Fitzpatrick to lead strong English team on home soil
Wood could also go well
Sky Sports Golf/Main Event, 9.30am Thursday
Palmer's top tip
Matthew Fitzpatrick 22-1
Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia have been lured to Newcastle-upon-Tyne by British Masters host Lee Westwood, doubtless a few carrots dangled along the way, but the biggest names may not contest for the title on Sunday.
McIlroy and Garcia will command the largest galleries, but neither have been playing well enough to suggest that they will put on a show for the hordes who will surge through the gates at Close House this week.
McIlroy added this event to his schedule after failing to qualify for the Tour Championship last week. His final tournament of a hugely disappointing year will be the Dunhill Links Championship next week.
Injuries and club changes have taken their toll, and from May onwards he has produced hardly any decent golf. The 2017 season is one for McIlroy to forget.
Garcia will look back much more fondly on his campaign, the obvious highlight being his Major breakthrough at Augusta. Solid but unspectacular performances have followed.
Garcia at 10-1 is more appealing than McIlroy at 8-1, but the appetite of the Spaniard for this event after a long trip from the Tour Championship in Georgia is open to question. A few of the old Garcia tantrums have been on display in recent weeks and he could be easily unsettled on unfamiliar terrain.
A much more attractive wager at more than double the price of Garcia is resurgent Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, who captured a fourth European Tour victory at Crans-sur-Sierre last time out.
The likeable Sheffield lad turned 23 only at the start of this month, but already he has become a prolific winner who seems to raise his game when in contention for titles. That is the mark of a true champion and a second British Masters success could be forthcoming.
Fitzpatrick made his European Tour breakthrough in this tournament in 2015, providing a masterclass at Woburn, and another tight, tree-lined layout awaits him this week. The 6,906-yard, par-70, Colt Course at Close House looks perfect for Fitz to showcase his precise ball-striking and razor-sharp short-game.
Fitzpatrick tied for 12th in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, the other Tour event staged annually in England, and home players tend to thrive when tackling familiar conditions with cheers ringing in their ears from supportive crowds. Five of the last nine PGA winners have been English, along with five of the last nine British Masters winners.
Chris Wood 40-1
The influence of legendary course designer Harry Colt is strong at Close House, and Chris Wood, a champion on Colt's most famous creation Wentworth, should like what he sees.
Wood has a fantastic record in the UK and Ireland – the Bristol boy loves performing close to home – and a fourth European Tour title could be on the cards before he turns 30 in November.
Wood showed enough in the KLM Open last time out – improving his score each day and closing with a 65 for ninth place – to suggest he will be a serious Close House contender.
David Horsey 66-1
Jordan Smith 66-1
Paul Dunne 66-1
Chris Paisley 100-1
Many bookmakers are betting to six or seven each-way places, and there is some fantastic value to be had deep down the lists, with the two market leaders looking vulnerable. Three more Englishmen are recommended, along with Irish raider Paul Dunne.
David Horsey will be licking his lips at the prospect of teeing up at a track which rewards accuracy and a tidy short-game. The diminutive grinder from Stockport has won four times on the European Tour through his fairway-finding ability and rock-solid putting.
He has twice finished runner-up this year and there has been much to like about his golf over the last month, a title challenge in Denmark followed by strong fightbacks from slow starts in Switzerland and Holland.
Jordan Smith and Chris Paisley are the other two English lions worthy of support. An impressive rookie campaign from Smith peaked with a breakthrough victory in the European Open at the end of July.
An even greater prize may await the 24-year-old on Sunday, though. Smith was ninth in his Major debut in the USPGA last month and the star of the Challenge Tour last year has clearly got what it takes to compete at the highest level.
Paisley was attached to Close House for many years, so knows the venue well. He was born locally, lives down the road, and should be ultra-comfortable on the course.
The 31-year-old has looked a potential European Tour champion ever since finishing third behind Francesco Molinari and Danny Willett in last year's Italian Open, and encouraging recent form, including third place in Denmark, means he can serve up plenty of birdies for his army of Close House fans. Paisley's lone Challenge Tour victory came in England.
Dunne has also been playing well and finished like a train in the KLM Open, producing 18 birdies and an eagle over the closing three rounds.
He has won the Open Final Qualifying event at Woburn three times, so is proven on this type of course, and this looks another excellent opportunity for the 24-year-old to shed his maiden tag.
Others to note
The defending champion has followed up with the BMW PGA title and is hunting a fifth Tour victory on UK soil. Obvious dangerman.
The less heralded Swede is a US Tour regular who finished 20th on his downgrade to the European Tour in last week's Portugal Masters. Expect something similar at Close House.
The six-time European Tour champ turns 40 next month. May have one last hurrah left in him at 175-1 on a course which suits. Swedes have won two of the last five British Masters.
The tournament host will have plenty of off-course committments to distract him this week. That leaves less time to work on a consistently unconvincing putting stroke.
The old Ryder Cup warhorse, like Westwood, should relish the course, but is probably no longer good enough to take advantage.
The Irishman has an excellent record at Wentworth and could take a shine to Close House. There were signs of life in Portugal last week.
2.5pts each-way 22-1 bet365
1.5pts each-way 40-1 Betfred
1pt each-way 66-1 Coral
1pt each-way 66-1 Coral, SkyBet
1pt each-way 66-1 Coral
0.5pt each-way 100-1 Coral
Course Lee Westwood Colt Course, Close House Golf Club, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England
Prize money €3.4m (€553,969 to the winner)
Length 6,906 yards Par 70 Field 132
When to bet By 7.30am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 9.30am Thursday
Last week – Portugal Masters 1 L Bjerregaard (55-1), 2 M Warren (150-1), T3 G Storm (150-1), E Pepperell (28-1), T5 R Gouveia (125-1), J-F Lima (225-1), T7 D Burmester (75-1), S Soderberg (400-1), N Elvira (80-1), A Wu (80-1), G Coetzee (33-1).
Course overview Scott Macpherson designed this private, parkland layout, with input from Lee Westwood, and it is making its European Tour debut.
The name of the track stems from the fact that Macpherson tried to adopt some design features from one of the all-time greats, Harry Colt, who is most famous for creating Wentworth.
The Colt is a short course by modern standards, with only two par-fives – the 497-yard sixth and the 540-yard 13th. There are four par-threes, ranging between 175 yards and 221, and five of the 12 par-fours are 400 yards or shorter.
The 373-yard par-four 11th is one of the toughest holes on the course, despite looking generous on the card, while the 392-yard par-four 16th is another difficult sub-400-yard par-four. The course closes with the water-protected, 221-yard, par-three 18th, where par is a great score
Story of last year Alexander Noren triumphed at The Grove, winning by two shots from Bernd Wiesberger, with this year's tournament host, Lee Westwood, alone in third
Weather forecast The event may start with a short spell of light rain, but clear from Thursday afternoon onwards, with only light breezes throughout
Type of player suited to challenge Long-game precision allied to sharp short-game work appears the route to success. This short, tight track, with fast, undulating greens, requires sound course management, and attacking big-hitters may find themselves frustrated
Key attribute Accuracy
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