Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Open de Espana Tips 2021

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A resurgent Danny Willett took the Dunhill Links title at a massive 100/1 last week, defying incoming form of MC/MC/71/MC to land his 8th European Tour title and his fourth consecutive win of some consequence, with The Masters, the DP World Tour Championship and the BMW PGA Championship his previous 3 successes. When it clicks, Danny can win anything it would seem.

For our part, Joakim Lagergren earned us a full each-way payout at 125/1 with his runner-up finish, and save for a few short putts missed on Sunday could have really threatened the eventual 18-under winning total.

We head to Spain this week for the start of a 3-week stint in the country, which will take us to Valderrama and Mallorca after we get the ball rolling in the capital, Madrid. Club de Campo is the venue this week, a club that hosted the Spanish Open 5 times in the 1990s with Rodger Davis, Eduardo Romero, Colin Montgomerie, Seve Ballesteros and Padraig Harrington all running out winners.

More recently, the Madrid track hosted the Turespana Masters in 2000, Open de Madrid 2001-05 and the Madrid Masters in 2008, with Padraig Harrington (again), Retief Goosen, Steen Tinning, Ricardo Gonzalez, Richard Sterne, Raphael Jacquelin and Charl Schwartzel taking home the trophies. After some significant updates since the event in 2008, this event was hosted here the last time it was played in 2019, with Jon Rahm running out a 5-stroke winner.

The world number 1 returns as defending champion this year and is looking to convert a hat-trick of Spanish Open titles into the bargain. A best priced 9/4 isn’t a bargain though and with some firms going as short as 2/1 about the home hero, we’re getting close to Tiger Woods territory from his heyday in terms of price. Bernd Wiesberger at 16/1 is the Spaniard’s nearest competitor according to the bookies, with the rest of the field at 33/1 or longer.

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Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, Spain. Designer: Javier Arana, 1956, with Manuel Pinero updates; Course Type: Tree-lined, Resort; Par: 71; Length: 7,112 yards; Fairways: Bermuda/Rye/Bent; Rough: Bermuda/Rye/Bent; Greens: Bentgrass/Poa.

Course Overview. The Club de Campo course is a 7,112 yard, par 71 designed by Javier Arana with subsequent modifications by Manuel Pinero.

Since it was used for the Madrid Masters in 2008, the layout was extended by 162 yards ahead of the 2019 Spanish Open with new tee boxes on around half of the holes to offer it a little protection against the modern golfer, however with winning scores of -19, -23 and -18 the last 3 times it was used and -22 for John Rahm’s victory here 2 years ago, birdies and eagles are still the order of the day.

An undulating, tree-lined course with relatively generous fairways, the main protection for the course is on and around the small bent/poa greens which are multi-tiered and reasonably tricky. Par-5s at the 4th, 7th and 14th measure 526, 564 and 536 yards respectively and all present eagle opportunities for those players who can find the fairway from off the tee.

The extended par-4 1st hole proved tricky last time we visited these parts as you’d expect from a 505-yard par-4, trumped only by the 210-yard par-3 11th which played toughest of the lot, however for the most part the holes are fairly straightforward in good golfing conditions.

open de espana tips

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Open de Espana that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event.

As noted above, this course only hosted this event in 2019 from the data listed: Current Form | Tournament 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. 2019: Jon Rahm, 10/3;2018: Jon Rahm, 4/1; 2016: Andrew Johnston, 100/1; 2015: James Morrison, 225/1; 2014: Miguel Angel Jimenez, 22/1; 2013: Raphael Jacquelin, 55/1; 2012: Francesco Molinari, 16/1; 2011: Thomas Aiken, 45/1; 2010: Alvaro Quiros, 18/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Madrid is here. Clear, almost windless conditions and temperatures reaching the mid-70s Fahrenheit should encourage another low-scoring event.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Looking at the final stats from the leading players in 2019 gives us an idea of the skill-set required for this week’s test:

  • 1st: Jon Rahm. (-22). 316 yards (1st), 78.6 % fairways (3rd), 73.6% greens in regulation (12th), 78.9% scrambling (3rd), 1.58 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2nd: Rafa Cabrera-Bello. (-17). 304 yards (16th), 76.8 % fairways (4th), 73.6% greens in regulation (12th), 89.5% scrambling (1st), 1.72 putts per GIR (29th).
  • 4th: Adri Arnaus.. (-13). 311 yards (7th), 60.7% fairways (33rd), 77.8% greens in regulation (1st), 56.3% scrambling (46th), 1.75 putts per GIR (39th).
  • 4th: JB Hansen. (-13). 293 yards (42nd), 62.5% fairways (26th), 72.2% greens in regulation (15th), 70.0% scrambling (14th), 1.69 putts per GIR (22nd).
  • 4th: Jeff Winther. (-13). 296 yards (29th), 67.9% fairways (13th), 76.4% greens in regulation (4th), 70.6% scrambling (13th), 1.71 putts per GIR (27th).

No skill stats were recorded for 3rd place finisher Samuel Del Val.

Prior to that, although this course hadn’t hosted the Spanish Open since 1996, we do have some tangible stats from the Madrid Masters and Open de Madrid held here:

  • 2008, Charl Schwartzel (-19). 296 yards (21st), 66.1% fairways (10th), 80.6% greens in regulation (2nd), 71.4% scrambling (6th), 1.76 putts per GIR (20th).
  • 2005, Raphael Jacquelin (-23). 293 yards (10th), 80.4% fairways (23rd), 70.8% greens in regulation (34th), 81.0% scrambling (10th), 1.59 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2004, Richard Sterne (-18). 306 yards (2nd), 58.9% fairways (61st), 73.6% greens in regulation (22nd), 73.7% scrambling (14th), 1.66 putts per GIR (5th).

A little power to help attack the par-5s looks the order of the day, especially with most holes having been extended slightly since the 2008 event.

Making eagles and birdies is the key component this week whilst keeping cards as clean as possible, however it’s on and around the greens where this event is likely to be won. Each of the winners listed ranked inside the top-14 for scrambling and that trend continues for most of the players who finished in the each-way positions for the 3 most recent renewals in particular.

Strokes Gained: From a Strokes Gained perspective, SG Tee to Green was the most consistent stat from the top 5 recorded finishers in 2019, with eventual winner Jon Rahm topping that statistic and runner-up Rafa Cabrera-Bello ranking 2nd:

  • 1st: Jon Rahm. T: 1st; A: 12th; T2G: 1st; ATG: 11th; P: 9th
  • 2nd: Rafa Cabrera-Bello. T: 7th; A: 4th; T2G: 2nd; ATG: 27th; P: 32nd
  • 4th: Adri Arnaus.. T: 5th; A: 38th; T2G: 10th; ATG: 14th; P: 27th
  • 4th: JB Hansen. T: 49th; A: 9th; T2G: 16th; ATG: 23rd; P: 15th
  • 4th: Jeff Winther. T: 20th; A: 19th; T2G: 18th; ATG: 37th; P: 11th

No SG stats were recorded for 3rd place finisher Samuel Del Val.

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

Incoming Form: Looking at the Spanish Open since 2010 at its various different venues, the incoming form of all eventual winners is solid for the most part.

Each player had recorded a top-10 finish or better in their previous 10 starts, however only Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jon Rahm (2018) came into the week with any immediate sparkling form having both finished 4th on their previous start at Augusta. Rahm’s successful defence in 2019 came off the back of a missed cut, although prior to that his form was strong:

  • 2019: Jon Rahm: MC/MC/3/2/1/11/7/3/5/13/2/MC
  • 2018: Jon Rahm: 15/MC/36/1/2/1/29/11/26/20/52/4
  • 2016: Andrew Johnston: MC/25/44/10/44/MC/22/71/4/45/MC/15
  • 2015: James Morrison: 4/15/6/46/MC/MC/MC/45/MC/70/MC/18
  • 2014: Miguel Angel Jimenez: 72/70/8/20/1/15/10/MC/MC/33/13/4
  • 2013: Raphael Jacquelin: 46/5/6/41/22/16/39/42/30/34/33/MC
  • 2012: Francesco Molinari: 10/23/33/11/16/8/69/16/17/13/17/19
  • 2011: Thomas Aiken: 13/5/14/14/3/MC/13/6/7/13/36/35
  • 2010: Alvaro Quiros: 16/MC/8/42/11/2/6/33/14/6/45/MC

Event Form. The nomadic nature of the Spanish Open renders most of the event form as background information only rather than anything tangible, especially seeing as the tracks vary quite considerably in style from year to year.

Prior to Jon Rahm winning in 2018, all other winners since 2010 had played at least one Spanish Open in the past, however their results in the event had been pretty varied to say the least:

  • 2019: Jon Rahm: 1
  • 2018: Jon Rahm: Debut
  • 2016: Andrew Johnston: MC
  • 2015: James Morrison: 2/36/32/21/38
  • 2014: Miguel Angel Jimenez: 45/16/26/2/MC/3/39/52/4/31/17/46/MC/MC
  • 2013: Raphael Jacquelin: MC/MC/MC/MC/8/8/MC/3/MC/65
  • 2012: Francesco Molinari: MC/16/11/27
  • 2011: Thomas Aiken: 47/MC
  • 2010: Alvaro Quiros: MC/39/MC/37/17

A scoreable, tree-lined test played in perfect golfing conditions should produce low-scoring and those players who can make eagles and birdies whilst keeping their card clean with a smart short game should be favoured.

My selections are as follows:

Nicolai Hojgaard 1.5pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Let’s talk about Jon Rahm first, because it’s a distinct possibility that the world number 1 mops up his third consecutive Spanish Open title this week and that the rest of the field are simply playing for the places.

The bookmakers undoubtedly see it that way, with 9/4 likely the best price we’ll see this week save for the odd outlier, and the type of favourite that we rarely see nowadays and haven’t done with any regularity since Tiger in his pomp.

The question this week is whether as a punter you think that Rahm can be beaten here; backing 9/4 shots in a full field (or near as dammit) doesn’t float my boat, however it’s a tough ask to build a counter-argument for opposing the defending champion, although I’ll have a go.

6 wins in regular European Tour events from 16 starts is an incredible strike rate, and one which marries up to the price that he’s being quoted at, however that means that on 10 occasions he’s not won and that offers a little hope.

The Ryder Cup was clearly on his mind when he missed the cut at the Fortinet Championship, and despite almost single-handedly carrying the European team for much of the 3 days at Whistling Straits, the defeat has got to sting. His first start following the 2018 Ryder Cup resulted in a 22nd place finish at the WGC HSBC Champions before finishing 4th at the Earth Course, so it’s fair to say he didn’t get straight back into his stride last time, although this is undoubtedly easier and he’s a whole lot better nowadays.

Rahm’s career form following a missed cut reads: 5/59/15/2/MC/10/36/63/5/17/43/MC/3/1/33/34 – so 1 win in 16 starts, although that one win did come here in this event the last time it was played.

Playing the ‘without Rahm’ markets that will appear later in the week may be a route some of you wish to take; personally I’ll opt for a smaller than normal team of each-way chances who could, at their very best, find a way to turn over the hot favourite.

First up then is Nicolai Hojgaard. The look of joy from both Rasmus and his triumphant twin at the Italian Open was great to see and it’s anyone’s guess as to how many trophies the Danish youngsters will rack up over the next few years. Seeing a Hojgaard or two on the teamsheet at the 2023 Ryder Cup is a distinct possibility and it’s increasingly clear to me that prices like this have to be taken while they’re still available.

In truth, despite that win last month, Rasmus is still ahead of his brother career-wise at 85th in the OWGR versus 153rd and with a 3-to-1 European Tour titles tally, however it wouldn’t surprise me to see that score level out sooner rather than later, particularly as Nicolai was always the one that commentators who’d observed their formative years felt would have marginally the more successful career.

While Rasmus tees it up in Las Vegas this week on a sponsor’s invite to the Shriners Children’s Open, Nicolai can get to work on redressing the balance this side of the Atlantic. 20th immediately after his Italian breakthrough on his Wentworth debut was an impressive enough response when many would have taken the week off mentally if not literally; 14th last week on his Dunhill Links debut was equally noteworthy in a quirky event and this should suit far better in more placid, free-scoring conditions.

Strokes Gained Tee to Green was the standout statistic from the 2019 event with the top two home ranking 1st and 2nd on that count, so 10th for the full season for Nicolai in that statistic is a great starting point. He topped that chart when winning in Rome, plus he led the SG Off the Tee stat too which marries in perfectly with Jon Rahm’s performance here two years ago.

The only blot in the copybook is that the 20 year-old missed the cut here 2 years ago on debut. Forgiving a then 18 year-old for that effort on what was just his 4th European Tour start at the time is easily done; instead with momentum and the exuberance of youth on his side, I can see him pushing the favourite all the way here. RESULT: T76

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Alexander Levy 1pt EW 80/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

So, if a young buck with recent winning form is one potential way for Rahm to get beaten this week, then perhaps the aggressive, swashbuckling style of Alex Levy is another angle to explore.

Unlike Hojgaard, I can offer some course form as the amiable Frenchman finished 15th here in 2019, improving considerably off the back of 4 straight Missed Cuts at the time to suggest that the course here in Madrid suits his eye and style of play. 1st for Greens in Regulation that week for Levy is the stat that counts in my opinion as when he’s on a track that he feels comfortably on with his approach play, the birdies can readily start flowing.

Flat tracks that encourage aggressive play are Alex’s strength: his first four wins on Tour all featured at least one round of 63 or lower to suggest that he’s most at home when momentum can be built around red numbers.

Stats-wise, it’s been interesting to see improvements of late in all long-game categories as he looks to put another win on the board after struggling with various ailments over the recent past, most notably a back injury which impacted his swing and aggressive style around the end of 2019. Back to his old self in terms of swing speed of late, 4 consecutive events of positive SG Off the Tee, SG Approach and SG Tee to Green numbers is impressive and during that time he recorded his best finish on Tour since his last win in 2018, finishing runner-up to Calum Hill at the Cazoo Classic courtesy of an impressive 66/64 weekend.

A missed cut last week at the Dunhill Links doesn’t overly concern me – indeed 2019 winner and runner-up Rahm and Cabrera-Bello both missed the final day at St Andrews 2 years ago – however a 5-under opening round at Carnoustie tells us that his underlying game is in pretty good shape, and this week should suit far better. RESULT: T12

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Alvaro Quiros 0.5pt EW 250/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Betfred

So we’ve got the exuberance of youth, and we’ve also got swashbuckling aggression; let’s add a little bit of enigma to the team in the shape of Alvaro Quiros to complete a tentative 3-against-Rahm approach.

Lengthy quotes about the Spaniard are justified I guess with just one win to his name in coming up for a decade, however he proved with that solitary success at the Rocco Forte Open in 2017 that when it all clicks he can still compete and I wonder if, at the age of just 38, there’s more wins in him yet.

At his best, the Cadiz native flirted with a spot in the World’s top 20, winning 6 times in a period stretching from 2006 to 2011 on a number of courses that hold some links to players who’ve featured here in Madrid. Defending champion Jon Rahm is twice a winner at the Earth Course; Quiros was successful there in 2011 when the event was the Dubai World Championship. 2019 runner-up Rafael Cabrera-Bello is, like Quiros, a Dubai Desert Classic winner, plus Rafa has finished runner-up at Vilamoura and Doha, 2 tracks which Alvaro has triumphed upon.

Going back to the Madrid Masters days, 2008 winner Charl Schwartzel and 3rd place Pablo Larrazabal are both Leopard Creek winners, as is Quiros, plus both have form at Vilamoura and Doha also. The South African also has 4 career top-5 finishes to his name at the Earth Course.

Then, of course, we also have tangible course form if we look past the missed cut in 2019. 4th on his other start here at Club de Campo in 2008 saw Quiros recover from an opening round of 74 to shoot 66, 66, 64 before following up with victory the very next week at Vilamoura.

8 weekends off to start 2021 was nothing to get excited about, however he’s slowly turned his game around and sat in handy halfway positions at the Hero Open and Cazoo Classic in August before finishing 16th and 35th respectively. Missed cuts in Italy and at Wentworth restored parity, however 27th at the Dunhill Links last week – his best effort on the Fife coast since his heady days of near-stardom – encourages me as he returns to home soil, more compatible conditions and a Spanish Open event that he’s already won. RESULT: T39

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