Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Portugal Masters Tips 2019

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Unfortunately we couldn’t match Steve Bamford’s effort last week with his headline selection Justin Thomas easing home in South Korea, despite a promising start from 60/1 shot Ryan Fox who co-led after the first day before falling away. Marcus Kinhult was our best chance heading into Sunday and after making his way into the each-way places following an excellent 3-under front 9, he sadly added yet another double-bogey to his tally – his third in 2 days, plus a triple bogey on Friday – which essentially took him out of the equation.

This week we search for something better as we return to the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course for the 12th consecutive year for the Portugal Masters – a slight change in name to the course over the years shouldn’t put punters off as this is the same event being held on the same Arnold Palmer track as we’ve seen on the European Tour circuit since the tournament began. The course has undergone some renovations since we were last here though in an attempt to toughen it up a little, so it will be fascinating to see how that plays out this week here at Vilamoura.

With the big-money Zozo Championship taking centre stage in Japan this week and other elite players taking a breather before next week’s WGC HSBC Champions, the field here is fairly weak. Matt Wallace heads the betting at 11/1 at the time of writing from Martin Kaymer, Eddie Pepperell, Lucas Bjerregaard, Tom Lewis and Adri Arnaus, all of whom rate as 22/1 shots or shorter. The real narrative this week though will be that this is the final regular season event on the European Tour, meaning that those who need to jump a few spots in the Race To Dubai in order to secure their cards for next year will need to be 100% focussed on their game.

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Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, Vilamoura, Portugal. Designer: Arnold Palmer, 2004; Course Type: Resort; Par: 71; Length: 7,191 yards; Fairways: Bermuda; Rough: Bermuda; Greens: L93 Bentgrass/Poa; Stimp: 10.5ft.

Course Overview. The Victoria course tends to be set up to suit the more aggressive players who can handle the fast, undulating bent/poa greens, however a premium still remains on finding the vast majority of greens in regulation to be in position to make a decent enough score to contend on Sunday afternoon.

The slightly extended 7,191 yard, par 71 Arnold Palmer design is pretty flat and exposed with water in play on 7 holes and a number of strategically-placed fairway bunkers to contend with; historically it’s not been overly difficult by today’s standards and a score of 18-under par or better has been required to be in with a sniff coming down the stretch.

The addition of some new trees since we last visited this part of the Algarve is intended to prevent the bombers from cutting corners on a number of holes, plus a new strain of Bermuda rough has been used to help the course become more water-efficient, however the course hasn’t changed fundamentally and with good weather forecast I’d be surprised if it massively changes the task at hand.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Portugal 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 | 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. 2018: Tom Lewis, 50/1; 2017: Lucas Bjerregaard, 66/1; 2016: Padraig Harrington, 100/1; 2015: Andy Sullivan, 50/1; 2014: Alexander Levy, 70/1; 2013: David Lynn, 80/1; 2012: Shane Lowry, 66/1; 2011: Tom Lewis, 100/1; 2010: Richard Green, 50/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Vilamoura is here. A settled four days are expected with dry and largely sunny weather and temperatures reaching the high 60s Fahrenheit in the afternoons. The breeze will be generally a light to moderate 5-15mph, plus it does tend to pick up a little in the afternoon here which often isn’t always evident from the forecast.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

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

  • 2018, Tom Lewis (-22). 311.4 yards (12th), 41.1% fairways (69th), 76.4% greens in regulation (23rd), 41.2% scrambling (66th), 1.62 putts per GIR (5th)
  • 2017, Lucas Bjerregaard (-20). 339.1 yards (4th), 60.7% fairways (16th), 81.9% greens in regulation (4th), 53.8% scrambling (33rd), 1.61 putts per GIR (1st)
  • 2016, Padraig Harrington (-23). 301.5 yards (25th), 51.8% fairways (49th), 69.4% greens in regulation (67th), 81.8% scrambling (2nd), 1.54 putts per GIR (1st)
  • 2015, Andy Sullivan (-23). 310.6 yards (11th), 71.4% fairways (9th), 81.9% greens in regulation (5th), 100% scrambling (1st), 1.66 putts per GIR (4th)
  • 2014, Alex Levy (-18). 281.3 yards (40th), 71.4% fairways (11th), 77.8% greens in regulation (46th), 100% scrambling (1st), 1.46 putts per GIR (1st)
  • 2013, David Lynn (-18). 268.9 yards (67th), 42.9% fairways (70th), 77.8% greens in regulation (20th), 87.5% scrambling (2nd), 1.64 putts per GIR (7th)
  • 2012, Shane Lowry (-14). 302.3 yards (15th), 66.1% fairways (13th), 75.0% greens in regulation (13th), 55.6% scrambling (40th), 1.65 putts per GIR (1st)
  • 2011, Tom Lewis (-21). 309.5 yards (4th), 58.9% fairways (40th), 86.1% greens in regulation (4th), 80.0% scrambling (2nd), 1.74 putts per GIR (33rd)
  • 2010, Richard Green (-18). 281.3 yards (43rd), 71.4% fairways (14th), 83.3% greens in regulation (11th), 41.7% scrambling (59th), 1.72 putts per GIR (20th)

In lower-scoring years the winner has generally dominated on the par 4s. Lewis was -11 for the par 4s last year, Bjerregaard was -9, Harrington was -14, Sullivan was -13, Levy was -11 over two rounds, Lynn -10, Lewis -7 and Green -9.

With winners like Lynn and Green in the past 9 years, long hitters don’t seemingly hold all the cards here at Vilamoura, instead finding a high number of greens in regulation and performing fantastically on and around the greens seems to be the way forward – although I’d still err a little on the side of power personally.

Incoming Form: 6 of the past 9 winners here had recorded a win (Lewis, Sullivan, Levy) or a runner-up finish (Lynn, Lowry, Green) of some descriptions in that season to date, so had been clearly knocking at the door at various points that year; even Harrington with his pretty non-descript incoming form had finished 13th at the US PGA Championship which was a few levels higher than this:

  • 2018, Tom Lewis: 30/MC/26/10/47/MC/3/29/6/65/1/3
  • 2017, Lucas Bjerregaard: MC/62/7/59/MC/MC/61/MC/17/28/43/9
  • 2016, Padraig Harrington: MC/MC/9/30/21/36/13/64/21/MC/MC/63
  • 2015, Andy Sullivan: 17/6/13/MC/6/62/30/MC/MC/18/MC/46
  • 2014, Alex Levy: 57/12/25/MC/12/35/21/58/30/67/MC/25
  • 2013, David Lynn: MC/MC/MC/17/MC/53/22/MC/19/MC/23/MC
  • 2012, Shane Lowry: 68/WD/MC/MC/51/17/11/2/49/MC/13/34
  • 2011, Tom Lewis: 59/30/10/70
  • 2010, Richard Green: 47/WD/2/MC/32/41/14/5/MC/11/8/29

Event Form: Overly positive form at the Victoria doesn’t look absolutely essential despite Tom Lewis having won this twice, both Padraig Harrington and David Lynn having recorded a 3rd place finish prior to their success and Lucas Bjerregaard arriving with consecutive top-12 finishes here.

Alex Levy and Tom Lewis (the first time around) were both playing here competitively for the first time when they won, and the other 3 winners since 2010 had hardly set the world alight on their previous attempts before lifting the trophy:

  • 2018, Tom Lewis: 1/49/38/58/MC/29/39
  • 2017, Lucas Bjerregaard: 47/9/12
  • 2016, Padraig Harrington: 3/16/16/47/31
  • 2015, Andy Sullivan: 37/46/47
  • 2014, Alex Levy: Debut
  • 2013, David Lynn: 40/14/41/WD/3/MC
  • 2012, Shane Lowry: 30/54/16
  • 2011, Tom Lewis: Debut
  • 2010, Richard Green: 42

Despite the recent changes, this Arnold Palmer design is a resort course first and foremost with wide fairways to encourage the longer hitters to attack.

It’s interesting to note though that both Richard Green and David Lynn aren’t the most aggressive of players and both have prevailed here since 2010, so it’s clear that there’s more than one way to succeed around here. However, in general, I’d favour the more aggressive types who can attack through a combination of strong Total Driving performance coupled with a good week on and around the greens.

There’ll undoubtedly be a lot of focus on those players who are scrapping for their European Tour lives this week and typically 1 or 2 manage to pull the rabbit from the hat when it matters the most, which translates to a fascinating sub-plot for the event. Whether that will impact the eventual winner remains to be seen, however bearing in mind a player’s position on the Race To Dubai is more important this week than others.

My selections are as follows:

Matt Wallace 4pts Win 11/1 with bet365

Although I’m not generally one to side with favourites, I’m going to make an exception here this week with Matt Wallace who I think is the most likely winner by a fair stretch. As each season draws to a close, it’s notable that short-priced winners tend to oblige with more regularity in events both side of the Atlantic – Justin Thomas was a case in point last week – and rather than fight that assertion, I’ll support a player who’s still got plenty to play for this year.

Winless in 2019 isn’t a stat that the Hillingdon man will want to keep for much longer and, to be fair, he’s come very close to adding a 5th European Tour title this year without quite getting over the line. 2nd at both the Dubai Desert Classic and British Masters, plus 3rd at both the KLM Open and US PGA Championship for his best career Major finish, tell us that he’s been knocking loudly on the door these past few months without quite managing to get the job done.

Observers of golf will be polarised by a player like Wallace whose passion and focus can sometimes spill over and he’s cut a frustrated figure at times, however a developing partnership with new caddie Jonathan Smart looks more positive and recent results of 3rd in Holland where he shot a 3rd round 63, 41st at Wentworth where he led after day 1, 15th at the Dunhill Links where he was -11 for the par-4s on the week, and 7th at the Italian Open where he had a live chance heading into the back 9 on Sunday, each have their positives for him to take away.

It’s due to the 29 year-old’s contending performances this year that he finds himself in 5th position on the Race To Dubai and in with a chance of making up some ground on those ahead of him this week, as he attempts to achieve one of his stated goals for the season of sitting on top of the pile as the players jet away from Dubai in a month’s time. Perhaps without the pressure of an elite (or semi-elite) field alongside him this week, he’ll be able to play with a little more freedom and pull away from what is otherwise a pretty average quality field.

Matt’s record in Portugal is strong – he won his first European Tour event in the country a couple of years ago with us on board and he was 2nd after day 1 and 4th heading into the weekend here at Vilamoura last year before fading away. Wallace leads par-4 scoring relative to the field here this week, and this week’s predictor no.1 selection found some strong form with his irons on his last start in Italy, ranking 6th for GIR overall on the week. Result: T8

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Shubhankar Sharma 1pt EW 60/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

If anyone’s going to break the recent trend of 50/1+ winners here at Vilamoura this week then I suspect it will be Wallace, however if that’s not the case then a player of the quality of Shubhankar Sharma could well be the type who lifts this trophy. Twice a European Tour winner at the tender age of just 23 and with a WGC top-10 in elite company also on his CV, there have been significant signs of improvement in his game in recent weeks to encourage an each-way investment here.

Course debutants have won 2 of the last 8 renewals of the Portugal Masters and the Indian’s lack of course experience isn’t seen as a huge disadvantage this week while he’s striking his irons so well. The Victoria isn’t an overly taxing or ‘tricked up’ layout and having ranked 4th and 3rd for GIR in Italy and France on his last 2 outings respectively, I suspect he’ll hit the ground running here. Finishes of 17th at Wentworth and 7th Rome in far stronger company than this in recent weeks both rank amongst his highest OWGR-reaping results outside of his wins, and his upturn in form has clearly encouraged him for the remainder of what’s left of this season judging by his comments on twitter of late.

After the occasional foray onto the PGA Tour and a failed attempt to secure his card via the Korn Ferry Finals, a return to playing at European Tour level seems to have settled him down significantly. At 80th on the Race to Dubai it’s only going to take one decent week and he’ll be able to start booking his seat on the plane to the Tour’s big money events that will conclude the 2018/19 season over the next few weeks. Result: T21

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Alexander Levy 1pt EW 66/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Still within that Portugal Masters ‘sweet spot’ of 50/1 to 100/1, Tour maidens Nino Bertasio and Kalle Samooja both came close to selection this week, however my kneejerk reaction to this event a couple of weeks ago was to back Alexander Levy here and at the price on offer for a former Vilamoura winner I’m happy to stick to my guns this week.

It’s been a frustrating season for the 29 year-old who suffered some back issues after finishing a promising 5th at the Saudi International and his form has struggled to pick up fully as he’s nursed himself back to full health and, critically for him, full speed with his swing.

14 missed cuts this year in total have been interspersed with the odd glimmer of hope including 18th at the Czech Masters followed by 5th at the Scandinavian Invitation, however it was his 15th place finish at the Spanish Open at the start of the month which really caught my eye. A field-leading 77.8% GIR on the week on a course not best suited to his game was more than noteworthy and I’m happy to disregard his mid-division finish in Italy and missed cut at Le Golf National, as this week’s test on the sunny Algarve is far more likely to suit.

We’ve seen from his career to date that the Frenchman has favourite tracks and locations – his record in China for instance is outstanding – so as a previous winner here at the Victoria, perhaps he can rekindle some of his best form. That win here back in 2014 came in weather-shortened conditions, however it still takes some going to shoot 63/61 around this course and his nearest challenger that week, Nicolas Colsaerts, will have sent Levy a timely reminder of what’s possible after winning last week.

With an exemption in his back pocket courtesy of last year’s Trophee Hassan II success rendering his current race to Dubai position of 122nd as immaterial, it’s more about desire to succeed than necessity this week, however we saw with Colsaerts last week that a win could catapult Levy from nowhere straight into the top-60 which would materially change his plans for the next month. Result: MC

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Justin Walters 1pt EW 125/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

With so many big golf performances comes a storyline that goes some way to explaining why a player suddenly finds top form. 6 years ago Justin Walters arrived here in Portugal a couple of weeks after the death of his mother and went on to secure his card in emotional fashion on the 18th green on Sunday, eventually finishing 2nd to David Lynn courtesy of a 40-foot par save.

Fast forward to the present day and sadly the 38 year-old finds himself in a near identical situation having recently lost his father and sitting at 121st on the Race to Dubai with only this week left to secure his playing privileges. We’ve seen a few emotional interviews with the South African over the past few weeks, however it appears to have given him a level of freedom with his game which could just see something of a repeat performance here this week at Vilamoura when push comes to shove.

63 to open at St Andrews at the end of September was the first sign that his game was improving and although he couldn’t continue that effort for 4 days, he did subsequently finish 10th at the Italian Open courtesy of a closing round of 65 before opening with 67 last week in France before fading away.

It will undoubtedly be tough for him this week with his playing rights on the line, however if he can dig deep like he did back in 2013 then he may well find a way to produce the kind of 4 days that will earn him his card for next year and reward each-way backers. Result: T2

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:10BST 21.10.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.