Jamie Donaldson is trying to become the first Welshman to win the Wales Open this week. If he were to win the national championship of the country of his birth it would be an ideal preparation for his appearance in the Ryder Cup. The last player from the Principality to represent Europe in the matches against the United States was Ian Woosnam but the 1991 US Masters champion never won the Wales Open.
Woosnam was the number one player in the world for a brief spell at the start of the nineties. Donaldson is unlikely to reach the pinnacle of the game but no player from Wales as been higher in the standings since the Woosnam. The player of small statute but huge heart is the only Welshman to win a major championship. He won 28 European titles in total and played in nine Ryder Cups.
Donaldson is currently at a career high in the world rankings. He has won three main European Tour tournaments, one each in the last three years. He has also won three times on the Challenge Tour and won the 2008 Mauritius Open on the Asian Tour. Donaldson has played in just twelve major championships and his best finish was tied 7th in the 2012 PGA Championship.
He does have experience of team golf as an amateur and professional. Before joining the paid ranks he represented Great Britain and Ireland in the Eisenhower Trophy and St Andrews Trophy. He has played for Wales twice in the golf World Cup and for GB and Ireland in the Seve Trophy. Donaldson also won the Welsh Amateur Championship in matchplay and strokeplay golf before becoming a professional.
The first Wales Open took place in 2000 and it has always been played at the Celtic Manor Resort near Newport. Initially the event was played on the Roman course but between 2004 and 2007 was played on the more challenging course that staged the 2010 Ryder Cup. This week’s venue is the only complex in Wales to host the biannual matches between the best players from Europe and the United States.
Celtic Manor is a physically demanding, long and undulating course designed by Robert Trent Jones. It requires an ability to play shots regularly that are on downhill and downhill lies. Water is in play on 8 holes as the course winds around the River Usk. The four par 5s are the 2nd, 5th, 11th and 18th, which provides a birdie chance on the final hole. The large greens have subtle breaks and demand skilled lag putting.
The Wales Open is a tournament in which first timers have a sound record and high priced players regularly make the payout-places. It’s important to note that this is a tournament that does not use a two-tee start so some players with late tee times can have a significant disadvantage. This is accentuated if the weather is set to worsen in the second half of the day. Celtic Manor’s results show that course experience is important but players can find their form here.
Donaldson won the Czech Masters earlier in the season and was just three shots of the pace in the European Masters two weeks ago. He will be looking to hone his game ahead of next week’s Ryder Cup but would still love to win the Welsh Open though his game is not ideally suited to the course. He is not in the top 50 for driving distance and greens in regulation, the key skills to contend this week but he is 26th for GIR putting, another attribute required for good scoring at Celtic Manor.
Bradley Dredge is another player born in Wales with serious ambitions to win his national championship. He is player who looks past his best and his days of trying to qualify for Europe’s Ryder Cup team are behind him. Dredge is a veteran of seven World Cups for Wales including in 2005 when he won the competition in partnership with Stephen Dodd. However, he is another player without a great profile for Celtic Manor.
Danny Willett is the only player in the field in the top 20 for driving distance, greens in regulation and GIR putting. Despite such a good skill’s set for this week’s challenge he has an average record in the Wales Open at Celtic Manor and others are preferred. Simon Dyson is a player in form with a decent course record who also has a decent skill’s profile in the context of this week’s course. He is getting his career back on track after being fined and banned for a minor rules infringement.
An interesting entrant this week is Lee Westwood who was given a wildcard pick for the Ryder Cup by European team captain, Paul McGinley. Westwood will be playing in the Ryder Cup for the ninth time at Gleneagles next week. He will prepare for the Ryder Cup with his first appearance for a decade in the Wales Open. The Celtic Manor course will be an ideal place to prepare for the matches and Westwood will be looking to hone his game after a generally disappointing season.
It is debateable whether Jamie Donaldson would prefer to win the Ryder Cup or Wales Open. He would like the distinction of winning his national Open but will also want to represent his country in the same way that Woosnam did in the past. On balance the Ryder Cup is more important but Donaldson will still be determined to contend in a tournament played in front of his compatriots.