AS THE RACE TO DUBAI HEATS UP FOR THE EUROPEAN TOUR’S BEST THEY MUST FIRST BATTLE IT OUT FOR THE BRITISH MASTERS AT CLOSE HOUSE G.C. NORTHUMBERLAND, HOME TO LEE WESTWOOD.

From Woburn to The Grove the European Tour makes its return to the North East of England in 15 years where Lee Westwood hosts the 2017 edition supported by Sky Sports.

Leading favourite for the title Lee Westwood had a memorable finish last year at Wentworth, closing with a final round 67, finishing in third on 15-under to erase the memories of a woeful Ryder Cup campaign at Hazeltine.

Alex Noren stayed out in front to beat Bernt Wiesberger by two shots, carding a birdie on the final hole, to claim his third European title of the season, before finally ending the season with four victories.

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Formerly known as a host of names, most recently the Quinn Insurance British Masters, the tournament was resurrected by Sky Sports after a five-year absence in 2015.

A par 70 measuring just under 7,000 yards, Close House ranks inside the Top-100 courses in England presents a tenacious test to an elite field spanning over nearly 200 acres.

Home to an abundance of thick rough, sloping greens and brutal long par fours the course is a Scott MacPherson and Lee Westwood design named after English Golf Architect Harry Colt.

Having an accurate tee shot is key on this track, with club selection in the forefront of every player’s mind, with any knock into the trees or the long fescue putting your chances of par on the back-burner.

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When plotting the course holes, seven, eleven and the fourteenth present tight and precise tee shots, with even the first hole demanding a straight shot on the fairway.

If that wasn’t a big enough challenge there are also three ponds littering the course with six new much longer tees and three green alterations.

Many of these changes can be seen on the 14th holes, coming down the stretch, it holds a tough tee shot with an ice lake down the right-side and a downhill sloping green with a Ha-Ha wall short, as a guard.

Low scores are achievable in good Autumnal conditions and with a solid game. Previously at this event, Matthew Fitzpatrick has carded a 64 (2016) along with Richard Bland and Kiradech Aphibarnrat (2015).

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The Lee Westwood Colt Course hosted the prestigious ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship for its debut in 2015 and has undergone considerable changes over the last year.

A fresh track, ready for its European Tour maiden voyage is set up to be quite the event, with North East golf fans sure to come out in force for another northern sporting triumph:

The Field:

  • 3 former world number ones make up the 132-man field (Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood & Martin Kaymer).
  • 7 Major champions including 2017 Masters winner, Sergio Garcia.
  • There are 86 all-time European Tour winners.
  • 9 players out of the Top-20 in the Race to Dubai, but not leader Tommy Fleetwood.
  • 2 former British Masters champions Matt Fitzpatrick (2015) and Alex Noren (2016).

HOT PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Sergio Garcia

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Having openly admitted that his season has season dried up since the Spaniard’s maiden major title, you just can’t count him out.

Looking settled and feeling confident, plotting his way around the Colt course on Tuesday is the reassurance you need after his hectic month playing over in the PGA Tour FedExCup.

Coming off the back of three consecutive top-30 finishes, including a tenth place spot at last weeks Tour championship, the world number ten’s game is starting to come round.

Firing a final-round 67 Garcia is hitting the shots that won him his illustrious green jacket and proving the desire to win still burns in him.

With his FedExCup bonus secured, due to a 10th place finish at Eastlake and ranking 21st on the American money list, it’s now to gritting out the results for a win.

A course the demands ball-striking and accurate play off the tee and from the fairway, then look no further than Garcia.

The 13-time European Tour winner ranks eighth on the PGA Tour for greens in regulation combined with 12th for strokes gained; tee-to-green and helpfully fifth for scrambling around-the-green.

No one can dispute his record whenever on show at an Open Championship, ten top-10 finishes since 2009 is worthy of an honour on its own, if the rain and wind turn up on cue in Northumberland it would play into Garcia’s hands.

Lee Westwood

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Westwood is a past British Masters champion when the tournament was a regular on the European Tour, claiming the title at The Belfry in 2007. He narrowly defended his title the following season but lost in a playoff to Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño.

Combine this with a third-place finish in the 2016 edition at the Grove and not carding a round over 70 the last two seasons and at his home course, he is guaranteed a top-place finish.

Alongside Chris Paisley and Danny Willett, Westy has played The Colt course the most and won’t let this advantage go to waste especially whilst he’s riding the good form he’s in.

The Englishman is coming off a T-3 finish at the KLM Open and a T-9 spot at the Czech Masters proving his game is trending in the right direction.

When talking to the media on Tuesday Westwood was looking forward to being a player and contender this week:

I feel like a win is just around the corner, it would be great if it was this week but whenever it comes it’ll be fantastic.

Rory McIlroy

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No doubt the biggest name in the field this week and a surprise addition, but you can never count out when the former world number one will be on his ‘A-game’.

The Northern Irishman seems to be rushing to the finish line of the 16-17 season after a missed cut earlier this month at the Dell Technologies Open and a below-par T58 in Illinois meaning he missed out on the top-30 players heading to Eastlake to battle for the Tour Championship.

I am sort of waiting for the season to end and that is reflected in the way I am playing.

But with the offseason insight and just the British Masters and Alfred Dunhill Links, which he will play with Dad, Jerry, his last two commitments of the year he could gain some surprising form with no real pressure.

He still ranks 8th on the PGA Tour for strokes gained tee-to-green and 5th for scrambling on the European Tour, two stats which are vital to succeed at Close House.

Alex Noren

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The defending champion makes his first start since the European Omega Masters in Switzerland and is in some relatively good form an eight-time winner on tour.

In his last ten starts on the European Tour he’s made four top-10s, had a victory at Wentworth alongside two missed cuts.

The Swede comes off the back of a strong T-6 finish at the European Masters and it would be foolish to count the world number fourteen out contention.

The Northumberland course demands a tidy short game with it sloping greens and undulating features, along with it being littered with deep green-side bunkers.

Noren ranks second for scrambling on the European Tour and 16th for sand saves with 70% of up-and-downs, a stat he’ll be thankful for heading into Thursday.

Jordan Smith

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The rookie has set the European Tour alight this season grabbing his maiden victory at Porsche European Open against another star-studded field.

In a whirlwind of a season, the 24-year-old has made four top-10 finishes, a win and only missed five cuts in 24 starts showing a shade of no non-sense and huge talent.

His last time out of the blocks was missing the weekend at Crans-sur-Sierre, after rounds of 72 and 73, but harking back to his T9 finish at the US PGA Championships should erase any doubts.

The Englishman ranks 17th for driving accuracy on the European Tour, hitting 751 fairways all season, combined with placing 34th for greens-in-regulation he could be set for a run at the title on home soil.

Graeme Storm

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The local hero. Playing into the local knowledge storyline Storm was born just over an hour away from Northumberland in Hartlepool and will be a crowd favourite all week.

Having already toppled Rory McIlroy in a playoff at the BMW South African Open early this season any questions of nerve have been crushed.

A two-time winner on tour now is on an upward curve after his T3 last week in Portugal and safely inside the top-50 in the Race To Dubai.

Having already combatted a wrist injury in mid-season Strom has gone out to grind out four top-10s and just miss six cuts, but that should be behind after his revival in Vilamoura.

I have been looking forward to it all year. I can just roll out of bed and drive up and play golf so it should be a lot of fun. The wind and rain can come along and that suits me fine.

British Masters Records

  • Tournament host Lee Westwood is the second former World Number One following Luke Donald to host the British Masters.
  • The British Masters returns to the north east of England for the first time in 45 years at Close House.
  • Two months after winning the 1988 Masters Tournament at Augusta National, Sandy Lyle made it a unique double with victory in the British Masters. As a result claiming the £41,660 first prize, the Scotsman became the first British player to pass £1 million in European Tour Official Career Earnings.
  • There have been 13 different Major Champions who have claimed this crown, including Greg Norman (1981, 1982), Seve Ballesteros (1986, 1991) and Justin Rose (2002).

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Venue: Close House GC, Northumberland.

Date: September 28th-1st October

Forecast: 15-25mph winds over the weekend. Cloudy and chance of rain.

Course: Par 70; 6,906 yards

Purse: £3,000,000

Defending Champion: Alex Noren (-18)

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