Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Scottish Open Tips 2022

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Last week’s headline selection Ryan Fox gave us a run for our money in Ireland, leading after the first round and then charging through the field to post a seemingly competitive total, before Adrian Meronk finished 4-under through his final 4 holes to secure his maiden title. Disappointment aside, that was an incredible display by the man from Poland who continues to break new ground for his country.

Onwards we go and this week’s Scottish Open is the third Rolex Series event of the season, taking its regular place as the Open Championship warm-up event ahead of next week’s main event.

Of course, the main difference this year is that we’re witnessing the first iteration of the PGA Tour/DP World Tour strategic alliance, with both this event and the Barbasol Championship over in Kentucky co-sanctioned across both Tours. With so many PGA Tour players descending on North Berwick, we have the strongest regular DP World Tour event ever to be hosted this side of the Atlantic and fans and viewers will be treated to seeing some real superstars in action as they get their games in order for St Andrews.

Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Scottie Scheffler contest favouritism at around the 11/1 to 12/1 mark or thereabouts, backed up by the likes of Xander Schauffele, US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay and Cameron Smith. Add to that names such as Sam Burns, Hideki Matsuyama, Collin Morikawa and Will Zalatoris – to name but a few – and it’s abundantly clear that this event oozes quality, even with the omission of the LIV players given Keith Pelley’s recent announcements.

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hit green in regulation

Course Overview. The Renaissance Club is this week’s host course for the fourth year running, which gives us the last three year’s renewals to review as 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. 2020 was tougher due to the weather and time of year, however last year was closer to 2019 with Minwoo Lee reaching 18-under for the week.

The par 71 is listed 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 DP World Tour have the flexibility to keep the yardage fluid so it remains to be seen how it’s set up each day. 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 | SG Stats.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. 2021: Minwoo Lee, 200/1; 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.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here.

We’ve been rather fortunate with the weather this week in Scotland with dry, settled conditions expected with temperatures nudging towards 70 Fahrenheit in the afternoons. The wind will be a feature this week with 15-20mph Westerlies expected with gusts approaching 30mph at times, with Sunday currently forecast to be the breeziest day.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the winners here at the Renaissance Club gives a little more insight into what’s required to succeed on this track:

  • 2021, Minwoo Lee (-18). 305 yards (16th), 50% fairways (64th), 76.4% greens in regulation (27th), 64.7% scrambling (45th), 1.66 putts per GIR (3rd).
  • 2020, 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).
  • 2019, 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).

In easer conditions in 2019 and 2021, 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 in 2019; similarly, last year the top 25 were all above that level – and players hitting 80% or more was commonplace both years.

2019 was played in tougher conditions with lower temperatures, wind and rain at various points, leading to a much higher winning total. Whilst I’m not expecting that this year, the forecast wind does suggest that the pendulum may swing a little towards scrambling with slightly fewer greens hit in their regulation number,

Given the large, easy to hit greens here, proximity is of importance for setting up birdie opportunities, as of course is having a putter warm enough to convert at a regular rate. Put into context, Wiesberger made a massive 30 birdies in 2019 with the bulk of the damage being done on the par-5s (13-under for the week from a 22-under winning total); likewise Minwoo Lee made 25 birdies and an eagle, and the top 6 finishers last year were a collective 58-under for the long holes over the course of the week.

Strokes Gained: From a Strokes Gained perspective, SG Tee to Green is the most common success factor:

  • 2021, Minwoo Lee: T: 41st; A: 21st; T2G: 4th; ATG: 2nd; P: 17th
  • 2020, Aaron Rai: T: 14th; A: 23rd, T2G: 2nd, ATG: 8th; P: 23rd
  • 2019, Bernd Wiesberger: T: 27th; A: 3rd, T2G: 3rd, ATG: 44th; P: 21st

Key: T: SG Off the Tee; A; SG Approach; T2G: SG Tee to Green; ATG: SG Around the Green; P: SG Putting.

In the easiest of the 3 years back in 2019, SG Approach and SG Tee to Green were dominant factors for the top performers, whereas SG Around the Green was far more prominent in 2020’s tougher renewal, alongside SG Tee to Green again.

SG Putting was more prevalent last year, again combined with SG Tee to Green, and that is probably the biggest clue for the 2022 renewal which again is likely to fall between the two observed extremes of difficulty thus far.

Incoming Form: Current form students wouldn’t have taken long to dismiss the chance 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.

2019 and 2020 winners of the Scottish Open, Rai and Wiesberger – both here at Renaissance – had finished as runner-up the week before at the Irish Open, whereas Minwoo Lee had produced a solid top-20 performance at Mount Juliet the weekend prior:

  • 2021, Minwoo Lee: MC/MC/28/21/52/MC/42/17
  • 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 with little to work with, before Aaron Rai’s win in 2020 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 in 2010, 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; 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. Last year’s winner Minwoo Lee had recorded a 30th place finish on debut here in 2020, opening with a 66 and closing with a 69, to at least give some hint that he’d enjoy the course:

  • 2021, Minwoo Lee: 30
  • 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

In total then, 10 of the past 11 Scottish Open champions had recorded a top 30 finish or thereabouts in the event prior to their victory, and we have to go all the way back to Tom Lehman’s victory at Loch Lomond in 1997 before finding a debutant who’s won at this event in its various guises and locations.

Aesthetically, Renaissance looks like a good Open Championship warm-up venue, however it typically plays a little too easy to really test the players ahead of a gnarly Open the following week. Maybe things will be a little more relevant this year with St Andrews being one of the more scoreable Open venues next week and this week promising a little wind to keep players honest, which may well equalise things a little.

Winning totals here of -22 (Wiesberger, 2019), -11 (Rai, 2020), and -18 (Lee, 2021) show that the difficulty of Renaissance is variable based on the prevailing conditions, and this year I’d expect somewhere between the Rai and Lee totals to be enough if the forecast winds do materialise.

A smattering of PGA Tour players is a regular occurrence at the Scottish Open, however with the co-sanctioned nature of this year’s event we’ve got a real influx with half of the field predominantly playing their golf Stateside. How this affects any historic trends remains to be seen, however this is undoubtedly the strongest field that the Scottish Open has enjoyed in its illustrious existence.

On top of that of course, this week is also part of the Rolex Series of events on the DP World Tour, so for regular Tour players the season-long points up for grabs are massively enhanced.

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, Hatton, Minwoo Lee, Horschel, Morikawa, Pieters and Hovland. 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:

Justin Thomas 4pts Win 12/1 with Betfred

In a top-class field it may well take a top-class player to win this week’s Scottish Open, and of those around the top of the market, Justin Thomas is my strong preference.

The US PGA champion has blistering form when teeing it up the week immediately prior to a Major, with his last 7 such outings resulting in finishes of 1/20/9/1/8/5/3, and a seemingly deliberate ploy to be seriously competitive in the warm-up event over the past 2 Majors clearly paid dividends at Southern Hills, having finished 5th at the Byron Nelson the week before. 3rd at the Canadian Open before his US Open effort saw him shoot 63/64 over the weekend and nobody can accuse the 29 year-old of taking his foot off the pedal the week before a Major of late, that’s for sure.

Wins at the 2018 Bridgestone Invitational before finishing 6th at the US PGA Championship the following week, and again at the 2020 St Jude ahead of that year’s final Major of the year, is further evidence if you need it.

Statistically we don’t really need a great deal of support for JT’s case given he’s picked up a win and 7 top-10 finishes this season already, however in terms of alignment to this week’s task, 3rd for SG Tee to Green on the PGA Tour for the season to date aligns with the performances of the three winners here at Renaissance and 4th for Par-5 Scoring tells us that he’s more than adept at compiling a score on the longer holes which is critical here on the North Berwick coast.

6th for Scrambling, 5th for Sand Saves and 30th for SG Around the Green are short game stats that may come in handy this week given the blustery nature of the forecast, and to that end the 15-time PGA Tour winner is more than adept when there’s a bit of breeze around.

3 times a winner on the two Hawaiian courses that start each PGA Tour year is useful coastal form on scoreable tracks, and at some point you’d expect him to improve dramatically on his Open Championship record which with a best of 11th back in 2019 is a little underwhelming for a player of his quality.

The forgiving nature of St Andrews may well appeal next week, and the same can be said of Renaissance where the generous fairways may allow Justin to get away with that odd destructive drive which still pops up every now and then in competition. Two visits to this course have produced finishes of 9th in 2019 and 8th last year, both years closing with rounds of 65 having seemingly taken himself out the event with lacklustre Saturday efforts.

With a stellar field to beat this week and a formula of pre-Major contention seemingly working well, I can see Thomas winning this week. RESULT: MC

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Ryan Fox 1.5pts EW 50/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

In the end, the 72nd hole bogey by Ryan Fox on Sunday at Mount Juliet was immaterial given the quality of Adrian Meronk’s closing 4 holes, however that shouldn’t take the shine off of an excellent closing round of 64 and on another day it could well have been good enough to secure the Kiwi another DP World Tour victory.

Of course, this week’s task is much harder on paper given that the quality of the opposition has been cranked up considerably. 22/1 last week has become 50/1 this week though and that’s a fair trade in my opinion for a player who’s contending pretty much every single week outside of the Majors. A regular Tour form line of 1/15/9/8/2/2/3/2 is testament to the quality of golf that he’s playing right now and although the clear counter-argument is that he could and perhaps should have won at least one of those contending efforts since clambering over the line at the Ras al Khaimah Classic back in February, if he keeps putting himself in position then you’d expect a Sunday to fall his way once again soon enough.

Exposed, linksy tracks have been the 35 year-old’s strength historically, however the quality of his golf of late has seen Ryan competing on just about any style of course over the past few months. A return to his favoured terrain this week though could be the final piece of the jigsaw, despite the superstar names that he’ll need to beat if he’s going to get himself over the line.

10th and 2nd in Scotland back in his days as a Challenge Tour player has evolved to finishes including 4th and 6th at the Scottish Open at Dundonald Links and Gullane respectively. Form here at Renaissance is far less impressive if truth be told, however 44th last year and a weekend pair of 68s was a personal best around here, and given the rich vein of form that he finds himself in, improving on that considerably isn’t out of the question here in my view.

A slightly flat putting performance overall last week was ultimately the reason he didn’t get into the 20s-under par on the week and convert a 3rd DP world Tour title, however with over 12.5 Stroke Gained from his Tee to Green performance and another strong week on the Par-5s, totalling 10-under over 4 rounds, he’s ideal for this week’s test once again. RESULT: T47

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Aaron Rai 1pt EW 70/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Ladbrokes

Although a bona fide PGA Tour player nowadays, Aaron Rai clearly still holds some elements of his home Tour dear to his heart with next week’s Open Championship being one of the seemingly more important factors.

Despite an early-season 6th place finish at the Farmers Insurance Open, the Wolverhampton man hasn’t pushed on enough in his Stateside exploits this year to move up the World Rankings and secure himself an automatic berth at St Andrews next week. Last week presented two opportunities to put that right: firstly he missed out in a play-off at Fairmont St Andrews in final qualifying on Tuesday, then he finished 9th in the Irish Open with David Law, John Catlin and Fabrizio Zanotti each taking one of the 3 available spots for next week.

That leaves this week and the equation is once again the same: the top 3 players who finish inside the top 10 here at Renaissance who aren’t already qualified for The Open will secure themselves an 11th hour entry. That has got to be priority number 1 this week for the 27 year-old and will carry his full focus, I’m sure.

A return to the scene of his second, and by far his biggest, DP World Tour title here on the Scottish coastline can only help Rai’s cause, and although I’m not expecting conditions to be as tough as 2020 when he gamely held off Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off here, neither will it be a walk in the park given the breezy forecast – and that helps Aaron’s case no end.

We know how good Rai can be from tee to green, and I for one have been more than a little sniffy about his putting in the past which often holds him back, however there have been significant signs of life in that respect lately. 26th at The Memorial was fuelled by a field-leading SG Putting performance, and to prove that it was no fluke he ranked 7th in the Irish Open field last week on the same measurement.

To the naked eye it was apparent that more putts from outside of 5 feet were dropping last week at Mount Juliet than normal, and that can only breed confidence for a player like Rai – if he can continue in that fashion this week and garner some of the positive vibes from returning to the scene of his most recent success, then he could well go very close here. RESULT: MC

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Lucas Herbert 1pt EW 80/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

The influx of top-class players has just about kept a lid on the price of Lucas Herbert here in Scotland on a course that he’s shown a keen liking for over the past two renewals.

Having tailed off on debut here in 2019 after entering the weekend in the top 20, the talented Aussie led to halfway the following year with rounds of 66/65 before collapsing on Saturday with a disastrous round of 79. 65 to close restored some order though and 4th place overall was his reward.

The 26 year-old matched that finish again last year in a more regular fashion, building on opening rounds of 69/68 with a blistering weekend of 64/66 which was bettered only by eventual winner Minwoo Lee. 8th & 6th for SG Putting on those last two efforts here respectively suggests that he’s more than comfortable on these fescue putting surfaces, and gaining over 5 strokes both times from Tee to Green also bodes well given that’s the likely route to success around these parts.

Success at the Irish Open last July at Mount Juliet built on his previous Dubai Desert Classic win, and he went a step further by securing his maiden PGA Tour title at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in October, holding off Danny Lee and former Masters champion Patrick Reed in tricky, windy conditions which also encourages for this week’s breezy forecast.

7th into Sunday last week and an eventual 9th place finish when defending his Irish Open title matches the top-20 finish in Ireland that our 3 winners here at Renaissance all have in common, and it was encouraging to see Lucas recover from a front 9 of 40 on Sunday to record an eagle and 4 straight birdies to card a closing round of 71. 7th for SG Tee to Green at Mount Juliet was Herbert’s best in-field ranking on that statistic since winning the aforementioned Dubai Desert Classic at the start of 2020, and he’s worth taking a chance on here in my view. RESULT: MC

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Minwoo Lee 1pt EW 150/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Finally, defending champions aren’t often my preference given the additional focus and media commitments that the status entails, however given the strength of this week’s field, the event’s inaugural co-sanctioned status with the PGA Tour, and the ongoing LIV narrative, I suspect that Minwoo Lee will enjoy a relatively quiet preparation for this week.

With the 2021 Vic Open having been cancelled due to the pandemic, this will actually be the first time that the 23 year-old defends a title as a professional, however that success at 13th Beach in blustery conditions back in 2020 gives us further evidence that coastal, linksy tracks are where his main strength lays.

It makes sense that Minwoo should relish coastal, exposed and/or breezy conditions given his Perth upbringing which has made him master the low stinger, an effective weapon in those conditions. With a steady, if not stiff, breeze expected throughout this week’s test, he should be more adept than most at managing the conditions.

In truth I was disappointed to miss out on the Australian in this 12 months ago having been a strong advocate of him in these kinds of tests since he hit the scene, and in hindsight a progressive form line of 42/17 ahead of his victory should have commanded more respect.

58th last week doesn’t overly excite, however within that we find that he shot -11 for the Par-5s on the week, which was tied 4th in the field in that respect and is another important factor for this week, and whilst his GIR numbers were way down the field, this week’s task with its large greens should encourage a significant improvement in that statistic.

14th at The Masters demonstrates a growing maturity in what was only his 2nd Major start, and hidden within that you’ll find a record-equalling front 9 on Sunday of 30 strokes which briefly put the 23 year-old in the top 4, before he fell back on the final 9. 27th at the US Open was far from disastrous too, and if it takes a stellar field for Lee to raise his game then he’s certainly got one here this week.

MinWoo’s sister MinJee won her second Major title at last month’s Women’s US Open; when the tables were turned last year, MinJee won her first Major shortly after her brother’s Scottish Open success here at Renaissance – perhaps he can repeat the feat in reverse this week. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 15:00BST 4.7.22 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.