Paul Williams

Paul Williams' British Masters Tips 2020

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Another frustrating week in Austria with headline selection John Catlin opening with a pair of 66s to sit in 5th position heading into the weekend before drifting away. Joel Stalter, who had just about enough current and course form to consider him as an outside bet, held his nerve on Sunday to convert his maiden European Tour title at 125/1 – congratulations if you plucked him out last week.

On to this week then (Wednesday start don’t forget) 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 3 years ago here 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 last year, arriving off the back of four consecutive missed cuts.

Close House and Lee Westwood host this week’s renewal for the second time as the European Tour’s Covid-induced UK Swing kicks off 6 weeks of action in England and Wales. Although the global situation has undoubtedly restricted Westwood’s ability to attract the World’s best to the North-East this week – Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Danny Willett and Shane Lowry were in the field here 3 years ago for instance – we still have a good attendance from the European Tour regulars who’ll be undoubtedly keen to get back to competition.

Tournament host Lee Westwood heads the betting at around 10/1 and it will be interesting to see how he fares this week having finished in a tie for 15th when hosting here 3 years ago. The former OWGR number 1 sat in 2nd place at the halfway point back then before fading and he’ll undoubtedly want to improve on that this time around. Thomas Detry is the Worksop man’s nearest challenger in terms of favouritism at 16/1, before we jump to 28/1 and beyond for the likes of Eddie Pepperell, Ryan Fox, Ross Fisher and defending champion Marcus Kinhult. 2017 Close House champion Paul Dunne is available at a massive 100/1 to repeat his feat from 3 years ago at the time of writing.

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Course Overview. The Colt course, named after renowned architect Harry Colt, was opened in 2011 and designed by Scott Macpherson; with Lee Westwood’s later input – which involved the addition of new tees and bunkering – we have the course, as it’s presented this week, measuring 6,872 yards for its par of 71. The routing and par has changed since the 2017 renewal according to the European Tour’s website, however we’re still on the same expanse of land so let’s assume that those changes are for the better, avoiding as we had before a finishing hole as a par 3, for instance.

Parkland in nature with a few tree-lined and some more exposed holes, the course features average to generous width fairways flanked by long, wispy grass and well-placed bunkers to keep players honest from off the tee. Dog-legs and significant elevation changes, as well as the requirement to be finding the right portion of fairways to attack the tricky, undulating putting surfaces, make this more a test of strategy than brute force. Greens are Creeping Bentgrass and although they’re USGA standard, aren’t massively quick due to the contours on the greens.

In his interview after lifting the trophy in 2017, Paul Dunne had this to say about the course, “The course was hilly, lots of elevation change. It was in great condition. The fairways were wide, which kind of fit into my game a little bit because when I struggled this year, it’s been with accuracy off the tee. So there was more emphasis on iron play and short game, which suits me.

british 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 this event. As ever, it’s worth noting that only the 2017 tournament was held here at Close House: Current Form | Event 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. 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.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Summer in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne means temperatures approaching 70 Fahrenheit in the afternoon and sunshine with the odd shower, although at the time of writing there’s a chance of a little more significant rain as the weekend approaches. Winds will be westerly and moderate at times at around 10-15mph, which will keep the players honest without causing them a massive headache.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the top 6 finishers here at Close House in 2017 gives us some indication as to what style of game this track demands:

  • 1st, Paul Dunne (-20). 53.6% fairways (42nd), 70.8% greens in regulation (32nd), 85.7% scrambling (1st), 1.63 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2nd, Rory McIlroy (-17). 50% fairways (51st), 77.8% greens in regulation (8th), 75% scrambling (5th), 1.82 putts per GIR (57th).
  • 3rd, Robert Karlsson (-16). 58.9% fairways (33rd), 76.4% greens in regulation (11th), 70.6% scrambling (11th), 1.75 putts per GIR (26th).
  • 4th, Florian Fritsch (-14). 48.2% fairways (56th), 75.0% greens in regulation (17th), 66.7% scrambling (18th), 1.67 putts per GIR (9th).
  • 4th, David Lingmerth (-14). 64.3% fairways (11th), 68.1% greens in regulation (46th), 65.2% scrambling (24th), 1.59 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 4th, Graeme Storm (-14). 69.2% fairways (2nd), 79.2% greens in regulation (6th), 60.0% scrambling (35th), 1.68 putts per GIR (13th).

Let’s take Rory McIlroy out of the equation for one moment as his stats might skew the overall picture. Naturally, had he won the event – which save for the final round heroics from Paul Dunne was quite likely – then you could argue that a strong tee-to-green game is required here. The counter-argument of course is that an elite player like Rory can contend with his shape of game on virtually any track at European Tour level, so analysing how the former world number 1 plays is not a strong angle to pursue in my view.

With the exception of Graeme Storm, accuracy from the tee wasn’t that critical and in general there wasn’t a massive amount of variance in GIR performance throughout the field who made the weekend. That puts the emphasis very much on performance on and around the greens with scrambling and putting ultimately dictating who finished higher up the leaderboard.

  • 1st, Paul Dunne (-20). Par 3: Even; Par 4: -12; Par 5: -8; Eagles: 1; Birdies: 21; Bogeys: 3.
  • 2nd, Rory McIlroy (-17). Par 3: -1; Par 4: -9; Par 5: -7; Eagles: 0; Birdies: 21; Bogeys: 4.
  • 3rd, Robert Karlsson (-16). Par 3: -3; Par 4: -8; Par 5: -5; Eagles: 1; Birdies: 19; Bogeys: 5.
  • 4th, Florian Fritsch (-14). Par 3: Even; Par 4: -10; Par 5: -4; Eagles: 1; Birdies: 18; Bogeys: 6.
  • 4th, David Lingmerth (-14). Par 3: -5; Par 4: -6; Par 5: -3; Eagles: 0; Birdies: 22; Bogeys: 8.
  • 4th, Graeme Storm (-14). Par 3: +1; Par 4: -12; Par 5: -3; Eagles: 0; Birdies: 20; Bogeys: 6.

Back in 2017, eventual winner Paul Dunne was 8-under for the 8 looks he had on the par-5s for the week; runner-up Rory McIlroy was 7-under on the same count. On a scoreable par-70 though, the critical difference between success and failure was how a player scored on the par-4s with Dunne co-leading on that count at 12-under. The Irishman also led the field for bogey avoidance, dropping just 3 shots all week, which reinforces my previous point about scrambling.

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. Last year’s winner 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:

  • 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

Although we only have 2017 to go on in terms of tangible European Tour form, that renewal does give us a few clues as to what type of player may contend here this week. The fairways are generally quite wide here, albeit the penalty for seriously wide shots may be more severe here this year given that the 70,000 members of the public won’t be here to trample down the rough this time around over the 4 days.

For me this is a second shot course, where slick short iron and wedge play is key, as is performance on and around the greens. Bentgrass-positive players will enjoy these greens, however there are a lot of slopes and undulations on the putting surfaces which will tend to favour those who are more competent with the flat stick. Top-class scrambling, 3-putt avoidance and putting in general are good assets to have here in my view.

My Final British Masters Tips Are As Follows

Pablo Larrazabal 1.5pts EW 45/1 (10EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Lee Westwood is the worthy favourite here as the highest-ranked player in the field at 34th in the OWGR, combined with his superior knowledge of this track. The 47 year-old is looking trim courtesy of his lockdown training regime and will undoubtedly be keen to stamp his authority on this field, however organising an event like this in the middle of a global pandemic can’t have been stress-free and any distractions this week will undoubtedly hamper his focus. When hosting 3 years ago, Westy dropped from looking the likely winner at halfway to scraping into the top 20 overall, and perhaps that’s an indication of what we might see this week.

Thomas Detry is increasingly prohibitively priced for a Tour maiden and without wishing to sound like a broken record, it will be no surprise when he does win at this level but the longer it takes, the poorer his backers become. Eddie Pepperell has an outstanding record in this event, but is tough to call right for any event and was 4 shots adrift of the cut line here at Close House 3 years ago. Instead I’m starting this week’s team with Pablo Larrazabal who showed significantly more promise here back in 2017 and is already a winner in this wraparound European Tour season.

4 rounds in the 60s for a tie for 26th here in Newcastle when the British Masters last visited these parts was encouraging for the Barcelona man, not least given that his best finish in the 3 months prior to that effort was a tie for 65th place at Crans-sur-Sierre.

Short, wide tracks with Bentgrass greens ticks just about every conceivable box for Pablo and his most recent success came on another comparable track at Leopard Creek in December. The 37 year-old ranked 3rd for GIR and 2nd for putting that week, despite hitting less than half the fairways, and that’s essentially Larrazabal’s game in a nutshell – if he can get away with his loose drives then his wedge and short game takes some beating at this kind of level.

Since that most recent victory – his 5th career success on the European Tour – there were signs that his game was still in good shape before lockdown with 13th place in Saudi and 7th in Qatar, leading the field for putting on both occasions. That most recent effort included a 3rd round 63 which tied the low round of the week and although it’s obviously difficult to gauge how rusty (or not) he’ll be this week, the signs prior to the break were definitely positive.

What we do know with Pablo is that he can get himself sharp after a lay-off – 3 of his last 4 wins came after a break of 3 weeks or longer – and with his 2014 Abu Dhabi Championship win, that came in his first start of that particular year having not played since the start of the previous December. RESULT: T21

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Guido Migliozzi 1.5pts EW 50/1 (10EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Although 2020 hasn’t started in the same fashion as the previous year for Guido Migliozzi, perhaps the extended break will help him find the kind of form that saw him notch two European Tour titles in quick succession last spring and early summer.

Success at the Magical Kenya Open, a 6,900 yard par 71 with Bentgrass greens, for his maiden success at this level holds clear correlations to this week’s task, as does his follow-up victory at the Belgian Knockout which was on an uncannily similar setup, again as a 6,900 yard par 71 with overseeded Bentgrass greens, as per this week. Of course, in the fullness of time those facts may prove to be simply a coincidence, however I’m happy to roll with that as a positive this week on a comparable set-up.

The 23 year-old has a further 3 Alps Tour victories to his name which makes a total of 5 victories in 70 professional starts and a strike rate – regardless of the level – that’s worthy of note. Worth of note also was his tie for 4th place on his penultimate start before lockdown at the Oman Open, where a much-improved performance compared to his previous 2020 outings saw him lead after day 1 and hang around for the remaining 3 days, eventually finishing a couple of shots shy of Sami Valimaki. His short game was in good order that week, ranking 6th in the field, and although plenty of time has passed since, that’s another positive for this week nevertheless.

Although he didn’t play here at Close House in 2017 – he was finding his feet on the Alps Tour at the time – he did make his British Masters debut last year at Hillside and made a bright start, sitting in 11th at the halfway stage before fading. With the event’s move to a seemingly more amenable layout for the young Italian, perhaps we’ll see another contending performance here this week. RESULT: T60

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Chris Paisley 1pt EW 60/1 (10EW, 1/5) with Betfred

If we’re looking for a short-game expert to excel this week at Close House then Chris Paisley has got to make the shortest of shortlists. 6th for Strokes Gained Putting, 6th for Scrambling, 3rd for Sand Saves, 5th for 3-Putt avoidance and 1st for Putts Per Round are excellent season-long stats for this week’s task, and should we have a winner who follows a similar path to success to Paul Dunne then the Englishman has strong claims.

2 career wins both carry some weight for this week’s British Masters which is as close as you’ll get to a home game for the Northumberland man. His maiden professional victory came on home soil at the 2012 English Challenge on the 2nd tier, a short par 72 where he held off a decent enough field including a young Brooks Koepka. His 2018 European Tour breakthrough came in the BMW SA Open at Glendower which although longer was played at altitude which makes it a comparable test to this week with the adjustments; perhaps of more relevance it was his first start of the new year back then after the festive break, which is encouraging given the lay-off he’s had ahead of this week.

Bentgrass-positive with a penchant for wider tracks that offer a bit of respite from off the tee, the main negative that you can draw is that he missed the cut here in 2017 on his only competitive start around these parts. Perhaps you could put that down to him drifting from a contending position the week before that effort in Portugal, or maybe he heaped too much pressure on himself playing in front of friends and family. Either way, he’s a far more experienced player now – and a European Tour winner to boot – and with the crowds sadly missing this time, any level of pressure or expectation in that respect must be negated to a degree.

The last time we saw the 34 year-old in action, he was finishing 7th at the Qatar Masters, fuelled by a typically strong short game where he scrambled successfully 83% of the time (2nd in the field) and led the field for total putts, needing just 108 over 4 rounds. With some fresh Callaway wedges in the bag for his week, let’s hope he can put them to good use and get himself in a strong, contending position on home soil. RESULT: MC

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Richie Ramsay 1pt EW 70/1 (5ew, 1/4) with bet365

Aside from Paul Dunne, who lost his European Tour card last year and is returning to action for the first time since undergoing wrist surgery in December, and Graeme Storm who’s missed all 4 cuts this year since returning from an extended lay-off himself stretching back to the middle of 2018, Richie Ramsay holds the strongest course form from the 2017 event held here.

8th for the Aberdeen man 3 years ago was one of just 3 top-10 finishes that year after a 3rd round 65 had given him a live chance of securing a 4th European Tour title heading into the final day. A final round 69 was never going to be enough with eventual winner Dunne shooting 61 to take the title, however a promising effort here nonetheless on the sort of short track that he thrives upon, as is evidenced by his wins in the Swiss Alps and Morocco in the past 8 years.

The 37 year-old is mostly associated with a tidy tee-to-green game, however it’s his short game that’s shone in his most recent outings, ranking inside the top-11 for scrambling on 5 of his last 11 starts on the European Tour, stretching back to Wentworth last autumn where he led the field on that count. Combine that with the face that he produced his best putting performance of 2020 at the Qatar Masters prior to lockdown and we have a potentially potent combination for this week, notwithstanding that a lot of time has passed since that last outing of course.

Compatriot Marc Warren’s success in Austria just over a week ago may help to reinvigorate a player who’s flirted with the OWGR top-50 in the past and with no win on Tour since 2015, perhaps the positive vibes from his last visit here will help push him into the each-way places or beyond this week. RESULT: T38

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Sam Horsfield 1pt EW 60/1 (10EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Finally I’m taking a punt on Manchester’s Sam Horsfield who’s another in that list of players who’s likely to make their breakthrough at European Tour level sooner rather than later.

2nd at the 2018 Tshwane Open, 3rd at the 2019 D+D Real Czech masters, 4th at the ISPS Handa World Super 6 in 2018 and 5th in this event later that year at Walton Heath all show significant promise, as does 12th in good company in Abu Dhabi earlier this year as well at 7th at the Vic Open for his best finish of 2020 prior to lockdown. There’s a level of erratic play built into his price – he’s also missed 4 cuts in 2020 – however in his short career to date he’s tended to excel on shorter, wider tracks with Bentgrass greens which bodes well for this week’s task.

The 23 year-old tends to compile a score more with a strong short game and decent touch on the greens, as opposed to relentlessly hitting greens in regulation, which may well prove to be a strong combination as we saw here 3 years ago, which bodes well for this week. 22nd on Tour for scrambling and 21st for Sand Saves are two useful metrics for this week, as is 7th for 3-putt avoidance despite the aforementioned weekends off which will undoubtedly have dragged those rankings down.

2 stories of players shooting 59 in practice during lockdown caught the eye while professional golf was paused: firstly Tony Finau, who contended for a large part of The Memorial Tournament last week in a world-class field and secondly Horsfield who produced at 59 at Streamsong in Florida at the end of May. All the more impressive was that it was achieved on a par-73 setup, with 10 birdies and 2 eagles allowing him to reach that magic number. Where Finau failed to convert his recent practice form last week at Muirfield Village, perhaps Horsfield can go one better here in a far lower quality of field. RESULT: T10

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 15:15BST 20.7.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.