Hero Open Tips & Predictions: Best bets for Fairmont St Andrews
Chaos seems to follow the European Tour week after week and last week’s final round of the ISPS Handa World Invitational was no different. As the top 2 overnight, Jordan Smith and David Horsey capitulated on their respective back 9s, to allow the Challenge Tour’s Daniel Gavins to make up a 7 shot deficit and win his first professional title. The UK swing continues this week as the players head to Fairmont St Andrews – Torrance Course in Fife.
Not to be confused with its more illustrious neighbour, the Fairmont St Andrews resort was built in the late 90s, with two courses: the Kittocks Course and this week’s venue, the Torrance Course. Designed by Denis Griffiths with the help of Gene Sarezen and title character Sam Torrance.
A par 72 measuring 7230 yards, this is an imitation of links golf, rather than links golf itself but there is still enough in the look and feel of the course that will satisfy the players who enjoy the purest form of golf.
It made its first appearance in the Scottish Championship last year, as Adrian Otaegui shot -23 in a 4 shot victory over Matt Wallace. The low scoring is easy to understand when you take into consideration the fairways are wide, with little in the way of thick rough and greens that are big and easy to hit. It’s set up for birdies.
Being situated on the coast, it is certainly at the mercy of the elements and the strongest of that predicted breeze will need to arrive to give the players any sort of a challenge. Though I’m not sure that will be enough to stop the scoring. With rain expected the course will play soft and the players will once again be firing at the pins. Meaning quality iron play will set you well for the week, as last year’s top two showed, with winner, Otaegui ranking 1st in approach and runner-up, Wallace, ranking 3rd.
Hero Open Tips
- Danie Van Tonder 40/1 – 1/5 6 places (Betfred) – 1.25 pts ew (NAP)
- Dale Whitnell 70/1 – 1/5 7 places (Paddy Power) – 1 pt ew (NB)
- Craig Howie 125/1 – 1/5 7 places (Paddy Power) – 0.75 pts ew (Longshot)
- Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez 150/1 – 1/5 7 places (Paddypower) 0.75 pts ew (Longshot)
- Matthias Schmid 70/1 – 1/5 6 places (William Hill) – 1 pt ew (Others to consider)
- Nicolai Hojgaard 90/1 – 1/5 7 places (Paddy Power) – 1 pt ew (Others to consider)
Andy Sullivan heads the market at 16/1, which is a sign of a field lacking in strength, as he’s been out of sorts this year. Followed by the likes of Marcus Armitage, Masahiro Kawamura and Jordan Smith. There is little that appeals right at the top end, so I’m going to start a little further down, with big hitting South African, Danie Van Tonder.
After being a good player for a number of years on the Sunshine Tour in his native South Africa, Van Tonder stepped it up a level in 2020. Exerting his dominance in sensational fashion to pick up 4 wins and 7 other top 10s in just 16 starts.
Further improvement has come in 2021, getting a call up to the two European Tour events staged in Kenya earlier in the year, winning the second one in excellent style, in a play-off over Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond, after both tied on -21. Gaining himself a European Tour card in the process.
Though his form since doesn’t read particularly impressively in terms of bare numbers, with four missed cuts in his last seven events and a best of 12th in the BMW International Open, there’s been plenty to be positive about. Just looking at the numbers alone doesn’t take into consideration the massive leap he’s made in terms of the quality of opponent he’s now up against.
He’s played in two majors - the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island where he finished 44th and would’ve gone even better if it wasn’t for a poor putting week, as he was ranked the 3rd best player tee-to-green amongst the world’s best. Then two starts ago he finished 40th in the Open Championship and was well in the mix over the first two rounds, before fading over the weekend. A missed cut last time out in the Cazoo Open but I feel this week’s test will be more to his liking.
He’s an excellent driver, ranking 1st on the European Tour and a solid 86th in approach, capable of fantastic golf in that respect as he showed in his win in Kenya. He’s proven in low scoring events and with the way he drives the ball, he should take these par 5s apart.
After turning pro in 2009 off the back of a good but short amateur career, that saw him rise as high as 11 in the rankings and represent GB & NI in the 2009 Walker Cup, it took Whitnell ten years to finally make his presence felt in the pro ranks. Multiple trips to Q School, as well as playing various mini tours, he was rewarded for sticking with it in 2019, picking up his first professional title in the KPMG Trophy on the Challenge Tour.
A European Tour card followed and he’s become a consistent performer at this level over the last couple of years. Two top 10s last year, finishing 4th in the British Masters and 6th in the Cyprus Open. He’s been more consistent this year, missing just 4 cuts in 16 events and even though he only has one top 10 so far, a 4th place finish in the Irish Open a few weeks ago, he’s twice finished 11th, with three other top 25s to boot.
He has a really solid all round game, ranking top 100 in all strokes gained categories but particularly excels with his irons, ranking 23rd in approach, something that will serve him well this week. As will the fact he makes plenty of birdies, ranking 36th in birdie average and that solo professional win in 2019 came with a winning score of -23, with Whitnell shooting -22 over his final three rounds.
He regularly shows up when playing in the UK and I’ll overlook the fact he missed the cut here last year. As stated, he’s improved his consistency this year and looks a player capable of winning one of these events at some point.
A couple of three-figure selections this week, this type of event almost demands it. Where anyone can have a hot week with the putter and get themselves into the mix. First up is Scotland’s Craig Howie.
In contrast to Whitnell, Howie is right at the start of his professional career. He turned pro in 2018 after a good amateur career, reaching 34th in the world. A win early on in his pro career on the Pro Golf Tour, he stepped up to Challenge Tour level in 2019 and struggled initially.
2020 was a different matter for Howie, who returned from the enforced break due to covid in July of last year, finishing 4th in the co-sanctioned European Tour/Challenge Tour event, the Austrian Open, which in turn helped him get more starts on the European Tour. He took advantage of these extra starts, finishing 5th in the UK Championship at The Belfry and amassing 3 other top 25s in 6 European Tour events.
Back down in grade to the Challenge Tour this year, Howie picked up his second victory in the Range Servant Challenge in Sweden back in May, with a facile 7 shot victory and a winning score of -22. The course that week played soft and there was strong breeze throughout the week, conditions not dissimilar to those he’ll face this week.
His form has remained solid since, with three other top 25s and he makes his first start on the European Tour since April. A player with two wins to his name already and who’s already proved he’s capable of competing at this level. He should enjoy the trip home and think he’ll improve on his 43rd place finish last year.
With a similar profile to Dale Whitnell, Garcia Rodriguez has also started to make strides after he hit the age of 30. Ten years between his first start and his first pro victory, when he won on the Alps Tour in 2017. He played sparingly in 2018 but really came into his own in 2019.
Two more victories on the Alps Tour in the early part of that year, he achieved the step up to the Challenge Tour and took the opportunity with both hands. Landing a couple of 2nd place finishes and numerous other top 10s & top 25s, earning himself a European Tour card for 2020.
Like Howie, he went well in the co-sanctioned Austrian Open after the covid break last year, also finishing 4th and though his form was a little in and out, missing 9 cuts in 20, he did pick up another two top 10s. Highlighting him as a capable player at this level.
It’s been a similar story this year, where he hasn’t been the most consistent, missing 8 of 15 cuts but when he does make the cut, he often threatens the top end of the leaderboard. 4th in the Kenya Open and 8th in the Tenerife Open are his two best performances and he’s also hit the top 25 on three other occasions. Most notably, his best performances often come in events where making plenty of birdies is a prerequisite.
With this, it is no surprise to see he ranks 9th on tour in birdie average. He’s a little wayward off the tee, ranking 143rd in driving accuracy but he’ll get away with that more this week than most other weeks and is solid in all other aspects, a particularly good putter, ranking 11th in putts per GIR and 47th in SG: putting.
Recent form figures of 62-MC-MC-MC doesn’t inspire great confidence but he did finish top 25 in two of his three starts before that. He looks a real horses for courses type and as one of the most prolific birdie makers on the European Tour, I think he’ll turn that form around this week in a test that will suit more than recent events.
To finish off this week I’m going to go with two really talented younger players, hoping that their natural aggression will suit this birdie laden test. Both of whom are former European Amateur Champions, starting with Germany’s Matthias Schmid.
Schmid is only two weeks a professional golfer but arrives in the pro ranks with plenty of promise and expectation. He enjoyed a stellar amateur career, reaching #10 in the world and became only the second player to win back-to-back European Amateur Championships in ’19 & ’20. Also a winner in America’s ultra competitive collegiate system and constantly putting up other quality performances in that sphere.
In the final weeks of his amateur career, he achieved an impressive 14th place finish in the BMW International Open in his native Germany and in his last event before turning pro, put in a more than respectable 59th place finish in the Open Championship to take top amateur honours.
Two starts in Europe since turning pro and he’s performed well on both occasions. First finishing 47th in the Cazoo Open in Wales and following it up with an even better 19th place finish in Northern Ireland last week, where he opened with a fantastic 64, to sit 2nd after round one.
He’s made a bunch of birdies in his last few starts and looks a very good ball-striking type, which is backed up by his stats in Wales, where he ranked 24th in approach and 30th off the tee of those who made the cut.
Vincent Norrman of Sweden has proven in recent weeks, that these young players are ready to go the moment they turn pro and the early signs are that Schmid may follow a similar path. If he hits the ball as well as he has in recent weeks and shows that typically fearless, attacking nature that younger golfers usually carry, he’s got a higher ceiling than most players in this field and can go even better than previous starts.
Finally, we come to the youngster who won the European Amateur the year preceding Schmid’s double win, Nicolai Hojgaard. Often overshadowed by twin brother Rasmus in their short careers, he’s arguably been the one showing the better form this year.
Both of these talented twins were great amateurs but Nicolai was actually the higher ranked one, reaching a high of 5th, whilst Rasmus ranked 22nd. He’s having to bide his time whilst his sibling has enjoyed a blistering start to his pro career, winning twice on the European Tour already but there’s no doubt he’s just as big a talent.
He had a bit of a tough time last year, missing 11 cuts in 20 with a best of 16th and no other top 25 finishes but he’s left that form behind this year and has played consistently well from the start. Already with two top 10s, the best a 4th place finish in the Canary Islands, which was a similarly birdie heavy test, he’s picked up another couple of top 20s and missed just 4 cuts in 12 starts.
A quality iron player, where he ranks 19th and an aggressive birdie maker, ranking 27th on tour in birdie average. He’s very long off the tee and once again I expect his wildness in terms of accuracy to be much less of an issue around this generous driving course. He should be able to take the par 5s apart this week and think it’s only a matter of time before he starts to make ground in the twin trophy stakes.