tour Victory last year.
Similarly, Straka played well in Houston where Lanto Griffin won his maiden PGA Tour title and it was the same situation for Collin Morikawa at the Barracuda Championship.
He did miss the cut here last year, with the damage being done on day one, but I’m expecting he will be eager to rectify that this time around.
These are all signs of what could be to come this week for the Austrian, and that’s without mentioning his current form.
He may have finished 61st last week, but that can be excused at a tremendously hard Muirfield Village, especially after he finished 14th a week before on the same course.
While also taking into account his 8th at the Rocket Mortgage and a 33rd at the Heritage, Straka makes a good bet this week, even if only from an each way perspective.
Next on my agenda for the 3M Open is South African Erik Van Rooyen (40/1).
With this looking likely to be a shootout I see nobody better for the occasion than tee-to-green specialist Van Rooyen.
22nd in SG: Tee-to-Green and 20th in SG: Approach-the-Green, Van Rooyen is as impressive as any and extremely aggressive, which will only help him in what is likely to be a birdie fest this week.
His putting definitely leaves a lot to be desired, but that is the case with many on tour, even some of the very best.
Outside of that, his game is razor sharp, and I believe in his capabilities of raising his putting for a week like this week, which presents a fantastic opportunity for him to snatch his first PGA Tour victory.
He has played pretty well since the PGA Tour came back too, despite his results not exactly representing that.
If not for only a 70 on Sunday at Harbour Town he could have easily found himself in the top 10, and a 22nd last week was mighty impressive given how tough Jack’s Place was playing.
With me mentioning how much of a relief it will be for those playing this week after a rough four days last week, that will especially be the case for Van Rooyen here, who will prefer being able to hunt down flags than scrambling away for pars.
The South African has come a long way in the past couple of years, comfortably handling the shift to the PGA Tour, including a 3rd at the WGC-Mexico.
Which should mean this tournament should not phase him at all, and as I say, gives him a glorious chance to get his maiden PGA Tour title a lot earlier than anybody could have anticipated.
Adri Arnaus (33/1) – 2 pts e.w.
Brandon Stone (50/1) – 1.5 pts e.w.
Marcus Armitage (80/1) – 1 pt e.w.
Erik Van Rooyen (40/1) – 2 pts e.w.
Sepp Straka (55/1) – 1 pt e.w.