Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Scottish Open Tips 2021

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After the early exit of Sam Horsfield last week, my remaining 3 selections Andy Sullivan, Adrian Otaegui and Aaron Rai kept things interesting in Ireland before each fell just short of the each-way places, with all of them finishing in a tie for 12th place overall. Sullivan in particular had his chances to seriously contend, but ultimately too many mistakes meant that he couldn’t get close enough to eventual winner Lucas Herbert.

Onwards we go and this week’s Scottish Open is the second Rolex Series event of the season, taking its regular place as the Open Championship warm-up event after the enforced schedule changes meant it had an October spot last year.

With last week’s Irish Open being played on a parkland track, most of the PGA Tour players who come over to Great Britain and Ireland at this time of year have opted to play this week rather than last, meaning that we have an exceptionally strong field by European Tour standards on our hands.

World number 1 Jon Rahm heads this week’s betting at a best price of 8/1 at the time of writing, hot on the heels of his maiden Major title on his last start at Torrey Pines. Xander Schauffele (12/1) and Collin Morikawa (14/1) inject further quality into this field, and that’s before we to get to the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris.

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Course Overview.

The Renaissance Club is this week’s host course for the third year running, which gives us the last two year’s renewals 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 in 2019 in easy conditions whilst making copious amounts of birdies. Last year was a little tougher due to the weather and time of year, however for this year think 2019 rather than 2020.

The par 71 is listed on the European Tour website as playing 7,293 yards for this week’s test, as it was last year, although that’s from the back tees largely and the European Tour have the flexibility to keep the yardage fluid 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, however wet weather in the lead-up to this year’s event and some calm, sunny conditions for the tournament days should lend themselves to some low scoring. 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 in 2019: 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. 2020: Aaron Rai, 50/1; 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.

In fairly stark contrast to last year’s cold and gloomy conditions, this week’s forecast is looking far more positive with sunny spells expected and temperatures venturing towards the mid-60s Fahrenheit. Winds will be generally light at around 10mph so scoring should be on the low side.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the top 3 finishers from the 2019 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 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.

Last year was played in tougher conditions with lower temperatures, wind and rain at various points, leading to a much higher winning total:

  • 1st, Aaron Rai (-11). 285 yards (30th), 59.6% fairways (16th), 77.8% greens in regulation (4th), 81.3% scrambling (4th), 1.79 putts per GIR (29th).
  • 2nd, Tommy Fleetwood (-11). 291 yards (14th), 51.9% fairways (36th), 72.2% greens in regulation (20th), 60% scrambling (32nd), 1.73 putts per GIR (11th).
  • 3rd, Robert Rock (-10). 280 yards (41st), 55.8% fairways (28th), 72.2% greens in regulation (20th), 70.0% scrambling (10th), 1.77 putts per GIR (19th).

In easer conditions in 2019, similar to what we should expect this year, the truth 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, 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.

The last 2 winners of the Scottish Open Rai and Wiesberger, both here at Renaissance, had finished as runner-up the week before at the Irish Open:

  • 2020, Aaron Rai: MC/21/10/44/31/44/15/2
  • 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 flummoxed event form students, before Aaron Rai’s win last year restored some kind of order. 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.

Aaron Rai had finished 9th at Gullane on Scottish Open debut to rekindle the top-10 stat, however his previous attempt at Renaissance had ended in a missed cut:

  • 2020, Aaron Rai: 9/MC
  • 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

Aside from the aesthetics, it’s arguable how much of an Open Championship warm-up this will really be. I’m expecting a winning score much closer to the -22 of 2019 than the -11 of last year and with pleasant, calm conditions expected on a track that’s taken on some water over the past few days, I expect those who can find a way to score heavily either through excellent proximity or a hot putter will ultimately prevail.

For reference, the list of Rolex Series winners now reads, in chronological order, 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, Westwood, Rai, Hatton, Fitzpatrick and Hatton. Very few surprises in there in the bigger scheme of things and an awful lot of names repeated more than once.

My selections are as follows:

Tyrrell Hatton 2.5pts EW 20/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Coral

The week before a Major is always a tricky event to decipher and the influx of world-class players into this week’s field makes it no easier.

Jon Rahm heads the betting here this week on his first start since becoming a Major champion, on what will be his Renaissance debut; Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa are also having their first look at this seaside layout this week as they seek to sharpen their games ahead of next week’s main event.

Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas complete the top 5 in the betting and both have practical experience around these parts, finishing 34th and 9th respectively in 2019. Rory’s game is still a work in progress, as was evidenced by last week’s tie for 59th in Ireland, and JT’s putter, whilst seeming thawing at last, might not be warm enough to justify his price on what should be a scoreable track this week.

Of the next batch of players, OWGR number 10 Tyrrell Hatton gets the nod to headline my team this week, largely on the strength of his record at this kind of level. 3 of the past 8 Rolex Series events have been won by the Englishman and when you add his 2017 Italian Open success to the list, that makes his last 4 European Tour titles all at this standard.

Wedged in between those victories, Hatton also secured his maiden PGA Tour title, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March to prove that he can also grind when required, however with all 6 of his European Tour titles coming at between -18 to -24, I suspect he’ll be right back in his comfort zone here this week.

The two titles that I’ve not mentioned thus far both came at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which holds fairly obvious correlations to this week in terms of geography, agronomy, style and scoring, and the 29 year-old can add Scottish Open finishes of 4th, 2nd and 9th in 2014, 16 & 18 to his list of Scottish efforts.

14th here in 2019 on Renaissance debut was quietly impressive as he led the field for SG Approach and was 4th for SG Tee to Green – a poor putting performance was ultimately his downfall that week. More quality long game nearly got him over the line at the Palmetto Championship on his penultimate on the PGA Tour where again his putting ultimately let him down.

That’s something that won’t persist forever though for a putter of Tyrrell’s quality, and having had some downtime since the US Open, he’ll have had plenty of time to sort out that aspect of his game. He won straight off the bat last October at Wentworth having missed the cut at the previous US Open and with the weight of playing at the Olympics now off of his mind, I can see him seriously pushing for the title here this week. RESULT: T18

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Guido Migliozzi 1.5pts EW 55/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Coral

Aside from world number 1 and bookies’ favourite Jon Rahm, nobody in this field beat Guido Migliozzi’s effort at Torrey Pines last month and the Italian’s form has to be respected here this week.

A tie for 4th alongside Collin Morikawa, who rates as a 14/1 chance this week, and ahead of the likes of Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas, who alongside eventual winner Rahm make up the top 5 in the betting here this week, suggests that he may be a little bit better than his price suggests.

Of course a single result, even it was on Major Championship debut, doesn’t automatically qualify a player to sit alongside the golfing elite in the betting, and nor should it. However, runner-up finishes prior to that in Denmark and at The Belfry suggest that a third European Tour title may not be very far away at all.

13th on his last start at the Travelers Championship was also impressive, and we saw first hand last week with Lucas Herbert how those kind of finishes on the PGA Tour can translate into success at European Tour level. Strokes Gained in the long game category have been the key to much of his success of late – 6th for SG Tee to Green at Torrey Pines a case in point – and although the putter can blow a little hot and cold, if it’s compliant this week then he could threaten the market principals here in Scotland.

At the age of 24 we’re still finding out what makes Guido tick, and it’s fair to say that his best work has tended to come on shortish, parkland tracks. That said, 2nd in Qatar earlier this year shows some good diversity in terms of agronomy and conditions and 6th to halfway here on debut in 2019 shows a certain liking for the course, so I’m not going to pigeon-hole him just yet. 6th for SG Approach and 9th for SG Tee to Green that week is encouraging when you consider that he lost strokes on the greens; 2 years on and he’s putting much better in general and has the knowledge now that he can compete with the kind of names that adorn this week’s entry list. RESULT: T35

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Andrew Johnston 1pt EW 80/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Becoming a father has given Andrew Johnston the perspective on life that he undoubtedly needed having struggled with the mental challenges that post-pandemic golf threw at him and his peers.

He got 9 holes into his round at last year’s British Masters before calling it a day and recorded a 71 here at Renaissance before withdrawing; around that were some sporadic signs of form coupled with some less impressive efforts, however the past 2 months or so give strong signs of encouragement that family life has helped bring some equilibrium and, as such, the results are starting to flow.

A second round 63 in Gran Canaria was the first sign that Beef was playing some tidy golf and scoring well – noteworthy for a player who we’re more accustomed to seeing playing well on tougher tracks. He repeated that feat a fortnight later in Tenerife on his way to a 4th place finish, before finishing 17th at The Belfry.

14th in Germany and 9th in Ireland over the past 2 weeks have been hampered by a slow Friday on both occasions, however outside of that he’s been playing some very tidy golf and looks on the brink of contending once again. 5th for GIR at the BMW International Open, combined with 3rd for Scrambling and 11th for Putts per GIR last week at the Irish Open, suggests that all aspects of the 32 year-old’s game are in good shape and that’s backed up by SG rankings of 3rd for Approach and 2nd for Tee to Green, plus 2nd for Putting, over those two outings respectively.

The Barnet man’s maiden Challenge Tour victory came on Scottish soil in Aviemore, plus he finished 4th here at Renaissance in 2019 on course debut despite losing strokes with the putter. He was nearly 10 strokes better in that respect last week in Ireland and if he can take that flat stick form into this week then he could well go very close here. RESULT: MC

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Richie Ramsay 0.5pt EW 175/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

At longer prices, Edoardo Molinari was tempting having produced some strong performances with his irons in the not-so-distant past, ranking 1st for GIR at both the British Masters and the Porsche European Open where he finished 8th and 2nd respectively. A spark with the putter could see him contend in an event that produced his first European Tour victory back in 2010, however my preference goes to Richie Ramsay who, like the Italian, is seeking a 4th European Tour title here this week.

34th here in 2019 was his best result at Renaissance having missed the cut last autumn, however he arrived here 2 years ago having failed to make the weekend on his previous 3 starts. 65 to open and 67 to close that week were decent efforts after a poor run of results and he arrives here this time around in far better nick.

10 cuts made from his last 11 starts has kept the pay cheques rolling in and 3rd to halfway at both the Kenya Open and Canary Islands Championship have given the 38 year-old brief tastes of contention in recent times.

4th last week at the Irish Open was the Edinburgh native’s best finish on Tour for 4 years and there should be some good momentum in his game coming into what is a home tie with Renaissance a short drive along the coast from his home. Generally a tidy player from tee-to-green, positive SG Putting performances over his last 3 starts are noteworthy and 11th on that count last week was his best effort in that respect for getting on for 2 years.

Although Richie’s 3 European Tour wins have come as far afield as South Africa, Morocco and Switzerland, his form in his homeland is strong with 3 top-10 finishes at the Dunhill Links the most notable, included in which a runner-up finish in 2014. 6th at the 2016 Scottish Open is his best result in this event, however he’s got it in his locker to equal or better that while playing well so close to home in my view. RESULT: T15

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Matthew Southgate 0.5pt EW 200/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Perhaps it’s a little fanciful to suggest that two Southgates will be celebrating success on Sunday – and this statement might already be blown out of the water by Wednesday evening if Gareth’s men fail to put Denmark to the sword at Wembley – however stranger coincidences have happened. Well maybe.

Those of you who’ve persevered with my previews over the years know that I’m a sucker for backing Matthew Southgate on links, or links-style assignments, and although that assertion hasn’t always paid off, the facts are there that this is the terrain he enjoys the most, so if and when he does finally make a breakthrough on the European Tour, I suspect there’ll be something linksy about the venue.

Firstly, the facts. Victory at the 2010 St Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur offers the first clue that Southgate can not only handle 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 at the 2019 Dunhill Links rate as the 32 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 though to his ability on links set-ups and he’ll be desperate to earn himself another opportunity to show what he can do at Royal St George’s this year by bagging himself one of the 3 available spots with a lofty finish here this week.

Missing out to Victor Perez at that 2019 Dunhill Links was a bitter pill to swallow for Southgate as he looked the most likely winner for a large part of the week, and he came up short once again last month at the Porsche European Open, finishing in a tie for 2nd behind The Bullet.

2nd for GIR that week is exactly what Matt’s all about when at the top of his game and that marries nicely with what we saw here from the contenders in comparable conditions 2 years ago; 2nd for SG Approach and 6th for SG Tee-to-Green are also impressive stats from that effort and having rested since his missed cut at the US Open, he should be fully focussed on the task at hand here this week on terrain that suits. RESULT: T26

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Marc Warren 0.5pt EW 300/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Coral

Finally I’m adding a 6th selection given the generous pricing and each-way terms available this week, and that’s Marc Warren.

It was exactly a year ago that the European Tour took its first baby steps towards re-establishing a makeshift schedule as Covid protocols were put into place, and the 40 year-old was the first player to succeed in the brave new world, converting a 1-shot victory at the Austrian Open whilst carrying his own clubs.

For those of you who believe in biorhythms impacting a golfer’s game that may be enough to peak your interest at the price on offer, however it’s the Glaswegian’s form in his homeland which really peaks mine.

Victory at the 2007 Johnnie Walker Championship was the first in a string of impressive Scottish results over the years, included in which we find 3 top-5 finishes at the Dunhill Links, a semi-final appearance at the Paul Lawrie Match Play, and 4 top-4 finishes at the Scottish Open – the most recent of which was here at Renaissance in October. Very often we’ve seen him put obscure or downright awful form behind him when he’s played in Scotland and he’s showing a little more than that right now to suggest he might just surprise here once again.

After a barren spell following an impressive 5th place finish at Rolex Series level in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year, an opening 68 at the BMW International Open hinted at some better form before he produced progressive rounds of 71/70/70/69 last week in Ireland to finish in a tie for 28th.

A much improved long game performance combined with a field-leading 1.58 putts per GIR was the catalyst for the step forward and although there were still gaps in his performance with his irons, this week sets up as an easier task to find greens in the requisite number and that should equate to more birdie opportunities for our man.

Warren is also the type who can get out of the blocks early and although there are no First Round Leader markets at the time of writing, he’s one for the shortlist in that market too at what should be an attractive price. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:25BST 5.7.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.