The conclusion of the ISPS Handa World Invitational at Galgorm Castle on Sunday took European Tour finishes to a new level. With pretty much all of the Sunday contenders throwing in the towel as soon as it was evident to them that there was a chance of victory, it was left to a jubilant Daniel Gavins to pick up an unlikely victory from 7 strokes back, without even the need for a play-off after David Horsey bogeyed the last.
28/1 selection John Catlin reached Gavins’ 13-under total on the 10th before his putter deserted him with the title in his sights, ultimately finishing in a 4-way tie for 7th. I suspect, on reflection, he’ll be pretty disappointed not to have walked away with another trophy while the inexperienced and perennially unsteady finishers wobbled all around him.
Anyway, let’s move on. The Hero Open returns this week after an event by the same name formed part of the makeshift European Tour schedule last summer, however whereas last year’s event was effectively the rebirth of the defunct English Open and played at Forest of Arden, this week’s event is being played in Scotland at Fairmont St Andrews which hosted last year’s Scottish Championship.
Confused? Well whether or not Sam Horsfield is classified as the defending champion from his breakthrough win in the Midlands last year is largely immaterial I guess, as the relevant form is undoubtedly from Adrian Otaegui’s win here at Fairmont in October and that is what’s included in this week’s Combined Stats.
With the Olympics out of the way and an elite-only field playing the WGC at TPC Southwind, this week’s attendee list is an improvement on that which we saw last week in Northern Ireland. Andy Sullivan heads the field at a best-priced 16/1 from Marcus Armitage at 22/1, with Masahiro Kawamura and Jordan Smith both 25/1 after their efforts last week.
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Torrance Course, Fairmont St Andrews, Scotland. Designer: Sam Torrance, 2001 with 2009 updates from Gary Stephenson; Course Type: Links Style, Coastal; Par: 72; Length: 7,230 yards from back tees; Fairways: Bentgrass, Fescue, Rye; Rough: Mainly Fescue, some Bentgrass & Rye; Greens: Fescue, Bentgrass mix.
Course Overview. Originally agricultural land, Sam Torrance carved out a links-style track here in 2001 that looks like it’s been around for many decades. The par 72 hosted 6 Senior Scottish Opens between 2009-14 where it played to 6,802 yards; from the back tees, however, it can stretch to 7,230 yards, which is how it’s listed this week on the European Tour’s website.
Although this won’t be classified as a links track by the purists due to its 21st century manufacturing, it looks and plays like a links, so for simplicity let’s call it a links track, albeit a modern one. Cliff-top holes that flank the Firth of Forth are particularly susceptible to the elements and classical pot bunkers are ready to gobble up any stray drives and approach shots.
Fairways are wide enough and exposed in nature as you might expect, with reasonably speedy Fescue/Bentgrass mix greens that are smooth and true. Aprons in front of some greens allow running shots into greens and in general the course offers both risk and reward options as well as creative choices to play holes in a variety of ways.
Tournament Stats. With the 2020 Hero Open held at Forest of Arden last year, the more relevant form is from last year’s Scottish Championship held here at Fairmont St Andrews and those results have been 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.
Sunshine and showers are the order of the day this week in Scotland with temperatures reaching the mid-60s Fahrenheit and winds averaging around 10-12mph which is ideal for a seaside track like this.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Looking at last year’s top-5 finishers here at Fairmont St Andrews at the Scottish Championship gives us a few clues as to the type of player that this layout might suit:
1st, Adrian Otaegui (-23). 273.5 yards (51st), 67.9% fairways (19th), 70.8% greens in regulation (28th), 76.2% scrambling (9th), 1.55 putts per GIR (3rd).
2nd, Matt Wallace (-19). 290.9 yards (11th), 58.9% fairways (46th), 77.8% greens in regulation (4th), 75% scrambling (11th), 1.66 putts per GIR (18th).
3rd, Aaron Rai (-17). 278.8 yards (39th), 71.4% fairways (10th), 76.4% greens in regulation (8th), 64.7% scrambling (31st), 1.58 putts per GIR (6th).
4th, Chris Paisley (-16). 270.0 yards (60th), 64.3% fairways (30th), 69.5% greens in regulation (33rd), 81.8% scrambling (2nd), 1.62 putts per GIR (12th).
4th, Garrick Porteous (-16). 282.8 yards (25th), 60.7% fairways (38th), 72.7% greens in regulation (17th), 65% scrambling (29th), 1.54 putts per GIR (2nd).
A wide range of driving distance rankings from the top 5 here last year suggests that there’s no massive advantage here at Fairmont if you’re excessively long from off the tee – indeed eventual winner Adrian Otaegui ranked 51st out of those who made the weekend in that respect.
The differential between those with good and bad accuracy stats was very narrow, with most players recording a similar number of fairways hit; likewise if 68.1% of GIR was 46th and 77.8% was 4th in the field, then players were also hitting similar amounts of greens, so the difference between success and failure was on and around the putting surfaces last October.
Scrambling isn’t overly difficult here but maximising short game performance is important, as is making as many putts as possible. Putting that into further context, each of the top-8 finishers ranked inside the best 15 players for total putts on the week. 4-shot winner Otaegui made a massive 29 birdies and just 6 bogeys on his way to victory, opening with a 62 and closing with a 63.
For further context, the Seniors have also played here in the relatively recent past for their Scottish Open and skill stats were captured for the 6 events in question:
2014, Mark Davis (-5). 260 yards (26th), 73.8% fairways (34th), 64.8% greens in regulation (45th), 57.9% scrambling (8th), 1.66 putts per GIR (2nd).
2013, Santiago Luna (-5). 271 yards (12th), 57.1% fairways (64th), 74.1% greens in regulation (19th), 64.3% scrambling (3rd), 1.85 putts per GIR (24th).
2012, Anders Forsbrand (-17). 268 yards (22nd), 69.0% fairways (51st), 87.0% greens in regulation (3rd), 57.1% scrambling (19th), 1.72 putts per GIR (11th).
2011, Barry Lane (-14). 268 yards (7th), 83.3% fairways (14th), 77.8% greens in regulation (13th), 66.7% scrambling (19th), 1.64 putts per GIR (2nd).
2010, Barry Lane (-4). 293 yards (11th), 59.5% fairways (58th), 75.9% greens in regulation (3rd), 53.8% scrambling (9th), 1.80 putts per GIR (10th).
2009, Glenn Ralph (-8). 265 yards (10th), 88.1% fairways (8th), 81.5% greens in regulation (8th), 60.0% scrambling (13th), 1.77 putts per GIR (7th).
When the elements close in around these parts, it’s clear that Fairmont can be a formidable test – Mark Davis in 2014 and Barry Lane in 2010 were the only players under par (3 rounds) when winning their respective events. In calmer conditions, Anders Forsbrand got to 17-under through 54 holes and Barry Lane defended in 2011 at 14-under, so clearly the course is only as difficult as conditions dictate.
All 6 winners detailed above sat inside the top-20 for Scrambling on the week and 5 of the 6 winners ranked 11th or better for putting average, with the outlier being Santiago Luna who was 24th.
Back to the more recent past, from a Strokes Gained perspective the first three players home here in October ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively in terms of SG Tee to Green; Otaegui and Wallace also ranked 1st and 3rd for SG Approach. 3 of the top 5 also ranked inside the top 9 for SG Putting:
So, boiling it all down, this short track would seem to neither favour nor hinder players based on their length from off the tee. Gaining strokes from tee to green combined with a strong putting week would appear to be the combination that could lead us to a winner.
Links(y) tracks appeal to some players more than others, plus the moderate breeze helps us to narrow the field. Fescue/Bentgrass-based greens are also a more common feature of this type of course than inland tracks and also suggest that those who’ve played well on similar setups may be more comfortable here.
After representing his native New Zealand at the Olympics last week, and far from disgracing himself with a 42nd place finish and closing with 5 birdies in his last 6 holes to complete a 7-under round of 64, I can see Ryan Fox enjoying this lower-level affair on the kind of terrain that he enjoys the most.
6th at the Open de France, 4th at the Irish Open and 4th at the Scottish Open in consecutive weeks leading up to the 2017 Open Championship reinforces the point as to the style of track that Ryan prefers, and 2nd at the Irish Open and 8th at the Scottish Open the following year do little to disprove that assertion.
A breakthrough win came at the World Super 6 in 2019 on a Perth track that’s a few miles inland and susceptible to the local trade winds, and he came closest to following that up at the Vic Open last year at 13th Beach which, as the name would suggest, is an exposed coastal track.
An early-season 6th place finish at the high-class Saudi International, where he opened with a pair of 65s to lead heading into the weekend before dropping back a little, was noteworthy, not least in that he led the field for SG Off the Tee that week and was 3rd for SG Tee to Green. That was the Kiwi’s best effort since lockdown eased and it was no surprise to see him find his game on a coastal track given what we know about his game.
A return home after that saw him mop up a couple of low-grade events at 23- and 25-under par, and although he’s not pushed on massively since, finishes of 11th, 14th and 14th again in a 3-event stretch on the European Tour in June suggests that his game’s not far away at all.
3rd for SG Tee to Green for the season is the best on display from the attendees here this week and 16th for SG Approach isn’t far off the same either. RESULT: T34
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Marc Warren, Ross McGowan and Richard Bland have all found the winning formula on the European Tour since the world changed last year, either after a long wait or in the case of Bland a first win, and perhaps Marcel Siem is another who’ll add his name to that list before too long.
4 wins between 2004 and 2014 came against various levels of competition, with his Open de France win at Le Golf National and his BMW Masters win in the European Tour’s ‘Final Series’ the pick of the bunch. A fiery competitor with the ability to find spells of excellence from tee-to-green, when his streaky putting really fired he was a match for most this side of the Atlantic on his day.
That was a few years ago though and the former world number 48 drifted outside of the top 1,000 as a combination of injury and failed swing changes saw him lose his status on the European Tour, eventually forcing him back to the Challenge Tour in an attempt to rebuild his career.
Things are starting to look up though for the 41 year-old. 6th at the co-sanctioned South African Open to close out 2020 would have made Christmas dinner taste a little better and he followed that up with a couple of top-5 finishes on the Challenge Tour before winning the Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge the week before The Open, with the added bonus that it also earned him a start at Royal St George’s.
15th at Sandwich was his career best finish at The Open on what was his first Major start since 2015, and it was a joy to see his fist-pumping back on our screens. The question of course is whether he can translate that performance into something tangible on the European Tour when presented with a start such as this week, however Fairmont’s exposed, wide fairways would seem to be a good fit and even in tougher times he’s performed well in Scotland, sitting 4th after 36 holes at the 2017 Dunhill Links and 2nd after 54 at the Scottish Open a year later. RESULT: T56
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Nicolai Hojgaard 1pt EW 100/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral
Since turning professional, it’s been Nicolai Hojgaard’s brother Rasmus who’s stolen the family bragging rights with his pair of European Tour victories and sitting over 250 places ahead of his twin in the world rankings, as well of course as representing his native Denmark in the Olympics last week.
Whether that disparity persists for a prolonged period of time remains to be seen – indeed commentators who observed their formative years tended to veer towards Nicolai as being the more likely to succeed at the highest level – however there are certainly signs that he’s capable of getting over the line on the European Tour and halving the gap in silverware sooner rather than later.
2nd at last year’s KLM Open, wedged between eventual winner Sergio Garcia and Matt Wallace, is a decent indicator of his potential and he produced another impressive finish in May at the Canary Islands Championship, carding 18 birdies and 3 eagles on his way to a 19-under total and a tie for 4th place, having previously finished in a tie for 7th at the Austrian Open where he ranked 9th for SG Approach and 2nd for SG Tee to Green.
14th at Celtic Manor the week before last was positive form in more recent times, gaining almost 11 strokes on Approach and from Tee to Green, and there’s a little more than meets the eye from his effort last week as he was playing catch-up from the outset having made a triple-bogey 7 on the brutal 10th hole at Massereene which caught a number of players out. To his credit, he made the cut courtesy of a final-hole eagle on Friday before missing out on Sunday’s final round, however by that point he was too far behind in truth so it was no major surprise.
A weekend off here last October came during a spell where he’d missed the cut on 6 of his previous 8 starts; 1 blank week in his last 10 has turned that form on its head as he arrives here in Scotland this time around and I’m expecting a massive improvement on his effort around these parts from last autumn. RESULT: MC
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Finally, the brief flashes of form last week in Northern Ireland for Marc Warren were interesting given the dimensions of Galgorm Castle. His misses were punished badly last week, as was evidenced by him eventually missing the second cut on Saturday night, however 10 birdies over his first 2 rounds was encouraging ahead of this week where he should be able to get away with his looser tee shots a little more readily.
The trend I like about Warren stats-wise in relation to this week is how few putts he needs to navigate around the course at present. I mentioned in the preamble that Total Putts was a consistent factor in the best finishers here last year, and that makes a level of sense given that GIR figures saw less variance than many other weeks, so if we assume that he can have a middling week or better with his irons then by rights he should be making a lot of red numbers.
Now of course you could argue that he’s having to survive on fewer putts because other parts of his game aren’t up to scratch, however I’ll go back to the point that this layout is a little more forgiving than most and that bodes well I think.
There’s also the point that the Scot undoubtedly raises his game when playing on home soil. Victory at the 2007 Johnnie Walker Championship was the first in a string of impressive Scottish results over the years, included in which we find 3 top-5 finishes at the Dunhill Links, a semi-final appearance at the Paul Lawrie Match Play, and 4 top-4 finishes at the Scottish Open. Very often we’ve seen him put obscure or downright awful form behind him when he’s played in Scotland and he’s showing a little more than that right now to suggest he might just surprise here once again.
After a barren spell following an impressive 5th place finish at Rolex Series level in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year, an opening 68 at the BMW International Open hinted at some better form before he produced progressive rounds of 71/70/70/69 at the Irish Open to finish in a tie for 28th.
A much improved long game performance combined with a field-leading 1.58 putts per GIR was the catalyst for the step forward and although there were still gaps in his performance with his irons, this week sets up as an easier task to find greens in the requisite number and that should equate to more birdie opportunities for our man. RESULT: MC
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