Rory McIlroy is hoping for a ‘bonus win’ in this week’s British Masters supported by Sky Sports at Close House, as he returns to the tournament in which he made his professional debut ten years ago.
The Northern Irishman was a late addition to the star-studded line-up, following conversations with tournament host Lee Westwood, and will play at Close House and next week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship before taking a break from playing to recover from an ongoing rib injury.
McIlroy has enjoyed a magnificent career since joining the paid ranks at the British Masters at the Belfry in 2008, winning four Major Championships and 13 titles in total on the European Tour.
After an injury-hit 2017 campaign, the 28 year old admits a further victory at Close House would be a bonus, and said he can feel the enthusiasm for the tournament among the fans in the north east of England, who have not been treated to a European Tour event since 2002.
Ian Poulter, who hosted the British Masters in 2015, is also part of the field along with Matt Fitzpatrick, who claimed the title that year for his maiden European Tour victory. The Ryder Cup player has added three more European Tour victories since then, including on his last appearance in the Omega European Masters.
Rory McIlroy: “I’m happy to be here and happy to support Lee (Westwood). He’s been a good friend of mine on tour for a lot of years. It’s great to see the turnout, not just for this tournament, but for him as well. He’s been a great addition for European golf over the years, and I think to see Sergio (Garcia) here and myself and a lot of the other guys show up, it speaks volumes about Lee.
“I’ve definitely felt the enthusiasm. You can tell that a big golf tournament hasn’t been here for a long time. I don’t think a golf tournament this size has maybe ever been in this part of the country. You can definitely feel it’s a big deal and it’s a big event, and it’s great to see the locals are getting into it and embracing it.
“I’ve highlighted areas I’ve needed to work on. If I play well these next two weeks, that’s just a bonus. Hopefully I can show something these next two weeks and play okay, and go into my off-season knowing what I need to work on and being excited about that, and excited about getting into the process, and coming out next year and playing better than I have this year.
“Hopefully by giving it that six-week or eight-week rest, I’ll be able to fully practise and prepare, and as I said at the start, not feel like I’m playing catch-up at every tournament, because I feel like I haven’t been able to do the preparation that will allow me to play my best golf.”
“I thought it played pretty tough today, a bit of wind, and there was only two par fives. There’s not that many opportunities to score on the front nine, there’s a few shorter holes on the back. Overall, I think it will be a decent test.”
Matthew Fitzpatrick: “It’s one of the first ones down on this schedule. It’s a very cliché remark but it’s true. You always want to come and play the British Masters in front of the British crowds.
“This course is a lot different to what we normally play. It’s obviously got a lot of elevation changes and into the greens, if the wind does pick up, it will be pretty difficult. I think it will be a good test. I don’t think it suits anyone in particular, which is kind of nice, so it should be an interesting week.
“I think I’ve sort of got something now – found it in the Czech Republic – it was a tough one. I’ve not really had a great summer for a while. I drove it much better in Switzerland and drove it much better in Czech Republic as well. Hopefully, I can just take that into the run at the end of the year.”
Ian Poulter: “The British Masters and Sky Sports have done a good job of bringing this event back into the calendar, and you can tell just from today, the amount of people that we’ll have out here fans-wise this week is going to be incredible.
“I think moving the event around the country has proved a pretty good one, and it gives everyone the opportunity to come out and watch some great players play some great golf.”