Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Celtic Classic Tips

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After 400-odd days since Shane Lowry won at Royal Portrush, we can finally crown the newest Major Champion with Collin Morikawa impressively winning the US PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park. Congratulations to Collin and congratulations also to Steve Bamford who put up the 23 year-old at 35/1 last week, as well as runner-up Dustin Johnson to make it an impressive 1-2 in San Francisco.

Back this side of the Atlantic and the European Tour’s UK Swing continues this week as we start a fortnight of golf at the Celtic Manor resort in South Wales. As per the PGA Tour’s double-header at Muirfield Village last month, both this week’s Celtic Classic and next week’s Wales Open will be played on the same course, with the 2010 Ryder Cup venue – the Twenty-Ten Course – being used for both events.

As per the last few weeks, the field here for the Celtic Classic is largely the same as last week’s English Championship, bar a few additions and removals. Most notably, Joost Luiten returns from his 51st-place finish at TPC Harding Park to contest favouritism with Hanbury Manor winner Andy Sullivan. Thomas Pieters also returns to action for the first time since lockdown, having become a father at the end of July, and Kurt Kitayama also returns to the European Tour having played over in the US  since finishing 6th at the Dubai Desert Classic in January.

Dropping out this week is Rasmus Hojgaard, who’s taking some well-earned rest having qualified for the US Open courtesy of his strong form over the past few weeks. All of that leaves Sullivan and Luiten as the general 12/1 joint favourites here in Newport, with Thomas Detry their nearest challenger at 18/1 at the time of writing.

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Course Overview. The Twenty-Ten course at Celtic Manor needs no introduction – at 7,354 yards the par 71 offers a decent test to the professionals with generous fairways encouraging a healthy smash off the tee, however with water lurking on many holes there’s no room for serious waywardness.

The exposed track, which is a fusion of the old Trent Jones Jnr-designed Wentwood Hills track combined with 9 new holes added by Ross McMurray back in 2007, features five par 3s and four par 5s to create its overall par of 71 and it’s those holes that may well hold the key to success around these parts. Scoring on the par 5s is essential, as it often is for the modern-day golfer, however survival on the tough par 3s is just as critical at Celtic Manor. The short holes play tough and those players who can tame the 3rd, 7th, 10th, 13th and 17th over the course of the 4 days should set themselves in good stead for a decent week.

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 the Wales Open which was played here at Celtic Manor until 2014 with the Twenty-Ten Course being used from 2008 to 2014 specifically: 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. 2014 (Wales Open) Joost Luiten, 14/1; 2013: Gregory Bourdy, 40/1; 2012: Thongchai Jaidee, 125/1; 2011: Alexander Noren, 66/1; 2010: Graeme McDowell, 22/1.

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. The hot and sunny weather that the southern part of the UK has enjoyed recently will break down as we head towards the start of this week’s event with heavy, thundery showers expected to give the course a good soaking.

Thursday and early Friday look the most at-risk periods of the 4 days for weather delays to happen, after which the situation improves somewhat. Temperatures in the low 70s Fahrenheit and light to moderate winds of 10-15mph will make this a fair test without being excessively easy or difficult. The sun should make more regular appearances as the event progresses, with Saturday likely to be the warmest and most pleasant day for golf.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the past winners on the Twenty-Ten course from 2008-14 gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:

  • 2014, Joost Luiten (-14). 290 yards (51st), 63.5% fairways (12th), 80.6% greens in regulation (4th), 71.4% scrambling (6th), 1.74 putts per GIR (19th).
  • 2013, Gregory Bourdy (-8). 284 yards (54th), 53.8% fairways (38th), 66.7% greens in regulation (26th), 62.5% scrambling (6th), 1.73 putts per GIR (13th).
  • 2012, Thonghchai Jaidee (-6). 287 yards (35th), 59.6% fairways (22nd), 73.6% greens in regulation (7th), 36.8% scrambling (55th), 1.66 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2011, Alex Noren (-9). 304 yards (1st), 59.6% fairways (9th), 76.4% greens in regulation (2nd), 70.6% scrambling (3rd), 1.82 putts per GIR (31st).
  • 2010, Graeme McDowell (-15). 283 yards (36th), 71.2% fairways (12th), 80.6% greens in regulation (1st), 50% scrambling (34th), 1.67 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 2009, Jeppe Huldahl (-9). 274 yards (37th), 55.8% fairways (53rd), 70.8% greens in regulation (17th), 66.7% scrambling (2nd), 1.69 putts per GIR (6th).
  • 2008, Scott Strange (-22). 276 yards (41st), 75% fairways (22nd), 80.6% greens in regulation (10th), 78.6% scrambling (4th), 1.62 putts per GIR (1st).

Aside from Scott Strange’s win in 2008, the updates made to the Twenty-Ten Course to make it Ryder Cup ready essentially toughened it up. The yardage and course setup suggests that bombers should prosper here, however they certainly don’t have it all their own way if you look at the contenders and winners of the Wales Open before it dropped off the schedule in 2014.

Since 2008, of the 7 winners (Strange, Huldahl, McDowell, Noren, Jaidee, Bourdy and Luiten) the only players who I’d class as possessing anything more than moderate length off the tee are Alex Noren and Joost Luiten and I suspect that the shorter hitters won’t be as penalised as the card might suggest. It’s also fair to say that this event was one of the sterner tests on the schedule with single-figure totals under par getting the job done in 3 of the final 4 Wales Opens.

No particular stats stand out from the numbers above, with winners having a generally good week in all departments with perhaps a leaning towards Greens in Regulation and Putting.

Incoming Form: Joost Luiten had been knocking quite loudly on the door prior to victory here back in 2014, finally converting after recording two consecutive top-5 finishes.

Gregory Bourdy, Alex Noren, Graeme McDowell and Scott Strange had all posted at least one top-10 finish in their past 7 starts to hint at enough form to justify an investment, however Thongchai Jaidee and to an even larger extent Jeppe Huldahl were tougher to find with patchy incoming results:

  • 2014, Joost Luiten: 4/12/3/MC/18/51/MC/56/26/52/4/5
  • 2013, Gregory Bourdy: MC/11/MC/21/12/59/8/58/34/49/64/23
  • 2012, Thonghchai Jaidee: MC/20/42/41/64/MC/29/25/21/56
  • 2011, Alex Noren: 13/31/8/MC/WD/MC/23/4/MC/5/11/MC
  • 2010, Graeme McDowell: MC/14/20/33/31/6/MC/MC/8/28/26/28/4
  • 2009, Jeppe Huldahl: 23/MC/12/49/52/MC/MC/65/MC/MC/MC
  • 2008, Scott Strange: 7/33/MC/25/2/21/MC/14/14/35/MC

Course Form (back to 2010): To back up Luiten’s current form credentials the last time we played here, he also arrived here having come close to victory on each of his previous two attempts at the Twenty-Ten Course and was understandably the favourite to win 6 years ago.

Like Luiten, Gregory Bourdy also had strong course form to encourage his backers prior to lifting the trophy in 2013; prior to that, winners’ form here at Celtic Manor was a little patchier:

  • 2014, Joost Luiten: 2/4
  • 2013, Gregory Bourdy: 21/10/39/2/14
  • 2012, Thonghchai Jaidee: 39/26/MC
  • 2011, Alex Noren: MC/39
  • 2010, Graeme McDowell: 39
  • 2009, Jeppe Huldahl: Debut
  • 2008, Scott Strange: Debut

Despite a reasonable weather forecast with moderate breezes accompanying the sunshine and odd shower once the thunderstorms have cleared, I still can’t see this turning into a birdie-fest and, for me, the key to success is quality approach shots having kept drives away from the worst of the trouble.

The Bent/Poa putting surfaces aren’t the toughest on Tour and will reward good golf shots, however the emphasis for me is far more about hitting greens in regulation and patiently accumulating a score. Par-3 scoring may well prove to be a critical element in the final analysis of this week’s event, which again points towards strong iron play.

Antoine Rozner 1.5pts EW 80/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Swerving the top of the market last week in Hertfordshire proved to be a mistake with Andy Sullivan romping to a 7-stroke victory, however I’m going to adopt a similar strategy this week regardless and stick to my guns by trying to dig out some value further down the board.

If anything, the top of the market is event less appealing to me this week than last. Andy Sullivan’s emotional victory may well leave him drained ahead of this week having been so long since his last success, plus his follow-up efforts from his 3 prior victories reads 57/MC/60 which hardly excites for a short-priced favourite.

Joost Luiten is heading directly back from San Francisco and although he clearly enjoys this track, 6 years have elapsed since his 2014 victory and there’s no assurance that he’ll hit the ground running once the jet lag has worn off a little.

Thomas Detry disappointed once again last week, drifting to 56th place having opened with a sparkling round of 64 to sit in 2nd spot after 18 holes. Compatriot Thomas Pieters makes a little more appeal at 25/1 with the potential for a Nappy Factor bounce back to winning form, however his last European Tour start was back in March in Qatar, so he may well find that some elements of his game are a little rusty.

All things considered, I’m going to stick with last week’s headline selection Antoine Rozner who I still firmly believe is capable of winning an event like this to get his European Tour trophy haul up and running. To avoid sounding like a broken record, I won’t repeat the history and justification I’ve made recently when backing him in Austria and last week in Ware, however suffice it to say that he’s well suited to the track and well capable of stepping over the line at this level.

26th at Hanbury Manor was ultimately disappointing for us from a betting perspective, however the numbers which lie beneath that effort are quite striking. 1st for Driving Accuracy, 1st for Total Driving, 1st for Ball Striking, 3rd for GIR, 7th for Scrambling and 1st for All-Round Performance tells me that he’s ripe for a win. If he can simply have a good week on the greens – in fact repeating the kind of putting performance from the week before at Forest of Arden – then he’s got to go very close if he can maintain the rest of his game here this week. RESULT: MC

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Nicolas Colsaerts 1.5pts EW 55/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

Reviewing my notes from the 2014 Wales Open, one aspect that drew me to Nicolas Colsaerts was a link that I’d previously drawn between Celtic Manor and TPC Kuala Lumpur, the re-named value that hosted a series of Malaysian Opens from 2006 to 2015. Thongchai Jaidee, Rhys Davies, Gregory Bourdy and Alex Noren all have strong, contending form on both tracks so Colsaerts’ runner-up finish to Lee Westwood there back in 2014 peaked my interest.

Another track that holds parallels to this week is Le Golf National, which aside from being a Ryder Cup venue has also seen winners here at the Twenty-Ten Graeme McDowell, Thongchai Jaidee and Alex Noren all prove victorious in Paris. Colsaerts secured his long-awaited third European Tour victory at the Open de France in October and should he win here this week, that will further reinforce the link between the two tracks.

Of course drawing form lines between courses can often prove to be more of a red herring rather than a masterstroke in this game, so it’s comforting that the Belgian Bomber also has some tangible form around these parts, having finished 12th on course debut at the 2010 Wales Open and 4th on its final edition in 2014. 81.9% of Greens in Regulation at that most recent attempt suggests that the layout suits his eye and a further improvement on that this week isn’t out of the question.

Fatherhood appears to have settled the fun-loving playboy down a little it would seem, culminating in that most recent win, and a 9th place finish last week at Hanbury Manor was all the encouragement I need to get involved here. Tied 1st for Driving Accuracy with Rozner was an eye-opener for me for a player who’s clearly mature enough now to rein in the aggression when required and 1.63 putts per GIR was his best 4-round putting stat for over 15 years. RESULT: T63

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Jamie Donaldson 1.5pts EW 66/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

You have to scroll all the way into the 300s to find the first Welsh flag in the Official World Golf Rankings – that accolade belongs to Rhys Enoch – however not a million miles behind the 32 year-old is his far more experienced and decorated compatriot Jamie Donaldson who’s showing enough flashes of form to warrant support in his homeland.

Once a world top-25 player and Ryder Cup winner to boot, the 44 year-old has struggled with injury and a loss of form over the past few years as he’s entered his forties. Since winning in Thailand at the end of 2015, Jamie has recorded just 6 top-10 finishes globally, however there are good signs that his game is returning as he heads back to home soil.

15th at the Hero Open at Forest of Arden saw him hit over 70% of Greens in Regulation and scramble beautifully, before improving on that last week at Hanbury Manor and finishing 1 place better, fuelled by 3rd place for Driving Accuracy on the week and his best putting performance relative to the field since that aforementioned win nearly 5 years ago.

Positive signs then that are sure to boost confidence and an exposed track featuring Bent/Poa greens plays to the Pontypridd man’s strengths. 8th here on the Twenty-Ten Course in 2011 and 4th three years later at the last edition of the Wales Open bodes well for this week and in a relatively weak field in familiar surroundings, this must rate as a great opportunity for him to get back on the podium. RESULT: T31

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Connor Syme 1pt EW 90/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

Finally, I’m going back to Connor Syme who threatened to get our post-lockdown campaign off to a flying start in Austria last month before eventually finishing 4th, and despite showing some solid stuff last week at Hanbury Manor for a top-20 finish, is available at around 4-times the price we backed him at a month ago.

Taking his effort at the Austrian Open into consideration first, although we have no recorded stats for that event, it’s fairly safe to say that the Scot most likely excelled with his irons, which is both his strongest asset when playing well and, like the Twenty-Ten Course, a key requirement of the Diamond Country Club track.

There’s plenty of correlation between the two tracks when you dig a little beneath the surface, with Joost Luiten having won on both courses for starters. 2010 Wales Open winner Graeme McDowell finished 3rd Diamond on his only start, as did 2011 winner Alex Noren. 2013 Wales Open winner Gregory Bourdy has finished inside the top-8 at Diamond Country Club 3 times from 6 starts, so Connor’s 2nd and 4th place finishes in Austria from 2 attempts bodes well ahead of his debut here this week in Wales.

The 25 year-old finished 19th last week at Hanbury Manor, with his putter warming up noticeably as he recorded his best flat-stick performance of the 2019/20 wraparound season. An opening 65 was his best of the 4 days, however 4 rounds in the 60s has to breed confidence as he heads towards a track that should play to his strengths, sitting as he does in 5th place on Tour for GIR for the season. RESULT: T3

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:40BST 10.8.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.