Young master

Italian Renato Paratore captures his second European Tour title as Europe’s best golfers make a triumphant return to Close House

Renato Paratore produced a dominant display of front running to claim his second European Tour title with a three shot victory in the European Tour’s first event of the summer – the Betfred British Masters hosted by Lee Westwood at Close House.

The 23-year-old converted his one stroke overnight advantage with a two under-par final round of 69 to finish on 18 under-par. Denmark’s Rasmus Højgaard, 19, finished runner up on 15 under-par – reversing the result in the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open in December, where Rasmus beat Renato in a playoff.

Following his guard of honour from fellow players while leaving the final green, and a Skype call with his mum having holed the final putt, Renato said: “I am really happy. I played very solid and I didn’t expect to come back and win my second title after the lockdown. I have worked really hard over the last year and I am really happy to win again.

“I never thought about it today because if I start to think about it, I am going to make a bogey. So, I just told myself to play good and try to win the tournament. It was really windy and really difficult, and when I made the first bogey, I made a really good birdie after to stay in the tournament.

“Both of my wins have been tough fought on my part. In Sweden, the last day was rainy and windy, so both were tough conditions, but I think that helped me because there weren’t low scores, and I was playing really good, so I was able to focus myself to stay in the lead. 

“The European Tour has done a really great job, it is not easy to come back to tournaments with this situation, and they have been good with the restrictions at the golf course and the hotel. It is not easy because you have to do golf club-hotel, hotel-golf club, but we have to do this for the benefit of the tour and to play more events.”

The tournament marked the full resumption of the European Tour campaign behind closed doors following a four-month suspension, but Renato showed few signs of rust, making just two bogeys all week – both in the final round – as he shot rounds of 65, 66, 66 and 69.

The win was Renato’s second on the European Tour following the 2017 Nordea Masters. At Close House, he became the second Italian winner of the British Masters following Baldovino Dassu in 1976.

Meanwhile, Graeme Storm produced the strongest finish among the local favourites, posting a final round 67 to finish in a tie for 10th place.

Graeme, who made his return to the tour earlier this season following a second wrist surgery, said: “I’m thrilled to get a top 10 after such a long time off and multiple setbacks with the wrist injury. My aim was to get back on the course and make a cut at Close House, and it was great to be able to climb up the leaderboard over the last couple of days and come away with a really strong result. Taking the last couple of years into account, it’s definitely up there with the best performances of my career.

“The lockdown wasn’t great for anybody, but it did allow me to do some more strength work and get back to match fitness, which was something I hadn’t quite managed to do before I went back out on tour at the start of the year. I still get some stiffness and I have to manage my wrist through a tournament week, but it’s improving all the time.

“I’m looking forward to building on a good result and putting together some more good finishes. I’ve got a bit of a free hit this season, with my medical exemption for 2020 being the same in 2021, so I’m looking to make the most of it and get back into competing week to week on the European Tour ready for 2021.”

Bamburgh Castle-based Garrick Porteous also made the cut, reaching seven under-par after the third round before dropping down the field with a disappointing closing round on Saturday. Host Lee Westwood also made the cut at his home club, while Chris Paisley and Marcus Armitage missed out on the final two rounds.

Renato was not the only winner at the first event of the UK Swing, with the European Tour’s #GolfForGood initiative and sponsors Betfred raising more than £135,000 for the event’s official charity, the Sir Graham Wylie Foundation. The total included a £50,000 contribution from sponsor Betfred following Jack Senior’s hole-in-one on the 14th hole in round three along with a further £16,000 – £1,000 for each birdie posted by host Lee Westwood throughout the week.

Sir Graham said: “The British Masters was incredibly successful on a number of levels – firstly the health and safety of all the players, caddies and staff on site. Everyone followed the guidelines without fault and, on that side of things, the event was a huge success.

“The feedback on the golf course, from the players and from those who watched on TV, has also been excellent.

“The amount raised for my foundation was superb, and I can’t thank the European Tour, Betfred and all those who took part in the online auction enough for their support. The money raised will be put to good use and lots of children in the North East will benefit from it.

“Renato played superb golf throughout the week. Lee had said before the event that the players who kept the ball on the fairways would do well, and that’s exactly what Renato did. He used driver sparingly, played the course the way it should be played, and showed some tremendous skill in the number of approaches he hit close – a near-faultless performance over four days.”

Meanwhile, Betfred has agreed a new two-year extension as title sponsor of the Betfred British Masters following the conclusion of this year’s tournament at Close House. The tour’s UK Swing continues this summer with events at Forest of Arden, Hanbury Manor followed by two events at two events at Celtic Manor before the tour returns to The Belfry.