Paul Williams

Paul Williams' English Championship Tips 2020

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A double dose of weekafteritis last week with Sam Horsfield converting his first European Tour title a week after coming home in 39 strokes when carrying our cash at Close House, plus Chris Paisley finishing in a tie for 3rd after missing the cut when backed the previous week. After promising starts, neither Ashley Chesters nor Matthew Southgate could push on to contend over the weekend in what was another largely frustrating week in England.

The UK Swing continues this week as the European Tour’s ‘bubble’ moves a little further south and east to the leafy Hertfordshire countryside and Hanbury Manor Country Club. There’s no title sponsor for this week’s English Championship, however the prize fund matches last week’s Hero Open at €1m and there’s further chance for players to put themselves into a position to earn a US Open start with 5 places up for grabs over these UK events.

If you thought that last week’s course history was a little distant, then this week trumps that with the 1997-99 editions of the English Open held on this track forming the only tangible European Tour results in this week’s course statistics. The course also hosted Senior European Tour action between 2016 and 2019, the most recent of which was the Sinclair Invitational won by David Shacklady at 11-under through 54 holes – you can find that leaderboard here for reference.

1998 winner here Lee Westwood returns to European Tour action after a week’s break following his hosting of the British Masters at Close House, however his 70th place finish has failed to convince the bookmakers that he should be favourite for this; instead last week’s runner-up Thomas Detry has that honour at a general 11/1.

Aside from the notable addition of Gavin Green towards the top of the market, this week’s field has a very similar look and feel to last week and the pricing isn’t dissimilar to what we saw either, with the exception of those who raised their heads above the parapet and flashed some stronger form in the past 7 days.

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Course Overview. Hanbury Manor is a 7,042 yard par 71 set in 200 acres of Hertfordshire parkland, featuring a 17th century Jacobean-style country house. 9 original holes designed by Harry Vardon were later added to by Jack Nicklaus’ son Jack (Junior) for what was his first venture into course design.

In contrast to last week’s test, the front 9 this time contains the newer, more exposed holes whereas the back 9 is more classical and tree-lined in style. As with Forest of Arden, this track is aimed primarily at the tourist market and the fairways are generally wide and generous. Greens are creeping bentgrass which should again reap birdies to those who can find them in regulation.

3 par-5s measuring between 540 to 560 yards are important to scoring on this track, as are the three short par 4s, including the 347 yard opening hole and 391 yard closing hole. The par-3s proved to be one of the most challenging parts of the course when we last saw it 20 or so years ago, with the tournament ultimately being won or lost on par-4 performance assuming no disasters on the 3s and 5s.

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. Data is taken from the 1997-99 English Open events so is understandably sparse: 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.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. A perfect 4 days of golf awaits the players this week with sunny spells, light winds and temperatures peaking in the high 80s Fahrenheit.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Although it was over 20 years ago, basic skill stats were recorded at Hanbury Manor at the 1999 English Open and analysing the top 6 finishers gives us a starting point for this week’s test:

  • 1st, Darren Clarke (-20). 276 yards (15th), 67.9% fairways (47th), 76.4% greens in regulation (9th), 64.7% scrambling (24th), 1.60 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2nd, John Bickerton (-18). 269 yards (38th), 85.7% fairways (3rd), 73.6% greens in regulation (13th), 68.4% scrambling (16th), 1.60 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 3rd, David Carter (-14). 271 yards (29th), 62.5% fairways (61st), 77.8% greens in regulation (4th), 81.3% scrambling (1st), 1.74 putts per GIR (40th).
  • 3rd, Stephen Leaney (-14). 265 yards (52nd), 60.7% fairways (66th), 77.8% greens in regulation (4th), 81.3% scrambling (1st), 1.73 putts per GIR (34th).
  • 5th, Andrew Coltart (-13). 269 yards (40th), 75% fairways (26th), 76.4% greens in regulation (9th), 58.8% scrambling (32nd), 1.69 putts per GIR (23rd).
  • 5th, Colin Montgomerie (-13). 270 yards (33rd), 73.8% fairways (32nd), 85.2% greens in regulation (1st), 75% scrambling (3rd), 1.77 putts per GIR (52nd).

Although we’ve only got 1999 to on in terms of recorded skill stats, what was clear was that fairways were easy to hit with over half of the weekend field recording over 70% accuracy on the week. That put the emphasis very much on the second shot and in, with those players maximising greens in regulation and putting well on the week tending to prevail. It’s worth noting that the course played as a par 72 in the events featured on this page.

Incoming Form: Darren Clarke was rounding into some form back in 1999 when Hanbury Manor was last used for a European Tour event, with three straight top-20 finishes. Lee Westwood would have been the short-priced favourite for this in 1998 in a year where he picked up 7 titles globally, whereas Per-Ulrik Johannson would have been a longer price despite having finished 6th in Morrocco a few weeks beforehand.

  • 1999, Darren Clarke (-20): MC/64/33/MC/MC/71/MC/20/7/13
  • 1998, Lee Westwood (-17): 4/13/6/21/13/5/1/44/6/66/16/1
  • 1997, Per-Ulrik Johannson (-19): 20/6/MC/12/64/MC

Course Form: For completeness, the course form for those same three winners is detailed below:

  • 1999, Darren Clarke: 12/49
  • 1998, Lee Westwood: 22
  • 1997, Per-Ulrik Johannson: Debut

Similar to last week, with only some very old course form to go on, we’re almost starting this week with a blank canvas. The course is once again parkland in style and relatively short by modern standard, so leaning on results from last week at Forest of Arden and also from Close House from the week before would seem to be a fair starting point. Weather conditions and grasses will be largely similar, however there will undoubtedly be some subtle differences in the final analysis.

One aspect that leapt off the page when looking at the 3 winners here from the 1997-99 events was the correlation with the Palmer Course at the K Club in Ireland. Darren Clarke (2001), Lee Westwood (1999, 2000) and Per-Ulrik Johannson (1996,1997) are all winners there as well as here at Hanbury Manor and the famous parkland track across the Irish sea certainly carries enough similarities for that avenue to warrant further investigation. K Club was last used for the 2016 Irish Open – the final leaderboard can be found here.

Antoine Rozner 1pt EW 80/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Ladbrokes

The top of this week’s market is dominated by Thomas Detry and Lee Westwood, both of whom make little appeal at the prices on offer. Detry had yet another golden opportunity on Sunday, making bogey at the last when in a position to exert maximum pressure on Sam Horsfield who was also seeking his first title.

Westwood, on the other hand, returns to action after a week of rest and recuperation following hosting duties at the British Masters, where he ultimately finished last of the 70 players to make the halfway cut.

Rasmus Hojgaard makes the most appeal at 18/1 of the front runners if he can compete near the top of the leaderboard for a third straight week, whereas Sam Horsfield will surely have expended a whole load of mental and physical energy in getting over the line last week at Forest of Arden. Instead, I’m playing this week far more speculatively with a team of 5 longer each-way shouts, starting with the talented Frenchman Antoine Rozner.

I put the 27 year-old up a few weeks ago at Diamond Country Club where he duly flattered to deceive, carding two competitive rounds of 69 either side of a less so impressive 74 and 76. 60th at the British Masters contained one ray of light, a 2nd round 67, however it was his 10th place finish last week which really caught the eye at Forest of Arden.

4th heading into the weekend, Rozner gradually drifted down the leaderboard without collapsing completely, however there were good signs with the putter that another seriously contending performance may be just around the corner. The Frenchman nearly got his rookie season on the European Tour off to a flying start in December, showing some early signs at Leopard Creek where he sat in 7th position heading into the weekend before losing out in a 3-way play-off the following week in Mauritius, with Rasmus Hojgaard winning by virtue of making eagle at the 3rd extra hole.

The Parisian has progressed through the golfing ranks at a rate of knots since turning professional in 2016, winning back-to-back tournaments on the Challenge Tour in Spain and the Czech Republic last May to essentially rubber-stamp his European Tour card for this year. With his game seemingly on the ascendancy once again, taking a title such as this may be well within his grasp. RESULT: T26

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Matthew Southgate 1pt EW 100/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Choosing not to stick with Sam Horsfield last week proved to be a mistake, however the truth of it is that I struggled to stomach the halving of his price having just seen him relinquish a contending position with a poor closing 9 holes the week before. Such is this game that these decisions readily come and bite you, however I haven’t quite given up on Matthew Southgate yet and once again I suspect the generous fairways here at Hanbury Manor will suit his game.

22nd last week in Birmingham showed further progress from the 35th place he finished the week before in Newcastle, and save for a 2nd round of 74 he’d have been much closer at the finish and much shorter this week into the bargain. Fact is, he didn’t play badly at all last week, ranking 5th for Driving Accuracy, 18th for GIR and 8th in the All Round category, and if a few more putts drop this week he could be very dangerous.

If the link between the winners at the K Club and here historically holds any water as per my preamble, then the 31 year-old’s 4th place finish here in 2016 has to be considered as a positive for this week. The Southend man will feel increasing at home now that the Tour has moved further south and east, so much so that he could reasonably have stayed at home between rounds for this week’s event had in not been for the Tour’s Covid bubble. RESULT: 61st

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Maximillian Kieffer 1pt EW 100/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Another player with form at the K Club who played nicely last week was Max Kieffer and he warrants backing here at a 3-figure price.

In lieu of any tangible course form, his 5th place finish in Ireland back in 2016 is the clearest pointer I can give to his fit this week, ranking that week 8th for Total Driving, 6th for Total Putting and 7th for All-Round. After opening with a 77 that week and staring a missed cut squarely in the face, the German produced three excellent rounds of 68/70/67 to produce his best finish of that season.

Career best finishes of 2nd at the 2013 Spanish Open, 3rd at the 2015 & 2018 Nordea Masters and 2nd at the 2019 Oman Open have generally come on tracks that offer a little more width off the tee and the dimensions here should suit the German’s game.

6th last week at Forest of Arden was Kieffer’s best finish for well over a year and 72.2% greens in regulation – 10th in the field – his best ranking on that count since finishing 5th at the Maybank Championship last March. 2 eagles and 16 birdies was his best par-breaking performance for over 2 years and he should be in confident mood as he heads east to Hanbury Manor this week. RESULT: MC

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Dale Whitnell 1pt EW 175/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Betfred

To the casual observer of golf, seeing the name Dale Whitnell on the leaderboard at Close House may have resulted in questions like ‘who?’ and assumptions that he’s a young, local lad who’s found his way into a strong position on the week.

The reality is a little bit different though for the Englishman who will celebrate his 32nd birthday on Sunday, hopefully while contending for this title. Having turned professional in 2009 and finished 4th at the Alfred Dunhill Championship on just his 3rd start on Tour, the future looked bright for the former Walker Cup star.

The following years didn’t go to plan though for Whitnell, who ended up on the Portugal Pro Tour, essentially a mini tour a few rungs down the ladder. Victory at that level’s Tour Championship earned him 5 precious starts on the Challenge Tour in 2019, an opportunity he grasped with both hands by finishing 3rd in Slovakia before winning the KPMG Trophy last September in a playoff over Laurie Canter.

27th at Q-School meant he scraped a European Tour card for 2020, however the step up to the top level wasn’t what he hoped for with 5 missed cuts from 5 starts in 2020 prior to the Tour’s suspension. The return to action has been a different story though with that aforementioned 4th place finish at Close House ranking as his best career effort at this level and despite finishing 51st last week at Forest of Arden, he closed with a 67 which was amongst the best rounds on the day.

Hanbury Manor is a short 30-minute drive from Dale’s home in Colchester and whilst his friends and family sadly won’t by able to watch him play this week, he should nevertheless feel right at home around these parts. RESULT: MC

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Graeme Storm 1pt EW 350/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Unibet

Finally I have no hesitation putting up Graeme Storm at what could prove to be a mad price.

Persistent wrist issues and subsequent surgeries meant a curtailed 2018 season and a completely blank 2019 in terms of competitive action, before his rehabilitation finally allowed him to play some golf at the start of this year. 4 missed cuts from 4 starts did little to encourage, however after the Covid-induced break he surprised himself and those around him with a 10th place finish at Close House where, by his own admission, merely making the cut would have been a successful week.

Last week’s missed cut wasn’t unexpected in truth, however with a further week of fine-tuning, he could be ready for further progression on a short course that should suit his game. 2 wins on bentgrass-based greens at Le Golf National and Glendower GC in 2007 and 2017 bode well for this week’s task and layouts that offer a little more room from off the tee would also appear to play to the Hartlepool man’s strengths.

That most recent victory in South Africa was achieved in a play-off over Rory McIlroy, who won the 2016 Irish Open hosted at the K Club as previously mentioned. The 42 year-old missed the cut that week, however he does have previous in that part of County Kildare, finishing 2nd there in the 2005 European Open behind Kenny Ferrie. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:00BST 3.8.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.