Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Olympic Men’s Golf Tips

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After a year’s delay, the Olympic men’s golf tournament finally takes place this week on the outskirts of Japan. 59 qualifiers will battle for the medals over 4 days of strokeplay, however from a betting perspective we’re looking at regular each-way terms, albeit generally a little less generous than normal due to the short field.

Early odds for the event were decimated over the weekend as firstly Bryson DeChambeau, then Jon Rahm, withdrew having both picked up Covid. Rahm was a best-priced 5/1 favourite before he pulled out, which meant a circa 20% reduction in most prices and leaves the new Open Champions, Collin Morikawa, as the 7/1 favourite. Xander Schauffele is a couple of points longer in places and the quality doesn’t dissipate quickly with Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland and Hideki Matsuyama all in attendance also.

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Course Overview. The East Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club is a classical, tree-lined affair that’s been revamped by Tom and Logan Fazio in preparation for the Olympics.

With almost 500 yards added to the original East Course, the layout can now stretch to 7,466 yards for its par of 71 and features modern bunkering and green complexes to cater for the elite golfer. Putting surfaces have been re-laid with 007 DSB Creeping Bentgrass to allow for the traditional Japanese dual green system to be circumvented for the Games.

Fairways are quite generous in general although the rough has been grown in a little for the event; seriously wayward shots will still find tree trouble though and an element of control should be required.

The fairways and rough are Zoysia grass; that gives us another angle to study for this week as we see this agronomy on occasions in the southern states of the United States – it isn’t the most popular of fairway grasses with many players stating that the quirky grass promotes flyers.

TPC Craig Ranch and before that Trinity Forest for the AT&T Byron Nelson, TPC Southwind (WGC-St Jude Invitational & FedEx St Jude Classic) and East Lake (Tour Championship) all feature Zoysia fairways. These fairways also featured at the 2011 PGA Championship hosted at Atlanta Athletic Club and at Bellerive Country Club which hosted the 2018 PGA Championship.

olympic men's golf tips

Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Tom Fazio designs include:

  • Atunyote GC – Turning Stone Championship 2007-10
  • Corales GC – Corales Championship 2018 onwards
  • Eagle Point – Wells Fargo Championship 2017
  • Raptor Course Greyhawk GC – Fry’s.com Open 2008/09
  • Congaree GC – Palmetto Championship 2021

Fazio has also had re-design input into:

  • Conway Farms GC- BMW Championship 2013, 2015 & 2017
  • Quail Hollow – Wells Fargo Championship (all bar 2017)
  • Seaside Course at Sea Island – RSM Classic
  • Riviera Country Club – Genesis Open 2009 onwards

Tournament Stats. With only 9 players from the 2016 Olympic Games involved this year, those results have been added to the combined stats page only for this week: Current 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. 2016: Justin Rose, 12/1

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

Hot and sticky conditions are expected through the 4 days of tournament play with temperatures peaking in the low-90s Fahrenheit each day. Winds will be light at 5-10mph, although there’s the possibility of thunderstorms at various points and there’s an early hint that winds might just pick up on Sunday for the later starters.

Trends & Key Factors.

We need to go all the way back to the 2006 Japan Open for any kind of tentative view of how this track may play. Back then, Paul Sheehan’s 7-under winning total was good enough for a 3 stroke victory on the neighbouring West Course.

  • 1st Paul Sheehan: 58.9% fairways (11th), 69.4% greens in regulation (6th), 68.2% scrambling (4th), 1.78 putts per GIR (22nd).
  • 2nd Azuma Yano: 51.8% fairways (34th), 55.6% greens in regulation (48th), 68.8% scrambling (3rd), 1.65 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 3rd Katsumasa Miyamoto: 51.8% fairways (34th), 66.7% greens in regulation (8th), 54.2% scrambling (20th), 1.79 putts per GIR (27th).
  • 3rd Takuya Taniguchi: 60.7% fairways (7th), 73.6% greens in regulation (2nd), 52.6% scrambling (24th), 1.88 putts per GIR (61st).

The point that stands out is that accuracy and GIR stats are low across the board which suggests that fairways were tight, greens were small and hard to hit and players who missed greens needed a strong short game.

Digging into the scoring from that event a little further, it’s fair to say that the Par-3s played tough: the field of 120 players were a combined 350 over on the short holes. Similarly, the Par-4s also proved difficult, totalling a combined +671:

  • 1st Paul Sheehan: Par 3, +2 ; Par 4, -4 ; Par 5, -5; Birdies/Better, 14 ; Bogeys/Worse, 7.
  • 2nd Azuma Yano: Par 3, -1; Par 4, Even; Par 5, -3; Birdies/Better, 15; Bogeys/Worse, 10.
  • 3rd Katsumasa Miyamoto: Par 3, -1; Par 4, +2; Par 5, -4; Birdies/Better, 15; Bogeys/Worse, 11.
  • 3rd Takuya Taniguchi: Par 3, +2; Par 4, -2; Par 5, -3; Birdies/Better, 12; Bogeys/Worse, 10.

Birdie conversion was in short supply here 15 years ago which would imply that a patient approach is favoured around these parts.

Slightly more recently, the West course also hosted the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship which was won by an 18 year-old Hideki Matsuyama. The final leaderboard is here.

Although the Masters Champion won at 15-under, only 11 players in the field were under par and I suspect that the setup wouldn’t have been as stringent as the Japan Open from 4 years prior. Again this suggests that the course was no pushover.

Now of course the Olympic tournament is being played on the revamped East Course, so all of this may well prove to be inconsequential. Playing the West as it was would have pointed towards a Valderrama-style test with its small greens and tough scoring, however the lengthening and modernisation of the track pushes it more towards a PGA Tour-style venue such as Quail Hollow potentially, or maybe Firestone, or dare I say it even Augusta National.

Incoming Form: The incoming form of the top 5 plus ties from the last Olympic Men’s golf tournament is below. Every one of the players who finished in those positions had at least one top-5 finish in their previous 12 starts, so some semblance of contending form in the season-to-date looks to be positive.

Eventual winner Justin Rose had a season’s best finish of 3rd at the Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour, plus had finished in a tie for 22nd on his previous two starts at the Open Championship and US PGA Championship:

  • 1st: Justin Rose:16/17/9/28/10/MC/3/19/MC/46/22/22
  • 2nd: Henrik Stenson: 11/3/2/24/MC/MC/4/WD/1/13/1/7/2
  • 3rd: Matt Kuchar: 9/42/3/3/6/4/46/3/46/9/MC/17
  • 4th: Thomas Pieters: MC/3/76/28/26/MC/27/DQ/16/29/30/86
  • 5th: Kiradech Aphibarnrat: 18/15/65/MC/MC/60/MC/5/53/MC/MC/66
  • 5th: Marcus Fraser: 1/15/60/51/51/2/MC/MC/21/38/MC/73
  • 5th: Rafael Cabrera-Bello: 4/17/16/MC/8/22/52/32/4/21/39/49

Overall, I can’t help thinking that this Olympic competition would have been far more interesting had it been played on the West Course as it was rather than the revamped East; certainly a tougher, tighter test with smaller greens would have helped to narrow the field, but it appears we won’t get that this week on the Fazios’ updated East.

Instead of accurate, grinding types I suspect that this will appeal to more modern golfers who enjoy the aesthetics of a tree-lined track without constantly finding themselves in tree trouble. Regular rainfall should keep the greens soft enough and the additional year since the Games were originally planned should have allowed the putting surfaces to bed in a little more than they would have 12 months ago, allowing them to be a little more receptive.

My selections are as follows:

Justin Thomas 4pts EW 10/1 (7EW, 1/5) with William Hill

The Olympics, and winning Olympic Gold, evidently means more to some players than others. With a plethora of excuses and explanations allowing a whole host of top-level golfers to pass on the chance to represent their respective countries in Tokyo, alongside a few Covid-related omissions, we’ve finally got to a field of 59, one short of the target number with Jon Rahm’s place not being replaced following his late withdrawal.

For the likes of Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim, the reward for success is preservation of their golf careers for 2 years that will otherwise be spent in military service; for others it’s a patriotic, almost romantic desire to stand on the podium and receive a gold medal with their national anthem ringing in their ears.

Justin Rose talked about how the Olympics were a personal target of his from a long way out prior to winning in Rio 5 years ago. Being part of the wider Team GB, embracing the athlete’s lifestyle for the Games, and rubbing shoulders with world-class performers from a whole myriad of disciplines captured his imagination and ultimately helped spur him on to success.

The Englishman was a 12/1 shot back then, winning from 11/2 favourite Henrik Stenson, as the cream rose to the top over the 4 days, despite Marcus Fraser threatening to produce an upset before eventually running out of steam. In a similar price range I’m backing Justin Thomas who strikes me as a player with a comparable mindset and approach to Rose, and one who is clearly capable of performing at the top level with a Major Championship to his name and having fleetingly reached the summit of the World Rankings back in 2018.

Like Rose back in the day, Thomas has targeted this event for a long time now, stating that there was absolutely no scenario that would mean he’d miss the Games while others were dropping like flies. The 28 year-old is excited and honoured to be representing the USA alongside compatriots Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed in what looks to be an ominously good team, and my preference goes to Justin whose game might just be back on track after struggling with the flat stick for a while following his win at TPC Sawgrass back in March.

Since that Players Championship success, Justin’s long game has been excellent and had he found any kind of form on the greens he’d have likely followed up with another victory by now. 1st for SG Off the Tee, SG Approach and SG Tee to Green at the Valpsar Championship was a case in point, and he wasn’t far off those numbers at The Memorial either, despite finishing down the field in 42nd.

19th at the US Open might have been the turning point though as he gained over 5 strokes on the greens and he talked about how much better he was putting when finishing 8th in Scotland for his Open Championship warm-up, despite taking a little while to adapt to the speed of the greens, or lack of as it were. More long game excellence prevailed that week and although Royal St George’s didn’t quite go to plan, finishing 40th, I suspect that this layout in Japan will be much more to his liking.

Twice a winner in Kuala Lumpur for the CIMB Classic as well as having won the CJ Cup twice on Jeju Island, Thomas has tended to hit the ground running when venturing East. He’s comfortable in the kind of heat we can expect this week and also on the grasses being used, having won 4 times on Bentgrass greens on the PGA Tour as well as having triumphed on the Zoysia fairways at TPC Southwind this time last year, where he ranked 2nd for SG Approach and 1st for SG Tee to Green where others struggled in that respect.

I expect Thomas to be right in the mix this week on a track that should play to his strengths, and given the extremely generous each-way terms for such a short field, I’ve decided to back him each-way with 7 places available. RESULT: T22

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Shane Lowry 2pts EW 22/1 (7EW, 1/5) with William Hill

The cancellation of the 2020 Open Championship meant that Shane Lowry kept the Claret Jug for a full year longer than he could have anticipated, however now that Collin Morikawa has taken over that privilege I wonder if we’ll see a return to some of the Irishman’s best form.

Talking of Morikawa, the victor of St George’s has been installed as the bookies’ favourite following the unfortunate withdrawal of Jon Rahm who’s yet again tested positive for Covid. Whether the immensely talented 24 year-old can immediately raise his game and win Olympic Gold after being crowned Champion Golfer of the Year is debatable, however I’d put nothing past him as he continues to break records. He’s mighty short in the betting though at around 7/1 and is one I’ll tentatively pass on given I’ve already put a number of my eggs in Justin Thomas’s basket.

Actually, other than Thomas, I struggled at the top of the market which led to Lowry as my only other relatively short selection. Xander Schauffele struggles to get over the line too much for someone who’s second favourite to win this, despite his penchant for no-cut affairs, and Rory McIlroy’s work under Pete Cowen is still clearly in progress, as is evidenced by a form line of 59/MC/46 since the US Open. Viktor Hovland holds a little more appeal than Hideki Matsuyama who’s got the weight of home expectation to deal with as well the unknowns following a relatively prolonged absence following a positive Covid test, despite winning form on this property in the past.

Lowry though makes more appeal after two winless years following his Royal Portrush triumph, and with the weight now lifted from his shoulders and a Ryder Cup debut a distinct possibility, I can see a strong couple of months coming from the 34 year-old.

9th at The Heritage, 4th at the US PGA Championship and 6th at The Memorial all came in a period when he was largely struggling with the putter from a Strokes Gained Perspective. No SG stats were captured on his 12th place finish when defending at Royal St George’s, however 17th in the field for putting average is a positive sign and when you combine that with 4th for Driving Accuracy and 5th for GIR on the Kent coastline, we’ve got some pretty compelling numbers.

On the subject of the Olympics, Lowry said after The Open, “Obviously, it’s a huge honour for me to go and represent my country at the Olympics. It’s something I never thought I’d do, but now I get to go and do it. I’m going with one goal and one ambition, and that’s to bring a medal back to Ireland. That’s the only reason I’m going. I’m not going there on my holidays. I’m going there to win a medal, and that’s kind of the way I look at it. I feel like I’m playing some good golf going into it. Who knows?”

Tree-lined tracks with Bentgrass greens would point to Wentworth from a European Tour perspective, where Lowry has an excellent record with 4 top-6 finishes to his name. 6th at TPC Southwind last year also encourages from a Zoysia perspective – he was 6th for SG Tee to Green that week – and I can see the Irishman getting to grips with this layout quickly and efficiently. RESULT: T22

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Mackenzie Hughes 1pt EW 66/1 (7EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Finally, a slightly longer price in what’s just a 3-pronged approach for me on this event. Mackenzie Hughes made new ground at The Open a week or so ago, finishing in 6th place and recording the best finish of a Canadian in golf’s oldest Major whilst also recording a big personal best on golf’s elite stage, and I wonder if there’s more to come this week when representing his nation.

Aside from that effort in Kent, there’s been plenty to like about his game in recent times, after missing every cut in May. 15th at the US Open doesn’t tell the whole story as he sat in 1st place heading into Sunday before shooting 77; he started brightly the following week at the Travelers Championship with a 67 before fading, then reversed that feat the following week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, closing with a 67/68 weekend for a tie for 14th. An opening 66 at Royal St George’s was followed up by 3 more rounds in the 60s and he should be heading to Japan in fine spirits.

The 30 year-old’s sole PGA Tour victory came at a Fazio re-design back in 2016 at Sea Island and a pair of top-3 finishes at the Corales Championship on his last 2 attempts rubber-stamps his liking for tracks that Tom’s had a hand in, one way or another.

7th at East Lake was a useful outing on Zoysia fairways and he sat 2nd after the first day at TPC Southwind in 2018 before having a nightmare 2nd round to miss the cut. Perhaps more relevant though, if at a lower level, was his breakthrough on the Web.com Tour at the time in 2016 at the Price Cutter Charity Championship which is held on the Highland Springs track in Missouri which features the same combination of Zoysia fairways and Bentgrass greens.

I think he’ll like what he sees course-wise in Tokyo and he’s approaching the Games in positive fashion, “I’m excited. I feel like just thinking about myself, I do think I have a strong chance, and I’ll go over there believing that I have a chance to win,” he said in interview after his effort in England last time out. RESULT: 50th

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:05 BST 26.7.21 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.