Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Scottish Open Tips 2020

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Having flirted with the lead on a number of occasions last week in Northern Ireland, we eventually had to settle for an each-way payout from Joakim Lagergren at 50/1. John Catlin grabbed his 2nd win in just 3 starts courtesy of posting a strong 6-under final round, as the rest of those at the top of the leaderboard fell away when push inevitably came to shove.

Onwards we go and this week’s Scottish Open is the first Rolex event since lockdown was eased and just the second of this disjointed season. The BMW PGA Championship follows hot on its heels next week at Wentworth and both this week and next sees a marked improvement in the quality of attendee over recent times as the prize money and Race to Dubai points take a sharp turn upwards.

Of course in ordinary times the Scottish Open would be the final warm-up event ahead of the Open Championship, however a re-jigged schedule takes away any consideration of players sharpening their game in an attempt to peak the following week. That change in dynamic also means there’s not the usual influx of PGA Tour players looking for some late practice, with the exception of a number of Europeans returning this side of the Atlantic for a late-season payday.

With early tournament entries Justin Rose and Shane Lowry both dropping off of the attendee list over the weekend, Tommy Fleetwood is left as the 10/1 favourite here this week, a couple of points shorter than Matt Fitzpatrick who’s still searching for his first victory since winning at Crans in 2018. Thomas Pieters, Martin Kaymer and defending champion Bernd Wiesberger all rate around the 22/1-25/1 mark at the time of writing, with the likes of Lee Westwood, Matt Wallace and Ian Poulter also committing some of their schedule to the European Tour.

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Course Overview.

The Renaissance Club is this week’s host course for the second year running which gives us last year’s event to review for a starting point.

Despite sitting on Scotland’s ‘Golf Coast’ in the stretch of land between Muirfield and Archerfield Links, the Renaissance Club isn’t an historic links track – instead it was manufactured from an old pine forest and opened in 2008.

Aesthetically it looks linksy on a stretch of land that’s famous for its links tracks and built to a brief to make it appear like it had been there for a century, however for the purists it’s more ‘links-like’ than pure links. Trees and an old wall complicate matters a little in that respect, balanced with 3 new holes which flank the shore, however despite typical deep bunkering, gorse and thick rough, players had little trouble navigating the layout last year whilst making copious amounts of birdies.

The par 71 is listed on the European Tour website as playing 7,343 yards for this week’s test, although that’s from the very back tees and the European Tour have the flexibility to keep the yardage fluid – last year it was listed as 7,138 yards so it remains to be seen how it’s set up each day.

The fairways have been nipped in since Doak originally built the course and a wet year in Scotland so far has encouraged some thick rough to test the players’ mettle this week. The greens are fescue-based, similar to those used at Castle Stuart in this event in the recent past, as well as at Royal Birkdale for the 2017 Open Championship.

scottish open tips

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Scottish Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event. As noted above, Renaissance Club hosted this event for the first time last year: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | 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. 2019: Bernd Wiesberger, 40/1; 2018: Brandon Stone, 400/1; 2017: Rafa Cabrera-Bello, 50/1; 2016: Alex Noren, 50/1; 2015: Rickie Fowler, 22/1; 2014: Justin Rose, 14/1; 2013: Phil Mickelson, 22/1; 2012: Jeev Milkha Singh, 100/1; 2011: Luke Donald, 10/1; 2010: Edoardo Molinari, 70/1.

For a summary of winners’ odds on the European Tour since 2010 click here.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. Cold, wet and breezy conditions will be the order of the day this week in Scotland with temperatures barely breaking 50 Fahrenheit and wind-speeds averaging 15mph with gusts in the 20-25mph range. The weekend holds a certain level of uncertainty at this stage, however there’s a good chance that a named storm hits the British Isles late on Saturday which could make for a wild end to the tournament.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the top 3 finishers from last year’s event held here at the Renaissance Club gives a little more insight into what’s required to succeed on this track:

  • 1st, Bernd Wiesberger (-22). 302 yards (16th), 63.5% fairways (30th), 81.9% greens in regulation (23rd), 53.8% scrambling (59th), 1.65 putts per GIR (6th).
  • 2nd, Benjamin Hebert (-22). 293 yards (37th), 55.8% fairways (57th), 86.1% greens in regulation (5th), 60% scrambling (50th), 1.64 putts per GIR (5th).
  • 3rd, Romain Langasque (-20). 299 yards (22nd), 55.8% fairways (57th), 87.5% greens in regulation (4th), 77.8% scrambling (10th), 1.69 putts per GIR (19th).

In truth, the top 2 positions could have quite easily been reversed last year had Hebert taken his chances, but the stats between the two were similar in that high GIR and good putting when finding the greens was the order of the day, although the latter was in short supply in the play-off if we’re being brutally honest.

The reality last year was that hitting greens wasn’t remotely an issue – you have to go all the way down to Kurt Kitayama in 43rd place before finding a player who failed to find 70% of GIR – and players hitting 80% or more was commonplace. Proximity therefore was of more importance for setting up birdie opportunities, as of course was having a putter warm enough to convert at a regular rate. Put into context, Wiesberger made a massive 30 birdies on the week with the bulk of the damage being done on the par-5s (13-under for the week from a 22-under winning total).

Incoming Form: Current form students wouldn’t have taken long to dismiss the chances of Brandon Stone at Gullane back in 2018 with the South African having failed to break the top-60 on any of his previous 7 starts. 400/1 was the reward for punters who managed to overlook his recent finishes.

Prior to that, as well as last year’s success from Bernd Wiesberger, recent form for all winners of this event since 2010 listed below had been good enough to shortlist them at least, with each Scottish Open champion in that time having recorded a minimum of one top-10 finish in their last 4 starts. In fact you can extend that trend right back to 2002 with the marginal exception of 2004 winner Thomas Levet, however he had finished 8th at Wentworth 5 starts prior and 2nd in Italy a month before that:

  • 2019, Bernd Wiesberger: 23/14/70/1/8/76/16/2
  • 2018, Brandon Stone: 22/MC/MC/60/65/MC/MC/69
  • 2017, Rafa Cabrera-Bello: MC/24/4/MC/4/42/26/MC
  • 2016, Alex Noren: 50/6/9/MC/43/12/MC/8
  • 2015, Rickie Fowler: 71/12/MC/9/1/30/MC/MC
  • 2014, Justin Rose: 14/8/5/4/25/MC/12/1
  • 2013, Phil Mickelson: MC/16/54/3/MC/2/2/MC
  • 2012, JM Singh: 25/32/27/MC/7/MC/30/46
  • 2011, Luke Donald: 4/2/8/4/2/1/7/45
  • 2010, Edoardo Molinari: MC/17/13/MC/36/4/47/42

Event Form: The victories of Bernd Wiesberger, Brandon Stone and Rafa Cabrera-Bello have also flummoxed event form students over the past 3 seasons. Despite this event hopping about in terms of venue, the 6 Scottish Open winners prior to Rafa had also recorded at least one top-10 finish in this event before lifting the trophy.

The trend stops at Edoardo Molinari, however there may be something positive in terms of experience of playing in similar conditions with similar grasses in the past – indeed the Italian had finished runner-up on his last start on Scottish soil on the Challenge Tour the previous year and with regards Cabrera-Bello, he’d produced a 4th place finish at the Dunhill Links over the years and a further top-10 at Gleneagles. Even Stone with his poor incoming form had finished 15th at the Dunhill Links on his previous start in Scotland:

  • 2019, Bernd Wiesberger: MC/MC/31/41/51
  • 2018, Brandon Stone: MC
  • 2017, Rafa Cabrera-Bello: MC/MC/MC/47/MC/27/41/21
  • 2016, Alex Noren: MC/38/67/67/MC/3/MC
  • 2015, Rickie Fowler: 8
  • 2014, Justin Rose: 37/5/MC/MC/MC/14
  • 2013, Phil Mickelson: 35/MC/44/2/38/MC/58/16
  • 2012, JM Singh: 37/MC/MC/43/9/MC/49/42
  • 2011, Luke Donald: 5/2/4
  • 2010, Edoardo Molinari: 54/MC

In contrast to previous Scottish Opens, this week’s event isn’t an Open Championship warm-up and, in truth, apart from the aesthetics it’s arguable whether last year’s event held here proved to be much of a compatible test ahead of Shane Lowry’s success at Royal Portrush with both Bernd Wiesberger and Benjamin Hebert both reaching 22-under for the 4 days.

Although still fluid at the time of writing, there’s enough concern from the UK weather forecasters to raise the prospect of this weekend being a washout with the prospect of a storm developing on Saturday and into Sunday. How that might affect the tournament remains to be seen, however if we assume that players will need to have the mentality to master changing and potentially challenging conditions, that leads me down a certain path.

For reference, the list of Rolex Series winners now reads as follows: Noren, Fleetwood, Rahm, Cabrera-Bello, Hatton, Rose, Grace, Rahm, Molinari, Olesen, Noren, Knox, Stone, Rose, Westwood, Willett, Lowry, Rahm, Wiesberger, Willett, Wiesberger, Hatton, Fleetwood, Rahm and Westwood. Very few surprises in there in the bigger scheme of things.

My selections are as follows:

Matt Wallace 2pts EW 33/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Tommy Fleetwood rates as the 10/1 favourite for his Renaissance Club debut this week and although he eventually finished 3rd when also the short-priced favourite at Vilamoura on his last European Tour start, his odds are almost at this win-only or ignore level each time he tees it up outside of the US. If he wins then so be it, however after the battering his long game took at Winged Foot, bouncing straight back to winning form may not be quite that easy.

Matt Fitzpatrick is the second-highest ranked player in this field at 20th in the OWGR and he does have some practical experience of this track having finished 14th here last year, however despite his obvious talent he’s no bargain either for a man who’s missed 3 of his last 4 cuts and seemingly shoots himself in the foot too regularly on a Thursday for my liking.

With Martin Kaymer’s conversion wobbles, Thomas Pieters’ tendency to scupper good positions and Bernd Wiesberger defending his title, I’m starting my team with Matt Wallace who’s started to show positive signs once again of late and his focussed, grinding mentality may well prove to be invaluable if conditions do turn nasty over the weekend.

4th at The Memorial Tournament when the PGA Tour restarted was the Hillingdon man’s best career result in a regular PGA Tour event and although he’s not quite reached those heights since, that’s still far stronger form than most here can boast given the level of competition in what was almost a Major quality field. 43rd on his last start at the US Open was also eye-catching given that his long game was in uncharacteristically good shape, ranking 19th for Driving Accuracy, 6th for GIR  and 14th for SG Approach, the latter of which may well prove to be one of the more critical aspects this week.

14th here last year saw him lead the field for SG Putting on these Fescue putting surfaces and, as ever is the case, if he can marry his improved ball-striking to that kind of performance on the greens then he’ll be hard to beat, particularly given his ability to convert as we’ve seen 4 times already on the European Tour.

Matt will be acutely aware that at exactly 50th in the World Rankings, now’s the time to ignite a late-season run of results to ensure there’s breathing space inside the top-50 as this strange season for golf draws to a close. RESULT: T30

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Joost Luiten 1pt EW 66/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Given that Joost Luiten seemingly found the missing ingredient with his irons last week at Galgorm Castle when finishing in a tie for 11th, I’m a little surprised with his price this week given that his name wouldn’t look out of place on the list of Rolex Series winners.

6 European Tour wins for the Dutchman is a decent career haul to date and with his Lyoness Open success in 2013 we have a clear correlation with last year’s winner here at Renaissance, Bernd Wiesberger, who had won the same title the year before in Austria. Luiten also beat Wiesberger by 3 strokes to win his second KLM Open title in 2016 at The Dutch, which shares a number of links characteristics to this week’s track. In addition, Joost’s most recent win came in 2018 at the Oman Open, another coastal layout with some aesthetic similarities to this track once again.

A missed cut here last year was his 3rd weekend off in 4 starts and the 34 year-old arrives here in far better immediate form this time around; I’d expect him to be far more competitive without any distraction of an Open Championship appearance the following week, as he had 14 months ago. 4th behind Rickie Fowler at Gullane in 2015 is also useful form in the Scottish Open and this renewal is arguably weaker, despite its Rolex status.

Progressive rounds of 71/70/69/67 last week last week in Northern Ireland has got to encourage confidence and he talked positively about the state of his game in his most recent blog post following that effort. RESULT: T19

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Brandon Stone 1pt EW 70/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Another player with solid coastal credentials, plus a Scottish Open title already to his name, is Brandon Stone and there are enough signs in his long game to take a chance on him here this week.

The South African’s 2018 victory at Gullane still ranks as his career-best victory and as we’ve seen with the likes of Noren, Fleetwood, Rahm, Hatton, Rose, Wiesberger, Willett and most recently Westwood, multiple successes at Rolex Series level is fairly commonplace and another entry to the list wouldn’t surprise in the slightest.

Since that success, the 27 year-old has come close at the Portugal Masters last autumn and again just before lockdown at the Oman Open which is played by the coast, losing out in a play-off to Sami Valimaki in that latter event when carrying our cash at 80/1. In both instances it was a strong combination of Total Driving and Ball-Striking that helped Stone carve out the scoring opportunities and there’s been more of that on show recently as he’s produced finishes of 6th at the English Championship, 27th at the Wales Open and 14th last time out at the Portugal Masters.

10th at the Dunhill Links in 2018 adds further relevant form to the argument for Stone this week and 34th here at Renaissance last July masks the fact that he sat 11th heading into the weekend when defending courtesy of a Friday round of 64. Given that effort here was just one of two cuts made from 10 starts either side of that result at the time, I suspect he can improve on that considerably this year, especially as he got to grips with the course from tee-to-green last year, ranking 1st for both Total Driving and Ball-Striking on the week. If Brandon putts well this week he contends in my view. RESULT: T19

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Matthew Southgate 1pt EW 150/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Finally, the prospect of more challenging links-style conditions than we saw last year leads me to Matthew Southgate who thrives by the coast and who missed the cut here last July when the weather was far kinder, which led to a birdie-fest.

Victory at the 2010 St Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur offers the first clue that Southgate can not only handle breezy, coastal conditions but positively enjoys them, and he followed that up with more positive Scottish form when finishing 2nd at the Scottish Hydro Challenge on his rookie season on the Challenge Tour a year later, before winning his card later that year at Q-School.

4th at the 2016 Irish Open, 2nd in the same event a year later at Portstewart, 5th at the Open de France and 2nd last year at the Dunhill Links rate as the 31 year-old’s 4 best OWGR-producing finishes on Tour outside of the Majors and all carry some correlation to this week’s task. 12th at the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon and 6th the following year at Royal Birkdale are Matt’s strongest pointers to this week with the scoring expected to be higher than last year and tougher as the event progresses.

Missing out to Victor Perez at last year’s Dunhill Links was a bitter pill to swallow for Southgate as he looked the most likely winner for a large part of the week, however if nothing else it’s more good experience to take with him when his next big opportunity arises, and for me this is the type of terrain where I’d expect him to eventually make his breakthrough.

Since that effort last autumn, the Southend man hasn’t produced a top-20 finish, which goes some way to explaining his price here this week. There are signs of a return to form however with 8 cuts made from 9 starts since the European Tour returned following lockdown, and his driving has been back close to its best over recent weeks. 33rd last week in Northern Ireland also saw a spark with the putter and his best flat stick figures for nearly 12 months, which adds further encouragement. RESULT: T9

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:45BST 28.9.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation,