Short-game magic helps Calum Hill conjure up strong British Masters start

So much for it being the weak link in his game. Calum Hill described one of his short-game saves during the first round of the Betfred British Masters as “ridiculous” and another as a “cracker”. Having witnessed both, the 26-year-old Scot wasn’t exaggerating about some of his mercurial work around the greens at The Belfry.

Calum Hill picks a line with caddie Phil "Wobbly" Morbey on the 17th hole during the first round of The Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett at The Belfry. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

Add in a chip in for the second of six birdies on another occasion then a third par-saving salvage operation to finish, it was an impressive display from Hill as he signed for a five-under-par 67 at the Ryder Cup venue to sit handily-placed in an event being hosted by Danny Willett.

On a day when he signed for seven birdies, including five in six holes around the turn, Austrian Matthias Schwab set the pace with a 66 to hold a narrow lead over Hill, with a big group on four-under including 2018 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open champion Bernd Wiesberger.

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“It was pretty good,” said Hill as he initially delivered a somewhat understated verdict on his short game before happily expanding about a “couple of beauties” at the 14th and 18th on his front nine after starting at the 10th on the Brabazon Course at the Sutton Coldfield resort.

Having already followed a birdie from around 10 feet at the 11th with his chip in from just through the back at the 12th, the Kirkcaldy-born player looked to have little chance of avoiding a first bogey after a tugged tee shot at the short 14th.

“That was ridiculous,” he said of somehow managing to get his second to around 15 feet then rolling in the putt, maintaining momentum in the process as he then moved to four-under on the back of birdies at the 15th and 17th - both par-5s.

Short right with his approach at the 18th to a right pin position on the middle tier, the odds were stacked against him again only for the situation to be retrieved on this occasion by a superbly-executed flop shot. “A cracker,” he said of that while the one to finish at the adjoining ninth was described as “really good as well” after being short-sided.

“Three ones that you would hopefully get one of them on a regular day, so I have kind of nabbed two shots out there,” admitted Hill as he summed up his productive performance with wedges in hand.

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A closing 66 saw the Crook of Devon-based player tie for ninth in the ISPS Handa UK Championship over the same course last year, when he also finished in the top 10 in the Wales Open at Celtic Manor.

Those efforts were gained without Hill really finding top gear, but this season he’s become a constant challenger on leaderboards, having racked up three top-10 finishes, including a tie for fourth behind world No 1 Dustin Johnson in the Saudi International in February.

He was also in the mix heading into the final round of the Canary Islands Championship in Tenerife last weekend only to be left in Garrick Higgo’s slipstream – in fairness, he wasn’t alone – as the impressive young South African landed his second title triumph in three weeks.

“Last year was a bit naff as I had a couple of chances, but not as many as I’ve had now,” said Hill. “When I did put myself in a decent spot last year, I fell away.

“I consistently didn’t have good events, so it is nice to be in with a chance in Kenya (where he tied for third in March). That gives you a bit of confidence when you are in that position when it comes along again.”

He won three times on the Challenge Tour, but said of trying to make the breakthrough on the top tour: “It’s a different scene out here. I think you are aware that the competition is much more consistent and has much more depth to it.”

Does he feel close to a win? “Yeah, as long as I keep putting myself in those positions, it is going to happen eventually. I think everything is steadily improving.

“My putting has gradually been improving and becoming more consistent. I’ve always felt I have been quite a nice putter, but sometimes it would be streaky and fall off for a few weeks.

“It is getting more solid. I’ve done a lot of work on it with Davy (Burns, his coach) and I have also seen (putting guru) Phil Kenyon a couple of times now and it seems we have a foundation of what to work through and it is steadily improving.

"As long as it keeps going that way, then your odds are going to be pretty good when you get a chance.”

The fact he now has Phil “Wobbly” Morbey, who caddied for Ian Woosnam when he won the US Masters in 1991, on his bag has also raised the possibility of that maiden top tour win being just around the corner.

“He’s been to quite a few Ryder Cups here,” said Hill of Morbey, one of the most experienced caddies in the game. “I haven’t asked him much about that, to be honest. But he’s just good at his job and that helps.”

On a day when tournament host Willett opened with a 69 to sit handily-placed, Richie Ramsay finished birdie-birdie, holing from 15 feet at the 18th, for a 70, one better than Bob MacIntyre, while David Law, who led after an opening 64 in the 2020 edition, shot 72.

Marc Warren had a 74 on his return from a back injury, but that left him facing a battle to make the cut along with Connor Syme (75), Stephen Gallacher (76), David Drysdale (76), Grant Forrest (78) and Scott Jamieson (80).

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