Strong Irish contingent bound for reinstated British Masters
Personal support of Ian Poulter ensures event returns after eight years
Pádraig Harrington: One of eight Irish players in the field for the British Masters at Woburn.
An idea first used with Rory McIlroy’s support of the Irish Open is gaining traction, and now Ian Poulter’s backing of the restored British Masters – taking place for the first time since 2008 – has ensured a strong field for the tournament at Woburn.
Add in its position towards the end of the season when players are chasing points, be it to retain tour cards or secure a place in the Race to Dubai finale, and there is something meaningful at stake beyond the title itself.
With a history which dates back to 1946, and a hugely impressive roll of honour, the absence of the British Masters from the schedule was a poor reflection on the European Tour’s failure to attract sponsors in its own backyard.
Indeed, on one of its previous stagings on the Duke’s course at Woburn, a young Poulter was among those who traipsed around in awe of Seve Ballesteros and actually managed to get a golf ball from the Spanish maestro.
“I remember following Seve round the course in 1991 (when Ballesteros won) and managing to get his golf ball. When you look at the names who have won this title, they are some of the biggest names in European golf. It’d be an honour to join them,” said Poulter, who chose Woburn as the venue for the tournament’s return.
In the coming years, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood have also agreed to take it in turns to promote the tournament.
Strong fieldPádraig HarringtonDarren ClarkeGraeme McDowell
For the eight Irish players in the field, there is certainly a lot to be played for. Of them, only Shane Lowry is assured of his place in DR World Tour Championship which brings a close to the European Tour season.
McDowell, Harrington, Michael Hoey and Darren Clarke are all still in pursuit of places in that field, whilst Damien McGrane is fighting to retain his tour card.
Then, there is the presence in the field of rookie Paul Dunne – on a course where he has twice emerged as leading medallist in qualifying for the Open championship – and Irish PGA champion Niall Kearney, both seeking to advance their respective careers.
Dunne made an impressive entry into the pro ranks with a top-20 finish in the Alfred Dunhill Links but admits he needs to win “a sizeable sum if I am to earn my tour card”.
In fact, Dunne probably needs to win another €200,000 on top of the €47,530 he earned at St Andrews if he is to secure a tour card for 2016 without having to go through Q-School. It is a tall order but the Wicklowman has invites to the British Masters and also next week’s Portugese Masters in which to achieve that aim.
Given its history, the British Masters’ return to the schedule after a seven-year absence is a welcome development. Among the past champions are Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer, Lee Trevino, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and, of course, Ballesteros. But there are been three Irish champions: Harry Bradshaw, Christy O’Connor Snr and Christy O’Connor Jnr.
Senior won twice, in 1956 and 1959, and Junior – in typically dramatic fashion – won his title in 1992 in a play-off with Tony Johnstone.
The following week, he went out and won the British Masters playing a series of stunning recovery shots.