THIS is a ground-breaking week for the European Tour. With Sky Sports “supporting” the event, a preview of the £3 million British Masters – back for the first time since 2008 – included live coverage of the pro-am (painful viewing for those of us who have come straight from the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship).
In what is believed to be a world first for the sport, one of the players, Nick Dougherty, will also provide live input into the first-round commentary from Woburn today.
Whether both aspects become regular features at events remains to be seen as the Tour’s new chief executive, Keith Pelley, who was in tournament host Ian Poulter’s pro-am team, prepares to stamp his mark on the circuit. But, for Craig Lee – or “Humpty Dumpty”, as he jokingly described himself due to the fact he’s relying on physiotherapists to repair him during an energy-sapping run of tournaments – the task at hand over the next few days is nothing new, neither for him or professional golfers, historically.
With only three more throws of the dice left, the 38-year-old Stirling-based player is battling to hang on to his card. He is sitting 122nd on the money list, 11 places and around £25,000 short of survival. He just clung on to his playing rights in 2012 when finishing 115th on the money list then, after climbing to a career-best 59th the following year, cut it fine again when he ended up 107th 12 months ago.
“These next three events are massive for me,” admitted the former Tartan Tour player, who has the Portugal Masters and Hong Kong Open after this to try to avoid a first visit back to the Qualifying School since 2010. “But, while I didn’t want to have to go through this again, I’ve managed to do it before, so I will just have to dig deep.”
Lee, who was denied a breakthrough victory when he lost to Thomas Bjorn in a play-off for the European Masters in Switzerland two years ago, looked to have laid the foundations for another solid campaign by finishing joint third in the Tshwane Open in Africa back in March.
He recently chalked up back-to-back eighth-place finishes in the Czech Republic and Russia, but an early exit from the Dunhill Links took his missed cut tally this year to 15 from 25 starts.
“I had a wee spell in the middle of this year when my golf was just terrible,” he admitted.
Before travelling down to this leafy venue in the heart of Bedfordshire, Lee paid a visit to Glenbervie to see his trusty coach, Steven Rosie. “I had a crash lesson on Monday with Steven, who spits it out in a very simplistic way that you can easily understand and, hopefully, fingers crossed, I found something that will keep me going these three weeks,” he said.
Lee has developed an “iron man” reputation since stepping up from the Challenge Tour and this year is no different. “This is going to be my eighth week on the spin now and I’m staring at ten in a row. That’s a lot of golf especially when you get to my age but then there is a lot to play for,” he declared. “Ideally, I was going to take a week off somewhere down the line, but I can’t until the job is done. Thankfully, I have been able to work with my own physio back home and also the Tour’s physio staff every day and they’re doing a good job of putting ‘Humpty Dumpty’ back together again.”
Bidding to follow in the spikemarks of Sandy Lyle and Gary Orr, winners of this event here in 1988 and 2000 respectively, Stephen Gallacher and Paul Lawrie are both confident of making it to the first tee despite their failure to complete yesterday’s pro-am. Virus-hit Gallacher lasted eight holes, one fewer than Lawrie, who suffered a back twinge lifting his clubs out of the car boot.