After the trials and tribulations of The Open where Cameron Smith’s back-9 birdie blitz secured him a maiden Major Championship, we head south-west over the border into England for the Cazoo Classic, which this year moves from the London Club to Hillside Golf Club, which hosted the 2019 British Masters.
With the co-sanctioned boost to the field at the Scottish Open and of course last week’s Major at The Home of Golf behind us, we’re back to the DP World Tour’s bread and butter in Southport with a massive drop in field quality to accompany the €1.75m prize fund, which puts the event on the second rung up from the bottom in terms of its stature.
Robert MacIntyre is the bookies’ favourite this week at a best-priced 12/1 following his 34th place finish at The Open, which ranks the highest of those who’ve made the trip down from St Andrews. Thriston Lawrence (20/1), Oliver Bekker (22/1), Adrian Otaegui (25/1) and Romain Langasque (25/1) complete the top 5 in the betting at the time of writing.
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Course Overview. Hillside Golf Club played host to a DP World Tour event for the first time since 1982 when it staged the British Masters in 2019, and the results from that event have been added to this week’s stats for reference. The 2003 English Seniors Open won by Carl Mason was also hosted here, as was Open Championship qualifying from 2014-17, however in terms of tangible stats it’s fairly sparse this week.
The course though is an absolute cracker. It’s a 7,109 yard par-72 built on true links land on the ‘Golf Coast’ which includes the links of Royal Lytham & St Annes and Royal Birkdale – indeed Birkdale sits literally next door to Hillside with the 2017 Open Championship venue backing onto the 17th hole. Somewhat of a rarity in that this is a genuine links which also features trees on a number of holes, the back-9 is where the course really comes into its own as it meanders through the sand dunes for a true aesthetic delight. Thick rough from off the fairway will catch out the wayward. as will typical links features such as pot bunkers, fescue and brooks throughout the course.
Despite a little lengthening since 2019, the par-5s all measure under 565 yards and there are a number of par-4s in the 400 yard region, however this course is by no means a pushover, particularly when the wind blows. A patient, strategic game is required from tee-to-green and every club in the bag is likely to be used as players navigate around the dog-legs that make this much more of a shot-making challenge.
Tournament Stats. With the 2019 British Masters held here at Hillside, we have a starting point at least in terms of course form to combine with the regular current form stats. Both results from that event, plus last year’s Cazoo Classic which was held at the London Club, are added to the Combined Stats: Current 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.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here.
The scorching temperatures of the start of the week should have abated by the time play starts on Thursday to leave more manageable temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit. 10-15mph breezes will keep players honest without causing too much of an issue, however the ground will undoubtedly be firm and fast unless there’s a late thunderstorm before play starts, with what rain there is in the forecast looking light and patchy.
Event Winners. 2021 (London GC): Calum Hill, 33/1.
Course Winners. 2019: Marcus Kinhult (British Masters), 175/1.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.Analysing the final stats of the top 5 finishers here at Hillside from 2019’s British Masters gives a few clues as to the type of player this course might suit:
1st, Marcus Kinhult (-16). 279 yards (51st), 69.6% fairways (8th), 73.6% greens in regulation (8th), 68.4% scrambling (28th), 1.67 putts per GIR (8th).
2nd, Robert Macintyre (-15). 274 yards (59th), 66.1% fairways (14th), 69.5% greens in regulation (23rd), 63.6% scrambling (46th), 1.57 putts per GIR (1st).
2nd, Eddie Pepperell (-15). 258 yards (74th), 71.4% fairways (5th), 73.6% greens in regulation (12th), 89.5% scrambling (1st), 1.69 putts per GIR (17th).
2nd, Matt Wallace (-15). 288 yards (30th), 58.9% fairways (39th), 82% greens in regulation (2nd), 69.2% scrambling (23rd), 1.71 putts per GIR (24th).
5th, Richie Ramsay (-12). 280 yards (50th), 57.1% fairways (46th), 73.6% greens in regulation (14th), 68.4% scrambling (28th), 1.67 putts per GIR (11th).
Driving distance wasn’t a critical factor here at Hillside 3 years ago, with the top 5 finishers no better than 30th for length off the tee. Solid enough long game stats are evident for all 5 players, with putting ultimately being the most critical element with each of the men ranking inside the top 24 for putts per GIR.
Strokes Gained: From a Strokes Gained perspective, SG Putting and SG Approach feature most heavily for the same 5 players:
2019: Marcus Kinhult: 22/30/71/22/20/MC/MC/18/MC/MC/MC/MC
Calum Hill had relinquished a great chance the week before at the Hero Open, limping home in 70 shots to allow Grant Forrest to capture the title. Perhaps of more relevance is Marcus Kinhult’s win here at the 2019 British Masters, however he’d only made one cut in his last 7 starts before winning here – that solitary pay-cheque coming at the Saudi International provides us with very few clues.
For me this is a genuine links course that will require an element of patient navigation to get around safely. With firm conditions expected unless we do see significant rain and a little breeze over the weekend, I can’t see scoring getting out of control here, so those with experience of British conditions and/or decent performances on links/coastal tracks in the past are preferred.
My selections are as follows:
Thorbjorn Olesen 2pts EW 28/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power
In what is a significant step down in class from recent weeks on the DP World Tour, even pre-dating the co-sanctioned Scottish Open and of course last week’s Open Championship, few at the top of the market really appeal to me at Hillside.
Robert MacIntyre is favourite according to the bookies despite missing 3 of his last 5 cuts, and although he kept his impressive record of never having missed a cut at a Major Championship last week with a tie for 34th, missed cuts on each of his subsequent starts following a Major in 2022 doesn’t encourage a bet at skinny odds.
Thriston Lawrence briefly threatened to contend at St Andrews last week before falling back to 42nd overall, and for me low-scoring, parkland affairs are more his strength than a British links.
Oliver Bekker and Adrian Otaegui are LIV golfers playing this week for relative peanuts and I struggle to see their motivation, whereas Romain Langasque completes the top 5 in the betting and whilst I can see him in the mix and potentially placing, whether he can find that little bit extra that gets him over the line remains to be seen.
All of that leads me to Thorbjorn Olesen, who finally got his career back on track in May at The Belfry after a tricky and prolonged period of time following that well-documented BA flight. With the charges finally cleared and having become a father in recent times too, the Dane has undoubtedly got himself back on track.
A dogged eagle-birdie finish at the British Masters hides the fact the 32 year-old could easily have thrown his chance of a 6th DP World Tour title away, having led after rounds 1 and 3, however all’s well that ends well and seeing him fight back towards an OWGR top 50 position over the next year wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
After a brief lull in his results following that victory, he finished 8th at the Irish Open, ranking 1st for SG Putting at Mount Juliet, before topping Driving Accuracy stats at Renaissance on his way to a 30th place finish in co-sanctioned PGA Tour company on his last start.
Any spark with his approach play this week could see him seriously contend for another title in quick succession, and we know that he’s more than capable on coastal and/or links tracks with wins at Verdura for the Sicilian Open back in 2012 and of course the Alfred Dunhill Links three years later. RESULT: T11
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Sami Valimaki 1.5pts EW 50/1 (5EW, 1/4) with 10bet
One of the eye-catchers lately from a statistical point of view is Sami Valimaki and seeing the talented Finn put it all together one week and add a second title to his name seems increasingly likely given what we’ve seen of late.
Having in his own words ‘lost the enjoyment in his game’ not long after his breakthrough Oman Open win back in March 2020, it’s been encouraging to see a return to some more consistent results of late, and perhaps he’ll complete the circle here this week.
Missed Cuts at the British Masters, Irish Open and Scandinavian Mixed looked like a regression from the progress he’d made in the early season with a pair of top-20 finishes at the Steyn City and Catalunya Championships, however since those weekends off the 24 year-old has seemingly found something in his game and results have taken a significant step forward.
4th at the BMW International Open was followed by slightly less lofty results at the Irish Open (30th) and Scottish Open (24th), however his long game was in great shape throughout that period with rankings of 5th, 5th and 3rd for Total Driving over that spell. Slightly less impressive from a Strokes Gained perspective, 25th, 39th and 33rd for SG Tee to Green is nevertheless a considerable improvement over the past 18 months or so on average.
1st for SG Putting was the differentiating factor that produced the lofty finish in Germany, and the ability to conjure up a field-leading performance in that respect shouldn’t be underestimated given what we saw here at Hillside back in 2019, and nor is it unusual for the Nokia man.1st for SG Putting at the Olympics last year was another example in much loftier company than this, driving Sami to a 27th place finish overall having missed his previous 5 cuts, and this low-grade affair reminds me a lot of that aforementioned Oman Open win. RESULT: T16
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Changeable conditions shouldn’t be a problem for Ewen Ferguson, and after a quiet spell following his maiden DP World Tour success in Qatar in March, there are signs that the Scot may be ready to contend once again.
Having blown a 4-shot lead at the Kenya Open earlier in the year, shooting a Sunday round of 76 to allow Ashun Wu to storm through the field and take the title, the 26 year-old vowed to learn from the experience and he put that painful episode behind him in style when the opportunity presented itself next.
Impressive enough starts of late haven’t been capitalised upon: 67 at the Soudal Open, 68 at the Dutch Open, 68 at the BMW International Open, 67 at the Irish Open and 67 again at the Scottish Open saw the Glaswegian well inside the top 20 after day one on each occasion before drifting away, with 21st in the German event his best overall finish, however those sparks suggest to me that his game’s not too far away.
Coastal and links golf in general isn’t an issue for Ferguson. who is part of Niall Horan’s stable of players, and despite playing Hillside for the first time competitively this week he has plenty of experience in the area having won the Boys Amateur Championship down the coast at Hoylake as a 17 year-old.
Doha is also a good barometer for links golf despite being in the Middle East, and his aforementioned success there a few months ago shouldn’t be overlooked in that respect; 17th at last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links when plying his trade on the Challenge Tour for the most part is also tangible evidence that he may enjoy this week more than his price suggests. RESULT: MC
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Dimi Papadatos 0.5pt EW 350/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet
Finally I’ll take a chance on Dimi Papadatos who could take some inspiration from compatriot Cameron Smith’s success at St Andrews last week if he can find some form a little further south at Hillside.
Although Papadatos had packed his bags a couple of days before Smith’s Sunday heroics, the very fact that the 31 year-old had qualified for his second Open has to be applauded. Success at this year’s Vic Open back in February was the key to his qualification and his victory at 13th Beach Golf Links, his 2nd title at the venue, holds a few clues that Hillside should appeal given its shared coastal nature and relatively short dimensions by modern standards.
Minwoo Lee won the last Vic Open that was co-sanctioned with the DP World Tour back in 2020, and his coastal credentials – which include victory at last year’s Scottish Open – were boosted once again with a solid 21st place finish last week in Fife. 2nd to Abraham Ancer at the 2018 Australian Open at The Lakes in Sydney is further evidence that coastal and linksy golf suits Papadatos.
Why pick possibly tenuous links to this week though when we have some tangible evidence that Dimi can play Hillside just fine, having finished 15th here at the British Masters back in 2019 which rated as his best finish of the year at that point in time.
A win and 3 further top-10 finishes in 2022 so far suggests he’s in overall better form this time around, and although very recent results are a little underwhelming, the reward for getting this punt right in what is a weak field overall is good enough to take a chance on in my view. RESULT: MC
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