Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Alfred Dunhill Links Tips 2019

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Last week’s headline selection Matt Wallace looked every inch a potential winner after 18 holes last week, carding a sublime bogey-free round of 65 on Thursday and looking in complete control of his game, however sadly it wasn’t to be as he quickly backpedalled as the tournament progressed. Well done to all of you who were on eventual winner Danny Willett at prices of up to 66/1, who grabbed his second high-profile win in the past year in impressive fashion after capturing last year’s DP World Tour Championship.

A number of last week’s cast have stayed in the UK and are heading up to Scotland for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship this week. Although the introduction of the Rolex Series may have relegated this event a little in terms of stature, it’s still more than a decent title to win with a $5m prize fund up for grabs, plus the event is equally about the celebrity amateurs who play alongside their golfing heroes at and around the Home of Golf for 4 days.

13 of the World’s top 50 are in attendance plus a pretty solid undercard from the European Tour, however all 168 entrants will be looking to take the biggest possible share of the pot that’s on offer this week – for many of the Europeans this is very close to the make-or-break point of the season where cards can be retained, flights to Dubai booked and world ranking positions gained with decent OWGR points up for grabs this week.

The event is played over 3 courses for the first 3 days – Kingsbarns, Carnoustie and St Andrews – then the final round is contested around the Old Course with slightly trickier pin positions after 3 days of pretty generous placements to help the amateurs. Temperament is an important factor in this quirky event where rounds can take over 6 hours to complete, with some of the amateurs barely able to claim ‘hacker’ status. Long waits of half an hour or longer are common on some tees as play grinds to a halt, so those with the personality to enjoy the occasion whilst retaining focus when it’s eventually their time to play a shot are at an advantage.

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Course Overview. The Old Course at St Andrews needs little introduction as the ‘Home of Golf’ is steeped in golfing tradition dating back to the very roots of the sport some 600 years ago. The 17th Road Hole, with its notorious bunker, and the closing 18th, which features the Swilcan Bridge and the Valley of Sin, are the most famous closing holes on the planet and this rolling links is recognisable worldwide to those with just the most basic of golfing knowledge.

The 7,307 yard, par 72 has a peculiar setup of 14 par-4s and just a pair each of par-3s & par-5s and features 7 double greens with huge, fescue/bentgrass putting surfaces. The other two tracks used for a day each in this event are Carnoustie and Kingsbarns with Carnoustie tending to play the toughest of all 3 courses, however much depends on the strength of the breeze as we saw first hand at the 2010 Open Championship when a windy Friday decimated many scorecards at St Andrews – including that of Rory McIlroy who shot 80 that day to ultimately scupper his chances of what would have been his first Claret jug.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Stats.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. 2018: Lucas Bjerregaard, 50/1; 2017: Tyrrell Hatton, 22/1; 2016: Tyrrell Hatton, 66/1; 2015: Thorbjorn Olesen, 200/1; 2014: Oliver Wilson, 500/1; 2013: David Howell, 125/1; 2012: Branden Grace, 50/1; 2011: Michael Hoey, 250/1; 2010: Martin Kaymer, 16/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for St Andrews is here. What a difference a week makes – after the warm sunshine of Wentworth, our trip north of the border will be greeted with far more autumnal conditions with rain expected at times during the 4 days, temperatures struggling to reach the high-50s Fahrenheit after chilly starts, and winds of between 10-15mph at times.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the last 9 winners of this event gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:

  • 2018, Lucas Bjerregaard (-15). 64.1% fairways (19th), 83.3% greens in regulation (3rd), 41.7% scrambling (32nd), 1.68 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2017, Tyrrell Hatton (-24). 60.4% fairways (39th), 85.2% greens in regulation (1st), 100% scrambling (1st), 1.72 putts per GIR (13th).
  • 2016, Tyrrell Hatton (-23). 72.9% fairways (27th), 83.3% greens in regulation (10th), 77.8% scrambling (11th), 1.73 putts per GIR (20th).
  • 2015, Thorbjorn Olesen (-18). 57.0% fairways (130th), 86.1% greens in regulation (7th), 50% scrambling (87th), 1.69 putts per GIR (14th)
  • 2014, Oliver Wilson (-17). 62.8% fairways (89th), 75.9% greens in regulation (64th), 88.5% scrambling (1st), 1.85 putts per GIR (89th)
  • 2013, David Howell (-23). 69.9% fairways (93rd), 88.9% greens in regulation (10th), 75.0% scrambling (32nd), 1.67 putts per GIR (8th)
  • 2012, Branden Grace (-22). 62.8% fairways (112th), 84.7% greens in regulation (10th), 63.6% scrambling (46th), 1.67 putts per GIR (6th)
  • 2011, Michael Hoey (-22). 59.4% fairways (120th), 81.9% greens in regulation (29th), 81.8% scrambling (7th), 1.66 putts per GIR (7th)
  • 2010, Martin Kaymer (-17). 73.5% fairways (40th), 81.9% greens in regulation (5th), 69.2% scrambling (10th), 1.78 putts per GIR (26th)

With the exception of Carnoustie, fairways are wide and greens large and easy to hit, so much of this event comes down to how players perform on and around the greens. Converting birdie chances is critical if players are going to compile a contending score and minimising bogeys from off of the green is also vital in an event where somewhere around 20-under is typically the target to be in with a sniff on Sunday afternoon in average conditions.

As well as the event’s nuances that are more obvious in that a slow, pro-am event on 3 different links tracks isn’t likely to suit everyone, there are also some other important points to consider:

  • With the exception of Tyrrell Hatton in 2016, Oliver Wilson in 2014 and Stephen Gallacher in 2004, every other winner of this event since 2001 already had a career victory on the European Tour.
  • GB & Ireland players have won 13 of those 18 Alfred Dunhill Links Championships, Karlsson (08), Kaymer (10), Grace (12), Olesen (15) and Bjerregaard (18) being the exceptions.
  • 8 of the last 11 winners here had a win in the current or previous season to their name; 3 of those 11 were arriving here having won their previous event.
  • 7 of the last 11 winners here had recorded at least a top-10 in this event in their career prior to winning.

With generous pin positions and scoreable par 4s and 5s – particularly at Kingsbarns and St Andrews – this event, for me, is about birdie-making first and foremost. A moderate breeze may well keep a lid on scoring to a degree, however the emphasis is still likely to be about performing and scoring well on and around the dancefloors. Indeed even last year, when scoring conditions weren’t as good as the previous 2 renewals, eventual winner Lucas Bjerregaard still topped the putting stats on the week.

Incoming Form. In terms of incoming form, the winners here since 2010 have been very mixed as is reflected by odds ranging from 16/1 to 500/1 and around half of the winners in that period have been 125/1 or longer pre-event.

Martin Kaymer (16/1) in 2010 completed a personal hat-trick of wins here having captured the US PGA Championship and KLM Open in his two previous events. Michael Hoey (250/1) hadn’t finished inside the top 30 in his previous 10 starts, David Howell (125/1) had recorded a solitary top-10 in the previous 6 months,  Oliver Wilson (500/1) had failed to make the top-30 in his previous 15 events, most of which were on the Challenge Tour, Thorbjorn Olesen (200/1) had missed 10 of his previous 14 cuts after his return from a wrist injury.

Despite some good early-season form Tyrrell Hatton arrived here in 2016 with incoming efforts of MC/MC/45, however his successful defence came off the back of consecutive top-8 finishes. 2012 winner Branden Grace (50/1) had shown poor recent form on the European Tour before winning here, although he did arrive fresh off the back of a low-key victory the previous week on the Sunshine Tour. Lucas Bjerregaard had shown some of the more consistent form of recent victors here with 4 consecutive top-20 finishes before winning here 12 months ago, included in which was a play-off defeat at Crans on his penultimate start. A very mixed bag indeed:

  • 2018, Lucas Bjerregaard: 3/71/5/61/MC/MC/39/WD/9/6/2/20
  • 2017, Tyrrell Hatton: 29/41/30/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/36/MC/3/8
  • 2016, Tyrrell Hatton: 5/7/20/MC/33/2/5/10/17/MC/MC/45
  • 2015, Thorbjorn Olesen: MC/MC/29/MC/MC/MC/33/MC/5/MC/67/MC
  • 2014, Oliver Wilson: MC/33/MC/MC/MC/33/44/55/MC/MC/MC/47
  • 2013, David Howell: DQ/MC/65/MC/71/8/42/17/MC/26/41/53
  • 2012, Branden Grace: 17/5/25/51/MC/17/68/77/36/MC/76/1
  • 2011, Michael Hoey: 70/1/31/54/66/MC/MC/34/MC/52/48/MC
  • 2010, Martin Kaymer: 34/MC/28/12/8/21/6/MC/7/22/1/1

Event Form. Going back to 2010, nearly half of the winners had fairly tangible form here – in fact Kaymer, Wilson and Olesen had all finished runner-up in this event previously in their respective careers and Hatton was defending champion in 2017. David Howell had 4 top-8 finishes from 12 starts here prior to winning and clearly also enjoys the format. Hoey, Grace, Hatton (in 2016) and Bjerregaard on the other hand would have been very difficult to pick out simply by eyeballing their previous efforts at the Alfred Dunhill Links:

  • 2018, Lucas Bjerregaard: 32/MC/MC/MC
  • 2017, Tyrrell Hatton: MC/MC/1
  • 2016, Tyrrell Hatton: MC/MC
  • 2015, Thorbjorn Olesen: 45/2/MC/58
  • 2014, Oliver Wilson: MC/32/MC/40/2/MC/21/34/59
  • 2013, David Howell: 3/58/6/5/37/MC/MC/60/MC/8/MC/34
  • 2012, Branden Grace: MC
  • 2011, Michael Hoey: MC/19/MC
  • 2010, Martin Kaymer: 15/2

In years where conditions have been tougher, it’s been players who’ve featured towards the top of the GIR stats on the week who’ve tended to prevail, and with conditions looking less favourable this week I’ll use that as my starting point for this week’s team. This is links golf though so a strong short game is also of value and contenders will need to bring all aspects of their game this week if they’re going to compile a competitive total.

Excellent previous event form isn’t absolutely essential, however sticking relatively close to the trends highlighted a little further above helps narrow this large field down to a few suitable players.

My selections are as follows:

Shane Lowry 2.5pts EW 22/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

There were plenty of eye-catching performances last week at Wentworth with Danny Willett’s 3-stroke winning performance undoubtedly leading the way. Whether the new BMW PGA Champion can lift his game immediately this week remains to be seen though given the mental focus required to hold off a player of Jon Rahm’s class on Sunday.

After another poor opening round, Rory McIlroy’s subsequent recovery was impressive again, however it’s worrying that he can produce these destructive days that take him out of the tournament and at a short price it’s enough to put me off. Jon Rahm also impressed on course debut, however the performance that excites me most from last week was that of Shane Lowry.

Winning your first Major Championship – and that being the Open Championship to compound matters – has proven to be more than enough to derail many a world-class player’s form over the months that followed. Adapting to the new level of stardom and focus can take its toll on even the most experienced of players, however after a couple of ineffective efforts in the PGA Tour Playoffs following his Royal Portrush success, it would appear that Shane’s back in the groove and ready to attack the rest of this season after finishing 11th last week and improving throughout as he settled back into his work.

4 weeks off to readjust would appear to have done the trick and despite getting very little reward for some solid play over the first 2 days at Wentworth, he scythed his way through the field with a bogey-free weekend that will settle him right down as he tackles the remainder of the year. The focus in the short term is to win the Race To Dubai and with a slender lead at the top over Jon Rahm, the Irishman knows that there’s no room for complacency with the business end of the European Tour season approaching. A Ryder Cup debut is surely within reach too if he can continue his form for the next 12 months and given his status now as Champion Golfer of the Year, that’s got to be a realistic target.

Given his strong record at Wentworth, reappearing last week was a good move in my view and he’ll be in good spirits heading up to Scotland for the Dunhill Links where he’s made the final round on 8 from 10 appearances and has recorded best finishes of 3rd in 2013 and 6th in 2014. With the potential for some wet and breezy conditions this week, particularly to start the event, few are better equipped than Shane and with both his irons and chipping looking in great shape last week, plus the Race To Dubai title up for grabs, I see no reason why the burly 32 year-old shouldn’t seriously contend here this week. Result: T15

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Tom Lewis 1pt EW 100/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

3 weeks is clearly a long time in the world of golf betting and after beating a classy Korn Ferry field by 5 strokes to gain a full PGA Tour card for 2019/20, Tom Lewis has already been relegated to 3-figure status on the European Tour having missed a couple of cuts following his triumph.

Let’s look at this objectively though: 68/70 was a couple of shots too many to make the weekend on his Greenbrier debut, however there were no disasters there in truth. The Welwyn Garden City man was 2 shots adrift of the cut line again last week at Wentworth after flying back from the States, however Wentworth has never been the happiest of hunting grounds for Tom who prefers far more exposed tracks, and again I’m not overly concerned about that result when looking at it in the context of this week.

Of far more relevance in my view is that he’s twice recorded top-10 finishes at the Dunhill Links and we’ve seen from his two wins at Vilamoura that he’s apt to find form on tracks where he’s previously performed well. 3rd in 2013 saw him lead after the first two days with rounds of 64 and 65 before closing with a 64 at St Andrews; Carnoustie caught him out that week with a Saturday 73, however it was only the 8th and 9th holes that saw him drop shots. 10th last year was also positive and he can approach this week’s task as a shot-to-nothing with his PGA Tour card tucked in his back pocket.

Talking of Vilamoura, Last year’s winner Lucas Bjerregaard is a winner of the Portugal Masters like Lewis, as are former Dunhill Links champions Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington. Coincidence maybe, however if there’s anything in that crossover of course form, then the case for another strong week here for Tom grows. Result: T5

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Richie Ramsay 1pt EW 125/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

One of the more obvious picks this week is Richie Ramsay given how well he played last week at Wentworth, however given what we know of the Scot’s history he’s demanding to be backed here in his homeland. 6th at the BMW PGA Championship has turned what’s otherwise been a distinctly average season featuring a hitherto solitary top-10 finish into a far better one, sitting as he does now on the brink of a top-60 Race To Dubai position and the promise of some big-money events to complete the season if he can keep that form going for another week here at the Home of Golf.

Last week’s effort was notable in that it registers as a personal best for the Aberdeen-born star and featured a field-leading display around the greens which has to give him confidence heading into this week. His aforementioned other top-10 finish this season is also worthy of note given this week’s terrain as it came on a genuine links track at Hillside for the British Masters.

The 36 year-old has talked about having found a new lease of life in his outlook to the game of late and that’s clearly starting to wash through into his results and his immediate goal, aside from making those megabucks events to close the season, is to secure a 4th European Tour title.

Wins in 2009, 2012 and 2015 mean that another success is now a little overdue, but a return to his homeland while he’s got a spring in his step might be just what he needs to add another trophy to his cabinet. 6th at the 2016 Scottish Open is his best recent result on home soil, however 4th in this event in 2009, where he led at the halfway point, and 2nd in 2014 suggests that he feels quite comfortable in these surroundings and with the tournament’s pro-am format. Result: T10

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Joakim Lagergren 1pt EW 125/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Finally, another triple-digit price to complete my team – this time the talented, if somewhat inconsistent, Swede Joakim Lagergren. Having got to within a play-off of capturing his maiden European Tour title in 2017 when losing out to Jeunghun Wang in a 3-man playoff in Qatar, the 27 year-old converted at the second time of asking when beating Mike Lorenzo-Vera in extra time in Sicily last May. Both tracks hold some relevance to this week’s task, with Qatar often setting up in linksy fashion and the Verdura Golf Club in Sicily being designed by Kingsbarns creator Kyle Phillips, and with some subtle form of late I’m happy to give him a chance here this week given the price on offer.

4th place finishes here both on debut in 2015 as well as when returning the year after bode well for his chances whenever he tees it up at this event, as does 12th in 2017 where he sat in 6th position heading into the final day. Last year’s missed cut was his 4th consecutive weekend off and clearly came at a point in time when his game was at a low ebb, however with 2 top-10 finishes in his last 5 starts and fresh off of a 24th place finish and personal best at Wentworth, he can approach this week with far more confidence 12 months down the line.

All aspects of the Stockholm man’s game have been firing in isolation of late: 10th at the Scandinavian Invitation featured his best putting performance of the season, whereas 7th at the KLM Open featured his best GIR effort this term. His short game looked in good order last week in Surrey and with the extra width (generally) afforded here this week, it should take a little pressure off of his sometimes errant tee shots. Result: T3

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:30BST 23.9.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.