Paul Williams

Paul Williams' UK Championship Tips

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Chances went begging once again last week with 50/1 shot Connor Syme relinquishing the lead that he’d held after 18, 36 and 54 holes with a run culminating in 4-over in his last 5 holes on Sunday, to fall not only from the lead but also outside of the each-way places, whilst 80/1 chance Sami Valimaki couldn’t make the necessary birdies on the back-9, having hit the front after his eagle on the 9th on Sunday. The Finn did manage to stick around for 2nd place and a good each way return, however once again the overriding sense is of frustration as another name gets crossed off my list for the foreseeable future.

The final leg of the UK Swing sees us head back to England and to the Belfry’s Brabazon Course that hosted the B&H International Open and British Masters earlier in the century before dropping off the schedule, the results from which form this week’s history stats.

With the PGA Tour’s Playoffs moving forwards and a number of players returning from the US, we’ve seen a marked improvement in field quality this week with the likes of Danny Willett, Matt Wallace, Bernd Wiesberger and Matthias Schwab joining the field. Add to that Haotong Li and Robert MacIntyre who joined the UK Swing last week, plus the likes of 2007 Belfry winner Lee Westwood, Eddie Pepperell and Thomas Pieters to name but a few, and we have a decent field to complete this run of 6 hastily-arranged events.

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Course Overview. The Brabazon Course at The Belfry is no stranger to the European Tour with a number of events having been hosted here since the turn of the century, however 2008 was the last time that we saw the Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas design in competitive action at this level. 4 Ryder Cups have also been played around these parts, the most recent of which was team Europe’s win in 2002.

Parkland in style with water in play on half of the holes, the track measures 7,233 yards for its par of 72. 12 par-4s instead of the more typical 10 means that there are just 3 each of the par-3s and par-5s, however scoring on those longer holes at 538, 566 and 564 yards for the 3rd, 15th and 17th respectively is an important part of compiling a competitive score here.

Historically the fairways here have been narrow and the rough lush, however the Bent/Poa greens are of excellent quality giving a little respite to those who are less adept on and around the putting surfaces.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key statistics for this week’s event that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at the Belfry, which was used for the B&H International Open and the British Masters between 2000 and 2008: Current Form | Course Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Stats.

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

Course Winners. 2008: Gonzalo Fdez Castano, -12; 2007: Lee Westwood, -15; 2006: Johan Edfors, -11; 2003: Paul Casey, -11; 2002: Angel Cabrera, -10; 2001, Henrik Stenson, -13; 2000: Jose Maria Olazabal, -13.

For a summary of winners’ odds on the European Tour for the past 10 years click here.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. A slightly calmer week wind-wise is expected in the Midlands with 10-15mph the order of the day. Temperatures will be a pleasant 60 Fahrenheit in the afternoons, give or take, with sunny spells increasing in their frequency after a drizzly start to the 4 days. Thunderstorms and heavy rain may well have given the course another dousing on Tuesday before the event starts and I’d expect it to play relatively long and relatively soft this week.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Skill stats are a little patchy historically for The Belfry, however what we have available gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:

  • 2008, Gonzalo Fdez Castano (-12). 283 yards (14th), 60% fairways (31st), 65.3% greens in regulation (36th), 68% scrambling (4th), 1.68 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 2007, Lee Westwood (-15). 284 yards (18th), 78.3% fairways (3rd), 80.6% greens in regulation (2nd), 78.6% scrambling (1st), 1.72 putts per GIR (11th).
  • 2006, Johan Edfors (-11). 290 yards (10th), 45% fairways (54th), 73.6% greens in regulation (17h), 52.6% scrambling (45th), 1.70 putts per GIR (8th).
  • 2003, Paul Casey (-11). 297 yards (9th), 65% fairways (6th), 76.4% greens in regulation (1st).
  • 2000, Jose Maria Olazabal (-13). 272 yards (28th), 71.7% fairways (3rd), 81.9% greens in regulation (1st), 46.2% scrambling (31st), 1.71 putts per GIR (10th).

Looking at the list of players who’ve succeeded around the Brabazon course here at The Belfry, it’s fair to say that quality Total Driving and Ball-Striking has generally been the key to success. The rough is typically penal around here so maximising the number of long, straight drives and greens hit in regulation is a better route to success than relying on a short game and hot putter to get the job done.

The greens here are generally easy to read and favour those players who might otherwise struggle on the putting surfaces and again that’s reinforced when you see a list of names including Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson all having won here.

Incoming Form: Most recent Belfry winner Gonzalo Fernandez Castano arrived here off the back of a pair of top-25 finishes, with his most recent top-10 finish being at Celtic Manor a few weeks beforehand. Lee Westwood was clearly rounding into some form the year before with three top-10 finishes in succession prior to his win, whereas Johan Edfors was already a season winner when successful here in 2006.

Further back in the days of the B&H International Open, both Paul Casey and Angel Cabrera arrived here fresh off the back of a top-10 finish on their previous start. Henrik Stenson and Jose Maria Olazabal had also shown flashes of form on their previous start to offer punters a little encouragement:

  • 2008: Gonzalo Fdez Castano: MC/MC/MC/9/MC/48/59/MC/71/49/21/25
  • 2007: Lee Westwood: 21/12/52/36/33/19/35/22/32/9/6/6
  • 2006: Johan Edfors: 13/37/1/MC/49/56/45
  • 2003: Paul Casey: MC/9/4/1/18/33/6
  • 2002: Angel Cabrera: 33/5/21/9/36/9/8
  • 2001, Henrik Stenson: 66/64/MC/67/32/40/MC/MC/27
  • 2000: Jose Maria Olazabal: MC/8/17/24/MC/37/MC/33

Course Form:

Aside from Angel Cabrera, our course winners here had patchy history at best at The Belfry prior to lifting their respective trophies:

  • 2008: Gonzalo Fdez Castano: 14/57
  • 2007: Lee Westwood: 54/57/MC/27/MC
  • 2006: Johan Edfors: Debut
  • 2003: Paul Casey: 12/MC
  • 2002: Angel Cabrera: 9/2
  • 2001, Henrik Stenson: Debut
  • 2000: Jose Maria Olazabal: Debut

Similar to how these last few weeks have set up on the European Tour’s UK Swing, we’re presented with an excellent track with some older, historical data and a field that’s largely playing here for the first time.

For me, the Belfry is a good test of golf and scoring isn’t likely to get out of control despite a marked drop in wind speeds compared to last week at Celtic Manor. A soft course with historically straightforward greens of excellent quality will encourage birdies though to those who can keep the ball in play and overall I’d favour those who can gain most of their strokes from tee-to-green as opposed to on the putting surfaces themselves.

The layout isn’t the longest on paper, however with only 3 par-3s and 3 par-5s and with less run on the fairways due to the wet conditions leading up to the event, those players who can maximise length and accuracy should have an advantage if their irons are dialled in.

My selections are as follows:

HaoTong Li 2pts EW 20/1 (6Ew, 1/5) with Betfred

There’s an interesting dynamic to the top of the market this week with Thomas Pieters and Rasmus Hojgaard sharing favouritism from Matt Wallace, however I’m going to take a chance on HaoTong Li who’s just a little further down the betting but well-capable of taking this field on given what we saw for large parts last week in Wales.

Pieters struggled with his irons a little once again last week at Celtic Manor, ranking 55th of those who made the weekend in terms of Greens In Regulation, and he’ll need to sharpen that aspect up quick-smart if he’s going to contend this week in my view. There were no such issues for Hojgaard in that respect before he took some time off having already qualified for the US Open courtesy of his finishes of 2/6/3 to start the UK Swing, and it’s that feeling of ‘job done’ and a firm eye on next month’s Major debut that puts me off the talented Dane.

At his best, Matt Wallace would be a worthy favourite in this field, however form of 59/77/MC from his last three State-side outings is off-putting, particularly as he’s lost strokes from Tee-to-Green on each of those occasions. The same can’t be said for Haotong though who impressed at the US PGA Championship, finishing 17th overall having led at the halfway stage, and he followed that up with an 8th place finish last week in Wales which could have quite reasonably been a victory save for a few too many costly errors.

Saturday’s round of 76 at Celtic Manor was the Chinese star’s undoing, and in particular the front 9 where a triple bogey on the 3rd hole and a further double bogey on the 8th effectively took him out of the tournament. To his credit Li fought back on Sunday to record one of the best rounds of the day with a 67 – despite another double bogey – and takes some good momentum into this week. 2nd for SG Approach and 1st for SG Tee to Green in Wales bodes well for this week and the 25 year-old will be keen to get his career moving in a positive direction once again having dropped out of the OWGR top-100, having been well inside the top-50 a little over a year ago.

Li’s Dubai Desert Classic win back in 2018 correlates well with Belfry Winners Jose Maria Olazabal (won the Dubai Desert Classic in 1998), Henrik Stenson (won the Dubai Desert Classic in 2007) and Lee Westwood (3-times runner-up at the Dubai Desert Classic), and in truth there’s nothing in this field that should overly concern him this week. RESULT: T31

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Victor Perez 2pts EW 33/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Plenty of punters will be feeling aggrieved after last week’s result, taking nothing away from Romain Langasque. As well Connor Syme and Sami Valimaki, both of whom we were on, Sebastian Soderberg was also carrying the hopes and money of many of you judging by Social Media, however in the end none of them could convert as the European Tour Sunday ritual of the lead passing round like a hot potato was in full effect.

Eventual winner Langasque will have slipped under many a punter’s radar last week simply because he hadn’t played the previous week at Celtic Manor, however I’m not going to make the same mistake with his talented compatriot Victor Perez who was last seen finishing 22nd at TPC Harding Park on his Major Championship debut.

If strokes gained in the various long-game departments proves to be the deciding factor in this week’s test at The Belfry, then we only need to look at the stretch of 5 results from his win at the Dunhill Links in September to his runner-up finish at the Turkish Airlines Open in November of last year for evidence of his chance here this week. During that stretch he topped SG Off the Tee twice, SG Approach 3 times and SG Tee to Green 3 times as he leapt from close to 200th in the OWGR to inside the top-50 by the end of the year.

So, we have a game that seemingly fits and some Gallic momentum from last week’s winner to compliment an impressive performance on the elite stage, which was only bettered by my headline selection Haotong Li at TPC Harding Park. In addition, that breakthrough win at the Dunhill Links is a title shared with the only Belfry winner in the field here this week, Lee Westwood. 4th at the HSBC Champions also correlates well with both Westwood and Stenson having finished runner up in that event twice each, plus 2nd in Abu Dhabi behind Westwood (again) also clearly fits, as does the fact that Stenson has again finished runner up there twice and Paul Casey has won there twice.

Going back to that aforementioned effort at the US PGA Championship. 4th for Total Driving and 4th for Ball-Striking would suggest that his long game’s in a pretty good place right now and he could well prove to be a more formidable player in this week’s field than his position in the betting market suggests. RESULT: T65

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James Morrison 1pt EW 150/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Betfred

The buzz surrounding last week’s PGA Tour event at TPC Boston was undoubtedly all around the low scoring, with an incredible 30-under total from Dustin Johnson – including a 2nd round of 60 which could have been well into the 50s – and of course Scottie Scheffler’s magical round of 59, however another player who’s gone super-low recently is James Morrison.

Now the 58 that the Englishman recorded shortly after lockdown started to ease and golf courses opened in the UK carries a few caveats of course when comparing it to the feats of the new world number 1 and Sheffler. It was achieved on a short par 70 at Morrison’s home course of St George’s Hill whilst playing with friends as opposed to in any pressurised competition, however you need to be playing some very nice golf regardless to produce that kind of round wherever you tee it up. Sam Horsfield has already proven (twice) that you should ignore these minor details at your peril.

There’s a little more substance to this bet than that effort in June though. 27th at the Celtic Classic and 5th last week on the same track suggests that his game is trending nicely forwards and 3rd for SG Tee to Green last week is the green light for me to take a chance on him continuing his improvement here this week.

10th for Driving Accuracy, 13th for GIR and 2nd for Scrambling last week are tidy enough figures ahead of this week and any kind of improvement with the putter may well see him contend for this week’s title at a long price. 135 over the weekend was the lowest aggregate 2-round score of the entire field at Celtic Manor part II and with that strategy nearly paying dividends for us last week with Sami Valimaki, I’ll happily adopt the same approach given the price on offer. RESULT: T39

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Craig Howie 1pt EW 250/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Finally I’ll take a punt on Scotland’s Craig Howie who impressed at the Diamond Country Club on the Tour’s reappearance after the Covid lockdown and, from the little tangible form we’ve seen, would appear to be a good fit for The Belfry.

4th in Austria was the Peebles golfer’s best career finish and, with his limited status for playing on the European Tour, he’s well aware that opportunities like that and again this week need to be capitalised upon if he’s going to continue rising up the levels.

The 26 year-old’s maiden professional victory came a couple of years ago on the Pro Golf Tour; however he’s shown since with a strong Q-School campaign that earned his Challenge Tour card for this year, as well as limited starts at the upper level such as last week and this, that he’s capable of operating at a decent level.

10th at the Limpopo Championship on the Sunshine Tour gives us a hint that his long game is suitable for the demands of the Brabazon this week, ranking 2nd for Driving Accuracy that week. 25th at the Dimension Data Pro-Am prior to lockdown demonstrated much of the same (5th for Accuracy, 4th for GIR) and although we don’t have figures for Austria, it’s a fair assumption given the demands of that track that we saw something similar that week too.

21st last week at Celtic Manor was another positive display, punctuated by an impressive 76.4% of Greens In Regulation, which ranked 2nd in the field, as well as finishing 6th for SG off the Tee and 8th for SG Tee to Green, both of which may well prove to be important factors again this week. Craig lost strokes on the greens last week, however a more placid forecast and greens that have historically favoured those with a little less prowess with the putter could well work to his advantage, and another strong finish could see each-way backers rewarded once again. RESULT: T5

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:20BST 24.8.20 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.