Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Scottish Championship Tips 2020

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Despite looking unlikely to even complete Thursday’s round due to back spasms, it was encouraging to see Ian Poulter return a full each-way place for us last week at 40/1 to keep things ticking over. A shame that he was hampered at times with this issue as his underlying game looked excellent, however let’s take the small profit and move onto this week’s task at hand.

The final leg of our second post-lockdown UK Swing takes us north of the border once again and to the Fairmont St Andrews, which sits a couple of miles from the Old Course in this most famous of golfing towns.

After the elevated prize funds of the Rolex Series events of the past fortnight, we’re back to the new normal €1m prize fund and 2,000 Race To Dubai Points this week, however that’s not to say that the quality of field has died completely as a result and encouragingly a few of the more famous names on the European Tour circuit have stuck around for another week.

Although there’s a little disparity between bookmakers, Matt Wallace generally rates as the favourite at 10/1 at the time of writing. Lee Westwood, Aaron Rai, Eddie Pepperell and Robert MacIntyre are available in the 12/1 to 16/1 range this week in a field of just 108 players this week.

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Torrance Course, Fairmont St Andrews, Scotland. Designer: Sam Torrance, 2001 with 2009 updates from Gary Stephenson; Course Type: Links Style, Coastal; Par: 72; Length: 7,230 yards from back tees; Fairways: Bentgrass, Fescue, Rye; Rough: Mainly Fescue, some Bentgrass & Rye; Greens: Fescue, Bentgrass mix.

Course Overview. Originally agricultural land, Sam Torrance carved out a links-style track here in 2001 that looks like it’s been around for many decades. The par 72 hosted 6 Senior Scottish Opens between 2009-14 where it played to 6,802 yards, however from the back tees it can stretch to 7,230 yards.

Although this won’t be classified as a links track by the purists due to its 21st century manufacturing, it looks and plays like a links, so for simplicity let’s call it a links track, albeit a modern one. Cliff-top holes that flank the sea are particularly susceptible to the elements and classical pot bunkers are ready to gobble up any stray drives and approach shots.

Fairways are wide enough and exposed in nature as you might expect, with reasonably speedy Fescue/Bentgrass mix greens that are smooth and true. Aprons in front of some greens allow running shots into greens and in general the course offers both risk and reward options as well as creative choices to play holes in a variety of ways.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Scottish Championship, however as mentioned above, this is the first European Tour event being held at the venue: Current Form

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 the area is here. Despite the European Tour testing the patience of the golfing weather gods by scheduling an event for the middle of October in Scotland, it looks like we’re going to be relatively luck here this week with a largely dry forecast due to high pressure dominating the weather pattern.

Winds will be 10-15mph from the East which will make the top temperatures of 10-12 Celsius feel a few degrees or so cooler, however it could be far, far worse at this time of year so the players should be thankful and scoring should be relatively good.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Although there have been no European Tour events held here at Fairmont St Andrews to date, the Seniors have played here in the relatively recent past for their Scottish Open and skill stats were captured for the 6 events in question:

  • 2014, Mark Davis (-5). 260 yards (26th), 73.8% fairways (34th), 64.8% greens in regulation (45th), 57.9% scrambling (8th), 1.66 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2013, Santiago Luna (-5). 271 yards (12th), 57.1% fairways (64th), 74.1% greens in regulation (19th), 64.3% scrambling (3rd), 1.85 putts per GIR (24th).
  • 2012, Anders Forsbrand (-17). 268 yards (22nd), 69.0% fairways (51st), 87.0% greens in regulation (3rd), 57.1% scrambling (19th), 1.72 putts per GIR (11th).
  • 2011, Barry Lane (-14). 268 yards (7th), 83.3% fairways (14th), 77.8% greens in regulation (13th), 66.7% scrambling (19th), 1.64 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2010, Barry Lane (-4). 293 yards (11th), 59.5% fairways (58th), 75.9% greens in regulation (3rd), 53.8% scrambling (9th), 1.80 putts per GIR (10th).
  • 2009, Glenn Ralph (-8). 265 yards (10th), 88.1% fairways (8th), 81.5% greens in regulation (8th), 60.0% scrambling (13th), 1.77 putts per GIR (7th).

When the elements close in around these parts, it’s clear that Fairmont can be a formidable test – Mark Davis in 2014 and Barry Lane in 2010 were the only players under par (3 rounds) when winning their respective events. In calmer conditions, Anders Forsbrand got to 17-under through 54 holes and Barry Lane defended in 2011 at 14-under, so clearly the course is only as difficult as conditions dictate.

Greens are generally quite easy to hit here, except in the most difficult of conditions, and fairways are quite generous which puts the emphasis on performance on and around these greens, as so often is the case on links tracks. All 6 winners detailed above sat inside the top-20 for Scrambling on the week and 5 of the 6 winners ranked 11th or better for putting average, with the outlier being Santiago Luna who was 24th.

All 6 men ranked 26th or better for Driving Distance and although the absolute numbers are lower with it being the Senior Tour, it’s all relative with a shorter course setup back then and the suspicion is that controlled power off the tee will help set up birdie-yielding approach shots with less club in players’ hands.

Incoming Form: Clearly this data can be taken with a pinch of salt, however Mark Davis aside, the winners of the Senior events held here had all recorded at least one top-10 finish in their previous 5 starts:

  • 2014, Mark Davis: MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/36/MC
  • 2013, Santiago Luna: 64/MC/MC/21/26/8/48/38
  • 2012, Anders Forsbrand: 16/51/10/2/42/11/4/40
  • 2011, Barry Lane: 50/20/9/5/42/14/5/17
  • 2010, Barry Lane: MC/MC/46/2/MC/12/30/MC
  • 2009, Glenn Ralph: 11/35/10/49/10/31/71/62

Although a new track to the European Tour, there are a few clues to guide us this week, both from the course itself as well as the events held here on the Senior Tour.

Links tracks appeal to some players more than others, plus the cooler weather and a moderate breeze – no doubt accentuated by the fact it’s blowing directly off of the sea this week – helps us to narrow the field. Fescue/Bentgrass-based greens are also a more common feature of this type of course than inland tracks and also suggest that those who’ve played well on similar setups may be more comfortable here.

The Senior events held here at Fairmont St Andrews would also suggest that longer than average players from off the tee may also prosper, as will those who are more adept with their chipping and putting, seeing as GIR stats are generally high in all but the trickiest of conditions.

My final selections are as follows:

Eddie Pepperell 2.5pts EW 14/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

A short field this week has made for a particularly unattractive betting heat, however of the market principals I’m drawn most to Eddie Pepperell.

It’s always with some trepidation that I back the popular Englishman, particularly at relatively short prices, however a combination of positively trending results and a return to the type of terrain where Eddie’s enjoyed the bulk of his success points towards another contending week, as he looks to advance further up the world rankings having re-entered the OWGR top-100 last week.

9th at the Scottish Open on a layout that carries a lot of parallels to this week’s task was the 29 year-old’s first top-10 finish for very nearly 12 months and he promptly backed that effort up with a 6th place finish last week at Wentworth, both of which were at Rolex Series level and a good notch or two above this week’s standard.

2nd for Strokes Gained Putting on the fescue-based greens of Renaissance Club is an interesting pointer ahead of this week’s task, particularly given the clues that we can glean from the Senior Scottish Open events held here in the past, and 1st for Strokes Gained Approach last week in Surrey suggests that he’s playing some very nice golf at present and will likely give himself a lot of opportunities here at Fairmont.

Last week’s effort ranks 7th in Pepperell’s highest OWGR-yielding results in his career to date. If we put his 3rd place finish at the 2019 Players Championship to one side for a moment – as impressive as it was – then the rest of his best performances all carry some relevance to this week’s task.

His Qatar Masters success at the start of 2018 was achieved on a Doha track which is often considered linksy in style and certainly appeals to those players more adept on links terrain; his other European Tour victory – 2 years ago this week for those who believe in biorhythm trends – was at Walton Heath, another exposed track with a linksy feel.

A 2015 play-off defeat to Soren Kjeldsen at Royal County Down (Irish Open) and another runner-up finish, this time to Brandon Stone at Gullane (Scottish Open) in 2018, both offer tangible, contending links form and it’s clear that the Oxfordshire man is very much at home on this type of test. 6th at the Open Championship at nearby Carnoustie is further evidence and this title is very much winnable should Eddie apply himself to the task at hand here this week. RESULT: T16

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Padraig Harrington 1pt EW 55/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

This time next year, Padraig Harrington will (fingers crossed) have presided over Team Europe’s Ryder Cup campaign at Whistling Straits. Win or lose, it will be an incredible experience for a man who’s given much to the sport, and from January he’ll undoubtedly be back focussing 100% on all aspects of his captaincy.

The form of Ryder Cup captains often falters during the qualification campaign, however the enforced pause in proceedings due to the pandemic offers the Irishman a period of carefree golf and there are good signs that he’s still competitive at European Tour level, despite being eligible for the Senior Tour in less than a year’s time.

It’s now 4 years since the former OWGR number 3 returned to this level following a poor run of form on the PGA Tour and promptly won the Portugal Masters to prove that he still had that ruthless streak when the opportunity arose. 4th at both the Scottish and Turkish Opens the following year, plus 2nd at the Czech Masters, 5th at the KLM Open and 7th at the Dunhill Links in 2018, all suggested he could still cut it at this kind of level before his form tailed off as Ryder Cup planning took precedence.

Interesting then that with the focus off for the time being, the 3-time Major Champion has shown some glimpses of form. 9th at the Scottish Open is a good pointer for this on the faux links of the Renaissance Club, and 4th for Putting Average and 5th for Total Putts is a big positive for this week given what we can glean from the Senior events held here.

40th last week at Wentworth doesn’t scream impending success on the face of it, however dig below the surface and we see a long game that was firing on all cylinders with Harrington ranking 2nd for Driving Accuracy, 6th for Total Driving and 6th for Ball Striking – interesting metrics from a player who’s more commonly renowned for his short game wizardry.

A move back to links-style terrain can only help Paddy’s chances this week. Two Open Championship wins plus two Dunhill Links wins in close proximity to this week’s venue are the immediate pointers to this week’s task in a career that’s been punctuated with strong performances on coastal tests such as this week. RESULT: T14

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Matthew Southgate 1.5pts EW 40/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Things as certain as death and taxes: Matthew Southgate making an appearance in my staking plan as we head to a links(y) track. If you’ve read my previews in the past then you can most likely skip the next paragraph or 3 and make your own mind up whether to back the links-loving Englishman here, or to ignore my infatuation with Matt on this type of terrain.

Firstly the facts: Southgate produces his best results on exposed, links (or links-style) courses. He won the St Andrews Links Trophy in 2010 as an amateur; he was 2nd a year later at the Scottish Hydro Challenge at the Macdonald Spey Valley Golf Club which has some linksy features; 2nd at the Portstewart-hosted Irish Open, 5th at the Open de France and 2nd at the Dunhill Links on the European Tour also correlate to this week’s assignment, and that’s before we mention his 12th place finish at Troon and 6th place finish at Birkdale in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

9th at Renaissance Club a fortnight ago was another positive finish on a course which, like this, is a manufactured rather than true links, and long-game ranks of 7th for Driving Accuracy, 2nd for GIR, 2nd for Total Driving, 1st for Ball-Striking and 3rd for SG Tee-to-Green underline just how comfortable he feels on this kind of set-up.

For a player who missed all 5 cuts from his 2020 European Tour starts prior to lockdown, his form since has been an eye-opener to say the least. 10 cuts made from 11 starts is the kind of consistency that suggests that something positive has happened to the 32 year-old’s game and another paycheque when finishing 44th last week at Wentworth – having missed 3 of his previous 4 cuts in Surrey – has to be considered as a good sign ahead of a return to his favourite style of golf, plus he carries a little momentum having birdied 4 of his final 6 holes on Sunday. RESULT: T16

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Grant Forrest 1pt EW 66/1 (6EW, 1/5) with BetVictor

A flying start to his second round at Wentworth put Grant Forrest in a contending position briefly last week, and although he couldn’t maintain that lofty position in classy company as the weekend progressed, 32nd was a decent enough effort on his BMW PGA Championship debut.

Like Southgate though, a tree-lined parkland track isn’t the Scot’s strongest suit and, like Southgate, amateur success at the St Andrews Trophy gives us a good clue as to his liking for links golf. Not surprising really for a man who was born and raised in North Berwick, with its embarrassment of riches when it comes to quality links courses upon which to learn your trade, including Archerfield Links, Gullane and of course Muirfield. The 27 year-old represents Craigelaw Golf Club as you head just a little deeper into the Firth of Forth and it’s fair to say that he’s used to the kind of surroundings that we’ll see this week at Fairmont.

Last week marked Grant’s 100th start as a professional in terms of OWGR-yielding events and although he’s yet to win in that time, he’s come close enough to suggest that his sparkling amateur career isn’t a red herring. 4 times he’s been a runner-up on the Challenge Tour and although the step up to European Tour level hasn’t yielded a stack of tangible form, there are definite signs that he’s getting to grips with golf at this level and success isn’t that far away.

7th at the Mauritius Open in late 2018 was the first real sign that coastal golf might suit the 2015 Walker Cup winner and 4th last year behind Rasmus Hojgaard in the same event – and just 1 shot outside the play-off – further proves that point. 14th at last year’s Irish Open at Lahinch was a strong effort, particularly given the strength of the field and the fact that he was staring a cut in the face after an opening round of 71; 10th at the Oman Open before lockdown also encourages given its aesthetic similarities to this week.

19th at Renaissance Club a fortnight ago saw him produce a strong performance on and around the greens and with that spark of form last week at Wentworth also adding encouragement, I’m happy to side with the Scot here this week at a decent enough price. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:50BST 12.10.20 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.

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