Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Hero Open Tips 2022

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A disappointing Sunday at Hillside with both Sami Valimaki and Thorbjorn Olesen starting the final day inside the top 10 and failing to make an impression, leaving us with a blank week which could have been very different.

On we go and the Hero Open returns to Fairmont St Andrews this week as we get to enjoy a final week of coastal, links(y) golf on the British Isles. Fairmont also hosted the Scottish Championship in 2020 which forms part of our combined and course form stats pages this week, plus it was used last month for Open Championship final qualifying.

Ryan Fox returns to the DP World Tour this week and heads the betting at a best-priced 11/1 as he looks to convert one of the many opportunities he keeps creating for himself at this level. Last week’s winner Richie Ramsay, course winner Adrian Otaegui, Oliver Bekker and Romain Langasque rate in the 22-25/1 range in what’s another open, low-grade affair.

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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 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.

hero open tips

Tournament Stats. The 2020 Scottish Championship and last year’s Hero Open were both held here at Fairmont St Andrews and those results have been added to the combined stats and course stats pages for this week: Current Form | First Round Leader Stats | Course Stats |  Combined Stats | SG 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.

Mainly dry with the odd sunny spell is the summary for the 4 days of tournament play at Fairmont St Andrews this week. Temperatures will peak in the high 60s Fahrenheit in the afternoons, accompanied by a moderate breeze of around 10-15mph to keep the players honest, with 20mph possible on Saturday.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Looking at the top-3 finishers here at Fairmont St Andrews at the Scottish Championship from 2020 as well as last year’s Hero Open gives us a few clues as to the type of player that this layout might suit:

2021 Hero Open:

  • 1st, Grant Forrest (-24). 312.3 yards (13th), 48.2% fairways (65th), 86.1% greens in regulation (1st), 60% scrambling (55th), 1.63 putts per GIR (9th).
  • 2nd, James Morrison (-23). 283 yards (67th), 75% fairways (1st), 73.6% greens in regulation (21st), 78.9% scrambling (10th), 1.57 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 3rd, Santiago Tarrio (-22). 282 yards (69th), 64.3% fairways (17th), 73.6% greens in regulation (24th), 89.5% scrambling (3rd), 1.63 putts per GIR (9th).

2020 Scottish Championship:

  • 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).

A wide range of driving distance rankings from both renewals suggests that there’s no massive advantage here at Fairmont if you’re excessively long from off the tee – indeed 2020 winner Adrian Otaegui ranked 51st out of those who made the weekend in that respect, and last year’s 2nd and 3rd place finishers James Morrison and Santiago Tarrio were right towards the bottom also.

The differential between those with good and bad GIR stats was very narrow, with most players recording a similar number of greens hit: in 2020 68.1% of GIR was 46th and 77.8% was 4th in the field, and last year was similar with many players in the 70-75% GIR bracket, so the difference between success and failure was on and around the putting surfaces.

Scrambling isn’t overly difficult here but maximising short game performance is important, as is making as many putts as possible. 9th, 1st and 9th for Putting Average last year from the final top 3 was very similar to 2020 which saw players ranking 3rd, 18th and 6th on that stat filling the podium. 2020 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; 2021 winner Grant Forrest made one more birdie last year with 30 in total, balanced again with 6 bogeys, so there’s no room for a cold putter here.

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.

SG Stats. With such low-scoring affairs here at Fairmont, it’s no real surprise to see the eventual winners excelling in most Strokes Gained categories, with SG Off the Tee seemingly the least important:

  • 2021: Grant Forrest: T: 17th ; A: 5th; T2G: 2nd ; ATG: 6th; P: 11th
  • 2020: Adrian Otaegui: T: 22nd; A: 1st; T2G: 1st; ATG: 5th; P: 6th

Key: T: SG Off the Tee; A; SG Approach; T2G: SG Tee to Green; ATG: SG Around the Green; P: SG Putting.

If you look at the players closest to our eventual 2 winners from both renewals, SG Tee to Green and SG Putting would appear to be the most important factors here, followed by SG Approach.

Incoming Form: Neither of our Fairmont winners over the past 2 seasons could boast what you’d class as sparkling form, and both men missed the cut the previous week. Forrest’s 4th at the Irish Open a month before was his best result of the season though and Otaegui’s distant 2nd to Andy Sullivan at the English Championship 7 starts prior was also a good pointer at another low-scoring affair:

  • 2021: Grant Forrest: 19/33/MC/61/MC/33/23/MC/55/4/73/MC
  • 2020: Adrian Otaegui: 38/30/MC/35/MC/2/14/37/17/MC/42/MC

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.

My final selections are as follows:

Antoine Rozner 2pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

At the top of the market, Ryan Fox is a short-priced 11/1 favourite at the time of writing and despite his peppering of leaderboards before the Tour hit Scotland earlier in the month, I’m struggling to take such a short price about a player who has let a good few chances slip through his fingers since winning the Ras al Khaimah Championship in February. Don’t get me wrong, 3rd for Birdie Average for the season is ideal for this and he recovered well here at Fairmont last year after a shaky 74 to start, however I can let him go at the price and if he wins then so be it.

Richie Ramsay to win twice on the bounce after a 7-year break doesn’t sit well with me after Sunday’s mental and physical exertions and course winner Adrian Otaegui, who follows next in the betting, has been a little underwhelming of late outside of his LIV efforts to warrant support from me.

The first player who fits the bill for me this week is Antoine Rozner. A form line of 15/13/MC/34 is ambiguous enough to leave us with a backable enough price in this low-level affair given that the Frenchman has won twice on Tour in the past 20 months, yet there’s been enough evidence in those recent starts to suggest that the Parisian isn’t far away from top gear once again.

Opening rounds of 68/67 put Rozner in 7th place heading into the weekend at the BMW International Open, before treading water over the weekend to eventually finish 15th. He contended for a round further the following week in Ireland with a Saturday 65 putting him in 9th place with 18 holes to go, and although he slipped back a little to 13th on Sunday it was no disaster, and 21 birdies over the 4 days was a solid return. 34th last week at Hillside saw over 5 Strokes Gained from Tee to Green and 4 on Approach, with the putter just a little cold after a week’s break for The Open.

The putter though doesn’t need to be red hot for Antoine to contend and potentially win at this kind of level: his Golf in Dubai Championship win in December 2020 came at 25-under par and was fuelled largely by his SG Tee to Green game and some sparkling approach play; similarly he ranked outside the top 20 for SG Putting the following March when victorious in Qatar.

4th when defending his Dubai title last year is again useful form for this given the vaguely linksy feel of the Fire course, and at 84th on the DP World Tour season-long rankings he’ll need to make a sustained move soon enough if he’s going to feature at the neighbouring Earth course in November. RESULT: MC

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Hurly Long 2pts EW 35/1 (5EW, 1/4) with 10bet

The co-sanctioning of the Barbasol and Barracuda Championships on the PGA Tour earlier this month allowed a number of the DP World Tour’s rank and file to rub shoulders with their US-based peers, and few came out with a better report card than Hurly Long.

Marcus Helligkilde (8th at the Barbasol, 13th at the Barracuda) and Espen Kofstad (13th & 16th) also made noteworthy efforts in the States, however Long trumped the pair of them by finishing 4th and 7th over the same events respectively – at only marginally shorter odds then the pair mentioned, I’m happy to take a chance on the talented German.

Given what we’ve seen of Hurly on the DP World Tour in 2022, we shouldn’t have been overly surprised that he could take his game to another level. 18th at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship (22 birdies) improved to 3rd the following week on the same course courtesy of an additional birdie and 3 less bogeys. 2nd at the Kenya Open, 6th at the British Masters and 10th at the Dutch Open all followed before he tried his luck across the Atlantic, and 23 birdies and an eagle at the Barbasol and 20 birdies and an eagle at the Barracuda is the kind of scoring ability that I’m looking for this week.

51st here in the Scottish Championship back in 2020 was the 27 year-old’s first start since breaking through at the Open de Portugal on the Challenge Tour, so I think it’s fair to ignore what was a largely flat performance and class that as useful preparation for this week’s task. Nearly 2 years further down the line and Long should be far better equipped to contend in what isn’t the highest quality of fields.

4th for SG Tee to Green on the first of those US events tells us that his long game is in good enough shape for Fairmont, and 4th in the Birdies Per Round category on the DP World Tour for the season to date seals the deal for me. RESULT: T14

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Andy Sullivan 1pt EW 66/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

It’s been a very up-and-down year for Andy Sullivan, and if we’re being honest then the downs outweigh the ups. 10 missed cuts from 16 starts isn’t the kind of form that we’d expect from the 4-time Tour winner and former world top-30 player.

Interspersed with the dross there’s been the odd sign of life, with 9th at the Soudal Open in May and 8th last week at Hillside where the putter fired on both occasions, which is the key to the gaining the confidence and momentum that the Nuneaton man needs. What was noticeable last week though was a distinct improvement in his approach and tee-to-green games with the Stroke Gained metrics for both categories positive after a year where he’s been largely languishing in negative territory on both counts.

A slow start was also overcome last week and nobody in the field came within a shot of his 134-stroke weekend aggregate at Hillside which bodes well ahead of this week’s likely low-scoring affair.

A 7-stroke win at the English Championship at Hanbury Manor in 2020 came at a massive 27-under par, rubber-stamping his credentials at birdie-fests like this having previously won the Portugal Masters at 23-under. When he’s playing well and scoring well, the 35 year-old can simply blow fields of this quality away, a fact that his 9-stroke victory at Vilamoura underlines.

2020 Fairmont winner Adrian Otaegui finished closest to Sullivan at Hanbury Manor if you’re looking for some tenuous correlation to that English Championship effort; 2nd at the 2021 Dubai Championship – which he really should have won – also saw 2021 Fairmont winner Grant Forrest 2 shots behind the Englishman in 6th place. 2 low-scoring affairs that are the 35 year-old’s bread and butter, and if he can keep last week’s weekend momentum going into this week he could be a serious factor. RESULT: T49

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Eddie Pepperell 1pt EW 66/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Working out when Eddie Pepperell is going to play well is never an exercise that’s going to be easy to deduce from data and spreadsheets alone. 2 DP World Tour wins at Doha for the 2018 Qatar Masters and 6 months later at the Walton Heath-hosted British Masters both give us a clue to his strongest suit though with both tracks carrying linksy attributes, and you can add to that a play-off defeat to Soren Kjeldsen at the 2015 Irish Open at Royal County Down.

6th at the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie is Eddie’s best Major finish and 4th at Lahinch (2019 Irish Open), 4th and 2nd at Gullane (2015 & 2018 Scottish Open), 7th at the 2019 Dunhill Links and 9th at the Renaissance-hosted 2020 Scottish Open, plus 2nd at Hillside in 2019, confirm his liking for this style of golf. Perhaps the spreadsheets are useful after all.

Last week’s 11th place finish at Hillside was the 31 year-old’s best finish of what’s been a largely forgettable season with 9 missed cuts from 13 starts, however perhaps this is where the tangible evidence stops. Pepperell is an opinionated and popular player whose views and comments on the ongoing LIV saga might just spark something in his game that no modelling or data is ever going to highlight. Perhaps, just perhaps, Eddie will stick 2 fingers up and win a low-key, low-prize event like this simply to prove that he can.

Certainly if there’s any truth in this assertion then last week’s effort at Hillside would suggest that his game isn’t far away from complimenting any desire to add a third title to his collection this week. 3rd for SG Approach and 8th for SG Tee to Green were his best combined long game stats of the season. Add to that the fact that Eddie finished 16th here back in 2020 after slowly getting to grips with post-Covid playing conditions and perhaps we’ll see him seriously contend here this week on what is undoubtedly compatible terrain. RESULT: T2

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Lee Slattery 0.5pt EW 300/1 (5EW, 1/4) with 10bet

Richie Ramsay winning on Tour last week after a gap of 7 years reminds us all that these professionals are all capable of piecing together 4 competitive rounds together and contending – and potentially winning – when everything aligns.

Ramsay’s credentials last week were a little more obvious than Lee Slattery’s here at Fairmont given that he’d finished 5th at Hillside on his previous visit and had been playing some tidy golf for a couple of months, however that’s reflected in the price on offer here this week and I’m happy to take a chance.

11th last week on home soil was the Southport man’s best effort since opening with a pair of 64s at Renaissance in 2019, eventually finishing 9th. An identical finish at the 2017 Scottish Open at Dundonald Links is also useful form, as is 5th at the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Links, albeit a little more distant. 38th here at Fairmont last year is a little less striking, however the 43 year-old opened with a round of 68 and closed with a 65 which was beaten by just 3 other players to suggest that he gets on with the course just fine.

With nigh on 7 years having passed since Slattery’s second Tour win at the 2015 Russian Open, perhaps he can take inspiration from Ramsay’s success last week and contend here in Scotland at a long price. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:00BST 25.7.22 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.