Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Saudi International Tips

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A tougher than anticipated setup put paid to the chances of many of the fancied players last week and sadly my final hope Sergio Garcia couldn’t find the weekend performance that would have lifted him into a contending position. A far more straightforward affair is expect this week though as we head back to Saudi Arabia for the second Saudi International.

The final leg of this opening Middle-East swing takes us to the banks of the Red Sea and the recently opened Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), the largest privately-funded new city in the world. We’ll head back to the region at the end of February and early March for the Oman Open and the Qatar Masters, however for now this controversial event concludes our time in the Gulf.

Despite the well-documented political and human rights issues in the country, it’s clear that money talks in golf and the $3.5m prize fund has undoubtedly been eclipsed by the appearance fees that have attracted the likes of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and three past Masters Champions Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia. That investment has created an excellent field though and an intriguing betting market with plenty of long prices driven as a result of these headline names.

Before we go into more detail around my Saudi International tips, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as we head towards The Masters. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

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Saudi International Tips – Featured Bookmaker: betfair

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Course Overview. The course at Royal Greens G&CC was opened in 2017 and is the handiwork of Dave Sampson of European Golf Design. A short, coastal par 72 for the members has been tweaked for the European Tour with the par-5s on the 9th and 13th holes being converted to long par-4s to create a 7,010 yard par-70 for this week’s event.

Carved from the Saudi Arabian desert landscape, the course is built around 4 lakes with some holes playing towards and alongside the Red Sea itself. As well as the water, native desert areas and waste areas await the errant as well as ‘wadi’ drainage ditches.

With some dog-leg holes too, the course demands an element of strategy, however with it being so short its main defence, as is often the case with coastal tracks, is the prevailing wind which isn’t forecast to be particularly strong this week. The course uses Royal Dynasty paspalum grass throughout which, combined with the relatively light winds expected, should encourage some good scoring this week.

saudi international tips

Tournament Stats. Last year was the inaugural Saudi International, so results from 12 months ago have been added to the combined stats here: Combi Stats

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 KAEC is here. The tournament should enjoy warm (low 80s Fahrenheit) and dry conditions throughout the 4 days. Winds will be generally light and variable throughout with the breeze peaking at around 10-15mph.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the leading finishers at last year’s inaugural Saudi International gives us a little insight into the requirements for this week’s test:

  • 2nd: Haotong Li (-17). 324.9 yards (4th), 58.9% fairways (35th), 61.1% greens in regulation (59th), 78.6% scrambling (3rd), 1.56 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 3rd: Tom Lewis (-16). 318.6 yards (10th), 51.8% fairways (46th), 77.8% greens in regulation (6th), 75% scrambling (5th), 1.69 putts per GIR (10th).
  • 4th: Minwoo Lee (-15). 334.5 yards (1st), 51.8% fairways (46th), 72.2% greens in regulation (26th), 70% scrambling (9th), 1.67 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 5th: Alexander Levy (-14). 314.9 yards (13th), 60.7% fairways (29th), 69.5% greens in regulation (40th), 68.2% scrambling (12th), 1.64 putts per GIR (2nd).

Sadly no stats were captured by the organisers for the eventual winner Dustin Johnson, however the style of his game isn’t open for debate and the remainder of the top-5 followed a similar shape of game to his.

Length off the tee clearly helped last year, despite the relatively short course here, with those players willing to risk an attacking style ultimately being rewarded. Greens in regulation was secondary to a sharp short game and excellent week on the putting surfaces 12 months ago.

Par 3/4/5 Split:

  • 1st: Dustin Johnson: Par 3: -3; Par 4: -10; Par 5: -6
  • 2nd: Haotong Li: Par 3: -2; Par 4: -10; Par 5: -5
  • 3rd: Tom Lewis: Par 3: -1; Par 4: -13; Par 5: -2
  • 4th: Minwoo Lee: Par 3: -1; Par 4: -7; Par 5: -7
  • 5th: Alexander Levy: Par 3: -1; Par 4: -10; Par 5: -3

With only 2 par-5s on the course, the bulk of the scoring last year came from the par-4s. With the 1st, 10th and 17th the most likely candidates for aggressive players to take advantage, those who took on the short holes and succeeded more often than not found that they could compile a competitive par-4 total.

Incoming Form: Again we only have last year’s event to go on in terms of analysing the incoming form of those who performed well, however of the top-5 finishers each had a top-10 finish in their last 6 outings and each of them had also played at least one of the two events preceding this in the Middle East:

  • 1st: Dustin Johnson: MC/1/3/27/11/7/24/3/30/7/4/16
  • 2nd: Haotong Li: WD/MC/24/27/5/9/11/2/5/30/MC/12
  • 3rd: Tom Lewis: 6/65/1/3/1/10/5/14/67/7/9/48
  • 4th: Minwoo Lee: 6/19/MC/6/32/MC/5/15/63/MC/37/MC
  • 5th: Alexander Levy: MC/56/20/MC/32/42/28/10/WD/34/67/MC

American trio Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed dominate the top end of the market this week, however I’m playing a far more speculate approach this week in an attempt to prise some profit from the event.

My final Saudi International Tips are as follows:

Ryan Fox 1pt EW 100/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

Finding the right angle of attack proved to be a bit of dilemma for me this week. At the top of the market, the relative lack of outings in recent months for both Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka is a little off-putting, however it’s impossible to put a line through them with any conviction and either could win. Equally both could fail to live up to their short prices and make any leap of faith as to their form and fitness a bad decision.

Victor Perez was the closest I came to backing someone near the top of the market and, his final round last week aside, he’s been playing some beautiful golf of late. 22/1 though with names like Johnson and Koepka in front of him holds little appeal and has ultimately driven me far further down the list where an each-way payout would roughly equal the return on a straight win from the likes of a Perez, Lowry, Garcia, Stenson or Ancer.

The shortest priced player in my team of 4 this week is Ryan Fox. 2nd to MinWoo Lee in the Driving Distance charts for the full European Tour season last year, the Kiwi has the raw power that I want to see this week on a course that rewards aggressive play on the short par-4s and two par-5s. Accuracy suffers for a player of his prodigious length as you might expect, however that seemed of secondary consideration here last year and the 33 year-old acquitted himself well with a 6th place finish on his Royal Greens debut.

Ryan’s most eye-catching form has come on either linksy or coastal tracks with 2nd at the 2018 Irish Open, 4th at the 2017 Irish Open, 4th at the 2017 Scottish Open and 6th at, again, the Scottish Open the pick of the bunch. Add to that his breakthrough victory at the Super 6 in Perth, which isn’t a million miles inland, and we have a player who thrives when the seaside isn’t far away.

That Lake Karrinyup link might not be as tenuous as it sounds with 4th place finisher here last year MinWoo Lee having twice made the final 8 in Perth, plus Alex Levy – that perennial risk/reward performer who finished 5th last year – also finishing 2nd on the track when it was a regular strokeplay event back in 2016.

Ryan’s recent form on the face of it is a little understated with no top-10 finishes in 24 starts since winning that aforementioned maiden title in Australia, however after going right off the boil following his win, there are definite signs that he’s on the ascendancy once again.

5th heading into the weekend at the Dunhill Links was a big step forward and he led the Open de France a couple of starts later before eventually finishing in a tie for 18th. 69 to open at the Australian PGA put him inside the top 10 after day 1 and a 3rd round 66 last week in Dubai was only a shot off the best round recorded on the day.

The 2019 PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit winner should be buoyed by that career milestone; he could also feed off the positive vibes here in Saudi Arabia from last year’s performance to reward each-way backers with a place return or better. Result: T27

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Renato Paratore 1pt EW 125/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

Whilst not quite as long off the tee as Ryan Fox, Renato Paratore is no slouch when it comes to Driving Distance and at 22nd in the embryonic charts for the 2020 season he’s got the power and attacking mindset to take on this week’s task.

The 2017 Nordea Masters champion finished 18th here last season, quickly getting to grips with the layout with an opening round of 65 which left him 2nd to Thomas Pieters after 18 holes. He repeated that score on Saturday to give himself an outside chance of making the frame which ultimately didn’t happen, however it was his Friday 74 that let him down in truth and there were lots of positives to take from his effort overall.

8th at the British Masters was the Italian’s best effort of the 2018/19 season thereafter, however he’s started this new 2019/20 season off in fine style with a 19th place finish at Leopard Creek, a play-off defeat to Rasmus Hojgaard in Mauritius and a big personal best finish of 21st in Abu Dhabi where he led after round 1 with a blistering round of 64 and closed with a 66. Last week’s missed cut in Dubai can be overlooked given the severity of the setup and this week’s task should be much more to his liking. Result: T27

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Dean Burmester 1pt EW 150/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Betfred

2nd for Driving Distance on the European Tour in 2018, 4th on the same count in 2019 and 6th in the early stages of the 2020 stats tells us everything we need to know about the long game of Dean Burmester, however with 7 Sunshine Tour wins to his name – one of which was the European Tour co-sanctioned Tshwane Open – there’s a little more about him than just pure bombing.

7th at the 2017 Abu Dhabi Championship, 4th at both the 2017 and 2018 DP World Tour Championship season-ending affairs in excellent company, and 3rd last week in Dubai for a big personal best around the Majlis course tells us that the 30 year-old is more than comfortable playing in the Middle East and I’m happy to ride last week’s bounce in form in the hope that he can build on that further here in Saudi.

A missed cut here last year wasn’t overly surprising as it followed finishes of MC/49/48/MC leading into the event, however we know that Dean can blow hot and cold and given the price on offer I’m happy to take a chance on him here.

4 Missed Cuts leading up to last week’s effort in Dubai hardly inspired confidence, however prior to that he’d finished 14th at Vilamoura – another risk/reward style track – and had been firmly in contention heading into Sunday in 2nd place, so something was clearly percolating in his game.

We’ve seen before that Burmester can hold his form when he finally finds it – 6 event form of 4/7/41/4/17/11 immediately preceded that maiden European Tour win in his homeland 3 years ago – and encouragingly both his approach play and short game looked in good health last week, a potent combination for a player who hits it as far as he does. Result: T11

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Scott Hend 1pt EW 250/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Finally, continuing the theme of my big-hitting longshots this week, I’m also taking a punt on the enigmatic Scott Hend. I say enigmatic as he’s a tough player to call right, however 15 professional victories in a career that’s spanned 4 decades tells us that he’s more than capable of getting over the line when the situation arises, which is more than can be said of many of his peers.

Despite regularly residing towards the very top of the Driving Distance charts, the 46 year-old’s best European Tour efforts have generally come on short courses at the likes of Hong Kong, Malaysia and in the Swiss Alps at Crans-Sur-Sierre where he’s twice finished runner-up. That’s the point with Hend as it’s tended to be courses that he can overpower that have reaped the best rewards, rather than long tracks where his length simply gives him a fighting chance. The dimensions here at Royal Greens play firmly to his strengths, an assertion that’s backed up by his 6th place finish here 12 months ago where a second round 63 thrust him into contention.

It wasn’t to be here last year, however he arrives here in better overall form with 2 top-20 finishes in his last 4 starts and despite missing the cut last week in Dubai, where he perennially struggles from off the tee, seeing him keep up the recent domination by his compatriots of PGA and European Tour golf isn’t out of the equation.

12th in Thailand before Christmas featured Scott’s best GIR performance since winning in Malaysia last March and 17th in Abu Dhabi featured his best putting performance for nigh-on 2 years. Last week’s effort at the Emirates aside, the key aspects of his game for this week’s test have been firing nicely and I’m happy to take a chance on him here this week given the price on offer. Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:10GMT 27.1.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.