THE Celtic Manor Wales Open begins tomorrow, with hope springing eternal that a Welshman can finally get his hands on the coveted prize.

Cardiff's Stephen Dodd, who has won twice so far this season on the European Tour, leads the charge for the Welsh contingent.

He is joined by Blackwood's Bradley Dredge, who is arguably in the best form of his career after a superb month that has seen him rocket to number 24 on the Volvo Order of Merit.

2006 Ryder Cup captain Ian Woosnam is also chasing his first Wales Open crown and will surely take the opportunity to do some Ryder Cup scouting.

They are joined in the field by Jamie Donaldson, Garry Houston, Stuart Manley and David Park, qualifier Matthew Prior - all Welshmen - and Chris Baron, the operations manager at the Celtic Manor who has been rewarded for his hard work with a sponsors invite to the event.

But it is Dodd who is likely to receive the lion's share of the attention, after what can only be described as an inspired six months.

Dodd can certainly stake a claim as Europe's most improved golfer, having won the Volvo China Open last November and the Nissan Irish Open a fortnight ago.

Dodd turned professional in 1990, but it took four years to claim his European Tour card and over the subsequent ten seasons he registered only 12 top ten finishes.

At the end of the 2004 campaign he was 229th in the Official World Golf Ranking but in six months he has soared to 56th.

In addition to his two victories, he also narrowly missed out in the Dubai Desert Classic, only beaten by an Ernie Els eagle on the final hole as he finished joint second.

But if Dodd is the pick of the Welsh hopefuls, he faces the stiffest of competition in the most competitive Wales Open field to date.

Colin Montgomerie, who won seven successive Order of Merit during the 90s, will be looking to add to his almost clean sweep of European Tour events by winning the Wales Open for the first time.

Montgomerie is sure to be in the news however he plays though, after Englishman Gary Evans reignited the debate surrounding Montgomerie's illegal play during the Indonesian Open.

Another icon looking to impress will be Nick Faldo, who is set to play in the next three Wales Opens after clinching a deal with the resort for it to host his 'team Faldo series' developing young British talent.

Two other players making their debut at the event are Dane Thomas Bjorn and Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, both in the top 25 in the world and two of the hottest favourites the tournament has seen.

They are both well fancied by the bookmakers, who also pick out Swindon's David Howell as a potential winner.

Howell hasn't won a tour event in six years, but he always finishes well up in any field and has recorded three successive top ten finishes leading up to this event, including two play-off defeats.

Another major winner in the field is Scotland's Paul Lawrie, winner of the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie. He will be looking for his second victory at Celtic Manor following his previous success in 2002.

Faldo, Lawrie, Montgomerie and Woosnam are among 18 European Ryder Cup players in action.

Hero of the 2002 Ryder Cup at The De Vere Belfry and 2001 Celtic Manor Wales Open winner, Paul McGinley, will be joined by, among others, Gordon Brand jnr, Paul Broadhurst, Andrew Coltart, Niclas Fasth, Pierre Fulke, Ignacio Garrido, Joakim Haeggman, David Howell, Barry Lane, Sandy Lyle, Jarmo Sandelin, Costantino Rocca and Philip Walton.

England's Simon Khan will be defending the title following his stunning victory 12 months ago. In the second round of a compelling championship, Khan posted a superb course record 61 - a fitting score to celebrate the 61st birthday of Celtic Manor chairman Sir Terry Matthews - before claiming his coveted first European Tour title after a play-off with Ryder Cup player Paul Casey.

It will be the first time the Roman Road course has been used for the tournament as the rebuilding of the Wentwood Hills course, which started last autumn, continues ahead of the 2010 Ryder Cup.

As a result the Robert Trent Jones Snr designed Roman Road course will host the event for the next two years.

The Roman Road is some 600 yards shorter than its younger brother and will play to a par 69, presenting a tough challenge for the 156 players in the field.

Punishing rough and large, undulating greens will be its main defence.