Paul Williams

Paul Williams' ISPS Handa World Invitational Tips

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Not much to report back on in Wales with top-25 finishes from David Law and Richie Ramsay never looking like threatening to snatch a backdoor each-way payout. It was nice to see Nacho Elvira finally get his European Tour breakthrough though, despite a pretty serious wobble on Sunday and in particular on the 72nd hole. No top 10s for over 2 years and a string of missed weekends on his record will have put most punters off, however congratulations if you picked up a win on him at a best pre-event price of 250/1.

The Tour moves to Northern Ireland this week and back to Galgorm Castle, which hosted last year’s Irish Open, for a mixed men’s and women’s event under the guise of the ISPS Handa World Invitational. With nigh on 300 players in attendance in total, a second course is also being used for the first 2 days, namely Massereene Golf Club which sits a few miles to the south on the banks of Lough Neagh.

Similar to the Vic Open format-wise rather than the Scandinavian Mixed, men and women will play on the same course(s) at the same time for the same prize money but with separate leaderboards, therefore there’s a full men’s and women’s betting market available this week.

The cut rules are slightly different to normal this week, with the regular Friday night cut falling at 60 players and ties for both the men and the women; there will be a further cut on Saturday night to 35 players and ties for both. In both instances, Galgorm only will host the weekend’s action.

Focussing on the men’s tournament, Andy Sullivan rates as the 10/1 favourite with last week’s play-off loser Justin Harding just behind at around 11/1. Laurie Canter (22/1) and Marcus Armitage (25/1) follow in what’s a pretty poor field running alongside the men’s Olympic competition over in Tokyo.

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Course Overview. Galgorm Castle is a short, parkland course that’s hosted 8 events on the Challenge Tour since 2013 as well as last year’s Irish Open.

Listed as a 7,005 par 70, Galgorm 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. Massereene is a shorter track at around 6,600 yards and should offer better scoring opportunities to the professionals on the days that it’s used.

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.

John Catlin won here at -10 in last year’s Irish Open, although that was in fairly tough conditions and only 22 players finished under par that 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 on this course.

As previously noted, Galgorm hosted the 2020 Irish Open as well as the Challenge Tour’s Northern Ireland Open from 2013: Current Form | Course Form | First Round Leader 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.

Course Winners. 2020 (Irish Open): John Catlin (-10), 40/1; 2020 (ISPS World Invitational): Tyler Koivisto, -13; 2019 (Northern Ireland Open): 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.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here.

After enjoying some baking temperatures (for Northern Ireland) in recent days, the weather pattern has returned to something like normal this week and for the tournament days we’ll see more typical conditions. Temperatures will peak in the low-60s Fahrenheit with north-westerly winds of between 10-15mph. It should be largely dry though after the threat of showers passes on Thursday,

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

  • 1st: John Catlin, 279 yards (55th), 62.5% fairways (6th), 72.2% greens in regulation (6th), 80% scrambling (2nd), 1.78 putts per GIR (22nd).
  • 2nd: Aaron Rai, 288 yards (39th), 57.1% fairways (16th), 62.5% greens in regulation (27th), 74.1% scrambling (5th), 1.71 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 3rd: Maverick Antcliff, 289 yards (36th), 57.1% fairways (16th), 73.6% greens in regulation (4th), 52.6% scrambling (51st), 1.75 putts per GIR (19th).
  • 3rd: Jazz Janewattananond, 291 yards (33rd), 53.6% fairways (32nd), 63.9% greens in regulation (18th), 65.4% scrambling (14th), 1.69 putts per GIR (6th).
  • 5th: Joakim Lagergren, 304 yards (6th), 60.7% fairways (10th), 51.4% greens in regulation (64th), 77.1% scrambling (4th), 1.71 putts per GIR (9th).
  • 5th: Oscar Lengden, 295 yards (23rd), 60.7% fairways (10th), 68.1% greens in regulation (9th), 52.2% scrambling (54th), 1.69 putts per GIR (4th).

Conditions were quite tricky when Galgorm hosted last year’s Irish Open and with John Catlin and Aaron Rai battling it out for the win, it’s fair to say that accuracy prevailed over power. The rough was quite tricky in late September and conditions a little colder than we should expect this week, although a tidy all-round game should still go a long way, as it did back then.

From a Strokes Gained perspective, the long game aspects were more prominent amongst the leading players last year, although Aaron Rai did have an unusually good week on the greens given that his strength is typically far more from tee to green:

  • 1st: John Catlin: T: 23rd; A: 8th; T2G: 4th; ATG: 14th; P: 17th
  • 2nd: Aaron Rai: T: 20th; A: 18th; T2G: 18th; ATG: 31st; P: 2nd
  • 3rd: Maverick Antcliff: T: 31st; A: 6th; T2G: 5th; ATG: 12th; P: 26th
  • 3rd: Jazz Janewattananond: T: 26th; A: 21st; T2G: 16th; ATG: 8th; P: 12th
  • 5th: Joakim Lagergren: T: 6th; A: 30th; T2G: 15th; ATG: 25th; P: 18th
  • 5th: Oscar Lengden: T: 5th; A: 27th; T2G: 8th; ATG: 7th; P: 28th

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

Incoming Form: John Catlin arrived in sparkling form when Galgorm Castle hosted the Irish Open last year, having won the Andalucia Masters on his penultimate start before finishing 8th at Vilamoura.

Of the mixed bag of incoming form from the previous course winners on the Challenge Tour, what is noticeable is that this layout provided an early career breakthrough on 4 occasions. Tyler Koivisto is the most pronounced of the bunch, winning on his debut, but Calum Hill, Clement Sordet and Daan Huizing all had very few starts to their names when proving victorious here:

  • 2020 (Irish Open): John Catlin: 2/MC/MC/MC/8/43/51/6/MC/25/1/8
  • 2020: Tyler Koivisto: Challenge Tour Debut
  • 2019: Jack Senior: 58/MC/MC/33/MC/MC/MC/10/34/MC/11/42
  • 2018: Calum Hill: 61/47/26/MC/MC
  • 2017: Robin Sciot-Siegrist: 15/MC/5/MC/MC/38/MC/8/18/15/44/40
  • 2016: Ryan Fox: 4/11/MC/63/63/46/MC/NC/7/2/4/18
  • 2015: Clement Sordet: 20/2/MC/26/MC
  • 2014: Joakim Lagergren: MC/57/MC/MC/70/19/35/MC/62/38/MC/81
  • 2013: Daan Huizing: WD/MC/MC/61/46/2/5/19/4/5/18

Course Form: Despite not telling us much at all, I’ve included the course history of the winners here at Galgorm Castle since it was first used on the Challenge Tour. 7 of the 9 winners were making their competitive debuts around this track which suggests it’s one that players can get to grips with very quickly:

  • 2020 (Irish Open): John Catlin: Debut
  • 2020: Tyler Koivisto: Debut
  • 2019: Jack Senior: 47/60/WD/52/MC/43
  • 2018: Calum Hill: Debut
  • 2017: Robin Sciot-Siegrist: 42
  • 2016: Ryan Fox: Debut
  • 2015: Clement Sordet: Debut
  • 2014: Joakim Lagergren: Debut
  • 2013: Daan Huizing: Debut

My selections are as follows:

John Catlin 2pts EW 28/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

The top of the market is dominated by Andy Sullivan, who’s cut a frustrated figure at times since relinquishing a golden opportunity to win the Golf in Dubai Championship last year, and Justin Harding who was handed an unlikely chance of winning in the play-off last week against a nervy maiden that he failed to capitalise on. Either could win this relatively weak affair, granted, however neither make any appeal at the prices on offer.

The next tier contains Laurie Canter, who even his most ardent of support must be losing a little patience with by now, and Marcus Armitage who’s not broken the top-40 since winning in Germany at the start of June.

The following tier does interest me though, and when I see the likes of John Catlin (course winner, 3 victories in the past 12 months) priced alongside a number of Tour maidens and players who continue to flatter to deceive, I’m happy to take a chance that he can turn some indifferent current form into a contenting – even winning –performance here this week.

A flying final round of 64 was good enough to keep Aaron Rai at bay here at last year’s Irish Open, with the Englishman’s bogey on the 72nd hole the final nail in the coffin. That win came just 3 weeks after his breakthrough success at Valderrama and in hindsight the 40/1 chalked up about the American at the time was a little generous, particularly as he’d warmed up with an 8th place finish the week before at Vilamoura.

10 months on and with a further title to his name from his exploits in Austria, Catlin is still seemingly underrated by the bookies in a field that will hold little fear for him. Now it’s fair to say that he’s missed 5 of his last 7 cuts, however 2 of his 3 wins followed a weekend off and last week’s 32nd place finish in Wales actually showed a little promise.

6th for Driving Accuracy, 8th for GIR and 6th for Scrambling are the kind of numbers that we might expect from this week’s winner and it will only take a putt or two extra to drop each day for him to be seriously contending for the title here in my view. RESULT: T7

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Adrian Otaegui 2pts EW 30/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

Listing the lack of wins, or failure to convert opportunities, of those in the vicinity of John Catlin and Adrian Otaegui in the betting is the kind of thing that may come back to bite me, however with 3 European Tour wins to his name since 2017, the Spaniard is clearly someone who has the ability to convert.

Prior to his Scottish Championship win last October, both of Otaegui’s European Tour wins had come in alternative format events – one the Paul Lawrie Match Play; the other the Belgian Knockout – so some tenuous link to the fact that this isn’t a regular European Tour event could be drawn. 2nd at last month’s Scandinavian Mixed event won by Jonathan Caldwell does little to dismiss that chain of thought though, and if he were to win here this week then it wouldn’t take much to join the dots together.

Equally, the hop across from Scotland to Northern Ireland isn’t a large step, albeit the style of golf here this week is a little different to that at Fairmont St Andrews where the 28 year-old secured his most recent piece of silverware.

Course debut this week doesn’t suggest a massive hindrance given the history I detailed in the preamble above, however it’s some of the stats that Adrian has produced this season to date that marry up best with this week’s task. 21st for Driving Accuracy, 19th for SG Tee to Green and 24h for Scrambling are all pretty prominent relative to this field and all correspond nicely to the top performers here from last season’s Irish Open.

With Jon Rahm having to withdraw from the Olympics and leaving the national team a player short in Tokyo, Spanish golf fans will be looking for someone else to cheer on this week; after Nacho Elvira’s breakthrough last week, I suspect that Otaegui can shrug off last week’s missed cut – his first in 10 outings – and feed off of the positivity from his compatriots long-awaited success and contend here. RESULT: MC

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Oliver Farr 1pt EW 125/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

With 2 relatively short-priced players backed, I’ve looked a little further down the field to complete this week’s team. Richard Mansell, James Morrison and Jack Senior all came close to inclusion; however I’ll take a chance on two longer-priced players instead, starting with Oliver Farr.

The Welshman’s game is centred around accurate driving, which on last year’s evidence is no bad place to start – indeed he ranks 4th on Tour for Driving Accuracy, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ashley Chesters and David Drysdale who use a similar method of attack.

2 Europro Tour wins and 3 Challenge Tour wins would suggest that he has the ability to contend and potentially win at European Tour level and 3rd at last year’s Hero Open, 9th at the Scottish Championship and 14th at last week’s Cazoo Open would point us towards an event close to home as the most likely scene of any breakthrough.

23rd at the Irish Open contained 2nd and 4th rounds of 66 and 65 respectively which weren’t beaten by anyone else in the field on either day; a 3rd round 65 last week was also amongst the best on display at Celtic Manor and if he can put 3 or 4 good rounds together one week then he’s going to come close to breaking his duck at this level.

39th here at Galgorm last year was only really let down by a poor Saturday round of 76; outside of that, 70/70/69 was competitive in tough conditions and with his putter in a better place right now – 14th for SG Putting last week is a case in point – I can see him improving on that effort considerably here this week. RESULT: T11

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Shubhankar Sharma 1pt EW 125/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

Sometimes an unexpected low round can be a simple flash in the pan; after all, these players are all very capable as we saw from Nacho Elvira last week, who was seemingly in mediocre form (if we’re being polite) heading to Wales.

Other times it can be a sign of something ‘found’ on the range; the culmination of hard work finally paying off; or maybe, just maybe, even some contending form brewing. Shubhankar Sharma’s closing round of 63 last week could be any of those, however let’s give the round the credit it deserves and for a player who we know has the ability to convert at this level, I’m happy to speculate accordingly.

To be fair to the 25 year-old, it’s not the first sign of life that we’ve seen of late. A 2nd round 67 at the Irish Open was only a shot shy of the best round of the day and a 65/67 weekend at the Made in Himmerland at the end of May was good enough to catapult him up to 8th place overall and his first top-10 finish for over 18 months. An improvement in his approach game seems to be the catalyst for this improvement of late: 12th for SG Approach in Denmark followed 6th on the same count at The Belfry the week before. 4th on that metric again last week, despite doing most of the damage in the final round, is encouraging again ahead of this week.

Missing out on the Indian Olympic team will have been a disappointment to Sharma, as Udayan Mane secured the 2nd spot alongside Anirban Lahiri courtesy of some winning form the PGTI. Perhaps that will help galvanise the 2-time European Tour winner who finished 64th here last year at the Irish Open, after struggling to adjust to the post-lockdown protocols and restrictions that saw him miss 7 of his previous 9 cuts.

He seems a lot more content with things a year further on and, with a spark of form to encourage, I’m happy to take a chance on that progress continuing here this week. RESULT: T30

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:40BST 26.7.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.