Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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‘A big fortnight for the European Tour’


Bernd Wiesberger with the Scottish Open trophy
Bernd Wiesberger won last year’s Scottish Open which was also held at the Renaissance Club
Date:1-4 OctoberVenue:The Renaissance Club, North Berwick
Coverage:Third round highlights 20:00 BST on Red Button and 23:20 on BBC Two; final round highlights 18:00 on BBC Two

Who knows whether Europe would have defended the Ryder Cup, had it been played as scheduled in Wisconsin last week?

They would have been up against a US team brimful of youth and confidence following the recent major wins for Bryson DeChambeau, at the US Open, and US PGA champion Collin Morikawa.

But, as has been proven on many occasions, individual American dominance does not always translate into matching Europe’s collective spirit. I suspect it would have been another compellingly close battle that could have gone either way.

Regardless, the European Tour can, this week, reflect on a triumph of a different sort with the staging of its first Rolex Series event since the coronavirus pandemic ripped up the sporting schedule.

Dire forecasts accompanied lockdown in early spring. Many feared for the circuit’s future when tournament after tournament was lost across the world.

The Tour’s greatest strength, being genuinely global, became its biggest weakness because of the international nature of the health crisis. Never had the Wentworth-based organisation faced such challenges, many of which still remain.

It has been a painful period, with around 70 redundancies from a workforce of 265 people. The players have been competing for diminished purses of around £1m each week.

That might seem pretty decent, but it is a sharp reduction from usual prize pots.

Most importantly, though, the European Tour has continued to provide competition and earning opportunities for its members, every week since it returned with Marc Warren’s win at the Austrian Open in early July.

The six tournament run of events in the UK that started with the British Masters was inspired. A Covid-safe environment, with strict testing and bubble conditions, was boosted by the removal of the usual globe-trotting nature of tour life.

While the bigger European names fought for big bucks in America, several less familiar figures were able to come to the fore on this side of the pond.

Ironically it was a US player, John Catlin, who did better than most through this strange summer. He collected a second win with his closing 64 at last Sunday’s Irish Open – adding to his triumph at Valderrama earlier in the month.

The American-raised Briton Sam Horsfield also won twice. Now firmly embedded in the world’s top 100, he would have fancied a run at the US Open had he not tested positive for coronavirus in the build up to that major.

Europe caught a bigger glimpse of other emerging stars; Italy’s Renato Paratore, winner at the British Masters, Frenchman Romain Langasque and the highly promising Dane Rasmus Hojgaard seem stand out prospects.

All three have won and significantly advanced their careers despite playing for deflated rewards compared with those available in pre-pandemic days.

But normality now returns to the size of cheques. The Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open will be worth its usual $7m (£5.5m) and the field is stronger as a result.

This is the tournament that ordinarily is played the week before The Open in July, guaranteeing a strong American presence. Those US stars are absent from the Renaissance Club, near North Berwick, but there remains plenty of quality.

Tommy Fleetwood is one of 20 Ryder Cup players on show along with US based Englishmen Ian Poulter, Matt Fitzpatrick and 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett – one of seven major champions.

This week is the closest the European Tour has come to reflecting its true strength since Lee Westwood won in Abu Dhabi in January. What a different world it was back then.

The tournament will be played in the absence of spectators after plans to allow 650 people per day were shelved following the latest upsurge in Covid-19 figures.

Nevertheless, the golf should be well worth watching, with weekend highlights on BBC television, and Scottish hopes being carried by the talented and tenacious left-hander Bob Macintyre.

It is the start of a big fortnight for the Tour, with Britain’s top player Tyrrell Hatton and Olympic champion Justin Rose joining the field for the flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth next week.

Fans will again be missing on the West Course, but this is the way of the world in these troubled times.

It is fair to say the European Tour are making the best of the them as we all wait an extra year for the Ryder Cup to return.

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