EDDIE Pepperell will defend a European Tour title for the first time in his career as he tees it up at the Betfred British Masters at Hillside Golf Club tomorrow (Thursday).
The Englishman won last year’s British Masters at Walton Heath, his second title of the 2018 season, and has arrived at Hillside in a confident mood, hoping to emulate his achievement last year.
Pepperell, who hails from Abingdon and grew up playing golf at Drayton Park, said: “It’s a shame I missed Qatar, but certainly being back in England is nice, and the first time playing Hillside, as well.
“I played nine yesterday on the back nine, and good to see it for the first time. Yeah, good draw, as well, playing with Thomas (Fleetwood), and Stevie (Gallacher), of course,” said the Frilford Heath member.
“I’m curious to see how I feel tomorrow. I’m expecting to feel quite relaxed, but I might not. It certainly felt a bit strange coming back this week having not been in Europe for ages, and just being in a completely different environment and getting used to that, when you come back here, it just feels quite strange.
“There may be a bit of getting used to that tomorrow, but I feel quite relaxed, and as always — well, I try to always focus very hard on my game, so that’s occupying my mind.
“My game certainly feels closer than it did on the Wednesday of British Masters last year. That was terrible that day. The way things can change, I never like to feel too confident on a Wednesday because it doesn’t last.
“I don’t know what to expect from my game. I know there’s a bit of weakness at the moment in there somewhere, but I feel like around this course with the conditions, I can skirt my way around that and manage to shoot four good scores.
“This week I’m quietly confident I guess you could say, but I don’t feel like I’ve played well at all this year. I haven’t swung the club as well as I have last year and the year before that.
“So to have done what I’ve been able to do so far over the span of a year, I’ve made the most of it, and that’s a positive. So if I can find some form swinging like that, then I’m pretty confident I’ll come out this year better than last. Yeah, quiet optimism.”
Pepperell will tee it up in the first and second rounds alongside this year’s tournament host Tommy Fleetwood, who began his week with victory in the first Hero Challenge of the season at Princes Dock in Liverpool on Tuesday night, and 2019 Hero Indian Open winner Stephen Gallacher.
Making his 18th appearance in the British Masters is former World No. 1 Lee Westwood, who hosted the British Masters in 2017 at Close House.
After a four-year absence from the winner’s circle, Westwood won his 24th European Tour title at the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player in November.
The Englishman arrives at Hillside hoping to add a second British Masters crown to his trophy cabinet, having won the event in 2007 at The Belfry – the 46-year-old has previous form at Hillside, winning The Pines Trophy at this course in 1990.
Westwood said: “I’m coming back to somewhere that I’ve played well in the past and a golf course that I enjoy playing and a tournament I enjoy playing, so it’s always nice to play in England in front of the English and British fans.
“There’s been some great winners here in the past. Seve is a past winner and Greg Norman a past winner, so two heroes of mine growing up, and players I’ve wanted to emulate.
“I’ve been a host a couple years ago. I saw the other side of it, how a tournament is run and what goes into it. I’ve got a great appreciation for what goes into running the British Masters and others, and now I get to play in the British Masters.
“It’s always been played on some great venues and always attracts a great field and great fans that really seem to enjoy coming to this tournament and supporting it.”