Luke Donald has spoken of his pride at hosting the British Masters supported by Sky Sports, as he returns to action after a four-week break.
The former World Number One assumes the role this week at The Grove, after Ian Poulter spearheaded the British Masters’ return to The European Tour International Schedule 12 months ago following an absence of seven seasons.
Donald headlines the afternoon tee times on the first day of the tournament in the company of two Ryder Cup rookies, Andy Sullivan and Chris Wood, the latter who is aiming to join Sir Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie in an elite group of players who have won both the BMW PGA Championship and the British Masters in the same year.
A total of five players who were in action in Hazeltine will take to the course at The Grove, with Sullivan and Wood joined by defending British Masters champion Matt Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett.
They are joined in a strong field by Tyrrell Hatton who won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the Old Course St. Andrews to claim his first European Tour title and move to fourth in the Race to Dubai rankings.
And there’s a return of a legend as José María Olazábal makes his long-awaited comeback after 18-months on the sidelines through injury.
There has already been plenty of action at The Grove in the build up to the main event. Frenchman Alex Levy took the adulation of the 2,200 crowd who gathered to watch the inaugural Hero Challenge – a one-hole knockout contest under floodlights on Tuesday night, while Joost Luiten and former snooker World Champion Stephen Hendry then teamed up with local school kid Aston Anderson to win the ISPS Handa Pressure Putt Challenge on Wednesday afternoon.
Luke Donald: “This is something that I’ll remember for a while. I’ve been very proud to be a part of this event, seeing a different side to a tournament and how it’s put together. We’re trying to find unique ways to create a buzz and build events that are unique to our game. I’m excited that there’s been a big build up to the tournament and I’m excited to get going.
“I have had four weeks off since I last players in the US. I felt like I played a lot leading up to that and I needed a break. I’ve worked on my game for a couple of weeks now getting ready for this week, but I feel pretty refreshed and excited to get back to competition.
“Obviously I have more responsibility this week than I would have in a usual event, but it’s a very manageable amount, so I can concentrate on my game.”
Chris Wood: “The possibility of being in the same group as Sir Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie is quite a big thing for me to take in. And that’s extra motivation to try to win the tournament this week. That would be quite something to have on your CV really, to be associated with those three players.
“It’s fantastic to have a tournament like this on home soil. Home crowds make a huge difference to the week. So the familiarity you get from playing at home I think is quite a big help.”
Matt Fitzpatrick: “I can’t believe it’s a year (since the 2015 British Masters win). It’s obviously gone so fast, and since winning, a lot has changed.
“There have been plenty of doors opened and I managed to squeeze into the top 50 at the end of the year. I had a good end of the season after the British Masters, as well as three top 10s.
“It all seemed to happen so fast so I’ve spent a fair bit of time just trying to get used to it to be honest. It was a special week.”
José María Olazábal: “I want to see how the body can cope with the regular competition, rhythm of practice and 18 holes.
“The two weeks at the British Masters and Portugal Masters will be a good test to see if I can stand up all day. I want to see how it goes during the two weeks, and that will help me to take a decision on whether I will keep on playing the European Tour or the senior circuit next season. We’ll see how it goes.”