It is a rare occurrence for a player to win the same tournament two years in succession but Henrik Stenson is in good shape to do that in this week’s BMW International Open on the European Tour. A generous prize fund has attracted a decent field including the Open champion and Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood. Three of the top six players in the world rankings will contest the Travelers Championship in the States as all roads now lead to Royal Birkdale and the Open in July.
The players ranked from 3 to 7 are playing this week which is rare following on from a major. It’s usually a week to take stock and refocus. Brooks Koepka is now at a career high of number 10 in the standings after winning the US Open. He is not playing this week but will now be looking ahead to the next major championship. Koepka learnt his trade on the different types of course on the European Tour so was able to adapt to the varying conditions over four days in the US Open.
Koepka was the seventh first time major winner in a row which shows there is no dominant player in the game today. The last multiple major champion was Jordan Spieth in 2015 while Rory McIlroy won two of the titles that matter most the previous year. No player that finished in the top 10 in the US Open had won a major and major champions Jason Day and McIlroy missed the cut as did the world number one, Dustin Johnson. Koepka took his chance and was a worthy winner.
The BMW International is being played at Golfclub Munchen Eichenried which also staged the inaugural event in 1989. The course is one of the best in Germany and will provide a good test for some of the best players in the world. The fairways are generally wide and at 7,235 yards the course is average in length by modern standards. There are strategically placed bunkers, trees and water hazards but the course generally favours longer hitters.
Garcia is the favourite but that is more based on reputation than form. The Masters champion made the cut last week without getting into contention. He played all four rounds without feeling the heat of competition. Garcia has a good record in the Open and now he’s won that elusive first major others may follow and Birkdale should be a good fit for his game. He looks a false favourite this week and Stenson has better claims as he tries to win the tournament again.
Fleetwood is a surprise entry but he may have committed before the US Open. He was bang there for most of the championship and didn’t do much wrong on the final day. Level par in the last round of a major can sometimes get the job done but Koepka was just too good. However, there were plenty of positives for Fleetwood in the context of the next major and he was born in Southport, the home of Royal Birkdale. Growing up and learning the game Fleetwood did not have access to the course.
Stenson goes to Birkdale as the defending champion and the last back-to-back winner was Padraig Harrington in 2007 and 2008. The second win was at Birkdale but that championship was played in tough conditions and this year the course should present an easier challenge. However, it is one of the best courses in the world and wind is often a factor and that increases the degree of difficulty. Justin Rose has positive associations with Birkdale and he is the early tip for the Open.
The Travelers Championship on the US PGA Tour has also attracted a good field in terms of quality. Spieth, Day and McIlroy head the betting followed by Justin Thomas who played a brilliant third round of 63 strokes in the US Open but faded on the last day. Paul Casey dropped off the pace over the weekend and plays again this week. Patrick Reed had a good US Open and can build on that effort by contending this week. Brandt Snedeker played well and could be the player to follow while Bubba Watson has the skills’ profile to contend.
There is often a lull after a major and several weeks before the next one. Half the world’s best 10 players are in action this week and Stenson looks the outstanding bet. Others may now be focusing on the Open which should see the first multiple major winner for two years.
Back next Thursday.