Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Volvo China Open Tips 2024

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With Yannik Paul (33/1) and Haotong Li (100/1) out in the final group on Sunday last week in Japan, hopes were high of a winning week with the pair having played some impressive stuff, especially with 1-shot leader Casey Jarvis seeking his first DP World Tour title. Needless to say it didn’t pan out as expected otherwise this paragraph would be far more upbeat, with all 3 men struggling on Sunday and my pair unable to make a birdie between them all day while the bogey and doubles flowed. On we go.

The DP World Tour stays in the east for a second week before we break again ahead of the US PGA Championship in a fortnight’s time. Historically one of the more established events on the schedule, the pandemic meant that the Volvo China Open has been restricted to the Asian and China Tours since Mikko Korhonen won here in 2019, so its return this week to co-sanctioned status is very welcome.

Last week’s runner-up Sebastian Soderberg heads the betting this week at 16/1 from the likes of Jordan Smith, Tom McKibbin and Yannik Paul in a betting heat that’s heavily skewed towards the visiting DP World Tour players.

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Hidden Grace Golf Club, Shenzhen, China. Designer: Neil Haworth, 1995 with 2008 re-design; Course Type: Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,147 yards; Water Hazards: 12; Fairways: Paspalum; Rough: Paspalum; Greens: Platinum Paspalum, 10′ on the stimp.

Course Overview. Originally known as Genzon Golf Club which will be familiar to those of you who have followed the Tour for a number of years, the club was renamed as Hidden Grace in 2022 but other than that there have been little changes since we last visited these parts.

Neil Haworth put the finishing touches to his re-design in 2008 with the course having originally opened in 1995 and the clearing of trees and foliage, particularly on the front 9, made the course feel a little more open than it was following those original renovations.

The 7,147 yard, par 72 features 4 mid-length par-5s and 3 sub-380 yard par-4s that will appeal to the longer hitters, however with Dragon Lake lurking on many of the holes there’s certainly an element of accuracy required to avoid the worst of any trouble.

Both 9s follow a similar pattern of generally easier holes to allow players to get a decent start to their rounds before the course bites back a little, however in normal conditions the course is scoreable and the par-5s at the 2nd, 9th, 13th and 17th offer the best eagle opportunities to the more aggressive players.

volvo china open tips

Tournament Stats. Course data comes from the various events held here at Hidden Grace over the years, both on the China Tour and from the Volvo China Open & Shenzhen International events on the European Tour as it was: Current Form | Event 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.

Course Winners: 2023: Sarit Suwannarut (-19); 2021: Jin Zhang (-8); 2020: Huilin Zhang (-19); 2019: Mikko Korhonen (-20); 2017: Bernd Wiesberger (-16); 2016: Soomin Lee (-16); 2015: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (-12); 2014: Alex Levy (-19).

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

Wet weather in the lead-up to this week’s China Open will make turf conditions soft and receptive, particular to start with as more rain is expected on Wednesday and into Thursday. From there conditions are expected to improve a little with temperatures nudging towards 80 Fahrenheit by the end of the weekend, accompanied by light winds and the odd shower.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Although we have limited course history to go on in terms of the Volvo China Open, the course also hosted the Shenzhen International on the European Tour from 2015-17 to give us a little more to work with.

Key stats from the events where stats were captured are as follows:

  • 2023: Sarit Suwannarut (-19). 337 yards (1st), 76.8% fairways (16th), 75% Greens In Regulation (10th), 38.9% scrambling (50th), 1.61 putts per GIR (1st)
  • 2019: Mikko Korhonen (-20). 275 yards (44th), 80.4% fairways (11th), 84.7% Greens In Regulation (3rd), 63.6% scrambling (29th), 1.62 putts per GIR (8th)
  • 2017: Bernd Wiesberger (-16). 284 yards (30th), 76.8% fairways (13th), 75% Greens In Regulation (26th), 72.2% scrambling (2nd), 1.76 putts per GIR (31st)
  • 2016: Soomin Lee (-16). 286 yards (28th), 64.3% fairways (50th), 75.9% Greens In Regulation (30th), 69.2% scrambling (4th), 1.66 putts per GIR (3rd)
  • 2015: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (-12). 287 yards (22nd), 67.9% fairways (32nd), 75.0% Greens In Regulation (22nd), 55.6% scrambling (23rd), 1.69 putts per GIR (6th)
  • 2014: Alexander Levy (-19). 296 yards (7th), 80.4% fairways (11th), 81.9% Greens In Regulation (5th), 53.8% scrambling (23rd), 1.63 putts per GIR (3rd)

With fairways easy to find and even the most flagrant from off the tee managing to find the short grass with regularity, the stats tell us that this is a 2nd shot golf course. Maximising greens hit and then putting to as low an average as possible is the route to success that’s most likely to reap rewards here.

The par-5s are critical to a player’s performance – Suwannarut was 12-under for the long holes in last year’s renewal on the China Tour; Wiesberger was 10-under in 2017, Lee was 9-under, Aphibarnrat 8-under in a tougher renewal, and Levy was -12. The only player to break that mould was Mikko Korhonen who did most of the damage on the par-4s, shooting -13 on those holes.

Incoming Form: Immediate form varies between the course winners since 2014, with defending champion Sarit Suwannarut coming in off some particularly poor results. Jin Zhang had led after round one on his previous start though, eventually finishing 6th and Huilin Zhang also finished 6th on his last outing as golf slowly restarted in China following the pandemic.

In terms of the European Tour events, Mikko Korhonen had contended in India 2 starts before, eventually finishing 10th, whereas Bernd Wiesberger was dropping down from the PGA Tour and had finished 43rd at The Masters on his last start.4 top-4 finishes in his previous 6 European Tour starts gave a hint that the drop in class would suit.

Soomin Lee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat both had multiple recent contending performances to suggest that they could go well, whereas Alex Levy had recorded his best result of the 2014 season on his previous start before obliging at a massive 150/1:

  • 2023: Sarit Suwannarut: 45/27/35/MC/MC/9/37/23/76/MC/WD/MC
  • 2021: Jin Zhang: 6/MC/10/42/13/29/57/43/12/57/45/6
  • 2020: Huilin Zhang: 2/18/WD/56/MC/4/1/MC/60/4/60/6
  • 2019: Mikko Korhonen: 3/35/16/57/MC/38/44/31/18/MC/10/30
  • 2017: Bernd Wiesberger: 2/35/4/4/4/37/32/3/45/17/23/43
  • 2016: Soomin Lee: 11/17/32/MC/30/34/7/7/2/22/MC/51
  • 2015: Kiradech Aphibarnrat: 37/4/4/5/10/18/45/38/MC/4/6/MC
  • 2014: Alex Levy: MC/46/52/47/3/56/MC/67/42/MC/37/20

Event Form. Course form for our 8 winners is as sparse as I can ever recall for an event, with only Mikko Korhonen being able to claim any sort of vaguely positive record here before winning. Of course those making their debuts can be excused, however 2021 winner Jin Zhang’s record of 6 straight missed cuts prior to victory suggests that we shouldn’t get hung up on course form:

  • 2023: Sarit Suwannarut: Debut
  • 2021: Jin Zhang: MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/MC
  • 2020: Huilin Zhang: MC/MC/57/MC
  • 2019: Mikko Korhonen: 39/24/39
  • 2017: Bernd Wiesberger: Debut
  • 2016: Soomin Lee: Debut
  • 2015: Kiradech Aphibarnrat: Debut
  • 2014: Alex Levy: Debut

For me this is an event that will reward 2nd shot excellence first and foremost, with those who are best able to convert birdies or eagles on the par 5s likely to advance their scores the quickest and those who can minimise bogeys best able to hold onto a contending position. The Paspalum greens are also a consideration and those who’ve putted well on similar surfaces in the past could also enjoy this week’s test which should prove to be low-scoring.

My final selections are as follows:

Antoine Rozner 2pts EW 30/1 (6EW, 1/5) with William Hill

The top of the market isn’t the most appealing this week, with last week’s runner-up Sebastian Soderberg favourite at the time of writing. That 2nd place finish matched his effort in India on his previous start and his chance is plain to see on those two outings, yet a lower-scoring affair this week doesn’t overly scream his name and his one visit here back in 2019 resulted in a missed cut.

Jordan Smith will need to find the putter if he’s going to contend this week, and in that respect Tom McKibbin appeals more given that he ranked 3rd for SG Putting last week in Japan. This is McKibbin’s first appearance in China though and his flat stick performances on the early season Paspalum putting surfaces leave a lot of room for improvement.

I can’t stomach backing either Yannik Paul or Haotong Li after their efforts on Sunday when carrying my money, however at a slightly longer price I think there’s enough to like about Antoine Rozner’s game to take a chance on him here this week.

All 3 of the Frenchman’s win have some relevance to this week’s task: his breakthrough win at the 2020 Golf in Dubai Championship came at 25-under par to prove that he can shoot low enough when the conditions dictate, whereas his 2021 Qatar Masters and 2022 Mauritius Open wins came on courses featuring Paspalum grass.

Talking of Paspalum, the progression he showed in the early season Middle East events which saw finishes of 32nd (Dubai Invitational), 16th (Dubai Desert Classic), 12th (Bahrain Championship) and 6th (Qatar Masters) featured similar putting surfaces on those final two efforts, and he arrives here this week to tackle a course on debut that I think plays to his strengths.

Averaging a touch under 306 yards from off the tee for this season to date, the 31 year-old has the power to attack the scoring holes here in soft conditions. 13th for the Par-5 Scoring category this term is an encouraging stat to back up the assertion that he has the raw credentials to perform well here, and his approach play (8th SG Approach) and putting (24th SG Putting) so far this year suggests to me that he can accumulate a competitive total here this week.

As I articulated in the preamble, course form and history has been of little consequence here at Hidden Grace over the years, and I think Rozner will take to this course very nicely indeed on debut.

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Daniel Hillier 1.5pts EW 45/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Another player making his Hidden Grace debut this week is Daniel Hillier and I’m happy to support him after an exciting return to form last week in Japan.

Three times a Charles Tour winner before breaking through on the Challenge Tour with wins in 2021 and 2022, the Kiwi moved his career to a new level when capturing last year’s Betfred British Masters courtesy of an outstanding final round of 66 on a challenging course. That win was telegraphed to a degree with finishes of 5th at the KLM Open 5 weeks before and then 3rd at the BMW International Open the week prior, so perhaps last week’s 11th place finish after an indifferent run of results is the precursor to another big week here in China.

11th for Driving Distance for the season to date is a decent attribute to have on what promises to be a soft, scoreable track, although somewhat surprisingly for a player of his length that’s backed up by 30th for Driving Accuracy. 5th for GIR tells us that his irons are in good shape this year – often helped by being a long way down the fairways with a more lofted club in hand – which all in all tells us he’d be a world-beater, or at least pretty prolific at this level, if he could putt consistently well.

93rd of the 143 players currently measured for SG Putting provides us with the answer, yet last week tells us a different story as the 25 year-old ranked 7th in the field on that same metric and perhaps crucially led the field for birdies made on the week with 22. If he continues in the same vein this week then I think he could go very close to securing his second title.

 

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Alex Levy 1.5pts EW 45/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

One of the more predictable members of this week’s team is Alex Levy, and I can’t let him go unbacked on a course where he’s tasted victory in the past.

Having spent 11 years on the European/DP World Tour having progressed from the Challenge Tour ranks in 2013, the amiable Frenchman finally lost his playing rights at the top level at the end of last year due to a combination of injury and eventually not regaining sufficient form to save his card. Make no mistake though, this 5-time winner is more than capable at this level when he’s fit, healthy and playing well – and that’s exactly where he’s at right now.

The promise of wet weather to start the event will be music to the ears of the 33 year-old who’s proven himself a flat-track bully on more than one occasion, most notably when winning the weather-reduced Portugal Masters in 2014 and the Porsche European Open two years later. Two of his other wins have came in this event, the first of which was here when the course was known as Genzon Golf Club back in 2014, then again 3 years later at Topwin. Safe to say he enjoys playing in China, as just one missed cut in 16 starts demonstrates, plus he’s recorded a further three top-4 finishes on top of his aforementioned wins.

Recent form is all at lower levels of course given his status, but is promising nonetheless. 7th and 4th in consecutive weeks on the PGTI last month, he was unlucky to run into an inspired Garrick Porteous at the Abu Dhabi Challenge the week before last where his 23-under total was one shot too many in the end.

9th last week at the UAE Challenge wasn’t quite so close in a tougher event for scoring, however 14-under for the Par-5s suggests that he’s back to his swashbuckling best on the long holes and that should set him up beautifully for this week’s task.

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Ivan Cantero Gutierrez 1pt EW 100/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfred

It’s sometimes easy to ignore a fairly unfamiliar name who appears at the top end of a leaderboard and assume it was just a flash in the pan. Two appearances on two leaderboards in the space of three starts demands a little more scrutiny though and Ivan Cantero could be a name that we see more regularly as the season progresses.

The Spaniard’s first attempt at DP World Tour level golf back in 2019 following a successful Q School campaign ended in a prompt return to the Challenge Tour, however he’s back again in 2024 and looks increasingly well equipped to establish himself at this level.

6 straight missed cuts from the season’s opener in Johannesburg doesn’t really back up that assertion, however since finishing 23rd at the Kenya Open at the end of February he’s increasingly impressed. 6th at the Jonsson Workwear Open last month saw the 28 year-old lead after the first day and stick around for the rest of the tournament for what was a personal best finish at DP World Tour level, only to trump that last week with a 3rd place finish in Japan after an opening round of 70 left him the wrong side of the cut line after the first 18 holes.

Statistically Ivan has a lot of the raw ingredients that I’m looking for this week: 10th on Tour for Driving Distance at a mighty 322 yards average should allow him to attack these open fairways and 31st for Par-5 Scoring, despite missing all those cuts, suggests that he can maximise the opportunities that the long holes present here. 1st for Eagles for the season reinforces that point and he should enjoy the challenge that this course presents this week.

1st for SG Putting at that aforementioned 6th place finish in South Africa demonstrates an ability to putt, and he topped the SG Off the Tee statistic last week in Japan whilst also ranking 4th for SG Tee to Green. As ever it’s difficult to really assess what kind of a player we have on our hands here, however with the price on offer in this field I’m happy to pay to find out.

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 14:30BST 29.4.24 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.