Paul Williams

Paul Williams' ISPS Handa Wales Open Tips 2020

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Connor Syme gave us a good run for our money last week at 90/1, leading after 54 holes following a scintillating Saturday round of 63, however he couldn’t quite keep up with the final day pace of Sam Horsfield who won his second European Tour event in the space of 3 weeks at the Celtic Classic.

On to this week be go then and the second part of our Celtic Manor double-header which is essentially the re-birth of the Wales Open played on the European Tour from 2000-2014. Although the event is for all intents and purposes a filler being used to plug the gaping hole left in the schedule by Covid-19, it’s once again showcasing an excellent track that would and perhaps should have a regular spot on the schedule in its own right, as we saw first hand last week.

The big question this week of course will be how much of last week’s event will prove to be of relevance when trying to decipher the likely winner here this time around. The course is the same and likely to offer little variance on last week, save for a little growth on the rough and whatever the elements throw at us, and the field is largely the same too, so the clues as to who wins this week may be very subtle indeed.

With the PGA Tour’s double-header at Muirfield Village last month, only 4 players from the top-20 at the Workday Charity Open went on to finish inside the top-20 of the Memorial Tournament the following week, however there were substantial differences in terms of course set-up and field strength between those two events and I’m not sure we’re going to see either of those elements here this week. Justin Thomas  (2nd, 18th), Jason Day (7th, 4th), Billy Horschel (7th, 13th) and Xander Schauffele (14th, 13th) were those 4 players in question, for reference.

Notable players dropping out this week are Andy Sullivan, Joost Luiten, Thomas Detry and Scott Jamieson, being replaced by the likes of Haotong Li, Robert McIntyre, Mikko Korhonen, Robert Rock, Eddie Pepperell and Marcus Kinhult for what’s overall a very similar quality of field to that which we saw last week.

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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 the Wales Open which was played here at Celtic Manor until 2014 with the Twenty-Ten Course being used from 2008 to 2014 specifically: 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.

Winners & Prices. 2014 (Wales Open) Joost Luiten, 14/1; 2013: Gregory Bourdy, 40/1; 2012: Thongchai Jaidee, 125/1; 2011: Alexander Noren, 66/1; 2010: Graeme McDowell, 22/1.

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. Newport largely got away with the worst of the thunderstorms that plagued southern Britain last week meaning that the tournament just about got completed on schedule, however this week should be a more straightforward affair in that respect with just some light rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday.

Either side of that, conditions should be pleasantly warm with sunny spells, with the mercury peaking in the low 70s each afternoon, however the main difference this week will be that a stiffer breeze will be blowing across the course, averaging around 15-20mph and in all likelihood producing a slightly higher winning total.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the past winners on the Twenty-Ten course from 2008-14, as well as last week, gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:

  • 2020, Sam Horsfield (-18). 294 yards (66th), 55.8% fairways (54th), 79.2% greens in regulation (12th), 73.3% scrambling (11th), 1.69 putts per GIR (15th).
  • 2014, Joost Luiten (-14). 290 yards (51st), 63.5% fairways (12th), 80.6% greens in regulation (4th), 71.4% scrambling (6th), 1.74 putts per GIR (19th).
  • 2013, Gregory Bourdy (-8). 284 yards (54th), 53.8% fairways (38th), 66.7% greens in regulation (26th), 62.5% scrambling (6th), 1.73 putts per GIR (13th).
  • 2012, Thonghchai Jaidee (-6). 287 yards (35th), 59.6% fairways (22nd), 73.6% greens in regulation (7th), 36.8% scrambling (55th), 1.66 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2011, Alex Noren (-9). 304 yards (1st), 59.6% fairways (9th), 76.4% greens in regulation (2nd), 70.6% scrambling (3rd), 1.82 putts per GIR (31st).
  • 2010, Graeme McDowell (-15). 283 yards (36th), 71.2% fairways (12th), 80.6% greens in regulation (1st), 50% scrambling (34th), 1.67 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 2009, Jeppe Huldahl (-9). 274 yards (37th), 55.8% fairways (53rd), 70.8% greens in regulation (17th), 66.7% scrambling (2nd), 1.69 putts per GIR (6th).
  • 2008, Scott Strange (-22). 276 yards (41st), 75% fairways (22nd), 80.6% greens in regulation (10th), 78.6% scrambling (4th), 1.62 putts per GIR (1st).

Aside from Scott Strange’s win in 2008, the updates made to the Twenty-Ten Course to make it Ryder Cup ready essentially toughened it up. The yardage and course setup suggests that bombers should prosper here, however they certainly don’t have it all their own way if you look at the contenders and winners of the Wales Open before it dropped off the schedule in 2014.

No particular stats stand out from the numbers above, with winners having a generally good week in all departments with perhaps a leaning towards Greens in Regulation and Putting. Sam Horsfield followed that trend again last week, finishing inside the top-15 for GIR, Scrambling and Putting Average on his way to victory.

Incoming Form: Sam Horsfield’s win last week came hot on the heels of his breakthrough European Tour success just a fortnight before at the Hero Open and, in all, that was the Englishman’s 4th top-10 finish in 7 starts.

Going further back to the Wales Open, Joost Luiten had been knocking quite loudly on the door prior to victory here back in 2014, finally converting after recording two consecutive top-5 finishes. Gregory Bourdy, Alex Noren, Graeme McDowell and Scott Strange had all posted at least one top-10 finish in their past 7 starts to hint at enough form to justify an investment, however Thongchai Jaidee and to an even larger extent Jeppe Huldahl were tougher to find with patchy incoming results:

  • 2020, Sam Horsfield: 49/53/62/12/MC/MC/7/MC/MC/10/1/MC
  • 2014, Joost Luiten: 4/12/3/MC/18/51/MC/56/26/52/4/5
  • 2013, Gregory Bourdy: MC/11/MC/21/12/59/8/58/34/49/64/23
  • 2012, Thonghchai Jaidee: MC/20/42/41/64/MC/29/25/21/56
  • 2011, Alex Noren: 13/31/8/MC/WD/MC/23/4/MC/5/11/MC
  • 2010, Graeme McDowell: MC/14/20/33/31/6/MC/MC/8/28/26/28/4
  • 2009, Jeppe Huldahl: 23/MC/12/49/52/MC/MC/65/MC/MC/MC
  • 2008, Scott Strange: 7/33/MC/25/2/21/MC/14/14/35/MC

Course Form (back to 2010):

To back up Luiten’s current form credentials the last time we played this event, he also arrived here having come close to victory on each of his previous two attempts at the Twenty-Ten Course and was understandably the favourite to win 6 years ago. Like Luiten, Gregory Bourdy also had strong course form to encourage his backers prior to lifting the trophy in 2013; prior to that, winners’ form here at Celtic Manor was a little patchier. Horsfield’s win here last week was on his competitive debut around these parts:

  • 2020, Sam Horsfield: Debut
  • 2014, Joost Luiten: 2/4
  • 2013, Gregory Bourdy: 21/10/39/2/14
  • 2012, Thonghchai Jaidee: 39/26/MC
  • 2011, Alex Noren: MC/39
  • 2010, Graeme McDowell: 39
  • 2009, Jeppe Huldahl: Debut
  • 2008, Scott Strange: Debut

I summarised last week that the Bent/Poa putting surfaces aren’t the toughest on Tour and reward good golf shots, however the emphasis for me is far more about hitting greens in regulation and patiently accumulating a score, and I still maintain that’s the best approach to taming this layout.

The main difference I see this week is that the ground staff have the option to allow the rough to grow out a little compared to last week, although I’m not expecting the kind of stark difference we saw in course set-up at Muirfield Village on the PGA Tour a few weeks ago. One tangible element will be a stronger breeze blowing across this exposed layout in South Wales, which should further accentuate the need for quality ball-striking and perhaps more of a grinding mentality with birdies a little harder to come by and bogeys a little more prevalent.

My Final Wales Open Tips Are As Follows:

Connor Syme 2pts EW 50/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

After a brief foray a little further down the bookmakers’ lists, Thomas Pieters has been reinstalled as favourite for this week’s Wales Open having impressed at times last week around the Twenty Ten course. A flying end to his final round to record a 3rd place finish masks another event though where he’s drifted from serious contention against a field that he should be beating. Lack of competitive action is a justifiable reason for his supporters to give him another chance this week, however I’ll pass at the price on offer.

Of the other immediate front-runners, Sam Horsfield is the only one who got a run out here last week in South Wales other than Beef Johnston and with the bit between his teeth I can understand why quotes of 12/1 might also be taken, however a missed cut immediately followed his win at Forest of Arden a fortnight ago and at some point he must need a physical and mental rest to fully compute what he’s achieved since lockdown.

Haotong Li, Robert McIntyre, Mikko Korhonen and Eddie Pepperell are all capable players who don’t have the luxury of 4 days worth of competition last week on this track under their belts; instead I’m going to stick with last week’s 54-hole leader Connor Syme and see if we can get him over the line this time around.

Having backed Sam Horsfield at Close House where he finished in a tie for 10th, only to drop him the following week with his price half that of the week before and subsequently seeing him trot home twice since, I’m not going to make that mistake here if Syme can instantly put last week’s disappointment behind him. Like Horsfield in Newcastle, the talented Scot recorded the joint-best round of the week here at the Celtic Classic, shooting a flawless Saturday 63 to leapfrog the rest of the field and take a slender 1-shot lead into the final day.

It’s easy to look at a leaderboard after the event and conclude that a player threw away their chance of winning, however such are the tight margins in this game that I’m not sure I’d put Syme’s Sunday 71 in that category. Having got himself back into the hunt with two birdies following the weather delay, he had to endure his playing partner topple a putt in on 14 on the final roll, forcing an aggressive play on 15 that resulted in bogey. His chance still wasn’t gone on the 17th with Horsfield struggling for par and Syme in close, however with a 20-foot save made, the miss from our man was inevitable and that was that. Connor’s responded well on Social Media though and will surely benefit from that experience as his career progresses, hopefully as soon as this week.

Fact is, the 25 year-old’s all round game is an excellent fit for Celtic Manor and the addition of a little more wind this week should be a positive rather than a negative. 79.2% GIR last week matched that of eventual winner Horsfield and 80% scrambling was beaten by just 3 other players on the week, despite his challenges coming down the stretch. RESULT: T8

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Sami Valimaki 1pt EW 80/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Ladbrokes

The remainder of my team consists of longer-priced players who showed enough of a spark last week around these parts to suggest that they can build on that performance and threaten an each-way place or better, the first of whom is Sami Valimaki.

In a lot of ways, the Finn reminds me of how Matt Wallace was regarded when he burst onto the European Tour scene having taken the Alps Tour by storm with 6 wins in a single season. The step up to co-sanctioned level (Open de Portugal) and then 3 further fully-fledged European Tour victories proved that Wallace was more than good enough and of course he’s now competing on the PGA Tour as an OWGR top-50 player.

Valimaki is still a little further back in the development process at the age of 22, however 4 Pro Golf Tour wins in his first season as a professional marked him out as a player to watch and he duly stepped up to the plate at the Oman Open earlier this year, holding off Brandon Stone in a play-off with a 13-under winning total getting him over the line – a winning total that may well be in the right kind of ball-park for this week’s test.

That victory came after a 7th place finish on his previous start in Australia, so last week’s 6th place finish here at Celtic Manor following 3 consecutive post-lockdown missed cuts has got to be noteworthy. 81.9% GIR was the exact same statistic that he produced on the start prior to his aforementioned success in Oman, and the confidence with his irons should be flowing through his game as he tackles this layout for a second time this week. 65/66 tied the best weekend performance of the whole field at the Celtic Classic and he may well take that form straight into this week. RESULT: 2nd

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

The prospect of a more challenging week here in Wales pushes me in the direction of Max Kieffer who’s one of those more adept at keeping a round going when birdies aren’t in free supply.

Post-lockdown form of 55/MC/6/MC/14 shows significant progression compared to the latter half of 2019 where we he was struggling to make so much as paid weekend, and there have been some really positive stats within that stretch of results to encourage support here this week. 6th at the Hero Open featured his best GIR performance relative to the field for over a year and he scrambled beautifully to rank 6th on that count at Forest of Arden. 14th last week saw him open and close with rounds of 83.3% GIR and save for a weak finish on Sunday, where he was 1-over for the final 4 holes, he would have finished in a far more prominent position than 14th and would likely be a far shorter price here this week.

A Challenge Tour winner back in 2012 with a 7-under total at the Gujarat Kensville Challenge, and a play-off loser on the European Tour to Raphael Jacquelin at the tough Spanish Open where 5-under was good enough to make the play-off, tells me that he’s going to be able to handle things if Celtic Manor does show its teeth this week and a field-leading 13-under for the par-5s last week suggests that he’s found a way to score around this track after a couple of middling performances back in the days of the old Wales Open. RESULT: T44

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Wil Besseling 1pt EW 110/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

Finally a slight more speculative punt on Wil Besseling who’s been around for a good few years now but may finally be finding his feet at European Tour level.

The Dutchman looked like a decent prospect when he burst onto the Challenge Tour scene back in 2008, winning his 4th event of the season by 7 strokes on what was just his 10th start as a professional. 6 runner-up finishes at that level in the intervening decade or so must be frustrating, however he certainly seems to have stepped up a level in this 2019/20 wraparound European Tour season from the limited starts that he’s managed to get so far, having initially impressed on home soil when finishing 7th at the KLM Open back in September.

3rd at Leopard Creek where he ranked 2nd for Driving Accuracy, 1st for GIR and 1st for both Total Driving and Ball-Striking caught the eye and he’s kept that long game form going following the European Tour’s restart following the Covid-19 break. 3rd at the Austrian Open, 34th at the Hero Open (2nd for GIR) and 11th last week at the Celtic Classic (2nd GIR) all impressed in various elements and he returns for another stab at this South Wales layout this week with his irons in great shape and buoyed by 4 rounds in the 60s from his first look at Celtic Manor last week.

Winning here might prove to be a little bit of a fanciful thought, however given that he’s finished inside the top-3 in two of his last 9 European Tour starts, an each-way payout isn’t out of the question for the current season-long GIR and Stokes gained Off the Tee statistic leader. RESULT: T53

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:45 BST 17.8.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.