Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Scandinavian Invitation Tips

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The Scandinavian Invitation, formerly the Nordea Masters, is our challenge for this week, following the conclusion of the Czech Masters which saw our 66/1 shot Adri Arnaus narrowly miss out on the title, finishing a single shot shy of a resurgent Thomas Pieters who captured his first title for 3 years on a course that he clearly loves. After a slow front 9 on Sunday, Arnaus tried to his best to reel in the former Ryder Cup star to no avail, however his time will surely come sooner rather than later.

On to this week then and with financial services group Nordea parting ways with this event, we’re left with a sponsor-less tournament with a €1.5m prize fund, however from a betting perspective it’s as you were last year when the Tour visited the Hills G&CC for the first time. Swedish golf is represented well with former Open Champion Henrik Stenson heading the betting at 8/1 generally and 10-time European Tour winner Alex Noren rating as an 11/1 chance. Matt Fitzpatrick and Erik Van Rooyen complete the 4 players at the top of the market, however as ever there are plenty further down the betting who have more than a sporting chance here this week.

Course Overview. Hills G&CC opened in 2005 and was the brainchild of renowned golf course architects Arthur Hills and Steve Forrest. At a reported 6,865 yards for its par of 70 (down 66 yards on last year with changes to the par 4 1st, 2nd, 14th and 16th), the course isn’t particularly long on paper, however the elevation changes will make some holes play longer or shorter than the card suggests and players with the ability to adapt their games for this will feel more comfortable here. Although there are some trees on various parts of the course, the layout is also exposed in places with generous, undulating fairways and large Bentgrass greens. Johan Edfors recently oversaw the re-design of 7 of the greens and recent rain is expected to make them quite receptive.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Scandinavian Invitation that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well in this event. This week’s venue, Hills Golf & Country Club, was used for the event for the first time 12 months ago, so tournament history stats should be considered accordingly. Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes | 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: Paul Waring, 125/1; 2017, Renato Paratore, 150/1; 2016, Matt Fitzpatrick, 40/1; 2015: Alex Noren, 20/1; 2014: Thongchai Jaidee, 66/1; 2013: Mikko Ilonen, 35/1; 2012: Lee Westwood, 6/1; 2011: Alex Noren, 28/1; 2010: Richard S Johnson, 100/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Sunshine and showers are expected on Thursday with winds up to 15mph before the weather clears and calm, sunny conditions see temperatures rise towards the low 70s Fahrenheit by Sunday.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Other than the Dubliner Challenge played on the Challenge Tour in 2008 (final leaderboard here), last year was the only time that this venue has been used on a relevant professional Tour. The final player stats from the top 5 last year are below:

  • 1st, Paul Waring (-14). 306 yards (10th), 63.5% fairways (56th), 75% greens in regulation (4th), 38.9% scrambling (51st), 1.67 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2nd, Thomas Aiken (-14). 271 yards (66th), 80.8% fairways (5th), 73.6% greens in regulation (12th), 68.4% scrambling (4th), 1.74 putts per GIR (23rd).
  • 3rd, Max Kieffer (-13). 278 yards (61st), 82.7% fairways (4th), 80.6% greens in regulation (1st), 50% scrambling (34th), 1.74 putts per GIR (23rd).
  • 4th, Thorbjorn Olesen (-12). 295 yards (28th), 65.4% fairways (48th), 70.8% greens in regulation (29th), 42.9% scrambling (47th), 1.67 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 5th, Lucas Herbert (-11). 291 yards (38th), 53.8% fairways (66th), 70.8% greens in regulation (29th), 57.1% scrambling (19th), 1.76 putts per GIR (32nd).

A mixed 4 days last year with some calmer, drier weather and some breezier, wetter weather leading to a 14-under total, however in more favourable conditions rounds of 62 and 63 were recorded which shows that Hills G&CC is a typical exposed layout that needs a bit of wind for protection. Other than Thursday, I’m not sure that the course is going to be afforded that luxury this time around – potentially leading to a lower winning total.

At 6,931 yards for its par of 70 last year, it was clear that the layout suited shorter hitters with patience and strategy outweighing brute force. The par-5s still offer scoring opportunities of course, however Paul Waring – who recorded the longest Driving Distance of the top-5 finishers – only played the 12 long holes in 2-under for the week which suggests that scoring on the par-3s and par-4s is more important on this layout. Indeed Waring led the field for par-3 scoring, shooting 6-under for the short holes on the week.

Large, top quality bentgrass greens offer birdie opportunities for those who can find the putting surfaces in the requisite number, whereas scrambling from off the greens is tough given their sheer size and undulations, making it difficult to get chips close to the pin.

Incoming Form: In terms of recent renewals of this event at its various venues, current form heading into the event is listed below. With the exception of Richard S Johnson back in 2010 and Paul Waring last year, each other winner had recorded a top-10 finish in one of their previous 5 starts globally:

  • 2018, Paul Waring: 9/11/52/MC/MC/MC/72/MC
  • 2017, Renato Paratore: MC/45/MC/8/MC/18/23/MC
  • 2016, Matt Fitzpatrick: 35/27/38/7/MC/MC/MC/47
  • 2015, Alex Noren: 11/43/56/44/26/56/8/21
  • 2014, Thongchai Jaidee: 41/33/6/37/24/5/MC/38
  • 2013, Mikko Ilonen: 9/52/MC/17/2/MC/2/12
  • 2012, Lee Westwood: 17/12/2/4/4/29/21/3
  • 2011, Alex Noren: 5/11/MC/1/51/37/MC/MC
  • 2010, Richard S Johnson: MC/63/MC/MC/MC/33/72/74

Event Form (back to 2010): Event form of recent winners is listed below, however it’s worth considering that the event has moved location at various points and this week’s venue was played last year only:

  • 2018, Paul Waring: MC, MC, 40, 36
  • 2017, Renato Paratore: MC, MC
  • 2016, Matt Fitzpatrick: MC
  • 2015, Alex Noren: 18, 52, MC, 30, MC, MC, 1, 10, 4
  • 2014, Thongchai Jaidee: MC, MC, 52
  • 2013, Mikko Ilonen: MC, MC, 1, 20, 38, MC, 3
  • 2012, Lee Westwood: MC
  • 2011, Alex Noren: 18, 52, MC, 30, MC, MC
  • 2010, Richard S Johnson: 12, MC, 24

Last year’s event was played in challenging conditions at times and although it’s expected to be a little more straightforward this year with less wind in the forecast, the requirement for a little strategy as opposed to all-out attack is still the preferred route.

My selections are as follows:

Robert MacIntyre 2pts EW 35/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

The quality at the top of the betting market this week is clear to see: Henrik Stenson ranks as the bookies’ favourite at around 8/1 on reputation as well as a form line that saw 3 consecutive top-10 finishes at the Canadian Open, US Open and Scottish Open before creditable efforts at the Open Championship (20th) and FedEx St Jude (27th) in elite company. The wins don’t flow as freely for Henrik nowadays though and whilst I’d be surprised if he’s not in the mix, he feels a touch short here.

Matt Fitzpatrick (9/1) and Alex Noren (11/1) are both former winners of this event on different Swedish tracks and, like Stenson, they both make their competitive debut here this week at Hills G&CC. Both have shown enough form of late for a case to built for them here; Fitzpatrick’s is the more robust if he can keep a poor Thursday off of the card, whereas Noren’s poor season looks to be turning around with consecutive top-12 finishes at The Open and WGC St. Jude, however again they’re both pretty short and I still have enough lingering doubts to look past them this week. At 12/1, Erik Van Rooyen is easier to swerve (famous last words) given his persistent back-pedalling whenever a winning opportunity arises, evident again last week in Prague as a final round 71 was nothing like good enough to seriously push the leaders on Sunday.

For me, more value lies a little further down the field and given that this event has produced European Tour maiden winners for the past 2 seasons in the shape of Renato Paratore and Paul Waring, I’m happy to support another player seeking his breakthrough win – Scotland‘s Robert MacIntyre.

I talked last week about Adri Arnaus being one of those young players who’d surprise nobody if he were to grab his first European Tour win in the very near future and MacIntyre is another who’s firmly in the same bracket. A win at the MENA Tour’s Sahara Kuwait Golf Championship on only his second professional start paved the way for a Challenge Tour season last year that included a pair of runner-up finishes that subsequently earned him a stab at the European Tour this year. Back-to-back runner-up finishes at the British Masters and Made In Denmark told us that the 22 year-old had comfortably made the adjustment to golf at this level, however it was his 6th place finish at The Open on his Major Championship debut that caught the eye the most and represents the best performance of this field on the Northern Irish coastline.

Of course this isn’t links golf we’re talking about this week, so taking a direct correlation between that Portrush effort and this week’s task isn’t strictly relevant, however what it does suggest – coupled with his British Masters effort – is that he feels entirely comfortable on exposed tracks where a bit of patience and creativity trumps care-free bombing. That’s not to say that the Oban man is short from off the tee – averaging 297 yards for the season is testament to that – however there’s clearly a lot more to his game than that alone. When recording those runner-up finishes, his long game was in decent shape, ranking around the top dozen both times for Driving Accuracy; in Ireland, despite finishing a disappointing 41st, he ranked 5th for GIR. However what really makes him tick is his putter which can be excellent when he’s on form.

23rd last week was a decent return to competitive golf after his Open effort and subsequent celebrations and with few of the players above him holding much, if any, tangible course experience advantage, I can see the young Scot giving himself another shot at breaking his European Tour duck here this week. Result: MC

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Thomas Detry 2pts EW 33/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Coral

Thomas Pieters broke our hearts last week by holding firm on the back-9 with our man Adri Arnaus unable to reel him in, however perhaps we can benefit from that result if Pieters’ first European Tour win since 2016 can inspire his World Cup winning team-mate Thomas Detry.

Aside from the intangible boost that his compatriot’s success may or may not have on him, there’s plenty to like about the Belgian’s chances this week. Despite still being a maiden on the European Tour, the 26 year-old does have a professional success to his name when he won the Challenge Tour’s Bridgestone Challenge in 2016 by an incredible 12 shots, plus of course there’s his aforementioned pair’s victory alongside last week’s winner a little under a year ago. A breakthrough win at European Tour level would surprise nobody and after a month’s break following the Scottish Open, he should be ready and raring to go this week on a course that saw an encouraging debut last year, finishing 13th overall with rounds of 66, 68 and 67 let down only by a 72 on the Friday. 4th for GIR and 3rd for all-round performance that week suggests that the track suits his eye and another improvement on that effort is very possible in my view.

A consistent 2019 that’s seen 5 top-15 finishes from his last 12 starts could well advance to something more substantial if he can turn some of the promising rounds he’s produced in isolation recently into 4 days of sustained performance. A pair of 68s at Valderrama gave Thomas another chance of victory, sitting in 4th place going into the Sunday before treading water to finally finish 8th. A closing round of 66 in Ireland and a second round 65 in Scotland offer further encouragement without massively signalling to bookmakers that success is impending.

Aside from last year’s effort, there’s plenty to like about him statistically for this weeks task, most notably 12th for par-3 scoring for the season-to-date which could be a critical key to success here. When he plays well he can pound greens for fun and there’s plenty of evidence that he’s striking his irons well of late, ranking 2nd for GIR in Morocco and 4th on the same count the week after on the Irish coast. Bentgrass is his best putting surface, which isn’t surprising for a player who spent his formative golfing years in Northern Europe, and if he can compliment a typically strong week with his approach shots with a hot flat stick then he has a real chance here this week. Result: T20

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Benjamin Hebert 1pt EW 75/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

As I’ve already surmised, there’s a long list of European Tour stars who would surprise nobody if they were to break through on any given week and in the context of this week’s task, Benjamin Hebert has to rank very high on that count. 6 Challenge Tour victories – 3 in a 5-event spell in 2011 and another 3 in an 8-event spell in 2014 – suggests that he’s both very capable of getting over the line when he’s on his game, plus his best form tends to come in sustained patches, so 2 play-off defeats in his last 8 starts bodes well given both results could easily have gone the other way. The most painful of the two will undoubtedly be his Scottish Open loss to Bernd Wiesberger where he missed a tiddler in the play-off to take the title, however what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and with a month to get his head around everything since, I’m happy to take a chance that he’s ready to brush that result aside.

Thankfully the 32 year-old didn’t have long to wallow over his Scottish upset, making the cut at Royal Portrush on his Open debut the week after, and instead he can look forward to this week’s task on a course that showed some promise for him last year. 24th here at Hills G&CC 12 months ago contained 3 rounds of 67 and were it not for a Saturday 75 he could have been returning here this week as the defending champion. 8th for putting on the week tells us that he got on with these Bentgrass greens very nicely and if he can couple that with the type of GIR performance that we saw at both the Irish and Scottish Opens – ranking 5th on that count in both events – then he could put himself in position once again to break his duck. Result: MC

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Matthew Southgate 1pt EW 100/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Consistency has never been Matthew Southgate’s strongest suit and after recording back-to-back top-10 finishes in Denmark and Belgium at the end of May/beginning of June and seemingly warming up for an assault on the Links Swing part of the season that’s historically favoured him the most, he promptly missed his next 4 cuts on the trot. A long game that had seen him rank 1st and 3rd for Total Driving as well as 2nd and 1st for Ball-Striking over those high-end finishes suddenly deserted him and the results dried up. Interesting then that he seemingly found his game again last week in Prague – topping the field for Driving Accuracy and ranking inside the top-10 for both Total Driving and Ball-Striking, despite finishing in 30th position – and perhaps he can keep that going on a track that he took to nicely on debut last season.

10th here at Hills G&CC 12 months ago was fuelled by a near-identical performance from tee-to-green to last week, with the added bonus that he took to the Bentgrass greens here very nicely indeed, recording his second-best putting stats of the calendar year as he threatened to finally break through and grab his first professional victory. Rounds of 67, 65 and 67 were let down only by a Friday 73 and with his stock potentially on the rise again, perhaps he can build on that result and reward each-way backers on the type of short, exposed track upon which he plays his best golf.

4-under for the par-3s last week in the Czech Republic was beaten by just one player and if he can keep that kind of performance going this week, coupled with a strong GIR week which we’ve come accustomed to when he’s playing well, then he can feature at a long price. Result: T10

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Masahiro Kawamura 1pt EW 125/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

An opening 9 holes of 3-over par and a closing 9 holes of, again, 3-over par took the gloss off the performance of Masahiro Kawamura last week on his Albatross debut, however there was enough to like in the middle 54 holes to support him here this week. 18 birdies and 2 bogeys from those 54 holes included going 5-under for the par-3s and if he can keep that kind of performance going on the short holes this week then he could improve further on a course that offers less penalty to debutants and also less penalty to those who don’t rely on brute force from off the tee.

The Japanese star has recorded just one victory since turning professional in 2012, a single-stroke success over Sungjoon Park at the 2013 Asia Pacific Panasonic Open with the likes of European Tour winners YE Yang, Wenchong Liang and Wade Ormsby behind him. He warmed-up the week before that with an 18th place finish at the ANA Open and last week’s identical finish offers more encouragement if that proves to be a happy coincidence when we conduct this event’s post-mortem in a few days’ time.

5 further runner-up finishes on the Japan Tour since that time have followed, however of more importance is an increasing level of comfort on the European Tour that’s seen him finish runner-up to Stephen Gallacher at the Indian Open earlier this year as well as 6th at the Trophee Hassan II on his next start. Interestingly last year’s winner Paul Waring had also recorded a top-10 finish in Morocco, so if there are any form lines to be drawn between the two venues then it makes the case for Kawamura stronger still. A bogey-free 65 on Saturday in Prague tied the best round of the day and despite going backwards on the final 9, he should approach this week in confident fashion. Result: T40

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:00BST 19.8.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.