Paul Williams

Paul Williams' British Masters Tips 2021

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Another dominant display of birdie-making from Garrick Higgo secured us a 12/1 headline winner last week, with Adri Arnaus scraping a partial each-way payout too despite a disappointing finish. That’s Higgo’s 3rd win on the European Tour since September and the exciting South African moves to 51st in the World Rankings and on the cusp of earning himself a seat at golf’s top table. His development from this point onwards will be fascinating to observe.

On to this week then and dating all the way back to 1946 when Bobby Locke and Jimmy Adams tied for the title at Stoneham Golf Club, the British Masters was a mainstay on the European Tour schedule, give or take the odd omission, right up to 2008 when Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano took the trophy at The Belfry which had hosted the event for 3 years on the trot. Forest of Arden GC and Woburn, both the Duke’s and Marquess Course, have also hosted this event since the turn of the century before the event dropped off the schedule until its renaissance in 2015.

Matthew Fitzpatrick realised the potential that many had seen in him on the event’s re-start by winning this title at Woburn and Alex Noren added his 3rd of 4 2016 titles at The Grove a year later, successfully holding off final day efforts from Bernd Wiesberger and Lee Westwood.

Paul Dunne added his name to the champions’ list 4 years ago at Close House where a closing round of 61, punctuated by a chip-in birdie on the 72nd hole, was enough to keep Rory McIlroy at bay and earn the Irishman a well-deserved first European Tour victory. Eddie Pepperell proved victorious the following autumn in challenging conditions at Walton Heath, holding off Alexander Bjork to record his second European Tour title in impressive fashion, before Marcus Kinhult was victorious at Hillside in 2019, arriving off the back of four consecutive missed cuts.

Renato Paratore won last summer’s hastily-arranged renewal at Close House as the European Tour patched together their post-lockdown UK Swing, with the Italian impressively holding off Rasmus Hojgaard by 3 strokes.

The Belfry and Danny Willett host this week’s renewal as the Tour returns to one of the event’s more regular venues from earlier in the century. With next week’s US PGA Championship the main attraction for the golfing world, the field isn’t quite as strong as it might have otherwise been, however we’ve still got a marked improvement over recent weeks in truth.

Don’t forget that this event starts on WEDNESDAY to give those players who are heading to Kiawah Island an extra day to make their way across the Atlantic.

The betting is led by Robert MacIntyre at a best price of 14/1 at the time of writing, as he looks to build on some excellent stateside form that saw him win his group in the WGC Match Play before finishing 12th on debut at Augusta a fortnight later. Bernd Wiesberger, Martin Kaymer, Rasmus Hojgaard, Sam Horsfield, Dean Burmester and host Danny Willett all sit towards the top of the market in a far more attractive betting heat than we saw in Tenerife a week ago.

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Course Overview. The Brabazon Course at The Belfry is no stranger to the European Tour with a number of events having been hosted here since the turn of the century, however prior to last year’s ISPS Handa UK Championship won by Rasmus Hojgaard, 2008 was the last time that we saw the Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas design in competitive action at this level. 4 Ryder Cups have also been played around these parts, the most recent of which was team Europe’s win in 2002.

Parkland in style with water in play on half of the holes, the track measures 7,310 yards for its par of 72. 12 par-4s instead of the more typical 10 means that there are just 3 each of the par-3s and par-5s, however scoring on those longer holes at 538, 566 and 564 yards for the 3rd, 15th and 17th respectively is an important part of compiling a competitive score here.

Historically the fairways here have been narrow and the rough lush, however the Bent/Poa greens are of excellent quality giving a little respite to those who are less adept on and around the putting surfaces.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key statistics for this week’s event that will help to shape a view on players who might go well this week. Event form stats are for the various venues used for the British Masters since 2002: Current Form | Event Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Stats.

For combined stats for the Belfry (including last year’s UK Championship) in isolation use this page: Belfry Combined Stats

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

Event Winners & Prices. 2020: Renato Paratore, 50/1; 2019: Marcus Kinhult, 175/1; 2018: Eddie Pepperell, 30/1; 2017: Paul Dunne, 66/1; 2016: Alex Noren, 18/1; 2015: Matt Fitzpatrick, 33/1.

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

Course Winners. 2020: Rasmus Hojgaard, -14; 2008: Gonzalo Fdez Castano, -12; 2007: Lee Westwood, -15; 2006: Johan Edfors, -11; 2003: Paul Casey, -11; 2002: Angel Cabrera, -10; 2001, Henrik Stenson, -13; 2000: Jose Maria Olazabal, -13.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here.

Typical spring-like weather for the UK is to be expected this week with sunshine and light showers possible all 4 days accompanied by light winds of 5-10mph. Temperatures will peak around 60 Fahrenheit in the afternoons.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the top 6 finishers here at The Belfry for last year’s ISPS Handa UK Championship gives us some indication as to what style of game this track demands:

  • 1st, Rasmus Hojgaard (-14). 304 yards (9th), 48.3% fairways (40th), 75% greens in regulation (6th), 55.6% scrambling (36th), 1.65 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2nd, Justin Walters (-14). 303 yards (10th), 53.3% fairways (25th), 75% greens in regulation (6th), 72.2% scrambling (7th), 1.69 putts per GIR (9th).
  • 3rd, Martin Kaymer (-13). 291 yards (30th), 50% fairways (35th), 80.5% greens in regulation (2nd), 50% scrambling (50th), 1.72 putts per GIR (12th).
  • 3rd, Benjamin Hebert (-13). 293 yards (28th), 51.7% fairways (31st), 72.2% greens in regulation (18th), 60% scrambling (26th), 1.67 putts per GIR (3rd).
  • 5th, Bernd Wiesberger (-12). 299 yards (16th), 53.3% fairways (25th), 65.3% greens in regulation (49th), 76% scrambling (2nd), 1.68 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 5th, Craig Howie (-12). 290 yards (31st), 63.3% fairways (8th), 76.4% greens in regulation (4th), 41.2% scrambling (45th), 1.72 putts per GIR (14th).

Looking at the list of players who’ve succeeded around the Brabazon course here at The Belfry, it’s fair to say that generally better Total Driving and Ball-Striking has been the key to success. 4 of the top 6 finishers here last year ranked inside the top 6 for GIR on the week to further back up this point.

The greens here are generally easy to read and favour those players who might otherwise struggle on the putting surfaces and again that’s reinforced when you see a list of names including Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson all having won here.

From a Strokes Gained perspective, SG Approach would appear to have been the most important factor here at the Belfry last year with 3 of the top-4 finishers ranking 1st, 2nd and 4th on that count:

  • 1st, Rasmus Hojgaard: T: 11th; A: 4th; T2G: 2nd; ATG: 38th; P: 20th
  • 2nd, Justin Walters: T: 25th; A: 21st; T2G: 25th; ATG: 47th; P: 1st
  • 3rd, Martin Kaymer:: T: 39th; A: 2nd; T2G: 13th; ATG: 52nd; P: 4th
  • 3rd, Benjamin Hebert: T: 46th; A: 1st; T2G: 6th; ATG: 41st; P: 19th
  • 5th, Bernd Wiesberger: T: 22nd; A: 37th; T2G: 5th; ATG: 1st; P: 27th
  • 5th, Craig Howie: T: 3rd; A: 25th; T2G: 10th; ATG: 27th; P: 15th

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

Incoming Form: Since the British Masters was re-established in 2015, the four winners prior to Marcus Kinhult – Eddie Pepperell, Paul Dunne, Alex Noren and Matt Fitzpatrick – had each shown some decent enough form in the weeks prior to their victory. Marcus Kinhult was far more difficult to find as he’d missed each of his previous 4 cuts, shooting 80 on his previous competitive round before opening with a 65 at Hillside and hardly looking back.

Eddie Pepperell had recorded 5 top-10 finishes in his previous 8 starts, 2 of which were runner-up finishes at the Scottish Open and Portugal Masters. Paul Dunne had produced two top-15 finishes in his previous three strokeplay events and after a shaky 74 to start on his most recent start in Holland, nobody in the field bettered his final 3-round total. For Noren this was the third of four 2016 victories and he was clearly in exceptional form overall whereas for Fitzpatrick his win at Woburn marked his maiden success on the European Tour, however with four top-3 finishes in his previous 11 events he was clearly knocking very loudly on the door.

Last year’s winner Renato Paratore secured his second European Tour title at Close House off the back of a 15th place finish in Austria a fortnight before, which was his only start since lockdown was eased. The Italian sat 2nd at the halfway point at Diamond Country Club and had also been prominent in Saudi and Abu Dhabi in strong fields earlier in the year:

  • 2020, Renato Paratore: 48/40/21/36/19/2/21/MC/27/74/47/15
  • 2019, Marcus Kinhult: 22/30/71/22/20/MC/MC/18/MC/MC/MC/MC
  • 2018, Eddie Pepperell: 43/51/DQ/MC/2/6/59/9/56/6/2/44
  • 2017, Paul Dunne: 33/30/MC/MC/13/54/26/MC/9/14/70/14
  • 2016, Alex Noren: MC/43/12/MC/8/1/46/49/2/1/34/11
  • 2015, Matt Fitzpatrick: MC/3/MC/MC/77/2/17/44/3/30/3/MC

The other way to look at incoming form is to see how the top finishers at last year’s UK Championship held here at the Belfry were playing before that event:

  • 1st, Rasmus Hojgaard: 13/49/1/MC/MC/MC/MC/6/MC/2/6/3
  • 2nd, Justin Walters: MC/55/MC/67/MC/MC/30/MC/MC/MC/MC/39/MC
  • 3rd, Martin Kaymer: MC/5/21/38/21/8/16/13/10/MC/MC/MC
  • 3rd, Benjamin Hebert: 2/24/38/4/MC/45/27/18/43/17/34/MC
  • 5th, Bernd Wiesberger: 49/49/3/28/8/MC/MC/37/MC/26/74/43
  • 5th, Craig Howie: MC/MC/58/71/43/MC/10/MC/25/4/MC/21

Rasmus Hojgaard was a fairly obvious winner with incoming form of 2/6/3 over his past 3 starts and justified his 14/1 quotes in the end via a play-off.

Course Form:

Aside from Angel Cabrera, our course winners here had patchy history at best at The Belfry prior to lifting their respective trophies:

  • 2020: Rasmus Hojgaard: Debut
  • 2008: Gonzalo Fdez Castano: 14/57
  • 2007: Lee Westwood: 54/57/MC/27/MC
  • 2006: Johan Edfors: Debut
  • 2003: Paul Casey: 12/MC
  • 2002: Angel Cabrera: 9/2
  • 2001, Henrik Stenson: Debut
  • 2000: Jose Maria Olazabal: Debut

For me, the Belfry is a good test of golf and scoring isn’t likely to get out of control despite a fairly quiet weather forecast. Historically straightforward greens of excellent quality will encourage birdies though to those who can keep the ball in play and overall I’d favour those who can gain most of their strokes from tee-to-green and with their approach play, as opposed to on the putting surfaces themselves.

My selections are as follows:

Rasmus Hojgaard 2.5pts EW 22/1 (8EW, 1/5) Paddy Power

We’ve got one of those odd weeks where event form is from a mixture of venues and course form – at least the most recent of which – is from another event. Confused? Our Combined Stats page for the British Masters for this week is here; whereas our Combined Stats page for The Belfry in isolation, which also includes last year’s UK Championship, is here.

Whichever way you cut the numbers though, Rasmus Hojgaard is pretty visible and a fairly obvious bet this week, despite sitting in the second tier of pricing behind MacIntyre, Kaymer and Wiesberger.

Event form is a solitary 2nd place finish behind Renato Paratore at Close House last July, the Dane’s first start since lockdown, and that effort kick-started a run of form that saw him finish 6th at the Hero Open and 3rd at the English Championship before winning here at the Belfry in August, deftly holding off Justin Walters in a play-off following a splendid round of 65 to finish the event.

Over the past few weeks it’s been his twin Nicolai who’s been threatening to add more silverware to the family collection with finishes of 7/15/74/4, however that may be just the motivation that Rasmus needs to improve a form line that’s seen him miss 3 of his last 4 cuts globally. In fairness to the 20 year-old, the most recent of those efforts were both in the US and one in the pairs event in New Orleans; instead I’m more interested in his 12th place finish in Austria on his last foray onto European soil where he produced a 69/67 weekend to finish in a respectable position after a lacklustre opening 2 rounds.

9th for SG Approach for this season and 20th for SG Tee to Green are ideal metrics for this task and he excelled once again on both counts in that event in Austria last month, ranking 2nd and 11th respectively.

Multiple post-lockdown wins has become the vogue nowadays it would seem with Garrick Higgo, John Catlin, Sam Horsfield, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Antoine Rozner capturing 12 titles between them since June, and Rasmus’s name finding its way onto the list wouldn’t surprise one iota. RESULT: MC

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Andrew Johnston 1.5pts EW 40/1 (10EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Of the plethora of angles that can be explored when trying to decipher who’s likely to go well on any given week, one that I like to study is those players who’ve been performing well on tracks or scoring conditions that don’t seem to ordinarily suit. For instance, shorter players contending on long tracks, wayward players contending on tight layouts or, in the case of Andrew Johnston, those players more adept at a high-scoring grind performing well at a birdie-fest.

Perhaps pigeon-holing Beef as a one trick pony is a little unfair, however it’s fair to say that his best efforts have come on tougher assignments. +1 to win his (to date) solitary European Tour title at Valderrama is clearly a case in point, however his next best effort – a playoff defeat to Matt Wallace at DLF G&CC – was closer to what we should expect this week at -11, on that tricky track in India where the winning score hasn’t deviated much from that level over 3 renewals.

23 birdies and an eagle last week then for a 19-under total and a tie for 4th place was noteworthy in my mind, particular as his long game looked on point – ranking 3rd for Driving Accuracy and 11th for GIR – and his par-5 scoring was strong for the second week in succession in Tenerife with -13 recorded on the long holes both times. 16th for SG Approach, 7th for SG Tee-to-Green and 6th for SG off the Tee last week backs this assertion up and is ideal preparation for this week’s task in Sutton Coldfield.

Although strictly speaking this is Beef’s competitive debut at The Belfry, he’s familiar with track from charity days held here and his record in England is strong with 10 of his last 11 cuts made and a couple of top-10 finishes at Wentworth to his name. With his mental and physical fitness continuing to improve and his game in a good place on last week’s evidence, I’m happy to take a chance on the Englishman on home soil. RESULT: T17

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Max Kieffer 1pt EW 66/1 (8EW, 1/5) Paddy Power

Another player who’s surprised me by adding more diversity to their game of late is Max Kieffer and, after a short break, perhaps he’ll pick up some of the outstanding form we saw in the middle of last month.

Similar to Johnston, Kieffer is a player who I’d ordinarily associate with the more challenging tests on Tour, so it was no massive surprise to see him feature in tough conditions and on a similarly challenging track to this at the Diamond Country Club in Austria.

A play-off defeat to John Catlin – having thought he’d virtually won the event more than once in extra holes – would have been hard to take for the German, however to his credit he bounced back immediately and finished runner-up to Garrick Higgo in a far more unfamiliar situation by shooting a final round 62 for a 22-under total in Gran Canaria.

A more aggressive mindset was the 30 year-old’s explanation for his birdie-making exploits, however overall it was a second consecutive week of SG Tee-to-Green excellence that was the foundation for his result and that’s the key attribute that can see him contend here on a more amenable layout after a week’s rest and recuperation.

Having not played the UK Championship last autumn, this will be the Dusseldorf man’s Belfry debut, however his record in GB&I over the years is enough to encourage support: 8th at the 2015 Irish Open and 5th the year after, 5th at the Paul Lawrie Matchplay in Scotland in 2016, 14th at the Celtic Classic in Wales last year and 6th at the Hero Open here in England at the Forest of Arden are all positive spins and I’d imagine he’ll like what he sees here at The Belfry on competitive debut. RESULT: MC

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Jack Senior 1pt EW 125/1 (10EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Marcus Armitage was tempting given his 7th place finish here last year and a strong 4th in Austria last month; likewise Niall Kearney was close for me having impressed last week with a closing round of 61 in Tenerife. I’ll complete this week’s team of 4 though with England’s Jack Senior who’s been playing some consistent golf at European Tour level for some time now and has the game to suit The Belfry.

4th at last year’s South African Open (the January edition) still rates as the Morecambe man’s best result on the European Tour, however 2nd into Sunday in Qatar in March before fading and 8th in Gran Canaria last month would suggest that he’s still improving and progressing at European Tour level.

2 career wins on the PGA Europro Tour and 2 wins on the Challenge Tour have all come in Great Britain and Ireland and he clearly feels most at ease relatively close to home. Winning scores of -5, -9, -11 and -16 would also suggest that he’s more adept at slightly stronger tests which again, like Beef and Kieffer, makes his effort in the Canaries interesting.

The 32 year-old is an accurate type who generally ranks in the upper quartile of SG Approach, SG Tee-to-Green and GIR statistics which fits nicely with The Belfry, evidence of which we’ve seen from his Europro Tour days where he led by 3 strokes here at the 2014 Matchroom Championship before missing out on the final hole to William Harrold. All 4 of those aforementioned wins have come since that experience and he should be far better equipped nowadays should he find himself in a similar position. RESULT: T52

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:15BST 10.5.21 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.

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