Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Porsche European Open Tips 2021

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A week to forget in Denmark, with Bernd Wiesberger retaining his title at Himmerland and my selections failing to make any kind of impression, so we move swiftly on to Germany in the hope of something a whole lot better.

I say swiftly, although that’s not strictly true as the impact of Covid protocols imposed by the German authorities means that this week’s event tees off on SATURDAY and is a 3-round, 54-hole affair that will end on Monday. Credit where it’s due though, it would have been a whole lot simpler to postpone this event, so the fact that we’ll have some golf this week is positive.

The European Open returned to the schedule in 2015 after a 6-year break, having formed an important part of the European Tour up until 2009; the event’s resurrection saw a new early autumn slot alongside a new home in Germany, having previously been played in the UK and Ireland at such venues as the London Club, The K Club, Sunningdale and Walton Heath to name but a few.

Those historical results from 2009 and before are little more than interesting facts now though with the event having shifted to Germany; a change in scheduling in 2017 as well as a new track also makes the results from 2015 and 2016 less relevant too as we return to the Green Eagle complex on the outskirts of Hamburg for the fourth time for this year’s renewal, however with a new May spot in the schedule.

Writing this on Monday, much may change between now and the first tee time on Saturday, however despite a whole host of field changes since the change in scheduling was announced, the headline acts – defending champion Paul Casey and Mexican star Abraham Ancer, who rank 21st and 17th respectively in the OWGR – are still scheduled to attend.

Casey rates as the bookies’ favourite at around the 6/1 mark, whereas Ancer is a couple of points longer, before we find the likes of last week’s winner Bernd Wiesberger and his compatriot Matthias Schwab, as well as Sam Horsfield, before the prices start to lengthen.

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Course Overview. Green Eagle Golf Courses is a collection of 42 holes spread across 3 courses in the ‘Lüneburger Heide’, a picturesque part of Germany on the outskirts of Hamburg.

The North Course is being used for this week’s event and the Michael Blesch design is a brute at 7,165 metres (7,836 yards) from its tips for its scorecard par of 73, however with 4 teeing areas on each of the holes there’s considerable flexibility as to how the course can be set up. This week’s layout will reportedly measure 7,544 yards and play to a par of 72, as it did in 2019 when this event was last played.

As you’d expect with a course of that length, the fairways are reasonably generous and the greens large and undulating so as to give players a chance of compiling some kind of score. Water is in play on all but one of the holes and an element of control is required to avoid paying the penalty for wild tee shots or approaches, however the reward for a safe navigation to the green is excellent quality putting surfaces.

3 of the 5 par-5s ranked amongst the easiest holes to play in 2019 with the 15th proving to be the easiest of the lot, however the 16th at 663 yards certainly proved to be no pushover and it played over par cumulatively for the 4 days. The short par-4s on the 1st and 7th holes also gave up an awful lot of birdies which reinforces the view that this is a strong risk/reward track.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s European Open. Please note, the 2017-2019 renewals only were held at this venue. Current Form | Event Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Stats.

Event Winners. 2019, Paul Casey (7/1); 2018: Richard McEvoy (125/1); 2017: Jordan Smith (40/1); 2016: Alex Levy (45/1); 2015: Thongchai Jaidee (55/1).

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

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Hamburg is here.

A warm and sunny start to the event on Saturday looks set to continue for the 3 days, with temperatures reaching the mid-70s Fahrenheit in the afternoons. Winds will be light to moderate, potentially reaching 10-15mph at times.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Looking back to the 3 events held here at Green Eagle, the eventual winners produced key stats as follows:

  • 2019, Paul Casey (-14). 293 yards (12th), 69.2% fairways (8th), 81.9% greens in regulation (2nd), 46.2% Scrambling (49th), 1.76 putts per GIR (24th)
  • 2018, Richard McEvoy (-11). 276 yards (62nd), 67.3% fairways (6th), 72.2% greens in regulation (8th), 55% Scrambling (8th), 1.67 putts per GIR (8th)
  • 2017, Jordan Smith (-13). 296 yards (3rd), 71.2% fairways (7th), 73.6% greens in regulation (15th), 63.2% Scrambling (7th), 1.74 putts per GIR (16th)

Three events played in differing conditions still led to similar winning scores over the 3 renewals held here at Green Eagle. The course played soft in 2017 following a lot of wet weather which effectively lengthened and widened the track, however to compensate the organisers moved a number of tee boxes forward to keep it relatively fair and Jordan Smith, who ranked 3rd for Driving Distance on the week, ultimately prevailed in a play-off against Alex Levy.

In 2018 it was much drier which brought some of the shorter hitters into the equation with no (recorded) player finishing inside the top 5 ranking in the top-50 for Driving Distance,  including eventual winner Richard McEvoy who averaged a full 20 yards less off the tee than Smith the year before.

Paul Casey’s win in 2019 came in mixed conditions with temperatures struggling to hit the mid-60s Fahrenheit, and although the average driving distance of the top-5 finishers increased over the years before, it still wasn’t an out-and-out slugfest. We still saw, however, the kind of tee-to-green control that both of our winners here had demonstrated to that point, with each of the top 5 finishers ranking inside the 17 most accurate drivers on the week.

Much of the length of this track comes from the 5 par-5s; however that’s not to say that they’re all a pushover. Looking at 2019, Matthias Schwab (2nd) and Niklas Lemke (9th) co-led the field for par-5 scoring at -10; despite there being 20 looks at the par-5s, these were the best scores on display on the week on the long holes.

Incoming Form: Before the venue switched to Green Eagle GC in 2017, the previous two winners, Thongchai Jaidee and Alex Levy, had both recorded top-7 finishes on their previous start.

With the scheduling for the next 2 years falling immediately after The Open, Jordan Smith hadn’t played at that Major, however prior to that he’d recorded 7 straight cuts made without finishing any better than 20th at the Irish Open, whereas Richard McEvoy had won the week before on the Challenge Tour’s Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge.

The last time this event was played it was in early September and Paul Casey triumphed having produced the 3rd-best 72-hole total at East Lake for the PGA Tour’s finale:

  • 2019, Paul Casey: 9/MC/4/29/WD/21/5/57/27/13/24/3
  • 2018, Richard McEvoy: MC/65/MC/MC/34/MC/15/MC/26/29/33/1
  • 2017, Jordan Smith: 29/17/8/14/MC/48/40/21/44/30/20/58
  • 2016, Alexander Levy: 2/63/14/4/28/34/WD/56/73/18/34/7
  • 2015, Thongchai Jaidee: 2/10/MC/MC/11/10/31/65/50/57/MC/5

In terms of course form, Paul Casey had finished 7th in 2018 before picking up the title a year later, whereas Richard McEvoy finished 28th on debut in 2017 where he led after the first round. Jordan Smith was making his competitive course debut in 2017, as were the rest of the field.

Boiling it all down, this is a long, challenging course that presents scoring opportunities to aggressive players, but plotters can equally contend. Despite having 5 par-5s and a couple of short par-4s, this course isn’t a complete birdie-fest with -14, -13 and -11 winning scores telling us that players will need to pick and choose when to attack this track.

With warm weather and a dry forecast, I would expect scoring to be towards the upper end of what we’ve seen from the 3 renewals held here.

My selections are as follows:

Jordan Smith 1.5pts EW 45/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

The top of the betting is dominated by Paul Casey and Abraham Ancer and between the headline pair they absorb a fair chunk of the market. Casey is the worthy favourite with course form of 7/1 and arriving off of another lofty Major Championship finish, this time 4th at Kiawah Island; Ancer on the other hand finished 8th in South Carolina and 14th last week at Colonial. Both are impossible to discount, despite the latter making his debut here at Green Eagle this week.

The scheduling upheaval adds slight question-marks to the chances of the favourites if you’re picking holes; both would prefer not to be playing here next Monday I’m sure and with this being a 54-hole affair, any sign of a slow start could result in a throttled-down ‘early’ exit on Sunday.

For me, this is an event to chance a handful of players a little further down the list and my eye is instantly drawn to the progress of former Green Eagle champion, Jordan Smith.

The Bath-born 28 year-old began a trend, if you can call 3 results a trend, of Englishmen prevailing here in Hamburg, with Richard McEvoy and Paul Casey following his lead after his 2017 success. He survived a short putt from play-off opponent Alex Levy which would have meant for an entirely different result that year and on the evidence of last week’s effort in Denmark he could go close to adding another European Open title to his tally here this week.

Progressive form of 56/33/17/3 suggests that Jordan is heading towards a peak and 1st for SG Off the Tee and 7th for SG Tee To Green last week would seem to be ideal preparation for this week’s task. He was also marginally Strokes Gained positive for putting, which is important for a player who is very dangerous if he’s converting anything approaching his fair share of putts.

A front row seat to Richard Bland’s breakthrough win at The Belfry from 7 groups back on Sunday should whet Smith’s appetite; a return to the scene of his one and only European Tour victory may well give him the positive vibes he needs to get over the line once again, and with a fast start almost certainly required, Jordan has led after the first round on 2 of his last 21 starts.

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Adrian Meronk 1.5pts EW 50/1 (6EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Golf has never been the sport of choice in Poland, however Adrian Meronk is doing an increasingly impressive job of bringing the game to his nation’s heart.

The 28 year-old – who was born here in Hamburg before moving back to Poland as a toddler – won the 2019 Open de Portugal when it was purely a Challenge Tour event, a result which was instrumental in him becoming the first Polish player to gain a European Tour card. Of course the next step would be to win on Tour and in that respect he’s undoubtedly getting closer.

Rounds of 65,66 and 71 at last November’s Alfred Dunhill Championship saw him lead until the final day when a disappointing 76 allowed Christiaan Bezuidenhout to take the title. 3rd at the Tenerife Open was promising, as was 3rd at The Belfry where he had a putt on the 72nd green to make the playoff. Overall he’s recorded a round of 66 or better in each of his last 5 starts and he closed out last week’s made In Himmerland with a round of 65 to climb to 31st place overall and provide some momentum as he returns to his birth town.

8th for SG Off the Tee for the season-to-date, including 4th on that count last week in Denmark, is no bad starting point for this week and 10th for par-5 scoring given the set-up here at Green Eagle which features 5 longer holes is also noteworthy.

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Daniel van Tonder 1pt EW 80/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

It was only 2 months ago that we saw Daniel van Tonder win his first European Tour title, defeating Jazz Janewattananond in play-off in Kenya; his price has already started to drift out to a backable level though, despite making the cut on his Major Championship debut at Kiawah Island on his last start, having sat in a handy position at the halfway point.

44th in South Carolina was no disgrace and the 30 year-old ranked 19th for Driving Accuracy, 4th for GIR and 2nd for SG Tee-to-Green to suggest that his game is in good enough shape to contend at this lower level. That tee-to-green performance was no fluke as he excelled on exactly the same metric when victorious in Kenya at the end of March and that bodes well for this week’s task.

As well as that breakthrough European Tour success, van Tonder also has 7 Sunshine Tour titles to his name – including 4 wins in a 6-event stretch last year – and he almost made that 8 last month when losing out in a 4-man play-off at the Limpopo Championship. He was the 4th-best putter in the field that week to remind us that he’s not lacking in that department either, and with the continuing trend of multiple post-lockdown winners on the European Tour, I can see the South African adding his name to that list in the very near future.

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Ross Fisher 1pt EW 100/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

A pair of longer-priced Englishmen to finish, given the success that the nation has enjoyed at Green Eagle on the 3 European Open renewals held here to date. All 3 of Jordan Smith, Richard McEvoy and Paul Casey would comfortably fall into the category of quality ball-strikers over putters and Ross Fisher is another that I wouldn’t hesitate in adding to a list of similar players.

After a slow start to 2021, a 56th place finish at the Tenerife Open was the first inkling we had that the Londoner’s game was heading in the right direction. 1st for Driving Accuracy, 5th for GIR and 2nd for Total Driving were the kind of numbers we used to expect from Fisher of old when he was racking up his 5 European Tour titles. 43rd to follow at The Belfry saw the 40 year-old rank 10th for SG Approach and he built on that further last week in Denmark on his way to an 8th place finish overall, fuelled by field rankings of 5th for both SG Approach and SG Tee to Green. A bogey-free 65 to close, punctuated by a beautiful birdie on the last, has got to give him confidence as he approaches this week’s task.

46th here on his only look at Green Eagle in 2019 came after having missed 4 of his previous 5 cuts and his form’s trending in a far more positive direction right now, plus his overall record in Germany is impressive, having notched 6 top-10 finishes in his last 13 starts in the country.

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Ashley Chesters 1pt EW 200/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

Finally I’ll take a chance on Fisher’s compatriot Ashley Chesters. Like Ross, the foundation of Ashley’s game is tee-to-green excellence and despite a relatively drab looking set of recent finishes, there are just about enough signs of life in his game to take a chance on him this week on a track where he’s shown some promise in the past.

7 paid weekends from 11 starts in 2011 have been powered by Driving Accuracy ranks of between 1st and 14th on each occasion, and when he found his range with the irons in the second Kenyan event, the Shrewsbury man recorded his seasons-best finish of 14th having sat in 8th place heading into the final day.

A missed cut last week in Denmark was disappointing, however there was a spark with the putter at The Belfry on the Bent/Poa greens on his outing before to offer some encouragement, and 6th for Strokes Gained putting that week was his best effort with the flat stick on that count since last August. A 2nd round 69 was amongst the better rounds on the day and, with a couple of 65s to his name in his earlier outings prior to that effort, I think there’s a little more form to the 31 year-old than meets the eye.

Ashley’s form here at Green Eagle is what seals the deal though for me. 8th on debut in 2017, where he led heading into the weekend, he followed that up with a 9th place finish the last time we played here in 2019, having missed the cut the year before. On both occasions he’s had positive weeks on the greens here, ranking 16th and then 3rd for putting average over those two efforts. Combine that history with a flash of form recently at Sutton Coldfield, as well as his normally dependable tee-to-green game, and we could see him threatening the each-way places here once again.

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:00 BST 31.5.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.