The British Masters sponsored by Sky Sports and presented by Luke Donald is the first regular strokeplay tournament after the Ryder Cup. The Dunhill Masters was a pro-am played on three courses last week. Four of the English rookies who failed to deliver against the United States are playing at The Grove in Hertfordshire this week but Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry are others in the field with better prospects. Andrew ‘The Beef’ Johnston adds to the occasion and would be a popular winner.
However, it will take something special to happen at The Grove to dominate the news agenda in professional golf this week. Most column inches will be about Tiger Woods who will not return to the game after a lengthy injury absence. He has been recuperating from surgery and the intrigue will be about how he plays and scores in his first event which now will not be this week. In 2016 Woods missed all four majors for the first time in his professional career which spans 20 years.
The Safeway Open is the first event of the 2016-17 season but Woods is now not playing in what would have been his first professional appearance for 14 months. Technically Woods can probably still perform but the mental side of the game may be a problem. The former world number one has won 14 majors but none since 2008 and he is now unlikely to overhaul Jack Nicklaus’ record tally of 18 majors. Winning a regular tournament would be a fine achievement but it won’t be happening this week.
It would be ironic if his greatest rival, Phil Mickelson, won instead. For years the two Americans were at number one and two in the world rankings in a scenario with racial undertones. In 2004 they were paired in the Ryder Cup and although they didn’t come to blows there was little warmth and empathy and they just did not gel. Mickelson is too media friendly to appear over keen to win this week but it would be a great feather in his cap if he was the champion during Tiger’s big non-week. Woods committed last Friday to the Safeway Open but has withdrawn due to the state of his game.
Paul Casey committed to the PGA Tour which meant he was not available for selection for the Ryder Cup. He is ahead of the six rookies who played for Europe in the current world rankings and would have qualified by right. He wouldn’t have bridged the six-point losing gap single-handedly but he would have been a presence that the US players had competed against and probably lost. The dynamics and momentum could have been different if Casey had won two points and closed the gap. The English player has the form and ability to win the Safeway Open.
The British Masters is one of just two tournaments staged in England on the European Tour this year which is a ridiculous number when the organisation is based at Wentworth in Surrey. The tour has become global but it seems bizarre that there are no regular events ‘north of Watford’ when there are several truly world class links courses, especially in the north west of England. An annual tournament on one of the suitable courses in the Southport area would bring in huge crowds from the sports loving areas around Liverpool and Manchester.
For weeks on end Sky Sports cover live events from every continent except North America and the courses are deserted. A fixed date in the calendar when there is no football would bring thousands to the host course which could finance a decent prize fund and attract a good field. A Northern England Open that rotates around the links courses of Birkdale, Lytham, Hillside, South and Ainsdale and West Lancs at the right time could even attract some US based players. The week before the Scottish Open would be ideal and create a three event British Links Swing culminating in the Open.
Fleetwood looks a future Ryder Cup player and would love the Northern Open concept because he is from Southport and was brought up playing links golf. Lowry also excels in golf by the seaside and was close to winning the US Open this year. The Ryder Cup players may still be suffering mental letdown so Fleetwood and Lowry are preferred as potential winners with Casey this week. Indeed Casey and Fleetwood would be an English double that pays 440/1 and even the places return at 36/1.