FORMER World No. 1 Lee Westwood enters the week not only as tournament host but also as one of the favourites to take the Betfred British Masters at Close House.
The Ryder Cup legend claimed his 25th European Tour win earlier this season at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
It also meant he can boast victories across four decades on tour.
And has one eye on another double this week – winning the event for the second time – he won in 2007 when it was played at The Belfry.
Hosting duties will take on a very different complexion now for Westwood, with stringent health and safety measures in place at Close House, near Newcastle Upon Tyne.
No fans will be present because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Westwood said: “Hosting has been very different. There has been nothing to do on site with sponsors and fans, which has been a shame.
“We’re trying to keep numbers to a minimum on site. We’ve taken all precautions. It’s up to us to be very careful.
“From what I’ve witnessed people are sticking to it by the letter. The testing procedures are very thorough.
“Everyone on site who has been through it can only have found it impressive.”
Westwood: I have never felt better
THE evergreen Englishman is delighted to be back playing competitively for the first time in five months.
Westwood has been on a strict health regime and has never felt fitter, so he will be a force to be reckoned with at his home course.
The Ryder Cup veteran, who now lives close to Close House, said: “The golf course is in great condition once again. Probably better than the last time we hosted the Betfred British Masters.
“It’s a better time in the calendar for the golf course. The greens are quicker, fairways are immaculate.
“As long as the weather co-operates, we should have a great week.
“I would like to get off to another good start this year. The last time I had a long break and played was in Abu Dhabi.
“So the break didn’t do me too much harm there. I’ve played this golf course a lot, especially over the last three or four months.
“When the courses opened up myself and my son Sam were out here nearly every day either practising or playing.
“This is certainly the fittest I’ve felt, without a doubt. There was a period over lockdown where I didn’t play much golf for five or six weeks.
“So I got myself into the gym and worked hard and continued once I started playing golf again. I’ve been pretty busy with it over the last five months.”
Pepperell pepped up his fitness
EDDIE Pepperell, who won this event in 2018, has also benefited from a health kick during lockdown in the UK.
The Frilford Heath member is feeling “quietly confident” upon his return.
Pepperell and Westwood spoke out in favour of remaining in Europe to play the UK Swing – rather than heading to the USA for the World Golf Championship in Memphis before playing the USPGA at San Francisco’s Harding Park.
The 29-year-old Oxfordshire-based pro said: “I don’t know what to expect this week. I think I’ll play very well or pretty bad.
“I don’t imagine there will be a lot in the middle. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and practising so I feel it will go one of two ways.
“It doesn’t really stay in the middle when I do that,” said Pepperell, who won his second European Tour title when the British Masters was held at Walton Heath two years ago.
“I’m quietly confident, seeing quite a lot of nice stuff. It’s not a place I like to be, I actually prefer to be worried the day before – that tends to make me focus a little more.
“I think, ironically, given the circumstances and playing with no crowds, it almost might make me doubly intent on focusing hard.
“I know I’m going to have to play well, but also stay immersed in some way in the golf,” added Pepperell, who has the vastly experienced Micky Duran on the bag.
“I think that will be important for me. I’m quietly hopeful but I don’t know what to expect,” added the former England amateur international.
Kinhult enjoyed less restrictions in Sweden
MEANWHILE defending champion Marcus Kinhult is another player feeling comfortable with his game, having enjoyed plenty of practice over the past four months.
The Swede said: “I’m excited to go out again and compete. It’s been just over four months, so it should be fun and I’m looking forward to the week.
“It’s so different now with all the restrictions because of COVID, so I don’t feel the defending champion part as much – more trying to get into the new routines and everything.
“It’s nice to be defending but at the same time it’s a new course and everything is new.
“I just saw that I’m playing with Lee Westwood so that will be fun.
“I’ve just been back home in Sweden in my house. Sweden has had a different approach to coronavirus.
“So we’ve been living not quite like normal, but close to normal. We’ve been playing golf and we’ve been OK.
“So I’ve kind of enjoyed the four months,” added Lee, who moved to Newcastle to Worksop, where he played amateur golf for Nottinghamshire, and England.
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