Image Credit: British Masters Twitter
As is the convention these days, the British Masters is hosted by one of the nation's best golfers, who is the face of the event and selects both the course and the overall environment for the rest of the field. Last year Justin Rose did a fantastic job of promoting the event at Walton Heath, and for 2019 the opportunity has fallen to Tommy Fleetwood, one half of the greatest golfing double-act since the days of Seve and Olazabal.
As you would imagine, Fleetwood has stuck to his North-Western roots by selecting Hillside Golf Club as the venue for this year's event, located just on the outskirts of his lovely hometown of Southport. Despite the British Masters having undergone some difficulties in retaining sponsorship and funding over the last few years, the popular and charismatic Fleetwood appears a good choice to try and ensure the future of this event is safe.
With an excellent golf course, strong field, and the prospect of the second major of the year just around the corner, we're all set for an action-packed week. Let's take a closer look at what can be expected.
Eddie Pepperell won his second European Tour title of 2018 last year at Walton Heath where the event was hosted by current World Number Two Justin Rose.
In tough conditions, Pepperell ground out a final round of level par, which included a hole-out eagle on the 10th, to win by two strokes over Alexander Bjork, with Jordan Smith and Lucas Herbert finishing T3. Englishmen Tom Lewis, Sam Horsfield, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Andy Sullivan all finished in the Top 10, suggesting that links experience and home-crowd advantage really can play a part at this event.
To give you an idea of what the players are in line to face this week, let's hand over to a couple of people who are much, much more qualified than me.
Greg Norman - "Hillside's back nine is the best in Britain"
Jack Nicklaus - "A wild looking links - within the second nine are some of my favourite holes"
Ok, sounds pretty good then. Whilst the front nine is no pushover, especially if the wind is up, it is on the inward nine that the test really begins. Two of the course's signature holes are back-to-back; the short, uphill par-3 10th where anything that misses the tricky green is odds-on for a bogey, and then the par-5 11th, where the tee box sits high above the course and offers panoramic views across the north west.
Perhaps the key hole this week, though, could be the par-5 17th. Set to play at around 550 yards, this is often straight back into the wind and so may only be reachable for the very longest of hitters. Dunes surround either side of the fairway and there is a sharp incline up to the green so it's crucial for the players to get their tee shot into the fairway if they want to stand a good chance of making birdie.
As a 6,900 yard par 72 the course is not overly long, so the pot bunkers and typical British wind and rain (which is forecast to be a pretty prominent factor) will be the course's biggest defence this week. However, we're still expecting some pretty decent scoring this week all the same.
Of course, Tommy Fleetwood is the headline act this week, but he has also managed to get a number of England's top golfers to make the trip to Southport. Lee Westwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Wallace and defending champion Eddie Pepperell are all in attendance, and are bound to get plenty of support from the home crowd this week.
Behind that however is a long list of top European Tour performers, including the likes of Joost Luiten, Martin Kaymer and Alex Levy, each of whom have won multiple European Tour events. Rising stars Jordan Smith, Shubhankar Sharma, Sean Crocker and the incredibly talented Min Woo Lee are also teeing it up this week and are definitely worth looking out for.
The Favourite - Jordan Smith @ 33/1
The 26 year-old has won once on the European Tour back in 2017, but looks ready to take his game to the next level this season and follow in the footsteps of Matt Wallace and even Tommy Fleetwood, progressing from good European Tour players into world stars.
Smith is ranked 122nd in the world but has started the season really well, and a T5 finish last week was his fourth Top 15 finish in his last five events.
As mentioned earlier he did finish T3 in this event last year but the Hillside links does provide a different challenge, although it appears that he will be up to the task, with decent finishes at St Andrews and Gullane last summer. Whilst there are bigger English names on the card, Smith is the man who arrives in form and may spring a bit of a surprise to some this week.
The Underdog - Ryan Fox @ 40/1
Fox has taken a couple of months off due to his wedding and honeymoon, so should be well-rested and raring to go again this week in Southport. Prior to the break, he was in great form with a win in Perth, along with good finishes in Saudi and at the New Zealand Open.
Most importantly, Fox is a fantastic links player due to his excellent ball-striking and flight control as well his long hitting always lending a helping hand. So he could be really dangerous this week at a relatively short course.
The New Zealander has four top-6 finishes in his last 8 starts on the British Isles, so this event could be a perfect opportunity for him to collect his second win of the season.
The Longshot - Stephen Gallacher @ 110/1
Gallacher won the Hero Indian Open back in March in a bit of a surprise late-career resurgence, as he is enjoying having his son on the bag and sharing their experiences together. Results either side of the victory have not been great but he should still come into this event with plenty of confidence. A couple of weeks back in Morocco he started strongly again with an opening 68 before fading as conditions toughened.
The Scotsman is an excellent links player who has 3 top 12s in his last 4 starts on this type of course, meaning that he could well contend on a medium-length course which will benefit those with plenty of links experience.