Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Omega European Masters Tips 2019

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With the PGA Tour taking a breather between seasons following Rory McIlroy’s impressive – and lucrative for him – win at East Lake on Sunday, all eyes will be on the European Tour this week as we make our annual pilgrimage to the Swiss Alps and the beautiful Crans-Sur-Sierre Golf Club.

The new FedEx Cup Champion committed to this event some weeks back in support of his sponsor Omega and he heads what can only be described as an excellent field for this event. The Northern Irishman tops the betting at 4/1 and undoubtedly has an outstanding chance based on last week’s effort and course form of 2/7/3 from the early days of his European Tour career – punters simply need to decide if Rory will have the energy both physically and mentally to contend here after last week’s exertions.

Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who goes for the three-peat here, rates as an 8/1 chance this week, and Open Championship runner-up Tommy Fleetwood sits just behind him at 12/1 at the time of writing. Add to that trio the likes of Matt Wallace, Sergio Garcia, Eddie Pepperell, Bernd Wiesberger, Alex Noren, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett, plus American raider Rory Sabbatini and last week’s winner Erik Van Rooyen, who proved all the doubters – including me – wrong by producing an excellent final round to deservedly get over the line in Sweden.

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Crans-Sur-Sierre GC, Crans Montana, Switzerland. Designer: Fremantle and Gedge, 1908 with Ballesteros re-design 1999; Par: 70; Length: 6,848 yards; Fairways: Poa/Rye; Rough: Poa/Rye; Greens: Bent/Poa, 10’6″ on the stimp.

Course Overview. This quirky, sub-7,000 yard, par 70 is played at altitude in the Swiss Alps. The course is a tree-lined, undulating test with tiny bent/poa greens guarded by bunkers and run-off areas which have been toughened up following tweaks completed before the last few renewals. Four of the par-4s measure less than 400 yards whereas two stretch over 500 yards, plus there are five par-3s between 175 and 235 yards, however with the undulation changes and altitude the holes don’t necessarily play as the card suggests.

The front-9 contains three of the sub-400 yard par-4s from the stretch from the 5th to 7th, however it’s the final hole of that trio that presents the best opportunity for the brave who take on the green, with 208 birdies and 10 eagles recorded there 12 months ago. Back-to-back reachable par-5s at the 14th and 15th reaped over 400 birdies and 33 eagles last year and taking advantage of these scoring holes whilst navigating safely around the remainder of the course is how the more aggressive types might prevail.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Omega European Masters that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.

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

Winners & Prices. 2018: Matthew Fitzpatrick, 12/1; 2017: Matthew Fitzpatrick, 30/1; 2016: Alexander Noren, 18/1; 2015: Danny Willett, 16/1; 2014: David Lipsky, 125/1; 2013: Thomas Bjorn, 40/1; 2012, Richie Ramsay, 80/1; 2011; Thomas Bjorn, 55/1; 2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez, 18/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Crans Montana is here. A mixture of sunshine and showers this week with a chance of rain each of the four tournament days. Temperatures will be pleasant enough in the high 60s Fahrenheit and winds will be light throughout.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the last 9 winners at Crans gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:

  • 2018, Matt Fitzpatrick (-17). 278 yards (63rd), 71.2% fairways (1st), 77.8% greens in regulation (2nd), 37.5% scrambling (25th), 1.68 putts per GIR (8th)
  • 2017, Matt Fitzpatrick (-14). 296 yards (44th), 66.7% fairways (16th), 74.1% greens in regulation (13th), 78.6% scrambling (2nd), 1.65 putts per GIR (8th)
  • 2016, Alex Noren (-17). 301 yards (39th), 51.9% fairways (49th), 70.8% greens in regulation (26th), 95.2% scrambling (1st), 1.73 putts per GIR (23rd)
  • 2015, Danny Willett (-17). 308 yards (15th), 55.8% fairways (55th), 77.8% greens in regulation (2nd), 56.3% scrambling (35th), 1.68 putts per GIR (15th).
  • 2014, David Lipsky (-18). 298 yards (39th), 75.0% fairways (3rd), 83.3% greens in regulation (2nd), 75.0% scrambling (2nd), 1.72 putts per GIR (31st).
  • 2013, Thomas Bjorn (-20). 313 yards (29th), 65.4% fairways (24th), 72.2% greens in regulation (17th), 90.0% scrambling (1st), 1.64 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2012, Richie Ramsay (-16). 275 yards (58th), 66.7% fairways (20th), 81.9% greens in regulation (1st), 54.5% scrambling (46th), 1.71 putts per GIR (20th).
  • 2011, Thomas Bjorn (-20). 303 yards (24th), 82.7% fairways (1st), 80.6% greens in regulation (1st), 50.0% scrambling (51st), 1.69 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 2010, Miguel Angel Jimenez (-21). 308 yards (18th), 73.1% fairways (5th), 66.7% greens in regulation (32nd), 75.0% scrambling (6th), 1.54 putts per GIR (2nd).

Historically there have been 2 differing approaches to success here at Crans – either playing a conservative, high GIR game and putting well enough on the week to get the job done (Els 2003, Dredge 2006, Luquin 2008, Noren 2009, Bjorn 2011, Ramsay 2012, Bjorn 2013, Lipsky 2014, Willett 2015 and Fitzpatrick last year succeeded in this fashion); alternatively relying on an outstanding short game is the other route to victory as ably demonstrated by Karlsson (2002), Donald (2004), Rumford (2007), Jimenez (2010) and Noren (2016). Only Garcia in 2005 and Fitzpatrick in 2017 really displayed a more balanced pattern of stats on the week, however both are excellent ball-strikers first and foremost.

Incoming Form: 6 of the last 9 winners here arrived with a top-7 finish recorded in their previous event and all had a top-10 finish in their last 10 starts at the very least, so some solid recent form looks preferable. All winners had also recorded a minimum of one top-3 finish in the season or, in the case of Noren, Bjorn and Jimenez, a victory on Tour:

  • 2018, Matt Fitzpatrick: 30/12/27/MC/14/MC/48/MC/36/7
  • 2017, Matt Fitzpatrick: 12/2/35/MC/54/MC/44/50/MC/54
  • 2016, Alex Noren: 9/MC/43/12/MC/8/1/46/49/2
  • 2015, Danny Willett: 29/MC/38/3/MC/38/6/MC/MC/6
  • 2014, David Lipsky: 18/10/MC/58/2/15/19/24
  • 2013, Thomas Bjorn: 4/2/2/18/8/MC/73/MC/MC/58
  • 2012, Richie Ramsay: 52/2/16/MC/MC/16/MC/MC/MC/6
  • 2011, Thomas Bjorn: 15/MC/WD/MC/57/MC/4/68/MC/1
  • 2010, Miguel Angel Jimenez: 8/MC/49/1/MC/27/22/MC/7/3

Event Form (1996 Onwards): A positive record on this track is generally a good sign given its quirky nature and this is the type of event that tends to see a similar set of players feature year-in, year-out, however both David Lipsky and Richie Ramsay arrived here with patchy course form at best so it’s certainly not the be-all and end-all:

  • 2018, Matt Fitzpatrick: MC/2/7/1
  • 2017, Matt Fitzpatrick: MC/2/7
  • 2016, Alex Noren: 66/MC/1/MC/9/27
  • 2015, Danny Willett: 23/42/25/2/26/5
  • 2014, David Lipsky: 59/MC
  • 2013, Thomas Bjorn: 8/MC/30/2/2/WD/23/26/MC/15/1/MC
  • 2012, Richie Ramsay: MC/MC/34
  • 2011, Thomas Bjorn: 8/MC/30/2/2/WD/23/26/MC/15
  • 2010, Miguel Angel Jimenez: 8/55/7/6/21/46/63/8/2/13/37/MC/3/4

Those with either a high GIR game or excellent short game can succeed here, however it’s clear that despite its length this course favours neither the longer nor shorter hitters. Whilst the eventual champions in recent times haven’t been exceptionally long drivers of the golf ball, that fact could have had an entirely different spin on it had Scott Hend converted either of his play-off chances in 2016 and 2017, or if Lucas Bjerregaard had overcome Matt Fitzpatrick last year, and with the likes of Pelle Edberg (2015) and Brooks Koepka (2014) also contending in the recent past, it’s clear that this isn’t necessarily a course that fits a single style of play.

My selections are as follows:

Bernd Wiesberger 2pts EW 33/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

The top of this week’s market looks a minefield with Rory McIlroy quite rightly the clear favourite. Rory’s not played the European Masters since 2011, however in the 3 times that he’s graced this event with his presence he’s finished 2nd, 7th and 3rd. Not too shabby, then there’s the fact that at 2nd in the OWGR he’s clearly the highest ranked player in attendance, plus of course there’s the small matter of $15m burning a hole in his back pocket after last week’s exploits in Atlanta. Even though he’s here to satisfy his sponsors Omega first and foremost, it would surprise nobody if he were to win, however at 4/1 I simply can’t get involved given how much winning the FedEx Cup may have taken out of him.

Matt Fitzpatrick will have his backers and save for Erik Van Rooyen pulling out the kind of Sunday performance that many thought was beyond him last week in Gothenburg, he’d be arriving here on the back of another win as he seeks his hat-trick of Crans titles. Defending is never easy though and should he win at a paltry 8/1 then he’ll be joining a small and very elite club who’ve won the same event 3 years in succession.

Like Rory, Tommy Fleetwood has had a gruelling run of events with 3 back-to-back Playoff events following quickly after The Open and FedEx St Jude; again I’m happy to look past him in the betting, headlining this week’s team with the resurgent Bernd Wiesberger.

I noted in the preamble that GIR has been one of the key stats of recent winners here and few have been striking their iron as consistently well as the Austrian this season, ranking as he does in 5th place for Greens hit. That’s nothing new or unusual for the 33 year-old, however where he’s stepped up a gear this year has been with the putter and that makes a player like him very dangerous wherever he plays. His Made In Denmark win – his first success for over 2 years – came with a field-leading putting average of 1.60 and he followed that up with another victory in July, this time at the Scottish Open where he overcame Benjamin Hebert in a playoff, again with a strong putting performance and that might just be the missing ingredient that pushes him back into a contending position here in the Swiss Alps.

6 attempts at this event have yielded 4 cuts made and a best finish of 6th back in 2012; whilst he’s generally got on OK with the track from tee-to-green, that year was the only time he’d putted well around these parts. With the flat stick working better and more consistently than ever right now, I can see Bernd contending for that 3rd title of the season and one which would cement his position in the World’s top 50 for 2020. Result: MC

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Andrew Johnston 1pt EW 80/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Life as a professional golfer isn’t always as glamorous and exciting as it may appear as we’ve seen recently by the emotional interviews from James Morrison and Andrew Johnston. Clearly talking openly and honestly about their challenges on and off the course is a strong step in the self-medication process and already in Beef we’ve seen a player who’s back playing some excellent golf with a smile on his face.

A fast-finishing 4th at the Scottish Open marked something of a turnaround for the 30 year-old after a series of lacklustre performances and pre-event withdrawals was put into context with his post-round interview. After a month off following an Open Championship missed cut, he’s seemingly come back in good shape both physically and mentally as he powered to an impressive top-10 finish last week in Sweden courtesy of a 63/65 weekend that was tied with the best on show, including eventual winner Erik Van Rooyen. 6-under for the par-4s was the critical element last week for Beef and making birdie on the closing 530 yard par-5 each day bodes well given the similar dimensions for this week’s scoring holes here at Crans.

Generally neat and tidy from tee-to-green when he’s on his game, it was his scrambling that really shone last week as he made just 4 bogeys and a double over the 4 days and got up and down nigh on three-quarters of the time, which will undoubtedly help around these parts when greens are missed. 3rd here in 2016 offers further encouragement when he opened and closed with rounds of 65 when still fresh from a summer break, and with things seemingly moving in the right direction for the Londoner, I’m happy to back him for another lofty finish here in the mountains. Result: T23

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Aaron Rai 1pt EW 100/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

There were a number of players who finished last week’s Scandinavian Invitation off on a high and could carry some momentum through to this week. Andrew Johnston was one who I’ve duly backed, whereas Marcus Kinhult was another who narrowly missed my final team, however I’m sticking to my guns with Aaron Rai who I backed in the Czech Republic recently. I remarked on that week’s podcast that Rai should enjoy this week’s test at Crans if he’s showing some form, and a closing round of 65 at Hills G&CC last week is enough encouragement for me to get involved.

We’ve already concluded that there are a number of ways to succeed around these parts – straight hitting is certainly one of the more favoured angles of attack and few hit it straighter than the 24 year-old. 7th for both Driving Accuracy and GIR on the European Tour for the season-to-date tells us all we need to know about the way that Aaron approaches the game and that straight hitting, which should keep him out of the worst of the trouble here at Crans, has been evident in each of his last 3 starts where he’s ranked 3rd for Driving Accuracy, included in which was a 12th place finish at the WGC FedEx St Jude in elite company.

The Wolverhampton man’s only start here came last year when he missed the cut by a couple of strokes, however it’s worth noting that an opening 67 had put him inside the top 10 after the first 18 holes. Of more consequence perhaps is the fact that Rai’s maiden European Tour title, which came at the start of this wraparound season, came at Fanling which is another short, quirky track which produces a number of course links including the likes of Miguel Angel Jimenez, who’s won on both tracks, and at the other end of the spectrum Scott Hend, who’s won in Hong Kong and has come within a play-off of winning here twice. Result: MC

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Dean Burmester 1pt EW 175/1 (5EW, ¼) with bet365

For a player who resides so far down the betting, there’s plenty to like abut the chances of Dean Burmester here at Crans this week. I noted in the preamble that 6 of the last 9 winners of this had recorded a top-7 finish in their previous outing, so the South African’s 3rd place finish last week in Sweden is a big tick in that box and puts him in a fairly small shortlist of players if that trend were to continue this week. That effort also checks the top-3 finish or better in the season stat that each of the last 9 winners here had achieved, a feat that he’d already accomplished earlier in the year on the Sunshine Tour’s Dimension Data Pro-Am.

Success here at Crans has been achieved in the main by players with a neat and tidy game as opposed to brute power, which might go some way as to explaining the bookmakers’ stance this week on Dean, however had the playoffs from the past 3 seasons gone the other way then we could be looking at a recent winners list that reads Scott Hend, Scott Hend (again) and Lucas Bjerregaard which would paint an entirely different picture and have punters scrambling to see who sits atop of the Driving Distance charts for the season. Burmester currently sits 5th on that count.

A course form line of 30/MC is perhaps the most obvious negative that you can attribute to the 30 year-old this week, however even then there are positives that can be drawn from that as he sat in 3rd position heading into Sunday in 2017 before limping home in 73 strokes. With his game in good shape, a field-leading 62 from last Saturday fresh in his mind, and the game to score heavily on the short par-4s and reachable par-5s, if one of the lesser-fancied bombers is going to feature it could well be Burmester. Result: MC

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Ashun Wu 1pt EW 150/1 (5EW, ¼) with bet365

Finally I’m going to play another long price who’s not getting the respect he deserves from the bookmakers this week. Ashun Wu obliged for us just under a year ago at a 3-figure price on another sub-7,000 yard layout in Holland, and this week’s assignment looks like another great chance for the Chinese star who makes up for his lack of punch from off the tee with an accurate long game and solid short game that could be just the ticket this week.

That win at the KLM Open last year was Wu’s 3rd European Tour title and 5th success as a professional overall, however he’s one of those players who always tends to be a little less popular with bookmakers and punters alike. He’d finished 6th here at Crans the week before completing that hat-trick of successes yet despite that and some tangible course form, he was still priced at 125/1. Almost 12 months on and we’re in a similar, if not more attractive situation with a longer price on offer and I’m happy to play ball.

Aside from that 6th place finish here in the Alps last year, the 34 year-old also has a 9th place finish to his name here, achieved on debut the year before, and any kind of progression with that trend will see each-way backers rewarded. 20th last week after a poor run of form since finishing 5th in China back in May doesn’t tell the whole story as Wu sat in 2nd place heading into the weekend after a Friday 64 and he maintained that position heading into the final day before eventually dropping back with a closing 72. Nevertheless, we’ve seen before that when he’s in the mix, Sunday rounds can certainly go his way and having acclimatised himself to the top end of the leaderboard last week, I for one won’t be surprised to see him make a better fist of it this week if he’s in a similar position come Sunday Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:15BST 26.8.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.