Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Andalucia Masters Tips 2020

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Craig Howie’s bogey-free final round of 65 at The Belfry rewarded us with a full each-way payout from the talented young Scot’s pre-event quote of 250/1 and a nice profit to complete the European Tour’s UK Swing.

On to this week we go and the start of a 3-week ‘Iberian Swing’ takes us to the Iconic Valderrama course in Spain before we head to Portugal for the two weeks that follow. 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 fourth consecutive year.

Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown and subsequent schedule changes, this event was once again pencilled in as being hosted by Sergio Garcia and supported by his foundation, however that’s no longer the case and the 3-time Valderrama winner isn’t here this week in any capacity. That omission leaves a void at the top of the betting market as he’d have surely been the favourite despite some indifferent form; instead the massively talented Rasmus Hojgaard assumes that position at around 12/1 following his success last week in England.

Martin Kaymer, Andy Sullivan, Thomas Detry and Bernd Wiesberger each rate around the 14/1-16/1 bracket in what shapes up to be a decent betting heat on a course that gives us more pointers than others as to who might be more likely to succeed.

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Club de Golf Valderrama, Sotogrande, Spain. Designer: Trent Jones Snr, 1985, with 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 statistics for this week’s event that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at Valderrama: Current Form | Course 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.

Course Winners. 2019: Christiaan Bezuidenhout, 80/1; 2018: Sergio Garcia, 9/2; 2017: Sergio Garcia, 5/1; 2016: Andrew Johnston, 100/1 (Spanish Open).

For a summary of winners’ odds on the European Tour for the past 10 years click here.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. It’s expected to be mostly sunny for the 4 tournament days this year at Valderrama with afternoon temperatures peaking in the mid-70s Fahrenheit.

The main feature of the weather this week though will be a 15-20mph wind blowing across the course which is likely to make an already tough track play even tougher.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.  Analysing the final stats of the past 9 winners at Valderrama (all competitions) gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2019: Christiaan Bezuidenhout (-10). 64.3% fairways (19th), 47.2% greens in regulation (66th), 73.7% scrambling (2nd), 1.43 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 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 (2018 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. This includes last year’s winner Christiaan Bezuidenhout who’d finished 3rd at the BMW International Open the week before lifting this title last June.

Sergio had finished 7th the week before his successful defence the previous 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:

  • Christiaan Bezuidenhout: MC/24/67/2/9/36/4/14/MC/MC/25/3
  • 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 their competitive debut, whereas Soren Kjeldsen, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia (3 times) all had a strong record here prior to winning. Christiaan Bezuidenhout’s record falls somewhere in the middle of those extremes with a 29th place finish on debut, however in doing so he recovered from an opening round of 77 to post one of the best final 2-round aggregate scores:

  • Christiaan Bezuidenhout: 29
  • 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 rescheduling of this event means a late rather than early summer spot in the calendar, however what doesn’t change is the challenge that Valderrama poses and with dry, warm weather forecast I’d expect it to play firm, fast and challenging, particularly with the wind expected to feature throughout the 4 days.

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 around the greens. Accuracy both from off the tee and with approach shots is an advantage and far outweighs power in my opinion.

The potential fly in the ointment this week will be travel from the UK to Spain, with IATA regulations that have restricted some EU Nationals from travelling due to have expired at midnight on the 31st August. Muted reports of some players being refused boarding on Monday will need to be watched, however it appears that the bulk of the ‘bubble’ are travelling over on Tuesday so let’s assume that things go to plan and all of the players get to tee it up as expected.

Thorbjorn Olesen 1.5pts EW 60/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

With 5 players priced at 14/1 or shorter at the top of the market, you’d need to feel pretty confident about the chances of Hojgaard, Detry, Kaymer, Wiesberger or Sullivan to take one over any of the others in my view.

As talented as Rasmus is, his 4 straight missed cuts following his maiden success in Mauritius in December is a little off-putting and both Detry and Kaymer are going to quickly need to find that missing ingredient that allows them to get over the line if they’re going to prevail. Of course Kaymer has won plenty over the years, however last weekend was another case in point of his fragility when seriously in contention since his last win in 2014.

Of the remaining pair, I’d veer towards Andy Sullivan given his experience of Valderrama over Bernd Wiesberger, however I’m going to back none of those already mentioned and instead lead this week’s team with Thorbjorn Olesen who, successful travel to Spain permitting, makes the most appeal.

We could speculate and comment on the 30 year-old’s challenges off the course, however let’s keep this about his game and how it fits to this week’s task at hand. 19th here in 2016 is the 30 year-old’s only attempt around these parts and was impressive in that he ranked 7th for Ball Striking on his first look at the course, having not played a strokeplay event for nearly 2 months prior.

Although the results are yet to follow, the Dane’s long game has looked in good shape since his return to action and that bodes well for this week. After a false start at the Hero Open where he missed the cut, 34th at the English Championship featured a Driving Accuracy rank of 6th and GIR rank of 1st to remind us that he’s a very talented player. 17th last week at the Belfry was his best overall finish of the UK Swing, again fuelled by a strong GIR performance (75%, 6th in the field) and all that’s left for him to truly contend given those numbers is a decent week on the greens which we know he’s well capable of.

The former World Number 33 has 5 European Tour victories to his name – including in Perth and Sicily in similarly breezy conditions – and is a cut above much of this field at his best. With plenty of tree-lined form to fall back on, close calls at tougher events like the Open de France, and a couple of Major top-10 finishes on his CV as well as 4 WGC top-10s, I’m happy to take the price on offer here. RESULT: T48

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Wade Ormsby 1.5pts EW 45/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Ladbrokes

A tie for 25th last week at The Belfry was an encouraging return to competitive action for Wade Ormsby after almost 6 months of no action, with his last recorded event coming in Malaysia at the start of March. 10th that week on the Asian Tour followed 7th at the New Zealand Open the week before and it was a shame that the Australian had to put his clubs away as he was seemingly rounding into some form at the time.

Three Asian Tour victories – one of which was co-sanctioned with the European Tour – hold some relevance to this week’s test. His maiden success came at the Panasonic Open India on the short, tree-lined Delhi track that we’ve seen used for the Indian Open in the past – a 9-under winning total that week is a good pointer for this. 2 further wins at Fanling, home of the Hong Kong Open, carry similar correlation in terms of short, fiddly layouts, and although that track can play quite scoreable, the first of his two successes there came at just 11-under which again bodes well for a more challenging scoring week here in Spain.

It was at this point in time 12 months ago that the 40 year-old started to hint that his game wasn’t far away, recording back-to-back top-10 finishes at the Scandinavian Invitation and the Omega European Masters, however it wasn’t until his 3rd place finish at the end of the year at the Australian PGA, and then at the start of January when he won his second of those aforementioned titles in Hong Kong, that he capitalised on that spike in form. His long game was in particularly good shape those weeks and having shook the rust off last time when he impressed with the putter, a contending performance this week on a Valderrama track where he finished 5th in 2017 isn’t out of the equation. RESULT: T31

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Sebastian Soderberg 1.5pts EW 60/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

For Sebastian Soderberg backers, Sunday at the Wales Open was a painful affair. Heading out in the final group alongside Sami Valimaki and Connor Syme, it was Soderberg who had the final chance to catch clubhouse leader Romain Langasque, with a birdie at the par-5 72nd hole the requirement. A watery grave and triple-bogey 8 wasn’t what he or his supporters wanted, however up until that point there was plenty to admire and I’m happy to give him a chance here this week having not suffered the disappointment of backing him in Wales.

10th the week before at the altogether more straightforward Celtic Classic had paved the way for the Swede’s contending performance and despite his final hole disappointment, his performance overall on a challenging week bodes well for a test like Valderrama. Scrambling stats ranking him 6th and then 3rd in the field for those two events tells us that his short game is in good order for this week’s challenge and 11th and then 6th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green is another green light.

The most tangible form evident from the 29 year-old’s career is his maiden European Tour victory exactly a year ago at Crans-sur-Sierre, another short and fiddly track that demands a certain style of play. Valderrama specialist Sergio Garcia is a former Crans champion and there’s plenty of corresponding form across the two tracks over the years to suggest that results should be considered of relevance.

23rd here at Valderrama in 2017 on his course debut is further encouragement and if he’s managed to put the disappointment of Celtic Manor behind him with last week’s rest, then he may well look to bounce back immediately here. RESULT: MC

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Craig Howie 1pt EW 150/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

One very straightforward selection for me was to support Craig Howie for another week after his tie for 5th place at The Belfry earned him a late berth in this week’s field.

As I mentioned last week, from the little that we’ve seen of the Peebles golfer thus far on the European Tour, it’s clear that precision iron-play is his main strength and that was in full effect once again last week in England. 76.4% GIR (4th in the field) was complimented by hitting 63.3% of fairways (8th) and on his debut here that’s going to set him in good stead on a course that demands so much.

Of course it’s difficult to gauge how well the 26 year-old will respond to last week’s effort, however we’ve seen evidence from his Pro Golf Tour days that stringing results together is quite possible as he racked up finishes of 2/2/1 over consecutive tournaments a couple of years ago. Fact is though, nobody bettered his bogey-free final round of 65 on Sunday and that’s got to fill him with confidence as he heads to Spain this week. RESULT: T31

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Max Kieffer 1pt EW 125/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

Finally I’ll back one of my favourite go-to players when it comes to tough tracks and tough conditions – that’s Max Kieffer at a tasty 3-figure price.

Applying the same logic at the Wales Open a fortnight ago, having seen the German finish in a tie for 14th at Celtic Manor in far easier conditions the week before, didn’t quite go to plan as Max never got the putter going and finished in a pedestrian 44th position. There was enough to encourage in the rest of his game though to stick with the logic this week, ranking as he did in 10th for Driving Accuracy and top-25 for both GIR and scrambling.

17th for SG Tee to Green and 6th for SG Around the Green adds encouragement and that final ranking has been a feature of his play for the most part since competitive golf resumed – on a course such as Valderrama with its tiny greens, low GIR and the potential for even more quality around the greens with the breezy forecast, that’s the kind of game style that may prove critical this week.

A Challenge Tour winner back in 2012 with a 7-under total at the Gujarat Kensville Challenge, and a play-off loser on the European Tour to Raphael Jacquelin at the tough Spanish Open where 5-under was good enough to make the play-off, tells me that he’s well capable of grinding out a score and a best of 5th here in 2018 also peaks my interest. Nobody bettered the 30 year-old’s closing round of 66 that week and he may well take some inspiration from compatriot Sophia Popov’s win at Troon at the Women’s Open a week or so ago. RESULT: T17

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 07:20BST 1.9.20 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.