Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Irish Open Tips 2020

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36-hole leader and our 90/1 pick Andrew Wilson couldn’t quite muster the 3rd round performance that would have seen him close enough to the lead to pounce late on Sunday in Portugal, however a closing round of 66 secured us a full each-way payout to ensure a tidy profit last week nevertheless.

With the Iberian Swing in the record books, we head back to the UK for another 4 weeks with Northern Ireland hosting this week’s Irish Open before we take in back-to-back Rolex Series events with the Scottish Open and BMW PGA Championship, before Fairmont St Andrews hosts the altogether smaller Scottish Championship which rounds of the quartet of events.

With the pandemic causing massive disruption to the European Tour schedule, the Irish Open’s original plans to be hosted at Mount Juliet in Kilkenny in May were abandoned. Galgorm Castle Golf Club in Ballymena, Northern Ireland was named as the replacement as the schedule was rebuilt. The scheduling immediately after the US Open and the loss of its Rolex Series status has diminished the field though, leaving former Irish Open winner Shane Lowry as the bookies’ favourite at a best price of 9/1 at the time of writing.

George Coetzee tees it up yet again this week, arriving with form of 2/1/1/3 from the past 4 weeks in all competitions which understandably makes him the 11/1 second favourite, before we dip down to the likes of Ryan Fox, Jason Scrivener, Wilco Neinaber and Connor Syme in the 22/1 to 28/1 range.

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Course Overview. Galgorm Castle is a short, parkland course that’s hosted 8 events on the Challenge Tour since 2013. Listed as a 7,087 par 70, the course features just 2 par-5s – both on the back 9 – and two short par-4s within the first 4 holes. Greens are excellent quality and annually overseeded with Creeping Bentgrass to help keep them smooth and true.

To give us more of an idea of what to expect in terms of scoring, winners from the Challenge Tour events here have generally been able to compile a reasonable winning score of between -11 and -19:

  • 2020: Tyler Koivisto, -13
  • 2019: Jack Senior, -11
  • 2018: Calum Hill, -19
  • 2017: Robin Sciot-Siegrist, -6
  • 2016: Ryan Fox, -19
  • 2015: Clement Sordet, -17
  • 2014: Joakim Lagergren, -13
  • 2013: Daan Huizing, -13

Robin Sciot-Siegrist’s victory in 2017 was achieved in the hybrid ‘Shootout Sunday’ format, so his -6 winning score should be taken in context.

irish open tips

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 in this event, although as previously noted this week’s venue is new to the tournament:

There’s an additional page this week which details combined current form and course form based on the Challenge Tour events held here at Galgorm Castle:  Current Form | Event Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Event Stats | Combined Course Stats.

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

Event Winners. 2019: John Rahm, 8/1; 2018: Russell Knox, 28/1; 2017: Jon Rahm, 14/1; 2016: Rory McIlroy, 4/1; 2015: Soren Kjeldsen, 150/1; 2014: Mikko Ilonen, 80/1; 2013: Paul Casey, 50/1; 2012: Jamie Donaldson, 66/1; 2011: Simon Dyson, 25/1; 2010: Ross Fisher, 20/1.

For a summary of winners’ odds on the European Tour for the past 10 years click here.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. After enjoying some late summer sunshine and warmth over the past week or so, the UK will get its first taste of autumn just in time for the start of this week’s event with temperatures struggling to get far beyond 50 Fahrenheit over the course of the 4 days in Northern Ireland.

Winds will be moderate at 10-15mph in general, however there’s potential for stronger gusts on both Thursday and Sunday to accompany the expected showers.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Looking at the last few Irish Opens gives us some idea of that kind of skill-sets that this week’s test may demand:

  • 2019: Jon Rahm, 309 yards (4th), 60.7% fairways (3rd), 73.6% greens in regulation (17th), 52.6% scrambling (50th), 1.65 putts per GIR (8th).
  • 2018: Russell Knox. 305 yards (18th), 53.3% fairways (19th), 77.8% greens in regulation (1st), 62.5% scrambling (18th), 1.73 putts per GIR (15th).
  • 2017: Jon Rahm. 302 yards (8th), 51.8% fairways (36th), 81.9% greens in regulation (4th), 46.2% scrambling (56th), 1.61 putts per GIR (3rd).
  • 2016: Rory McIlroy. 293 yards (9th), 60.7% fairways (23rd), 83.3% greens in regulation (1st), 58.3% scrambling (21st), 1.87 putts per GIR (52nd).
  • 2015: Soren Kjeldsen. 280 yards (28th), 67.9% fairways (5th), 62.5% greens in regulation (18th), 66.7% scrambling (5th), 1.82 putts per GIR (19th).
  • 2014: Mikko Ilonen. 291 yards (31st), 51.9% fairways (31st), 73.6% greens in regulation (27th), 78.9% scrambling (1st), 1.66 putts per GIR (6th).
  • 2013: Paul Casey. 287 yards (18th), 44.6% fairways (41st), 73.6% greens in regulation (10th), 68.4% scrambling (10th), 1.68 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2012: Jamie Donaldson. 289 yards (8th), 58.9% fairways (35th), 62.5% greens in regulation (64th), 63.0% scrambling (5th), 1.51 putts per GIR (1st).

A variety of different courses used may explain the disparity between stats in the results above and, depending on the course and conditions being played on any given year, either high GIR or a strong short game have been the winning formula in general.

The past 4 Irish Opens have been won with GIR ranks of 17th, 1st, 4th and 1st and winning scores of Rahm (-16), Knox (-14), Rahm (-24) and McIlroy (-12), and unless conditions seriously deteriorate in these types of events, maximising greens hit is never a bad strategy.

In tougher years the emphasis switches towards scrambling and par-saving putts, however this year’s renewal could be something of a middle ground with Thursday and Sunday looking tricky with a breezy, showery forecast, whereas Friday and Saturday look more settled at the time of writing.

Incoming Form: There are positives to pick out of the recent form of our past 8 Irish Open champions and none arrived in what you’d class as poor form.

All 8 had recorded a top-10 finish in their previous 7 outings and all had made the weekend on their previous start, with our last two winners Jon Rahm and Russell Knox both having finished runner-up on their previous start.

A similar trend continues with Dyson (2011) and Fisher (2010), broken eventually by the shock win from Shane Lowry as an amateur in 2009:

  • 2019, Jon Rahm: 12/6/24/9/MC/MC/3/2
  • 2018, Russell Knox: MC/MC/16/20/44/12/38/2
  • 2017, Jon Rahm: 10/27/4/72/2/MC/MC/10
  • 2016, Rory McIlroy: 20/MC/3/27/4/10/4/12
  • 2015, Soren Kjeldsen: MC/45/MC/14/MC/31/9/18
  • 2014, Mikko Ilonen: 5/33/37/MC/8/MC/38/32
  • 2013, Paul Casey: MC/16/MC/8/MC/51/45/53
  • 2012, Jamie Donaldson: 51/3/63/44/15/53/WD/22

Event Form: Despite the fact that the venue and style of course used for the Irish Open varies from year to year, it’s interesting to note that prior to Jon Rahm’s debut win in 2017, the previous 5 winners had all recorded at least one top-13 finish in the event prior to winning.

Again the same can be said about Simon Dyson and Ross Fisher in their respective victories, with the trend once again falling down with Shane Lowry’s success at Baltray:

  • 2019, Jon Rahm: 1/4
  • 2018, Russell Knox: 2
  • 2017, Jon Rahm: Debut
  • 2016, Rory McIlroy: MC/7/50/35/34/10/MC/MC/M
  • 2015, Soren Kjeldsen: MC/33/MC/35/6/64/MC/45/35/30/MC/18/MC
  • 2014, Mikko Ilonen: 49/MC/WD/16/MC/MC/10/32
  • 2013, Paul Casey: MC/13/2
  • 2012, Jamie Donaldson: MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/13/21/45

The late move to Galgorm Castle affords us the opportunity to review results held here on the Challenge Tour since 2013 and there’s a combined current form/Galgorm Castle stats page available here.

Looking at those players who’ve triumphed on this track in the past, there’s a real spread of playing styles: longer hitters and short(er) hitters have managed to navigate their way round these parts successfully, as have high GIR merchants and short-game wizards. All in all, this doesn’t look like the kind of course that you can pin to any one style of play, which in turn opens the door for more players to feature here this week.

As well as those who played here on the Challenge Tour, some of the local players will be familiar with the course as will some of those who spent their amateur years in the UK and Ireland. For the local players, winning a national Open of course ranks as a huge achievement and that can inspire and intimidate players in equal measure when push comes to shove on Sunday, even if this year’s renewal is a little on the watered-down side.

My selections are as follows:

Joakim Lagergren 2pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

As the highest-ranked player in the field and the reigning Open Champion to boot – achieved in Northern Ireland at Royal Portrush of course – Shane Lowry is the worthy favourite. 43rd last week at the US Open is no disgrace, albeit probably a disappointment for Lowry himself, however travelling back across the Atlantic and getting himself immediately up for this week may be the Irishman’s biggest challenge. Fact is, since his glorious win on the north coast last July, Shane’s not been at his best and a cold, damp event may take some prompt adjustment given he’s been playing in the US for the most part this year.

George Coetzee is looking to contend for the 5th straight week here and that in itself has to take its toll either mentally or physically, or both, sooner or later. Both Lowry or Coetzee could win this if anything close to their best, of that there’s little doubt, however I’ll pass on both and start my team with Joakim Lagergren whose available at 4 or 5 times the price.

After stepping up from the Gecko Pro Tour and Nordic Golf League in 2014, the Swede gained his first Challenge Tour victory here at Galgorm Castle at the Northern Ireland Open in 2014, opening with a sparkling round of 62 and closing out a wire-to-wire victory with a 13-under total. Wider Irish Open form also includes a 12th place finish in 2018, where he sat in 2nd place heading into Sunday in a far stronger renewal than this, and overall he’ll have some positive memories of the island of Ireland.

Wider form in the near vicinity includes a strong record at the Alfred Dunhill Links, where 3 top-4 finishes from his last 5 starts singles him out as someone who’s quite comfortable in the northern parts of Europe and when it’s a little colder and damper, as it often is at the Dunhill.

The 28 year-old’s recent form is trending nicely too with 24th at Valderrama backed up by a 3rd place finish on his last start at Vilmoura, and the 2018 Sicilian Open winner could well push on again this week with both his long game and putter looking in fine fettle on the Algarve a couple of weeks ago. RESULT: T5

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Julian Suri 1pt EW 100/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Aside from the top 2 in the market, I’m not convinced there’s a massive gulf between those players in the 20/1-30/1 bracket and Julian Suri, who’s available at a significantly higher price.

Like a number of his compatriots, the American has attempted to use European golf as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things and after quickly building on his 2017 Challenge Tour success at the D+D Real Czech Challenge, it looked like Julian was going to quickly realise his dream as he promptly become a European Tour winner just a few months later in Denmark.

8th at Valderrama, 8th in Turkey, 8th at the Earth Course and 2nd in Fanling not only elevated the 29 year-old to a career-high OWGR rating and on the brink of a top-50 position, but also proved his ability to play a wide array of course styles and setups, which in my mind sets apart those with the highest potential from the rest of the pack.

2018 wasn’t so good though, despite a runner-up finish in France, and another runner-up finish a year later in Morocco was as close as Suri got to another win before injury blighted his progress.

Back after lockdown following another lengthy spell on the sidelines, it’s taken a while for the New Yorker to get his game back fully into gear, however 3 cuts made on the trot heading into this week is the most consistent spell of form that he’s had for a while and 32nd last week in Portugal was the best result he’s recorded since last autumn when his season came abruptly to an end.

Rounds of 68 and 71 put Julian in 8th spot heading into the weekend at The Belfry before fading, and an opening 68 saw him in 4th position after the first 18 holes last week before he had to endure some of the worst conditions in Friday’s weather-affected round. 6 under for his final 10 holes on Sunday should give him a spring in his step heading into this week though and I’ll take a chance on him adapting to the course and conditions this week given the price on offer. RESULT: MC

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Callum Shinkwin 1pt EW 80/1 (8EW, 1.5) with Boylesports

Another player who I think is a little longer in the betting than he should be is Callum Shinkwin and I’ll back him accordingly here.

A missed cut at The Belfry on his last start may be enough to put some punters off, however that was the Hertfordshire man’s 6th consecutive week on the road and it’s understandable that fatigue starts to set in eventually. Prior to that, 11th at the Celtic Classic and 8th at the Wales Open both offered some encouraging signs, in particular with the putter which had been lukewarm at best for a prolonged period.

Top 10s at the Vic Open, Indian Open, BMW International Open, KLM Open and Dunhill Links were all positive in their own right in 2019, however none offered up the kind of chance that he had to secure his maiden title at the Scottish Open the year before when he made a bogey 6 on the final hole to let Rafa Cabrera-Bello into the play-off, which the Spaniard gleefully won. Redemption for that day has yet to come for the 27 year-old, however he’s got enough game to give him more good chances to put that right, and as one of the UK contingent here this week, he should be more comfortable with the conditions than his continental peers. RESULT: MC

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Robin Sciot-Siegrist 1pt EW 100/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Finally I’m going to give Robin Sciot-Siegrist one final chance this week. Of course, it’s unlikely to be the last time that I ever back the Frenchman, however patience has started to run a little thin if truth be told.

That said, Galgorm Castle was the scene of his only OWGR-ranking career victory to date, achieved back in 2017 as he converted the hybrid strokeplay/matchplay format that was being trialled for the Northern Ireland Open at the time. A win’s a win though regardless of the format and the 26 year-old will undoubtedly have fond memories of the course here in Ballymena.

Robin is still an inconsistent sort – 2 subsequent missed cuts on this track tell their own story after his win – however between the regular missed cuts that blight his record even now, there are some strong performances and if you can catch him right then the each-way returns are good.

2nd at last year’s Challenge Tour Grand Final, 8th at the Mauritius Open, 3rd at the Vic Open where he led after 36 holes and 3rd more recently at the Euram Bank Open – where he led into Sunday following a 3rd round 61 – all offer encouragement and during that time we’ve seen good spells of quality driving accompanied by excellent putting.

17th at Valderrama where he closed with a round of 69 – beaten by just 1 other player on the day – was positive, as was 32nd last week which was only let down by a second round of 75 which included the worst of the wind and subsequent weather delays. 3 straight birdies to close out last week’s effort in Portugal should put him in a good, positive frame of mind this week as he heads back to the scene of that maiden success. RESULT: T39

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:20BST 21.9.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.