Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Andalucia Masters Tips 2019

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Last week’s headline selection Jordan Smith couldn’t convert his 54-hole lead in Munich, so we had to settle for a reduced each-way payout as a result of the log-jam for 3rd place. Disappointing as always when a player’s in position to win, however getting over the line is never easy as we see repeatedly in this game and in truth the place payout was a positive in the end given that Smith birdied both of the final two holes to salvage something for us out of the week.

On to this week then and further schedule changes are in evidence as this point in the calendar would ordinarily see us heading to Le Golf National for a star-studded (well in relative European Tour terms) Rolex Series event, however with the Open de France being relegated to standard event status and being shifted to October, the Andalucia Masters hosted at the iconic Valderrama course takes its place in the schedule. A former WGC and Ryder Cup venue, Valderrama was briefly used for this event in 2010 and 2011 having dropped off the schedule following the demise of the season-ending Volvo Masters, however after hosting the 2016 Spanish Open this event returns to the Spanish track for a third consecutive year.

Tournament host and defending champion Sergio Garcia is looking for an Andalucia Masters hat-trick this week, and what would be his fourth success on his most prolific track, and rates around the 6/1 mark generally as most bookies make him the favourite. The fact that Jon Rahm is in attendance has kept his price slightly longer than the past couple of years and with last week’s play-off loser Matt Fitzpatrick also playing, we have 3 class acts at the top of the betting at 10/1 or shorter.

The schedule change for this event means that players are no longer attempting to plot their way around this tough track in the autumn, many of whom were desperately scrapping for their playing privileges. Instead this week marks the last regular European Tour event for a few weeks as we head off for the Rolex Series links warm-up events in Ireland and Scotland with the Open Championship under a month away.

A point to note is that this event forms part of the Open Championship qualifying series with the leading 3 players who finish inside the eventual top 10 who aren’t already exempt earning themselves an invitation to Royal Portrush. That’s a considerable carrot to a number of players in this field who have aspirations of playing next month.

Club de Golf Valderrama, Sotogrande, Spain. Designer: Trent Jones Snr, 1985, with recent Kyle Phillips updates; Course Type: Classical, Technical; Par: 71; Length: 7,001 yards; Fairways: Bermuda Tifway; Rough: Bermuda/Rye; Greens: Bentgrass (G2) 12’6″ on the stimp.

Course Overview. The course is set just a few kilometres from the Mediterranean coastline and is a typical Trent Jones test in many respects with narrow, undulating fairways leading to tiny, sloping and fast bentgrass G2 greens. At a shade over 7,000 yards, the course isn’t long by today’s standards, however it’s still a stern test in all departments which can turn positively nasty if the weather closes in.

Changes to the course prior to the 2016 Spanish Open held here were generally to the bunkers and tees, plus the cork trees that line the fairways were cut back a little, however that didn’t make the course play any easier with Andrew Johnston running out the winner at +1 over the 4 days. More work has been undertaken on and around the putting surfaces on the front nine since Beef’s victory, however the challenge here is fundamentally the same and it’s a tough test from start to finish.

The layout features 3 par-5s in the par-71 35-36 format, with the back 9 and particularly the closing stretch featuring a succession of tough holes and the par-5 17th offering little in the way of respite, despite its seemingly attractive 536 yards in length.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Andalucia Valderrama Masters that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this venue: Current Form | Course Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes | Combined Stats.

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

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Valderrama is here. The tournament should enjoy fine and dry weather throughout the four days of play with temperatures reaching the high 70s Fahrenheit each day. Winds will be moderate at around 10-15mph in the afternoons which will be just about enough to catch the attention of the professionals around this tricky track.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats of the past 8 winners at Valderrama (all competitions) gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2018: Sergio Garcia (-12, 3 rounds). 78.6% fairways (10th), 77.8% greens in regulation (4th), 58.3% scrambling (6th), 1.60 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 2017: Sergio Garcia (-12). 62.5% fairways (24th), 65.3% greens in regulation (9th), 52.0% scrambling (27th), 1.68 putts per GIR (9th).
  • 2016: Andrew Johnston (+1). 78.6% fairways (1st), 70.8% greens in regulation (1st), 52.4% scrambling (20th), 1.82 putts per GIR (25th).
  • 2011: Sergio Garcia (-6). 69.6% fairways (10th), 63.9% greens in regulation (10th), 61.5% scrambling (4th), 1.74 putt per GIR (8th).
  • 2010: Graeme McDowell (-3). 69.6% fairways (6th), 66.7% greens in regulation (1st), 58.3% scrambling (18th), 1.71 putt per GIR (4th).
  • 2008: Soren Kjeldsen (-8). 57.1% fairways (29th), 58.3% greens in regulation (22nd), 73.3% scrambling (4th), 1.74 putts per GIR (12th).
  • 2007: Justin Rose (-1). 51.8% fairways (26th), 55.6% greens in regulation (8th), 59.4% scrambling (7th), 1.67 putt per GIR (3rd).
  • 2006: Jeev Milkha Singh (-2). 41.1% fairways (52nd), 59.7% greens in regulation (17th), 62.1% scrambling (16th), 1.77 putts per GIR (15th).

Hitting the narrow fairways at Valderrama is only a small part of the task at hand, as is clear from the stats of the most recent winners on this track. GIR stats as low as these for winners (last year was an exception due to soft conditions) is extremely rare which emphasises just how difficult it is to hit the tiny greens here and the winner is going to need to have an outstanding week scrambling from off of the putting surfaces in order to compile a winning score. Valderrama truly tests all aspects of a player’s game and any weaknesses are often cruelly exposed.

Incoming Form: Looking at the recent form of the same 8 most recent winners at Valderrama and the overriding trend is that all players had been in pretty good nick.

Sergio had finished 7th the week before his successful defence last autumn, included in which was a closing round of 65 to suggest he was rounding into form. The previous year Sergio had finished 12th and 10th at the final two FedEx Cup PlayOff events on the PGA Tour before returning to Europe and his effort in Italy the week before winning here had shown some promise as he sat 6th going into the weekend. The others all had contending performances to their names in recent weeks too as the stats below confirm:

  • Sergio Garcia: MC/70/MC/MC/12/8/MC/MC/39/MC/24/7
  • Sergio Garcia: 20/12/21/2/37/39/MC/35/12/10/MC/30
  • Andrew Johnston: MC/22/71/4/45/MC/15
  • Sergio Garcia: 20/MC/7/2/9/39/53/12/32/31/12/1
  • Graeme McDowell: 26/28/4/1/1/21/23/31/22/MC/3/17
  • Soren Kjeldsen: 7/38/MC/MC/7/MC/MC/16/30/MC/16/4
  • Justin Rose: 9/30/12/2/12/14/MC/5/11/2/9/21
  • Jeev Milkha Singh: 5/8/21/MC/MC/3/25/14/8/3/21/13

Course Form: A bit of a mixed bag here in terms of course form with Jeev Milkha Singh and Beef Johnston winning on competitive debut whereas Soren Kjeldsen, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia (3 times) all had a strong record here prior to winning:

  • Sergio Garcia: 7/5/7/7/2/2/2/34/4/10/1/3/1
  • Sergio Garcia: 7/5/7/7/2/2/2/34/4/10/1/3
  • Andrew Johnston: Debut
  • Sergio Garcia: 7/5/7/7/2/2/2/34/4/10
  • Graeme McDowell: 55/15/22/32/4/8
  • Soren Kjeldsen: 55/25/22/18/2
  • Justin Rose: 18/44
  • Jeev Milkha Singh: Debut

The scheduling for this event does change the dynamic somewhat with many players looking to either qualify for the Open Championship by finishing as one of the top 3 players who aren’t already exempt, or honing their game if they’re already guaranteed a spot at Royal Portrush, as opposed to battling for their livelihoods. What doesn’t change though is the challenge that Valderrama poses and with dry, warm weather forecast I’d expect it to play firm, fast and challenging.

Boiling it all down then it looks like the most likely winner will be a player who can handle a grind who’s shown some good form of late and is performing nicely on and around the greens. Accuracy both from off the tee and with approach shots is an advantage and far outweighs power in my opinion.

My selections are as follows:

Andrew Johnston 1.25pt EW 66/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

A top-heavy market this week needs a little deciphering. Sergio Garcia has won the last 2 events here at 5/1 and 9/2 respectively and he clearly loves this layout. Hosting the event hasn’t proven to be an issue in the past, however this year he’s a point or so longer in the betting as a result of some indifferent form (MC/MC/52/MC on his last 4 events) and the fact that he has stiffer competition this year in the shape of Jon Rahm and Matt Fitzpatrick.

Rahm finished 3rd at the US Open and has to be respected, however I’ll maintain the argument that right now in his career, the uber-talented Spaniard prefers easier tasks that don’t test his patience. Matt Fitzpatrick will be sorely disappointed not to have won last week in Germany and whether he can shrug that off and immediately perform here on course debut remains to be seen. For me, I can let all 3 go at the prices on offer and if one of them wins then so be it; instead I’m headlining my team with 2016 Open de Espana winner Andrew Johnston.

Some courses produce a stronger correlation with players’ results than others and Valderrama is one of those tracks where the same names pop up time and again. Sergio is an obvious one with his 3 wins and 10 top-10 finishes around these parts, however the likes of Soren Kjeldsen, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter have all complimented victories here with further lofty finishes. Joost Luiten hasn’t won here (yet) but 2 runner-up finishes and a further top-5 suggests that this exacting layout plays very much to the strength of some players and not others.

Beef won his maiden European Tour title here in 2016 and has since finished inside the top-25 on both of his efforts, regardless of incoming form. A strong tee-to-green game and an ability to grind out a result are a strong fit for Valderrama and 4th for Greens In Regulation last week after 4 weeks off suggests to me that his game is in the right kind of shape to contend here once again.

Life’s good for the Londoner with his fiancée expecting their first baby and a strength and fitness regime visibly showing results and with his focus back on his game as opposed to his stardom, I can see Beef seriously contending for the title this week. 2nd on another tough track to Matt Wallace in India last year was the closest he’s come to adding to his 2016 success, however with his game, mind and fitness in a good spot, perhaps this will be the week that he pushes on once again. Result: T59

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Paul Waring 1.25pt EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Birkenhead’s Paul Waring has been striking the ball nicely for some time now and after waiting 11 years to record his first European Tour success (2018 Nordea Masters), perhaps more will follow now that he’s worked out how to get over the line. 3rd for Ball-Striking in Morrocco, 7th for Ball-Striking at Hillside and 5th for Ball-Striking in Denmark all encourage ahead of this week’s test and if you can take anything out of the Golf Sixes jaunt then his narrow nearest-the-pin defeat in the final to Thailand alongside Tom Lewis suggests that he’s not a million miles away at present.

In those strokeplay events it was the putter that ultimately prevented him from improving on a result line that reads 25/6/18, however he certainly made his fair share of putts in the team event that followed and that may well be the final spark required for another stab at a piece of silverware.

Valderrama form of 30th and 42nd masks the fact that he played nicely on both occasions. A strong short game in 2017 saw the 34 year-old rank 12th for Scrambling, 14th for Putting and 12th for All-Round, whereas his long game performed a year later, ranking 1st for Total Driving, 2nd for Ball Striking and 5th for All-Round. Put it all together for 4 days and we have a strong combination right there.

3 top-10 finishes on the classical layout in Morocco and another similar effort in Hong Kong back in 2016 offer further encouragement and with no playing rights distractions or otherwise, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Paul contend here. Result: MC

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Aaron Rai 1pt EW 60/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

If finding fairways and greens is once again the recipe to success here at Valderrama this week then there are few in this field who are better equipped than Aaron Rai. Strokes Gained students will likely baulk at his ranking for off the tee and approach numbers, however his generally poor results since securing his maiden victory at the short, classical and fiddly Fanling course in Hong Kong before Christmas is never going to show him in a positive light in that respect. 15th for Driving Accuracy and 15th also for Greens In Regulation for the season paints a more positive picture though and a much improved performance last time out in Denmark where he ranked 4th for Total Driving and 4th for Ball-Striking on his way to 18th place offers some encouragement, particularly after opening with a round of 74 and staring a missed cut in the face.

The 24 year-old earned instant promotion to the European Tour back in 2017 courtesy of 3 season wins on the Challenge Tour – one of which was on Spanish soil – and as he found his feet at European Tour level he recorded an 8th place finish here at Valderrama on course debut. A closing round of 67 was beaten by just one other player and proves that his game suits this kind of test, a point he rubber-stamped when securing that aforementioned victory in Hong Kong.

If Aaron can compliment a typically strong performance from tee-to-green with a decent week with the flat stick then he could reward each-way punters here. Result: MC

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Ashley Chesters 1pt EW 66/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Another player whose metronomic tee-to-green game can get him in the mix here at Valderrama is Ashley Chesters. The 29 year-old secured us an each-way payout on this track last autumn by finishing 4th and given that he’d previously finished 12th here on course debut thanks to a 69/68 weekend bettered by just 3 players, I think it’s fairly safe to say that this layout plays to his strengths.

In truth it was a little disappointing that we only got a place return from the Shrewsbury man last year as he led after the first day and remained in contention throughout, however the weather delays won’t have helped settle his nerves as he seeked out his maiden professional title and eventually Sergio et al wore him down.

Similar to Aaron Rai, Chesters ranks 9th on Tour for Driving Accuracy and 23rd for GIR, however in truth he’s playing slightly more consistent golf than his compatriot at present without really producing the results that his excellent driving should allow. A headline form line of 25/38/42/MC/37/21 masks the fact that he’s sat inside the top-20 at the halfway point on 4 of those 6 starts and simply hasn’t pushed on over the weekend. Last week’s 21st place finish was again consistent with rounds of 70/70/69/71 and a top-5 Driving Accuracy performance – if nothing else that’s a strong foundation heading to a track that he’s enjoyed before and plays to his strengths. Again, like Rai, if the putter behaves this week then he could reward each-way punters at a decent enough price. Result: T46

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SSP Chawrasia 0.5pt EW 300/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Finally there’s space in this week’s staking plan for a speculative punt on SSP Chawrasia. Ranking rock bottom of the Driving Distance charts for the season is a position that the diminutive Indian star is used to, however his lack of power is understandably a handicap in today’s golfing world where power rules most of the time. A few exceptions exist though and a course that measures just 7,000 yards for its par of 71 and demands anything but brute power with careless abandon has to be an opportunity for ‘Chipputtsia’ who finds other ways to compile a score.

Short and accurate works on a track like Valderrama and whilst Chawrasia can go through periods where he’s short and crooked – which is unlikely to work anywhere in truth – right now he’s hitting the ball nicely from off the tee. 1st for Driving accuracy at the Made in Denmark where he closed with a joint best-of-the-day 65 to record a solid top-20 finish initially caught my eye, then last week despite finishing 53rd he once again led the field for Driving Accuracy. Promising stats for a 300/1 shot.

4 European Tour wins have famously all come on Indian soil for the 41 year-old and you can add to that a further 2 Asian Tour titles and another 3 runner-up finishes at home, however his best OWGR-yielding efforts outside of his comfort zone read 15th at the BMW PGA Championship in 2012, 9th here at Valderrama in 2010 and 7th at the Hong Kong Open in 2017. All 3 venues are classical, tree-lined tracks that demand accuracy over power and with his driver faring well and an omnipresent magical short game, I’m happy to take a chance here given the price on offer. Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:40BST 24.6.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.