A small share of the each-way money from 7th place Padraig Harrington was all we had to show for last week’s effort at the Home of Golf, which was a little disappointing after Matt Wallace had tied for the lead after the first day with Harrington just a shot off the pace. The returning Ryder Cup starts eventually ran out of steam with Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood both finishing a shot behind eventual winner Lucas Bjerregaard who was difficult to pick out at 50/1, despite his recent form, arriving as he did with three consecutive missed cuts at the event to his name.
On to this week then and dating all the way back to 1946 when Bobby Locke and Jimmy Adams tied for the title at Stoneham Golf Club, the British Masters was a mainstay on the European Tour schedule, give or take the odd omission, right up to 2008 when Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano took the trophy at The Belfry which had hosted the event for 3 years on the trot. Forest of Arden GC and Woburn, both the Duke’s and Marquess Course, have also hosted this event since the turn of the century before the event dropped off the schedule until its renaissance in 2015.
Matthew Fitzpatrick realised the potential that many had seen in him 3 years ago by winning this title at Woburn and Alex Noren added his 3rd of 4 2016 titles at The Grove the year after, successfully holding off final day efforts from Bernd Wiesberger and Lee Westwood. Paul Dunne added his name to the list 12 months ago at Close House where a closing round of 61, punctuated by a chip-in birdie on the 72nd hole, was enough to keep Rory McIlroy at bay and earn the Irishman a well-deserved first European Tour victory. Sky Sports are supporting the event once again this year so we should expect some decent coverage on our TVs this week and some vociferous support from the fans on the course itself.
This year’s host Justin Rose has done an excellent job of attracting a quality field to Walton Heath this week as the venue returns to the schedule for the first time since 1991, although it has hosted US Open qualifying every year since 2005 as well as the Senior Open Championship in 2011 and the small matter of the Ryder Cup in 1981. Rose himself ranks the bookies’ favourite this week at around 7/1 after successfully winning the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup prior to playing his part in Team Europe’s Ryder Cup demolition job at Le Golf National. Team-mates Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood sit behind Rose in the betting at around 10/1, with the trio well clear of the rest of the market.
Walton Heath GC, Surrey, England. Designer: Herbert Fowler, 1903; Course Type: Classical, Heathland; Par: 72; Length: 7,394 yards; Water hazards: 1; Fairways: Fescue, Bent; Rough: Fescue, Bent: Greens: Bent/Poa, 11 on the stimpmeter.
Course Overview. Walton Heath’s ‘Old Course’ is a stretching 7,394 yard, par 72 set in the Surrey heathland. 3 par-3s and 3 par-5s make for a non-typical par-72 composition and the series of challenging par-4s makes for a reasonably tough test, especially if the wind blows. The 5 editions of the European Open held here were won with winning scores ranging from -5 to -11 which emphasises that this layout is by no means a pushover; similarly Russ Cochran’s winning total at the 2011 Senior Open was 12-under and we should expect those players with a little more patience to enjoy this week’s challenge. Despite being set in the Surrey countryside, Walton Heath is far more exposed than some of its famous neighbours and plays very much like a links course. The main challenge from off the tee is avoiding the heather and the fairways lead to large, hard and fast bent/poa greens which are tough to read. If you’re unfamiliar with Walton Heath then check out this short film here.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Paul Dunne, 66/1; 2016: Alex Noren, 18/1; 2015: Matt Fitzpatrick, 33/1.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Walton Heath is here. Fairly decent weather for England for this time of year will greet the players with the odd glimpse of sunshine and the outside chance of a shower or two. Temperatures will peak around the high 60s Fahrenheit with moderate winds expected of around 10-15mph with the breeziest day likely to be Friday.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the 2011 Senior Open held here gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
- 1st, Russ Cochran (-12). 267 yards (11th), 63.3% fairways (32nd), 77.8% greens in regulation (13th), 56.3% scrambling (21st), 1.68 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2nd, Mark Calcavecchia (-10). 267 yards (9th), 61.7% fairways (41st), 83.3% greens in regulation (3rd), 75% scrambling (1st), 1.83 putts per GIR (20th).
- 3rd, Corey Pavin (-9). 244 yards (71st), 75% fairways (7th), 79.2% greens in regulation (8th), 73.3% scrambling (2nd), 1.77 putts per GIR (9th).
- 3rd, Tom Watson (-9). 259 yards (36th), 61.7% fairways (41st), 84.7% greens in regulation (2nd), 54.5% scrambling (26th), 1.80 putts per GIR (13th).
- 5th, Barry Lane (-8). 262 yards (28th), 53.3% fairways (65th), 83.3% greens in regulation (3rd), 50% scrambling (35th), 1.88 putts per GIR (42nd).
Greens are large here and in general GIR figures are likely to be quite high, however players shouldn’t be complacent with loose iron shots as putting from distance is extremely challenging, therefore players with a strong approach game are still favoured in my view and that’s far easier when attacking from the fairway around these parts.
With a winning score of 12-under, Russ Cochrane was the only player to exceed 20 birdies on the week (22 in total) which suggests that this is far more about patient strategy than aggressive birdie-making. The top 5 finishers listed above finished a combined +1 for the par 3s, -10 for the par 4s and -39 for the par-5s which tells a story about where players are most likely to make a score, however with the likes of Corey Pavin making the podium it’s clearly not all about brute power here.
Incoming Form: Since the British Masters was re-established in 2015, the three winners Paul Dunne, Alex Noren and Matt Fitzpatrick had each shown some decent enough form in the weeks prior to their victory. Paul Dunne had produced two top-15 finishes in his previous three strokeplay events and after a shaky 74 to start on his most recent start in Holland, nobody in the field bettered his final 3-round total. For Noren this was the third of four 2016 victories and he was clearly in exceptional form overall whereas for Fitzpatrick his win at Woburn marked his maiden success on the European Tour, however with four top-3 finishes in his previous 11 events he was clearly knocking very loudly on the door:
- 2017, Paul Dunne: 33/30/MC/MC/13/54/26/MC/9/14/70/14
- 2016, Alex Noren: MC/43/12/MC/8/1/46/49/2/1/34/11
- 2015, Matt Fitzpatrick: MC/3/MC/MC/77/2/17/44/3/30/3/MC
Looking at this from a slightly different angle, the incoming form of 2011 Seniors winner Russ Cochran was also impressive before he arrived here at Walton Heath having finished no worse than 12th in his 7 Seniors events played to that point in the calendar year:
- 2011, Russ Cochran: 4/4/3/12/11/3/10
With the European Open events held here having taken place before a fair proportion of this week’s field were even born, plus the Senior Open also holding similar challenges when looking for course form pointers, perhaps the US Open qualifying holds more relevance to this week, particularly as a lot of this week’s attendees have taken part in recent years – although it’s worth noting that the players play 18 holes on the New Course and 18 holes on the Old Course during that Sectional Qualifying event:
- 2016 US Open Qualifying: Gregory Bourdy topped qualifying at 9-under from Mikael Lundberg and Lee Slattery. Matthew Baldwin, Gary Stal, Andrew Johnston, Alex Noren and Romain Wattel completed the top 4 and ties. Final results here.
- 2017 US Open Qualifying: Aaron Rai topped qualifying at 14-under from Haotong Li, Alex Levy and Richie Ramsay with Oliver Bekker, Joel Stalter, Bradley Dredge and Eddie Pepperell completing the top-5 and ties. Final results here.
- 2018 US Open Qualifying: James Morrison and Andrew Johnston topped qualifying at 10-under from Richie Ramsay and Matthew Southgate with Scott Gregory and Ryan Fox completing the top-5 and ties. Final results here.
Although it’s by no means universal looking at the names above, there’s certainly a bias in my view towards neat and tidy players with the likes of Bourdy, Rai and Johnston all topping qualifying here in recent times. Links lovers Matthew Southgate and Ryan Fox are also interesting names on the list given the assertion that Walton Heath plays very links-like and in Eddie Pepperell, Alex Noren and Haotong Li we have a trio of recent Open Championship top-6 finishers.