Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Hero Open Tips 2020

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60/1 shot Sam Horsfield gave us some brief excitement after his sublime 3rd round of 61 at Close House put him in a position to contend on the final day. However, as so often proves the case, he couldn’t follow that effort up with another low one and drifted to a tie for 10th and a small slice of the each-way money, given the strong terms on offer last week.

The UK Swing continues this week as the European Tour’s ‘bubble’ moves south to the outskirts of Birmingham and the Forest of Arden Country Club. Automotive brand Hero have stepped up to the plate in terms of sponsorship for what’s essentially the temporary re-birth of the English Open that ran from 1988-2002 and was hosted at golf clubs such as The Belfry, Hanbury Manor and here at Forest of Arden.

The last 3 editions of the English Open before it was dropped from the schedule – 2000 to 2002 inclusive – were all held here at this week’s venue, as was the British Masters from 2003-05, however since that point there’s only European Seniors golf that’s of any relevance. Clearly the younger players in this week’s field won’t feature in any of this data; however I’ve picked the bones out of those old results a little further down the preamble for this week.

This week’s field is understandably largely the same as last week’s given the situation we find ourselves in, however there are a few notable changes with Lee Westwood, Beef Johnston and Marcus Kinhult ducking out of this week and Benjamin Hebert, Joost Luiten, Shubhankar Sharma and Victor Dubuisson making their first appearances of the UK Swing. This event also marks the return of Thorbjorn Olesen whose European Tour playing suspension has been lifted due to the delay of his court course related to his (alleged) aircraft altercations last year.

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Course Overview. The Arden course, one of two tracks here at the Forest of Arden Country Club, is a 6,958 yard par 72 set in the Warwickshire countryside. The Donald Steel track is a modern parkland track designed for the tourist trade primarily; however its design gives it classical overtures with a requirement for strategic navigation as opposed to one-dimensional aggression from off the tee.

The front 9 is the shorter of the two halves at a shade under 3,400 yards and contains the most water on the course; the back 9 opens up to a more heathland style and presents a different challenge to the players after a fairly straightforward opening 9 if you can avoid the water.

Being a resort course primarily, fairways are quite generous in the main although the penalty for missing the cut and prepared is typically thick rough for those who avoid getting wet. Large USGA specification bunkers are ready to capture any wayward approaches and the Bent/Poa greens are always prepared to the highest of standards, and this year should be no different with amenable weather conditions over the early summer here in England and less traffic through them due to the pandemic.

4 par-5s measuring between 516 and 537 yards are important to scoring on this track and finding the fairway on the longer holes is critical to setting up the scoring chances required to compile a contending score.

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 2000-05 events held here at Forest of Arden, including both the English Open and British Masters: 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 mid-80s Fahrenheit on Friday before dipping a little over the weekend.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Although it was 15 years ago and beyond, basic skill stats were recorded at Forest of Arden for the 3 British Masters events held here and the metrics recorded against the 3 winners gives us a starting point:

  • 2005, Thomas Bjorn (-6). 281 yards (70th), 32.1% fairways (69th), 61.1% greens in regulation (20th), 67.9% scrambling (7th), 1.73 putts per GIR (14th).
  • 2004, Barry Lane (-16). 280 yard (41st), 64.3% fairways (19th), 75% greens in regulation (5th), 61.1% scrambling (39th), 1.63 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2003, Greg Owen (-14). 293 yards (51st), 53.6% fairways (48th), 73.6% greens in regulation (4th).

In regular conditions, Forest of Arden tends to produce a winning score in the low to mid teens under par – as well as those events detailed above, Darren Clarke won the English Open here at -17 and -13 in 2002 and 2000 respectively, whilst Peter O’Malley’s -13 was good enough in 2001. In tougher years when the wind blows, this layout has teeth though as evidenced by Bjorn’s -6 total in 2005 as well as Colin Montgomerie’s -7 victory in 1998.

One angle potentially from the names listed above is links form and, specifically, Open Championship form. 2-time winner here Darren Clarke is an Open Champion as we know and both Thomas Bjorn and Colin Montgomerie have finished runner-up at golf’s oldest Major. In Lane, Owen, O’Malley 1997 British Masters Champion Greg Turner and 1996 English Open champion Robert Allenby, each recorded their best Major finish on the British Isles at The Open.

Incoming Form: Each winner here at Forest of Arden had recorded at least one top-12 finish in their 3 starts prior to victory, suggesting that completely off-the-grid incoming form won’t necessarily work. Caveat that with the fact that these events are from a decade and a half ago or older, however this layout probably isn’t the place to come and try to find some form:

  • 2005, Thomas Bjorn: 4/MC/25/33/22/3/WD/25/30/3
  • 2004, Barry Lane: 18/39/17/MC/30/5/30/24
  • 2003, Greg Owen: WD/MC/25/28/14/5/MC/MC/8/58/31
  • 2002, Darren Clarke: 8/MC/33/7/24/MC/2/20/MC/16/7/76
  • 2001, Peter O’Malley: 12/30/MC/31/3/24/42/17/MC/3/26/34
  • 2000, Darren Clarke: 37/MC/1/17/42/MC/40/11/22/15/2
  • 1998, Colin Montgomerie: 18/23/2/7/MC/16/44/MC/12/MC
  • 1997, Greg Turner: MC/MC/51/20/63/41/12/MC/32
  • 1996, Robert Allenby: 2/MC/MC/31/MC/MC/8/18/54

Course Form: Historically it’s proven that a strong record around these parts has been a good indicator for success. Even Barry Lane, whose record is one of the least obvious, was 6th heading into Sunday on his previous attempt here before victory. Clearly though we’re limited this week given the time that’s elapsed since Thomas Bjorn’s win here in 2005:

  • 2005, Thomas Bjorn: 12/4/17
  • 2004, Barry Lane: 57/MC/68/MC/33/21/24
  • 2003, Greg Owen: 7/MC/11/76
  • 2002, Darren Clarke: 4/12/19/1/5
  • 2001, Peter O’Malley: 12/19/10
  • 2000, Darren Clarke: 4/12/19
  • 1998, Colin Montgomerie: 2/2
  • 1997, Greg Turner: 12
  • 1996, Robert Allenby: Debut

With only some older course form to go on, we’re not far off starting this week with a blank canvas. Historical results would suggest that arriving here with some contending, or semi-contending, efforts in recent weeks is a bonus, although of course that’s more of a challenge than it would be normally to judge, given the disruption to the schedule over the past few months.

With the weather set fair, this will likely be more a test of strategy and strong approaches into the right parts of these greens, as opposed to a masterclass on and around the putting surfaces. Similar to Diamond Country Club a few weeks back, the Bent/Poa surfaces aren’t the most difficult to read and navigate around, which should help the more average putters compile a good score. Par-5 scoring, facilitated by being able to find the fairway to set up a going-for-the-green opportunity, is likely to prove pivotal when the final scores are compiled.

Eddie Pepperell 2pts EW 28/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

There’s a familiar feel to the market this week from a few weeks back when the European Tour restarted in Austria with Joost Luiten heading affairs at 14/1 from Thomas Detry at 20/1. The Dutchman cut a frustrated figure when we last saw him at the Euram Bank Open, with the putter bearing the brunt of his anger. That’s the deal with Joost as we know and taking a relatively short price about him always carries the caveat that he needs to improve his long-term performance on the putting surfaces in order to seriously contend.

Thomas Detry is perennially priced out of the thought process of many punters, me included, due to his lack of conversion and a missed cut last week at Close House has done to little to either lengthen his price or improve my view of backing him here. Instead I’m starting this week’s team with the ever-likeable Eddie Pepperell who flashed enough form on his reappearance in Newcastle to encourage an investment here this week.

47th overall at Close House has kept a lid on his price this week, going off at more or less the same level as a week ago, however by his own estimation the Englishman was unsure where his game was at prior to the start last week and there were some good signs as he opened with a 67 and sat in 14th place heading into Sunday. He drifted down the leaderboard when any outside chance of the kind of Horsfield-style round required to get him in the mix had disappeared, however that’s of little consequence in my view given that both of his European Tour wins have come immediately after a middling finish in the 40s the week before.

With plenty of form to show on shorter tracks with Bent/Poa greens, as well as on UK tracks in general, Eddie’s win at Walton Heath in 2018 probably gives us the biggest clue as to his fit for this week’s task given how Forest of Arden opens out to a heathland-style track after the turn. His 6th place finish at the Open Championship in the same year also ticks a tenuous box if the assertions made in the preamble carry any weight; nevertheless a finish as lofty as that in elite company is streets ahead of most of this week’s field.

The 29 year-old looked in fine physical shape last week as the benefits of diet change over the lockdown period became evident and he should be sharper around the greens this week having hit more than three-quarters of greens in regulation in the North-East. Pepperell finished runner-up at the Forest of Arden estate as a 13 year-old and he could go one better here this week in my view. RESULT: WD

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Ashley Chesters 1pt EW 80/1 (6EW, 1/5) with William Hill

With the fine weather that’s forecast this week, I expect tee-to-green performance to trump short game prowess and there are few in this field who are better in that department than Ashley Chesters.

Like Pepperell, the Shrewsbury man suffered a disappointing final day at Close House, drifting from a tie for 5th to 14th courtesy of a closing 74 in challenging conditions, however there was enough prior to that to suggest that his game’s in a good place overall before the birdies dried up.

1st for Driving Accuracy and 3rd for GIR last week is a typical performance from the 30 year-old when he’s playing well and the greens here should offer a little respite compared to the challenges of Close House, which can only bode well for Ashley. The more consistent weather forecast should also require less adjustment on the putting surfaces and overall I’d expect a far better final round should he find himself in the mix here this week at the business end of proceedings.

Like Pepperell, Ashley’s best Major performance has come at The Open – this time back in 2015 – so ticks that box (again, tenuous link accepted); of more consequence though perhaps is that one of his better European Tour finishes came at the Made in Denmark back in 2018 at Silkeborg Ry Golf Club which I noted at the time was a slightly sub-7,000 yard 72 that shared some characteristics with the heathland tracks of southern England. If that track and result from a couple of years ago proves to be of any consequence then his 9th place finish that week has to be taken as a positive.

Chesters described Forest of Arden as one of his favourite tracks on Twitter once the UK Swing venues were announced and having grown up just the other side of Birmingham, this isn’t far off of a home match for the Englishman. RESULT: T28

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Matthew Southgate 1pt EW 125/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

In calm conditions this short par-72 would seem to favour high GIR merchants and with the back 9 appealing to those players who prefer more exposed layouts, one player who fits the bill is Matthew Southgate.

Much of the 31 year-old’s best work has come on the British Isles, with last year’s runner-up finish at the Dunhill Links – an event that he had well within his grasp until the nerves kicked in on the back 9 – his closest effort yet to lifting a European Tour trophy for the first time. 12th and 6th at the Open Championship plus 2nd and 4th at the Irish Open are positive results for this week, as was 22nd at the British Masters at Walton Heath in 2018 where he closed with a tie for the best round of the week on the Sunday.

5 straight missed cuts to open his 2020 campaign wasn’t in the script for Southgate who made it as far as the Earth Course last November, however 35th last week courtesy of 4 straight rounds of 70 at Close House offer far more hope. -8 for the par 5s wasn’t far off the leaders last week in Newcastle and given the likely importance of the longer holes here this week, that bodes will for an outside chance of him making the frame here.

Admittedly this isn’t links terrain which is the normal green light for me to get involved with the Southend man, however the winner’s list gives enough encouragement that this test should suit and given the price on offer I’m happy to take a chance here this week. RESULT: T22

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Steven Brown 1pt EW 150/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Finally I’ll complete my quartet of home-grown contenders this week with Steven Brown who’s been priced as an also-ran despite having won on the European Tour as recently as the Portugal Masters back in late October.

Rounds of 72/70 last week at Close House left the 33 year-old a single shot the wrong side of the cut line on Thursday evening, however there were positive signs in his long game with both Driving Accuracy and GIR in the 70% bracket and that’s something he can take into this week’s task with a little bit of the rust shaken off.

Attached to Wentworth, Brown will feel comfortable with the surroundings here despite it being a more open here – particularly on the 2nd 9 – and there are certainly heathland connotations around Harry Colt’s Surrey classic that should resonate here.

16th at Walton Heath behind Eddie Pepperell a couple of years ago is form that I like for this, as is his runner-up finish at Silkeborg Ry which I mentioned as carrying some similar characteristics to this week’s task. Stevie was part of the 4-man play-off that week eventually won by Matt Wallace, matching his compatriot with a gutsy birdie at the first extra hole before finally succumbing. Too long a price to ignore this week in my view. RESULT: T65

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 14:55BST but naturally subject to fluctuation.