Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Kenya Savannah Classic Tips

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It’s the quickest of turnarounds this week as we stay at the Karen Country Club for the Kenya Savannah Classic which starts in the early hours of TUESDAY morning GMT, so be wary of this start time if you’re getting involved in this event.

Understandably it’s almost entirely the same field playing as last week, with only Kalle Samooja, Joachim B Hansen, Benjamin Hebert, Haotong Li and Justin Walters from the top 100 players in last week’s betting not sticking around for a second week.

With a virtually identical field on the same course comes a very similar betting market, with last week’s runner-up Kurt Kitayama heading the field at around 14/1 from Sunday’s winner Justin Harding (16/1). Most players who put in a decent shift last week have been cut in the betting, as you might expect, given that we have precious little else to differentiate odds from last week except for how a player fared over the course of the 4 days.

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Karen CC. Designer: Remy Martin, 1937; Course Type: Classical; Par: 71; Length: 6,921 yards; Water Hazards: 8; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu mix; Greens: Bentgrass, 12’5″ on the stimp.

Course Overview. Karen CC hosted the Kenya Open on the Challenge Tour between 2004-2008 and 2013-2016, plus it also played host to the Karen Masters on the Sunshine Tour in 2018 and 2019, as well as being the venue for Magical Kenya Open when it made its debut on Tour in 2019.

Winning scores have ranged from -10 to -26 over this time, however the course will play as a par-71 this week with the 3rd playing as a long par-4, so superficially the scoring could appear to be a little tougher than some of the 2nd tier events. Guido Migliozzi’s total when triumphing here 2 years ago was -16 on that par-71 format, and Justin Harding reached 21-under on Sunday.

The 6,921 yard layout, which sits 10 miles outside of Nairobi, is classical in style with tree-lined holes and relatively narrow fairways, however the trees aren’t tight to the fairways in general and this is more Italian Open style than Valderrama in terms of playability. The small, undulating greens were re-laid with Bentgrass in 2015, replacing the tired Bermudagrass putting surfaces, and 6 years down the road they will play true and fast with stimp speeds expected to get to over 12 this week.

As well as reducing the par to 71 for this event back in 2019, the routing was also changed since the Challenge Tour events which made for an exciting event. In particular the stretch from holes 6-12 was very scoreable, starting with a 552 yard par-5 and ending with back-to-back par-5s, with four sub-400 yard par-4s wedged in-between.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Kenya Savannah Classic that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well on this course. Stats also include last year’s Karen Masters and last week’s Kenya Open: Current Form | Course 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.

Course Winners. Magical Kenya Open 2021, Justin Harding, 33/1; Karen Masters, 2019: Toto Thimba Jr; Magic Kenya Open, 2019: Guido Migliozzi, 200/1; Karen Masters, 2018: Michael Palmer; Kenya Open, 2016: Sebastian Soderberg; 2015: Haydn Porteous; 2014: Jake Roos; 2013: Jordi Garcia-Pinto; 2008: Iain Pyman; 2007: Edoardo Molinari; 2006: Johan Axgren; 2005: Daniel Vancsik; 2004: Marc Cayeux.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Nairobi region is here.

It looks like a repeat performance of last week with sunny conditions and temperatures reaching the low-80s Fahrenheit each day. The breeze will pick up to around 15mph each afternoon so the best scoring conditions may well be in the morning.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysis the winners for the last 4 events held here at Karen CC gives us a little insight into the requirements for this week’s task:

  • 2021 Magical Kenya Open: Justin Harding. 300.6 yards (44th), 44.6% fairways (30th), 70.8% greens in regulation (23rd), 76.2% scrambling (8th), 1.62 putts per GIR (10th).
  • 2019 Karen Masters: Toto Thimba Jr. 308.3 Yards (12th), 53.6% fairways (12th), 75.0% greens in regulation (8th), 72.2% scrambling (3rd), 1.54 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2019 Kenya Open: Guido Migliozzi. 308.1 Yards (30th), 42.9% fairways (33rd), 69.5% greens in regulation (5th), 68.2% scrambling (11th), 1.66 putts per GIR (17th).
  • 2018 Karen Masters: Michael Palmer. 46.4% fairways (21st), 81.9% greens in regulation (1st), 61.5% scrambling (14th), 1.73 putts per GIR (18th).

The first thing you’ll notice from the stats above is that driving accuracy figures are low, however GIR figures are still reasonably high, and this follows for those who also contended for each of the titles as well as the eventual winners.

Hitting fairways is tough here, however the penalty for missing the straight and narrow isn’t huge and players who are comfortable at finding greens from off of the fairways should prosper.

Maximising GIR is key then from wherever drives land, and in scoreable conditions taking advantage of the par 5s is also critical. Michael Palmer (-13) and Toto Thimba (-14) both scored heavily on the par 5s and even Guido Migliozzi (-8) was amongst the best for Par-5 scoring on the week on the revised par 71 setup 2 years ago, whereas Justin Harding shot -10 for the long holes last week.

Incoming Form. A seriously mixed bag in terms of incoming form for all winners here at Karen CC going back to 2004. Guido Migliozzi’s recent form was poor, although he had won on the Alps Tour 8 starts prior, whereas Michael Palmer had missed 8 cuts on the trot before winning here in 2018. Justin Harding’s best finish of 2021 before last week’s victory was 27th and he arrived off the back of a missed cut in Qatar the week before:

  • 2021: Justin Harding: 30/38/MC/48/62/27/41/MC
  • 2019: Toto Thimba Jr: MC/138/MC/MC/60/22/2/31
  • 2019: Guido Migliozzi: 1/MC/MC/56/MC/MC/63/MC
  • 2018: Michael Palmer: MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC
  • 2016: Sebastian Soderberg: 42/3/15/40/20/40/4/23
  • 2015: Haydn Porteous: 26/35/MC/MC/24/MC/MC/25
  • 2014: Jake Roos: 36/MC/MC/23/MC/MC/35/15
  • 2013: Jordi Garcia-Pinto: 65/WD/31/25/3/MC/MC/62
  • 2008: Iain Pyman: 11/7/18/21/MC/MC/14/MC
  • 2007: Edoardo Molinari: MC/66/MC/49/8/1/7/MC
  • 2006: Johan Axgren: 4/63/MC/13/10/4/1/25
  • 2005: Daniel Vancsik: MC/WD/58/MC/40/31/3
  • 2004: Marc Cayeux: MC/MC/14/45/5/15/7/8

Course Form. Going all the way back to 2004, course form here at Karen CC has been pretty inconsequential for the eventual winner, with the exception of last week’s winner Justin Harding who had finished 2nd here on his previous attempt in 2019.

  • 2021: Justin Harding: 18/2
  • 2019: Toto Thimba Jr: 46
  • 2019: Guido Migliozzi: Debut
  • 2018: Michael Palmer: 19
  • 2016: Sebastian Soderberg: MC
  • 2015: Haydn Porteous: 48
  • 2014: Jake Roos: Debut
  • 2013: Jordi Garcia-Pinto: Debut
  • 2008: Iain Pyman: MC/49
  • 2007: Edoardo Molinari: Debut
  • 2006: Johan Axgren: 36
  • 2005: Daniel Vancsik: 50
  • 2004: Marc Cayeux: Debut

Current and course form give us few clues in truth, so any combination of in/out of form players and course experienced/debutants could feature. Those comfortable attacking pins from off the fairways could be a key factor, so to that end I’m not getting hung up on driving accuracy this week, however finding more than a fair share of greens looks favourable, as does par-5 scoring.

Having had the benefit of last week’s, albeit stunted, coverage to help shape our views for this week, the question really is how much did last week’s result change our assertions from this time a week ago? The narrative can be developed from a number of angles this week: momentum from fast-finishing players, those who impressed statistically without getting into the mix, those how produced the odd low round or two, or even those who missed the cut and therefore have the benefit of a longer break between events.

Whether to keep faith in last week’s selections or to take a completely fresh look will be many a punter’s dilemma this week with the dreaded weekafteritis a distinct possibility for many, however for what it’s worth I’m keeping faith with 2 of last week’s team and replacing the other 2 as follows:

John Catlin 1.5pts EW 70/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

If last week’s event taught us anything, it was that a strong tee-to-green and approach game can prevail here at Karen CC. Winner Justin Harding ranked 6th for SG Approach and 2nd for SG Tee-to-Green; runner up Kurt Kitayama was 9th and 1st on the same two counts, whereas 3rd place Connor Syme was 1st and 14th. All 3 were solid on the dancefloor without being spectacular and if there’s one player who finished slightly below the radar with the scope to match those metrics it’s John Catlin.

The reason that the American finished 28th was that his putting performance didn’t match his tee-to-green excellence here last week: 2nd for SG Approach and 7th for SG Tee-to-Green is very much in keeping with the top performers last week, however losing 4 strokes on the greens doesn’t work. Progressive rounds of 71/69/69/65 offers some encouragement though that his game was improving through last week, and his best putting day came on Sunday’s final round to provide some momentum into this week.

Now it’s no surprise to see the 30 year-old up in the higher echelons of long game performance, particularly after seeing him excel in those areas when capturing the Andalucia Masters and Irish Open titles last year. Both times though he was strokes gained positive for his putting and if he can do the same this week then I’d expect a good jump in his finishing position and the potential to contend this time around.

Of course those 2 successes last autumn were on tough-scoring tracks which would make it easy to pigeon-hole Catlin as a difficult conditions expert, flying in the face of what we saw last week where 21-under prevailed, however I suspect there’s a little more to his game than meets the eye from those two wins alone. 7 further career wins on the Asian and Thailand Tours have come at 11-under, 15-under, 16-under (3 times), 22-under and 25-under to suggest there’s a little more versatility to his game than pure grinding.

Last week was the first real sign of life in his game after a low-key spell following his victories last year, however with a 25th place finish preceding his breakthrough win at Valderrama last year, perhaps last week’s effort is worthy of note. RESULT: MC

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Gaganjeet Bhullar 1.5pts EW 66/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

The decision whether to stick or twist from last week’s bets is going to be a dilemma for all punters this week. With virtually the same field, in virtually the same condition – on the same course that offers little scope for differentiation from last week’s setup – are the decisions that failed to bear fruit made this time week going to bite you on the backside this time around?

All unknowns of course, however I’m happy to stick with Gaganjeet Bhullar for a second week after a 6-under final round gave him a 16th place finish on Sunday.

Having opened up with a 5-under round of 66, it was disappointing to see the 32 year-old tread water for two days before his final 18 holes, however having finished 2nd the week before in Qatar I guess it could be argued that another big effort immediately afterwards would have taken a lot more than he had to offer.

5th here in 2019 compliments his effort last week nicely and although his metrics were generally average last week, he did produce both his best putting performance on Sunday as well his best GIR figures to offer the hope of some momentum heading into this week.

At his best, last week’s 21-under total isn’t an issue – indeed we saw him win the PGTI Tour Championship in December on 24-under for what was his 20th career victory. With his price nibbled a little less than some others, I’m happy to stay put for another week with the Indian. RESULT: T42

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Ondrej Lieser 1pt EW 125/1 (5EW, 1/4) with 888Sport

Another player who I’m giving a second chance to is Ondrej Leiser.

The Czech’s debut as a fully-fledged European Tour cardholder wasn’t without incident, despite finishing in a mid-table 33rd position overall. A 3-under Friday squeezed the 29 year-old the right side of the cut line, however it wasn’t until his final round that the fireworks started. A closing round of 64 was beaten by just one player on the day – Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez – the highlight of which was an Albatross on the par-5 6th hole on Sunday, which was flanked by 3 successive birdies.

Impressive stuff and although that effort on the 6th may have flattered his score a little, it’s got to instil some confidence and encouragement into his game moving into this week.

I talked last week about how Ondrej had won 4 of his last 27 starts before last week’s effort, 2 of which came back-to-back on the Challenge Tour at the end of last year, and I’m expecting to see a lot more from the Czech star at the right end of leaderboards over the next few months as he finds his feet at this level. RESULT: T30

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Garrick Porteous 1pt EW 200/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

Finally I’m going to take a chance on one of the weekend’s eye-catchers at a deeper price, Garrick Porteous.

16th last week was fuelled by a 67/66 weekend, with his 133 total from the final 2 days beaten by just a handful of higher-profile players. That was a big personal best here at Karen CC for Porteous, having played it a couple of times previously on the Challenge Tour, and should offer him some encouragement coming into this week, particular as he gained strokes in every aspect of his game last week and ranked 6th for Total Driving and 3rd for Ball-Striking into the bargain.

After winning the 2013 Amateur Championship, the Englishman gained entries to The Masters and Open Championship before turning professional and his sole career victor was impressive enough, defeating the field by a full strokes on 24-under at the 2014 Prague Golf Challenge.

Some of the Colchester man’s best golf has come on the African continent with a pair of top-15 finishes at Leopard Creek over the years, plus he has a couple of top-15 finishes at the Albatross course in Czech Republic which, like here, requires a little adjustment for altitude.

Most notably though, the 31 year-old finished 4th last autumn at the Scottish Championship behind Adrian Oteagui, impressing throughout before dropping too many shots coming home on Sunday to get close enough to the lead. RESULT: T38

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 12:00GMT 22.3.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.