Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Trophee Hassan II Tips 2019

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After an enforced break on the European Tour as the golfing elite have taken in the WGC Match Play Championship followed by The Masters, the European Tour is back this week with the only regular strokeplay event across both Tours with the PGA Tour’s pairs event in New Orleans offering a little respite to the schedule.

This event in Morocco has been part of the European Tour since 2010 and with 2 courses in use for this event since its inauguration, it’s important to note that we’re returning to the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam track outside of Rabat that hosted 3 rounds in 2010 and all 4 rounds for the past 3 years.

Despite not having had the opportunity to play much golf of late, the European Tour’s rank-and-file have hardly come flocking to Rabat this week with Joost Luiten heading the betting at 16/1 generally. 9 players then follow the Dutchman in the 25/1 to 30/1 bracket, including the likes of perennial bridesmaid Jorge Campillo, defending champion Alex Levy and the seemingly rejuvenated Victor Dubuisson, in what looks to be a wide open affair.

Red Course, Royal Golf Dar Es Salam, Rabat, Morocco. Designer: Trent Jones Senior, 1971 with Duncan renovation, 2017; Course Type: Classical, Parkland; Par: 72; Length: 7,557 yards; Water Hazards: 3; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu.

Course Overview. The Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam is a 7,557 yard, par 72 Robert Trent Jones Senior design carved at the King’s request from the forest of Zaers back in 1971. The brief was to create a layout ‘fit for a King’ from the 1,000 acres at his disposal and that’s what Trent Jones did, ultimately producing 45 holes across 3 separate courses to cater for golfers of various standards. A classical layout by design, this tree-lined track features numerous dog-legs, extensive bunkering and the customary Trent Jones upturned saucer-style greens. Different varieties of trees with a whole array of exotic fruit flank the fairways and Roman ruins between the 11th and 12th holes add to this unique test.

With the fairway bunkering having become little more than ‘flat pads of sand’ over the years and the course simply lengthened and tightened in order to make it more of a challenge, James Duncan was brought in to make the layout more strategically interesting after the 2017 event. Fairways were widened a little on some holes, bunkers renovated and new ones added, plus using the original Trent Jones drawings all 18 greens were fully updated and in some cases enlarged.

The par 3s tend to prove the most testing aspect to this track with 3 of them measuring over 200 yards, plus there’s the signature 9th hole where players need to clear the pond from 188 yards and find the tiny island green to avoid bogey or worse. With 4 par-5s on the card, a player’s performance on the longer holes is critical to their success with the top two last year shooting -15 between them which equalled their overall total relative to par, however to truly contend a player will also need to maintain their score on the remainder of the course.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Trophee Hassan II that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event. Please note, this week’s track was used for 3 rounds of the 2010 event won by Rhys Davies and again for all 4 rounds from 2016-2018; 2011-2015 tournaments were held on a different course in Agadir: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | 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: Alexander Levy, 25/1; 2017: Edoardo Molinari, 150/1; 2016: Jeunghun Wang, 50/1; 2015: Richie Ramsay, 80/1; 2014: Alejandro Canizares, 66/1; 2013: Marcel Siem, 40/1; 2012: Michael Hoey, 80/1; 2011: David Horsey, 80/1; 2010: Rhys Davies, 35/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Rabat is here. The tournament should enjoy fair conditions with temperatures in the high 60s Fahrenheit to start the week then a little warmer over the weekend, with light winds picking up just a little to maybe 10-15 mph each afternoon. The breeziest part of the week looks to be Friday afternoon where the late starters might see 20 mph winds.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. The stats achieved by the top-2 finishers here from the past 3 seasons gives us a little insight into this week’s test:

  • 2018: 1st Alex Levy (-8). 297 yards (17th), 44.6% fairways (53rd), 68.1% Greens In Regulation (13th), 69.6% scrambling (2nd), 1.76 putts per GIR (27th)
  • 2018: 2nd Alvaro Quiros (-7). 299 yards (15th), 62.5% fairways (9th), 73.6% Greens In Regulation (2nd), 26.3% scrambling (67th), 1.70 putts per GIR (14th)
  • 2017: 1st Edoardo Molinari (-9). 291 yards (22nd), 55.4% fairways (36th), 58.3% Greens In Regulation (41st), 76.7% scrambling (1st), 1.69 putts per GIR (14th)
  • 2017: 2nd Paul Dunne (-9). 284 yards (40th), 48.2% fairways (53rd), 62.5% Greens In Regulation (20th), 59.3% scrambling (24th), 1.58 putts per GIR (1st)
  • 2016: 2nd, Nacho Elvira (-5). 288 yards (17th), 41.1% fairways (39th), 54.2% Greens In Regulation (28th), 57.6% scrambling (17th), 1.59 putts per GIR (2nd)

No official stats were published for eventual winner Jeunghun Wang in 2016.

Looking at the most recent winners on this track, Ian Poulter (Moroccan Open, 2001) is a tidy player from tee-to-green who can be exceptional with the putter when he’s on form. Rhys Davies, whose 25-under winning total in 2010 featured three rounds on this course, was renowned as one of the best putters in the world before losing his form and confidence with the flat stick in recent times. 2016 winner Jeunghun Wang, who putted exceptionally well on his way to victory, ranked 6th for the full season in both the Putts Per GIR and Total Putts categories on the European Tour for 2016. 2017 winner Edoardo Molinari has always been seen as the brother with the far superior short game as he held off Paul Dunne who’s without doubt an exceptional putter and last year’s winner Alex Levy is a good, if somewhat streaky, putter when on his game.

Until last year, none of those winners can be said to be particularly long off the tee, however at over 7,500 yards the course would certainly appear to favour the longer hitters in terms of specification and the fact that Alvaro Quiros finished runner-up to another aggressive player Alex Levy last year suggests that length may be an advantage, particular now that the fairways have been widened a little.

Incoming Form: Incoming form of all winners of this event since 2010 is mixed with the likes of Davies, Canizares, Wang and Levy all having recorded recent top-5 finishes prior to winning. Richie Ramsay, however, had been in poor form prior to victory in 2015 and 2017 winner Edoardo Molinari had only shown glimpses of form in between a lot of missed cuts:

  • 2018: Alex Levy: 44/7/26/31/30/37/36/7/4/55/4/36
  • 2017: Edoardo Molinari: MC/28/MC/MC/MC/14/7/MC/MC/MC/76/11
  • 2016: Jeunghun Wang: 12/14/15/5/6/4/MC/29/25/2/8/MC
  • 2015: Richie Ramsay: 9/17/2/WD/21/71/16/MC/MC/WD/MC/MC
  • 2014: Alejandro Canizares: 38/24/63/44/18/14/6/23/49/5/54/66
  • 2013: Marcel Siem: MC/68/51/11/MC/42/26/39/42/37/33/39
  • 2012: Michael Hoey: 1/20/62/23/38/MC/54/33/48/12/MC/33
  • 2011: David Horsey: 41/23/48/MC/MC/35/MC/53/13/76/59/51
  • 2010: Rhys Davies: 35/3/3/36/17/67/56/41/6/MC/35/3

Event Form. Given that we’ve only got a few year’s worth of history and much of that was at the other course in Agadir, event history is fairly sparse and should be considered accordingly:

  • 2018: Alex Levy: 35/37/MC/34/34
  • 2017: Edoardo Molinari: 6/64/25/47
  • 2016: Jeunghun Wang: Debut
  • 2015: Richie Ramsay: MC/7/17/15/11
  • 2014: Alejandro Canizares: 43/51/58/32
  • 2013: Marcel Siem: MC/MC/52
  • 2012: Michael Hoey: MC/19
  • 2011: David Horsey: 29
  • 2010: Rhys Davies: Debut

A long, classical track that will present the players with a decent challenge makes for an interesting week, however the changes made to the course prior to last year’s renewal may well swing the pendulum a little more towards power over accuracy given what we saw with the aggressive play of Alex Levy and Alvaro Quiros taking centre stage. Heavy scoring on the par-5s whilst securing par elsewhere on the course looks to be the best recipe for success; those raw attributes combined with a hot putter will hopefully see one of my team over the line here this week.

My final selections are as follows:

Julian Suri 2pts EW 28/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

This event hasn’t produced too many winners from way off the page with Edoardo Molinari the only triple-digit chance to take this title since this event formed part of the European Tour in 2010, and I’m going with a team of 4 talented individuals who I believe have the game and ability to convert an event like this. Top of my list is American Julian Suri whose approach to the game reminds me very much of last year’s winner Alex Levy and that same positive, aggressive style could pay dividends here this week.

Two of the four winners to date on this layout in Rabat have been course debutants and with a player as talented as Suri there’s no reason to suggest he won’t take to this layout immediately, as he did when winning both the D&D Real Czech Challenge in 2017 and the Made In Denmark on the European Tour a few weeks later. Despite averaging over 318 yards off the tee for the 2019 season so far, power isn’t his only weapon as he’s proved himself capable on both tough and more strategic tracks in his relatively short European Tour career to date, including 8th at Valderrama, 2nd at Fanling in Hong Kong, 2nd at Le Golf National and 5th at Walton Heath in the past 18 months or so. His most recent outing, where he finished 4th on that testing layout in India, is another pointer that he could go well here this week.

The 28 year-old had hernia surgery at the start of the year, having struggled with the injury as 2018 came to a close, however he’s come flying out of the blocks on his return to competitive golf to remind us all of the talent he possesses. 20th at the Maybank Championship shook off the rust before he led from the start in India, only to finally come undone on the final day with a round of 77 – that doesn’t tell the whole story though as he can count himself desperately unlucky to have been caught out by the brutal 14th hole where his approach shot was only a fraction out and he eventually made a quadruple bogey. With that disappointment in the past now and the best part of a month to reflect on the rest of his excellent play that week, I’m expecting a positive bounce from the New Yorker this week. Result: T2

Thomas Detry 1.5pts EW 40/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfair

One player who ticked virtually every box for me this week statistically is Thomas Detry and whilst that’s not the be-all and end-all when trying to find the winner in this game, it’s enough for me to include him in the team here in Morocco. Although still to win a regular European Tour event despite having won the World Cup alongside Thomas Pieters last autumn, his 12-stoke victory at the Bridgestone Challenge in 2016 on the classical setup at Heythrop Park gives us some clues that he’s comfortable on wide(ish) but tree-lined tests. 19th here last year was finished off with an impressive round of 68 that was bettered by just two players on the day and with a further year’s worth of experience under his belt since then, more progress can be expected this time around.

At a touch over 306 yards off the tee, the 26 year-old has the power to tame this lengthy layout, however it’s his par-3 and par-5 scoring this term that really stands out as he currently ranks 1st and 12th on those metrics respectively and, given the difficulty of the par-3s and the need to score heavily on the par-5s, those are pretty impressive numbers coming into this week. Couple that with the fact that he’s been putting well this season – 30th for putts per GIR and 35th for strokes gained putting – and we have a pretty potent combination seeing as he ranked 6th for GIR on his last start which was at the Corales Championship on the PGA Tour. 66 in the second round that week showed that he wasn’t overawed on the world’s top Tour, even if it wasn’t that week’s main event, and a drop back to mid-level European Tour action may well reap its rewards for the talented Belgian. Result: T9

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Paul Dunne 1.5pts EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

You can follow some players over the proverbial cliff, however I’m willing to give Paul Dunne another chance here this week after a prominent performance at the PGA Tour’s Corales Championship on his last start. The Irishman led after day 1 in the Dominican Republic after an opening round of 66 and was still in with a chance heading into Sunday before treading water on the final day. Nevertheless, 12th overall shows promise, especially when combined with his 3rd place finish at the tree-lined World Super 6 where he sat 2nd after the 54-hole strokeplay element had been completed.

The 26 year-old’s driving accuracy is usually his biggest weakness, however there’s something about these tree-lined affairs that brings the best out of his game and his three successive Open Championship qualifying wins at Woburn between 2014-16 underline that point perfectly. He could easily have won here in 2017 were it not for a miraculous birdie-eagle finish from Edoardo Molinari to force a play-off which the Italian eventually won with a par at the first extra hole. A missed 8-footer finally put paid to his challenge that week, however his putting has looked excellent of late – he was 4th for putting average at the Corales with 1.60 – and provided he can keep his ball on the planet from off the tee this week, then he has a chance of contending here once again. Result: T38

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Adria Arnaus 1pt EW 60/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Sportingbet

One of this season’s early eye-catchers has been Adria Arnaus and it looks only a matter of time before the long-hitting Spaniard breaks through on the European Tour. First round leader in Qatar and 4th heading into the weekend eventually fizzled out to 14th as he got to grips with being in serious contention at this level, however he nearly converted on his very next start with a prominent display all week in Kenya, eventually finishing runner-up to Guido Migliozzi. More good experience though and after a false start in Malaysia he’s back on a course that may just appeal to him given that he can drive the ball both long and relatively straight.

Twice a winner on the Alps Tour in 2017 as an amateur – Matt Wallace has proven that we shouldn’t overlook form at that level given what he’s gone on to achieve since graduating to the European Tour and beyond – the 24 year-old also won the Challenge Tour Grand Final last year to sit 2nd in the Order of Merit and earn his card for 2019 which he’s put to good use thus far. For such a long hitter, his ball-striking stats are excellent with 1st and 2nd recorded on that count in those aforementioned efforts in Qatar and Kenya respectively; if he can keep that going this week and find his fair share of putts on these excellent surfaces then another big week isn’t out of the question in my view. Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:20BST 22.4.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.