Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Andalucia Masters Tips 2021

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Well done if you managed to overlook Rafa Cabrera-Bello’s form line heading into last week as the Spaniard took the spoils on home soil at prices of up to 55/1. From our conservative strategy last week, we still had Alex Levy sitting in a tie for 5th heading into Sunday which threatened to give us some reward for the approach, however it wasn’t to be as a pedestrian 2-under to finish saw him fall back into a tie for 12th.

On to this week we go and the second week of our Spanish Swing takes us to the Iconic Valderrama course in Spain before we head to Majorca next week. 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 fifth consecutive year.

No Sergio Garcia once again for an event he used to support and on a course that he adores is perhaps a little disappointing, however that’s more than made up for by those who have decided to grace us with their presence. World Number 1 Jon Rahm sticks around for another week and understandably heads the betting once again at around the 3/1 mark, despite last week’s flop.

The addition of Matt Fitzpatrick to the field (12/1) pushes Bernd Wiesberger (20/1) a little further down the betting this week, however with the likes of Martin Kaymer, Thomas Detry and Robert MacIntyre all playing this week, we have an overall higher class event ahead of us this week.

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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: 7,028 yards; Fairways: Bermuda Tifway; Rough: Bermuda/Rye; Greens: Bentgrass (G2).

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 relatively 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.

andalucia masters tips

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. 2020: John Catlin, 125/1; 2019: Christiaan Bezuidenhout, 80/1; 2018: Sergio Garcia, 9/2; 2017: Sergio Garcia, 5/1; 2016: Andrew Johnston, 100/1 (Spanish Open).

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 on Thursday which is likely to make an already tough track play even tougher, before it eases a little as we head towards the weekend.

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:

  • 2020: John Catlin (+2). 66.1% fairways (4th), 47.3% greens in regulation (28th), 68.4% scrambling (5th), 1.79 putts per GIR (33rd).
  • 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) are 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.

Strokes Gained: From a Strokes Gained perspective, there were varying routes to getting into contention from last year’s final top 5. What Kaymer and Rozner lacked from off the tee, they made up for on approach and with the putter, whereas the other 3 excelled from tee-to-green for the most part:

  • 1st: John Catlin. T: 11th; A: 48th; T2G: 3rd; ATG: 2nd; P: 16th
  • 2nd: Martin Kaymer. T: 70th; A: 3rd; T2G: 16th; ATG: 42nd; P: 6th
  • 3rd: Wil Besseling. T: 4th; A: 15th; T2G: 2nd; ATG: 26th; P: 39th
  • 3rd: Justin Harding. T: 35th; A: 10th; T2G: 7th; ATG: 27th ; P: 15th
  • 3rd: Antoine Rozner. T: 69th; A: 1st; T2G: 20th; ATG: 71st; P: 7th

For balance, here are Christiaan Bezuidenhout’s winning stats from the previous year:

  • 1st: Christiaan Bezuidenhout. T: 22nd; A: 36th; T2G: 4th; ATG: 1st; P: 1st

Overall, both eventual winners did their best work on the SG Tee to Green and SG Around the Green elements, with Catlin slightly better from Off the Tee compared to Bezuidenhout who had a hot putter.

Key: T: SG Off the Tee; A; SG Approach; T2G: SG Tee to Green; ATG: SG Around the Green; P: SG Putting.

Incoming Form: Looking at the recent form of the same 9 most recent winners at Valderrama and the overriding trend is that all players had been in pretty good nick. This includes John Catlin who, despite being a 125/1 chance, had finished 8th in Austria and 6th in Wales before closing with a round of 68 the week before his victory here last year for some good momentum.

Bezuidenhout has finished 3rd on his last outing in 2019, whereas Garcia 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:

  • John Catlin: 22/16/2/MC/MC/MC/8/43/51/6/MC/25
  • 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. John Catlin had missed the cut by a couple of shots on his only other start here before winning just over a year ago:

  • John Catlin: MC
  • 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

Despite playing a month later in the year than in 2020, I don’t expect any change to 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 for the first day or two at least.

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.

Birdies are in very short supply here at Valderrama – last year’s winner John Catlin made just 11 red numbers on the week, whereas runner-up Martin Kaymer made 10 – and players who thrive on momentum-building birdie streaks often get frustrated on this fiddly setup.

My selections are as follows:

Richard Bland 2pts EW 40/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Jon Rahm’s failure to push on over the weekend in Madrid will have frustrated his backers, as the world’s best player looked to have set himself up perfectly for a hat-trick of Spanish Open titles.

Having gone odds-on before even hitting his putt on his 5th hole on Thursday, it was surprising to see Rahm drift away from contention and that makes him a little easier to oppose this week despite having finished 2nd here last time he played in 2019.

44th for SG Approach last week and 53rd for SG Around the Green isn’t an ideal combination should he produce something similar this week, with the tiny greens hard to find and solid scrambling an essential part of unpicking this tricky test.

Of course, Jon may have simply needed the outing after Ryder Cup disappointment for Team Europe and at anything approaching his best he’ll take some beating, however with the bookies remaining cautious and the price remaining prohibitive, I’ll give him a wide berth.

For me, cracking the code to Valderrama is a combination of sound strategy, solid driving, excellent scrambling for the inevitable missed greens and minimising bogeys as much as possible. To that end, few players tick as many of those boxes as the rejuvenated Richard Bland.

Stats first: 19th for Driving Accuracy for the season-to-date puts the 48 year-old around the top decile on Tour on that count, and 22nd for SG Tee-to-Green also ticks a box given what we’ve seen from the Strokes Gained stats from the leading contenders here since those metrics have been captured.

28th for SG Around the Green, 4th for Scrambling and 2nd for Bogey Avoidance for the 2021 season also fit this week’s assignment like a glove and he arrives here for his 6th crack at Valderrama on the European Tour at the top of his game.

Much has been written about the Burton man’s win at The Belfry earlier this season after over 2 decades of battling as a professional, however rather than dining out on his success, Bland has continued to push on and perhaps more is yet to come before he qualifies by rights for the Senior Tour.

3rd at the Made In Himmerland, 4th at the Irish Open, 3rd at the Cazoo Classic, 5th at the Italian Open, 4th at the Dunhill Links and 9th last week at the Spanish Open have all followed his breakthrough win in May and right now he sits at a career-high 78th in the OWGR and in with a chance of breaking the top-50 by year end if he continues to perform at the same level for the next few weeks.

Just 4 bogeys and a double over the course of 4 days in Madrid is excellent preparation for this – indeed he only had a solitary blemish on his card all week at the Belfry when victorious – and 5th for SG Approach last week as well as 6th for SG Tee to Green also bodes well.

11th here at the 2016 Spanish Open is Richard’s best effort around these parts, however with confidence coursing through his veins and possessing the game to master this layout, I can see him going very close here this week.

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Andrew Johnston 1.5pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Ladbrokes

The 2016 Spanish Open I mentioned above in Richard Bland’s justification was won by Andrew Johnston and I can see the course-proven Englishman putting in another good shift here this week.

Beef’s 1-over total here 5 years ago still rates as the Londoner’s only European Tour success, although he did come close when losing out to Matt Wallace at the tricky Indian Open a couple of years later, and if and when he adds to his tally I expect it will be on a more exacting test like this rather than a birdie-fest.

There’s been plenty going in the 32 year-old’s life since that breakthrough success with his well-documented struggles with the mental side of life as well as becoming a father, however Beef gives the air of someone who’s successfully turned a corner and the results are starting to flow.

4th on Spanish soil at the Canary Islands Championship rates as Johnston’s best finish of the season, however 9th at the Irish Open and 6th at the BMW PGA Championship were in better company and he warmed up nicely for this last week with a solid 24th place finish in Madrid where he ranked 13th for SG Off the Tee, 10th for SG Tee to Green and 10th for SG Around the Green.

A negative performance with the putter was the only real blemish last week, however Valderrama never will be a putting contest and that doesn’t overly concern me this week. 7th for Scrambling and 4th for Bogey Avoidance for the season are of much more relevance in my view, and another big performance on this course is quite possible with his game in a good place and his spirits high.

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Aaron Rai 1.5pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Gauging a player’s ‘ceiling’ may be a fancy way of justifying backing a player who’s form line looks (or indeed is) pretty poor but who has the ability to win the event in question, however let’s roll with it for the purpose of backing Aaron Rai this week at a 50/1 price point which will look pretty generous should he win.

A solid tee-to-green game is a good starting point for success at Valderrama and the metronomic Englishman needs little introduction in that respect. If we ignore his 3 most recent efforts for one moment, then field rankings of 5th, 1st, 2nd and 7th for Driving Accuracy and 4th, 14th, 8th and 8th for GIR on his 4 outings prior tell us all we need to know about how the 26 year-old rolls.

35th, 16th, 17th and 10th for Scrambling over those 4 same events – which consisted of 3 high profile Korn Ferry outings and the BMW PGA Championship – tells us that his short game also suits this assignment well and 6th for Scrambling combined with 4th for Bogey Avoidance for the season backs that up.

8th here at Valderrama on debut back in 2017 would suggest that he can play the course just fine, despite missing the cut twice since; a win at Fanling in Hong Kong, which is another fiddly, tree-lined assignment, is also positive. Plus, in terms of overall stature in the game, he was a Rolex Series win to his name in tricky scoring conditions at the Scottish Open last year as he racked up finishes of 2/1/MC/3 over the late September/early October period 12 months ago.

The elephant in the room of course is his last 3 starts, hence his price given all the positives that I’ve detailed above. With a PGA Tour card in his pocket, Aaron has hardly set the world alight with three consecutive missed cuts, albeit none of them disastrously so. Adjustment to life Stateside doesn’t always come easy though and perhaps a return to European Tour action with Dubai looming will present us with an entirely different result for Aaron, who’s more than capable of turning that form line on its head on a course that suits.

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Wil Besseling 1pt EW 66/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Ladbrokes

Finally, perhaps one of the more obvious selections if you’re looking at the classical current form/course form combination, however obvious can work just as well as random in this game that we choose to play, so I’m backing Wil Besseling to get into the mix here this week.

The obvious bit is plain to see: 6th last week in Madrid, where the Dutchman ranked 2nd for Scrambling and 2nd for SG Off the Tee; combine that with 3rd here at Valderrama on debut last September, where he ranked 4th for SG Off the Tee and 2nd for SG Tee to Green, and his credentials are starting you in the face.

What’s slightly less obvious is that tougher assignments seem to suit the 35 year-old. 3rd at the 2009 Madeira Islands Open still ranks as Wil’s highest OWGR-yielding finish on the European Tour, and that was achieved with a 4-under total in a tough week where 6-under was the winnings score.

3rd here at Valderrama as already mentioned needs no further explanation, however 4th and 3rd at Diamond Country Club in Austria over the past 2 years also backs that point up on a tricky layout where pars are the commodity rather than birdies. 3rd at Leopard Creek in 2019 is also worthy of note given that 8-under was the winning score with Wil just a couple of shots adrift.

4 times a winner at lower levels as a professional, Besseling’s game is a good fit for Valderrama and with John Catlin and Christiaan Bezuidenhout both breaking their maiden in this event over the past 2 renewals, another first-timer getting over there line here wouldn’t be a shock.

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:30BST 11.10.21 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.