Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Czech Masters Tips 2019

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The European Tour returns this week after a fortnight’s break and given that the weeks immediately prior to that saw the Open Championship and WGC FedEx St Jude, a fair proportion of this week’s field will be coming into the D+D Real Czech Masters with very little, if any, competitive golf under their belts in recent weeks.

You’d think that after that enforced break that the Tour’s rank and file would be clambering over each other to be playing this week…alas that’s not the case. Those who missed out at Q-School and others who were outside the qualifying mark on last year’s Asian Tour have been drafted in to make up the numbers with a paltry €1m prize fund partially to blame I’m sure. Nevertheless, from a betting perspective this looks like a decent heat and with 5 years’ worth of course history to peruse, we have something to work with here in the Czech Republic.

Albatross Golf Resort, Prague, Czech Republic. Designer: Keith Preston, 2010; Par: 72; Length: 7,467 yards; Fairways: Bentgrass/Fescue; Rough: Rye; Greens: A1/A4 Bentgrass; Stimp: 12ft.

Course Overview. The course, which is located on the South-Western outskirts of Prague at slight altitude, is a 7,467 yard, par 72 with exposed fairways and large bentgrass greens designed to cater for the tourist trade first and foremost, with 4 or 5 teeing areas on each hole. Fairways are fairly generous and the main challenges with the driver are carefully placed bunkers; precision isn’t the primary requirement here, despite organisers attempting to strengthen the course by nipping in the landing areas prior to the inaugural event a few years ago.

The first and 12th are par-5s that present scoring opportunities to the bombers who can get their drives away; back-to-back par 5s around the turn are perhaps a little too long at over 600 yards each, however the par-4 6th can be played from the forward tee which brings the front edge of the green into play with the driver and the hole played tied 4th easiest to par 12 months ago. Other holes on the course demand a little respect and this is a layout where a variety of playing styles may well feature at the top of Sunday’s leaderboard with water in play on 7 holes and more substantially towards the end of the 18.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s D+D Real Czech Masters that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | Tournament Top 20 Finishes | First Round Leader Stats

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

Winners & Prices. 2018: Andrea Pavan, 50/1; 2017: Haydn Porteous, 66/1; 2016: Paul Peterson, 250/1; 2015: Thomas Pieters, 80/1; 2014: Jamie Donaldson, 12/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Prague is here. With rain expected throughout the day on Monday and into the early hours of Tuesday, the course should be nice and lush ahead of this year’s event. Temperatures up to the mid-70s Fahrenheit and winds peaking at around 10mph in the afternoons should lend itself to some decent scoring this week, with another winning total in the high teens or better expected.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the 5 winners here since 2014 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2018: Andrea Pavan (-22). 297 yards (41st), 64.3% fairways (34th), 80.6% greens in regulation (6th), 42.9% scrambling (36th), 1.52 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2017: Haydn Porteous (-13). 304 yards (9th), 66.1% fairways (25th), 81.9% greens in regulation (2nd), 30.8% scrambling (51st), 1.68 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2016: Paul Peterson (-15). 287 yards (40th), 82.1% fairways (3rd), 83.3% greens in regulation (1st), 58.3% scrambling (25th), 1.67 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2015: Thomas Pieters (-20). 321 yards (1st), 62.5% fairways (27th), 75.0% greens in regulation (22nd), 72.2% scrambling (10th), 1.54 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2014: Jamie Donaldson (-14). 291 yards (24th), 64.3% fairways (34th), 80.6% greens in regulation (2nd), 42.9% scrambling (65th), 1.65 putts per GIR (4th).

An exposed track with fairly wide fairways and large greens doesn’t give away many clues with even the more wayward players hitting reasonable numbers on both counts, however to score here a tidy enough long game which maximises GIR is probably key. Scrambling isn’t particularly difficult either, so it’s likely to come down to greens hit and putts made this week; however with pre-event rain softening the track, perhaps the longer hitters will have a slight edge overall.

Despite not being the longest of players from off the tee, only one player bettered Paul Peterson’s 8-under total on the par 5s here in 2016 and he made a total of 21 birdies and just 6 bogeys on the week overall. Similarly Thomas Pieters and Jamie Donaldson both excelled on the par 5s when they won – both led the field in that respect in their winning efforts – and attacking the birdie holes whilst defending on the trickier par 4s and the tougher par 3s looks the best method to getting into contention around these parts.

2017 was a bit trickier with cooler temperatures which led to Haydn Porteous winning with a 6-under total on the par-5s and a total of 21 birdies and an eagle, offset by 8 bogeys and a double for his -13 overall total. More scoreable conditions last year restored order with Andrea Pavan’s 11-under for the par-5s beaten by just one player on the week. With relatively straightforward conditions expected again this week, I’d anticipate that a player’s performance on the long holes will once again be pivotal to success.

Incoming Form.

Jamie Donaldson arrived at the Albatross Golf Resort 5 years ago with 4-event form of MC/MC/37/24, albeit the final 3 events were Major/WGC/Major; Thomas Pieters was similarly non-descript with incoming form of MC/60/33/35 before winning here and then again on his next start in Holland a fortnight later. 250/1 shock winner Paul Peterson was playing on the Asian Tour predominantly alongside the occasional co-sanctioned event and although he’d recorded a 3rd place finish the previous month at the Queen’s Cup, his efforts when competing at this level were far from encouraging.

Of the 5 winners, the two most recent victors had more tangible form: Haydn Porteous had finished 11th at Sun City on the Sunshine Tour and 6th in Denmark the week before, however with Total Driving ranks of 8th and 4th from those two outings, it was fairly clear that his long game was pretty sharp. Similarly Andrea Pavan had finished 14th in Scotland then 6th the week before in Sweden before securing his first European Tour title, pounding greens in regulation both times:

  • 2018: Andrea Pavan: 9/MC/52/MC/23/56/56/MC/14/6
  • 2017: Haydn Porteous: MC/MC/38/MC/32/36/MC/11/17/6
  • 2016: Paul Peterson: 25/48/35/73/50/MC/59/3/22/MC
  • 2015: Thomas Pieters: 18/33/MC/MC/24/39/WD/60/33/35
  • 2014: Jamie Donaldson: MC/38/30/MC/5/5/MC/MC/37/24

Course Form.

Course form enthusiasts look away now – this isn’t what you’ll want to see. Andrea Pavan’s 39th place finish on debut was the best course effort on show from any of the 5 winners to date:

  • 2018: Andrea Pavan: 39/MC
  • 2017: Haydn Porteous: 60/MC
  • 2016: Paul Peterson: MC
  • 2015: Thomas Pieters: MC
  • 2014: Jamie Donaldson: Debut

With only 5 years’ worth of history here at the Albatross Golf Resort to review, the course form of our winners (or lack of prior to winning) is tenuous to say the least and basing any decisions solely on what’s happened here since 2014 may well be a mistake. With 4 attackable par 5s and a potentially driveable par 4, this course sets up well for powerful players, however Paul Peterson proved in 2016 that there’s more than one way to navigate successfully around the Albatross.

My selections are as follows:

Tom Lewis 2pts EW 28/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

The late addition of Eddie Pepperell to the field has created a strong top end to the market with recent two-time winner Bernd Wiesberger heading affairs from Erik Van Rooyen, Lee Westwood and Pepperell himself. All 4 rate as 14/1 shots or shorter, however I’m starting this week’s team a little further down the list with Eddie’s good friend Tom Lewis.

After a sparkling amateur career which culminated in him being Leading Amateur at the 2011 Open Championship, then a whirlwind start to his professional career where he won the Portugal Masters on just his third professional start, things quickly turned sour for the Englishman. A loss of form and serious falling out with the game led to him plumbing the depths of the OWGR and ultimately losing his card, however it was almost exactly a year ago that he started to get his game and his mental approach back on track and the results came thick and fast. 10th in Prague on the Challenge Tour and 3rd in Sweden at the same level paved the way for victory at the Bridgestone Challenge last September and he quickly followed that up by repeating his Portugal Masters feat of 7 years prior when he held off Lucas Herbert and his mate Eddie by 3 strokes.

10th at the Dunhill Links, 5th at the British Masters and 7th at the Earth Course completed a resurgent 2018 and he began 2019 in similar fashion with 9th in Abu Dhabi and 3rd in Saudi Arabia. Save for the truly elite players, professional golfers rarely maintain that kind of level for a sustained period and he’s been understandably quiet of late –  until that is he produced a big Major Championship personal best on his last start by finishing 11th at Royal Portrush. The power-packed 28 year-old showed at The Open that he also has the right blend of tee-to-green control to compete against the top players in world golf and this significant step down in class should provide another big chance to add to his trophy cabinet.

The Welwyn Garden City man’s short-term objectives are twofold: breaking the OWGR top-50 by the end of the year and finishing inside the top-30 in the Race To Dubai. Ranking 79th on the former and 45th on the latter, Tom’s well within reach of both targets if he can take the momentum from Northern Ireland forward into this final stretch of European Tour events. Aside from Vilamoura, the Albatross here in Prague has been one of his happiest hunting grounds with 4 cuts made from 5 attempts and 3rd and 6th place finishes recorded in his last 2 visits; with his spirits high, his long game in good shape and the course suiting, I can see him seriously contending here this week.

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Julian Suri 2pts EW 33/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

Indifferent form has seen Julian Suri‘s price push out to a backable level, however I think there’s a lot to like about the aggressive American if you can look past a recent string of results that reads MC/MC/15/MC/55. Prior to that he’d looked very much like he was going to add to his 2017 Made In Denmark victory, which still counts as his only European Tour success: 4th at the Indian Open, where save for one disastrous hole he’d have won at a canter, and 2nd on his next start in Morocco both could have been victories if things had gone his way. Despite not hitting the same heights since, he was still prominent at Valderrama, sitting 11th into the weekend, and opening rounds of 68/66 at the Renaissance Club on his last start showed some promise before he tailed off over the weekend.

The 28 year-old’s other professional victory came on the Challenge Tour in the Czech Republic at another D+D Real sponsored event and although the similar naming convention to this week’s event holds little, if any, water, the fact the he’s seen success in this neck of the woods should instil a level of confidence and comfort as he approaches this week’s task.

His solitary piece of course form – 34th in 2017 – also needs to be taken into context as it came immediately after his aforementioned breakthrough victory in Denmark and, to his credit, he sat in 6th place heading into the final day before he finally ran out of steam both mentally and physically. That all bodes well, as do his raw statistics which read 14th for Driving Distance and 28th for par-5 scoring, both of which are strong assets for tackling the Albatross.

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Aaron Rai 1pt EW 50/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

There’s an exception to every rule and in the context of this event being played on a track that seemingly favours longer hitters, Paul Peterson’s victory over hot favourite Thomas Pieters in 2016 is another prime example of logic being turned on its head. The American’s maiden European Tour success came courtesy of an outstanding tee-to-green performance – ranking 3rd for Driving Accuracy and 1st for GIR on the week – which negated his lack of punch from off the tee. Cut from a very similar cloth in that respect is Aaron Rai who sits 11th for Driving Accuracy and 8th for GIR for the season to date, despite having failed to make the top-10 at all this calendar year.

Perhaps that last statement is a little unfair given that he’s a winner in this wraparound season having secured his maiden victory in Hong Kong at the end of November after hinting a fortnight before that he was finding his game when finishing 8th at the altitude of Sun City, again courtesy of an accurate week from tee-to-green on a lengthy track. A couple of top-20s in low-key affairs in Australia and Denmark doesn’t overly excite, however his last outing in Memphis at WGC level gave us a timely reminder that he’s much better than his recent results suggest. 12th at the FedEx St Jude was fuelled once again by an accurate driver (3rd for Driving Accuracy) and accurate irons (2nd for GIR) as he overcame a slow start to scythe his way through an elite field with a 66/67 weekend.

Course form of MC/24 doesn’t stick out as much as others here, however given what we’ve seen from the previous attempts of winners here that may not be an issue, and it’s worth considering that he sat in 7th spot here 12 months ago heading into the weekend courtesy of opening rounds of 67/68. Another top-10 in Prague earlier in his career on the Challenge Tour adds further encouragement and if there’s one player who could compete with the bombers here by playing a very different style of game, it could well be the Wolverhampton man.

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Adri Arnaus 1pt EW 66/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

It’s been a rapid rise to the European Tour for Spain’s Adri Arnaus and he’s one of the current crop of talented young players who would surprise nobody if they were to capture a maiden title at this level sooner rather than later. Wins at the Alps Tour Grand Final in 2017 and the Challenge Tour Grand Final in 2018 show a solid line of progression and he’s heavily hinted in his rookie European Tour season that he’s more than capable of taking a title at this level too. 14th at the Qatar Masters was followed by a runner-up finish at the Kenya Open in a stretch that saw enough control from tee-to-green for him to rank 1st and 10th for Total Driving and 1st and 2nd for Ball-Striking respectively.

It’s clear that the long-hitting 24 year-old isn’t the finished article just yet – 6 missed cuts from his next 8 starts got European Tour observers wondering if his early-season form had simply been a flash in the pan, before he bounced back to prominence with another 2nd place finish, this time at Valderrama, as well as 15th at the Irish Open. Both efforts were fuelled by another pair of impressive tee-to-green performances for a man of his length from off the tee, ranking as he does in 20th place for Driving Distance for the season. He missed the cut at The Open, however this is far more comfortable terrain for Adri and with his long game seemingly in a good place, he should be able to score heavily on the par-5s this week which will be critical to success.

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Brandon Stone 1pt EW 80/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

Having had some success here in the recent past when I backed 66/1 winner Haydn Porteous in 2017, it’s always interesting to revisit the thought process and logic of that selection to see if there are any parallels. The South African sat 7th in the Driving Distance ranks at the time which suggested that he should, in theory, have the power to take advantage of the scoring holes around the Albatross Course, yet his course form wasn’t inspiring which had kept a lid on his price despite some eye-catching recent form. He’d also been striking the ball impressively in the weeks leading up to the tournament, ranking in the top-8 for both Total Driving and Ball-Striking in his 2 latest strokeplay events. Already a European Tour winner, his sole success had come on home soil the year before at the Joburg Open.

Of course a different blueprint would be constructed if you picked any of the other 4 winners of this event, however there are enough similarities between Porteous and Brandon Stone to give the latter a chance this week at a backable price. At 309 yards Driving Distance average, the South African sits 11th in long hitters’ rankings for the season-to-date which will give him plenty of chances to score on the par-5s here. A 75th place finish here on his only start back in 2014 hardly stands out, however as we’ve seen from the winners here so far that’s seemingly not an issue, and it’s worth remembering that he’d barely been a professional golfer for a year and was plying his trade predominantly on the Challenge Tour at the time. Now a 3-time European Tour winner – 2 of which have come in his homeland – his incredible final round of 60 to win the Scottish Open last year puts him head and shoulders above many in this week’s field.

What really excites though is what we find when we scratch beneath the surface of what’s been an awful year to date. A best finish of 31st at the Oman Open way back in March and 8 cuts missed from 13 starts masks the fact that his long game has taken a significant step forward in the last month or so. 34th place finishes at both the Irish Open and Scottish Open each featured field-leading Total Driving performances and he ranked 2nd and 1st respectively for Ball Striking on those weeks. A missed cut at The Open on his last start isn’t anything to worry about and I’m happy to take a chance on Brandon here at the price on offer.

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:50BST 12.8.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.