The Open Championship
It was a disappointing week for us in the end at the John Deere Classic with both Russell Henley and Patrick Rodgers who were in the mix for us at the halfway stage stalling over the weekend.
The event in the end was one by Lucas Glover who bagged his first tour title in over a decade.
So with the John Deere firmly in our rear view mirror we come to what in many people’s eyes is the biggest week of the year with the playing of the 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s GC.
Situated in the South Coast of England in Sandwich in Kent, Royal St George’s last hosted the Open Championship in 2011 when Darren Clarke was memorably lifted the Claret Jug.
This week will mark the 15th occasion on, which this regular on the Open rota, will have hosted the Open with the previous occasion to Clarke’s victory, in 2003, remembered for one of the biggest upset’s in Major Championship history when unheralded American Ben Curtis hoisted the trophy.
As all readers I am sure will know the venue was originally scheduled to host the 2020 Open Championship, however with that event cancelled due to the covid-19 pandemic, the decision was made to move this years Championship to Royal St George’s meaning the 150th Open will take place at St Andrews next year.
As with any Major Championship there are plenty of fascinating storylines coming in, will Jon Rahm follow up on his fantastic win at Torrey Pines? Will Dustin Johnson rediscover his magic from the end of last year?, Can Brooks Koepka add a Claret Jug to his collection, can Rory McIlroy finally land another Major or could perhaps Shane Lowry hang on to the trophy?
Although one or two names including Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama are missing due to Covid and the logistics of travel in the current climate, or in Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim’s case a preference to prepare for the forthcoming Olympics, where a medal would see them avoid military service, we of course have a world class field on display with no big name injury absentee’s. [at the time of writing!]
As I type Jon Rahm is a clear favourite, the Spaniard is then followed in the market by Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas.
Royal St George’s is a par 70 measuring to a fraction under 7200yds.
The course is situated on the South Coat of England and is exposed to the elements of the English Channel.
With deep bunkers and fescue rough Royal St George’s is a true links test and is seen as one of the most demanding layouts on the Open rota.
With the exception of Greg Norman’s incredible performance here in 1983 where he posted a winning score of -13 none of the other five post war Champions here have managed a winning total of better than -5, [which was the score Clarke triumphed with in 2011] and in 1985 Sandy Lyle won here with a score of +2. This time around of course the winning total will be dictated by the weather and with 25mph+ gusts currently forecast across the four days I expect scoring to be tough again this time around.
The course was originally designed by Laidlaw Purves and opened in 1887. It was then redesigned by Tom Mackenzie and Martin Ebert prior to the 2011 Open before undergoing a further renovation in the hands of the same pair prior to this years Championship.
So lets take a look at the last ten winners.
2019 Shane Lowry
2018 Francesco Molinari
2017 Jordan Spieth
2016 Henrik Stenson
2015 Zach Johnson
2014 Rory McIlroy
2013 Phil Mickelson
2012 Ernie Els
2011 Darren Clarke
2010 Louis Oosthuizen
So what does this tell us? Well go back ten years plus and the Open had a reputation for giving us shock winners every now and then with the obvious ones springing to mind being Todd Hamilton in 04, Ben Curtis in 03 and Paul Lawrie in 1999.
This was put down to the various vagaries that come with the Open Championship such as the draw bias with the weather and the lucky bounces here and there.
In essence you could be forgiven for thinking that finding the winner of the Open had basically become a bit of a lottery.
In more recent years though this has not been the case and since Hamilton’s win in 2004 there has only been two winners who had not already been a member of a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team, Louis Oosthuizen and the most recent Champion Shane Lowry.
So if we believe that there is not going to be a huge draw bias this week [30mph winds on Thurs AM & Fri PM etc], it would seem that for the winner we should be focusing on elite players.
The next thing to consider is the recent form coming in to the event of the winners over the past 10yrs. Here are the previous three starts of the past 10 winners with the most recent shown first.
I have also noted how many wins, if any, the player had in that calendar year prior to their Open victory.
2019 S Lowry 34 28 2 1 win in the year
2018 F Molinari 2 1 25 2 wins in the year
2017 J Spieth 1 35 10 2 wins in the year.
2016 H Stenson 13 1 WD 1 win in the year.
2015 Z Johnson 3 6 72 0 wins in the year.
2014 R McIlroy 14 76 23 1 win in the year
2013 P Mickelson 1 MC 2 2 wins in the year
2012 E Els 52 9 58 0 wins in the year
2011 D Clarke 66 MC 46 1 win in the year
2010 L Oosthuizen 68 WD MC 1 win in the year.
So as we can see from this eight of the past ten winners had already won an event in the same calendar year whilst seven of them had notched a top 10 in their previous three starts.
Finally I want to take a look at how many of these winners had tee’d it up the week before at the Scottish Open or indeed anywhere.
The answer to this is six, Stenson, McIlroy, Mickelson, Els, Clarke and Oosthuizen had all played in the Scottish the week before whilst Zach Johnson and Molinari had hopped straight of the plane from a 3rd and second respectively at the John Deere.
This leaves Spieth in 2017 who was making his first start since winning the Travelers and Lowry as the only two not to have played the week directly before their triumph.
All in all though the evidence seems to point towards the fact that a competitive run out the week before on the Scottish Links is of benefit.
Finally whilst Major Championship golf in general tends to be a young mans game these days this is not so much the case with The Open with four of the last ten winners being in their 40.
So in summary it would seem that we should be looking for one of the games elite with Ryder or Presidents Cup experience who has been in good solid form this season and who played last week and we should not be put off chancing one of the 'older heads' should they appeal..
The early part of the week leading in to the Open shows the possibility rain and even a storm on Monday and Tuesday, which will soften things up slightly potentially. I am pleased to say however that Wednesday and Thursday look much better and by the time we reach Friday there looks little to no chance of any rain for the remainder of the week.
There is then the potential for a few further showers as the tournament progresses but nothing too major.
Temperatures look set to stay pleasant enough at around somewhere in the high 60s to 70 throughout the week.
Wind, however, which of course is the main defence of any links track looks to be a factor with 20-25mph+ gusts on all four days so I am pleased to say the players should be faced with a proper links test.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
BROOKS KOEPKA – 16/1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 6th
First cab of the rank for us this week is Brooks Koepka
The reason for my decision for Koepka to be the one I sided with from the top end of the market was two-fold.
Firstly while Jon Rahm is of course a worth favourite arriving here on the back of his superb win at Torrey Pines and then his solid seventh place warm up in Scotland I’ve just seen enough of this game over the years to know that unless your name is Tiger Woods you don’t serenely go from one Major to the next and continue to take the Trophy home. Rahm undoubtedly got the rub of the green you need to win any big Championship on Sunday at Torrey and with so many unknowns around the weather, links ‘bounces’ etc I can’t take him at 7/1 to land his second Major in succession. 10/1 was acceptable on a course we knew he loved in Torrey however, while he of course could win here I am more than happy to pass at the odds.
On that basis with Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy still searching and with Justin Thomas and Bryson Dechambeau’s Open record pretty underwhelming Koepka’s is the name that leaps out to me of the market leaders at the odds.
Needless to say you can’t simply back a player because you don’t like the look of others at similar odds and this brings me to the pretty obvious case in Brooks’ favour.
Koepka arrives here with the statistics lined up behind him that we are looking for as laid out in my ‘History’ section above. He has the two top tens on the spin in his last three starts including the fourth place at Torrey Pines and let’s not forget he was also runner up at Kiawah at the PGA in May, so that’s two top fives in tough Coastal Majors this season. He then also has the win on the CV this year that the vast majority of Champions have in this event, courtesy of his success at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
If we then look at what will potentially be key this week and the Florida man ranks tenth off the tee and ninth in approach play this season, he also as we know has plenty of length off the tee, which certainly won’t do any harm.
Moving on to Koepka’s Open record and this also offers plenty of encouragement with three top tens in his last four visits across the pond.
The four time Major Champion has been embroiled of late in a rather unseemly and to be frankly childish spat with Dechambeau on Twitter, however lets not lose sight of the fact that what really motivates him is Majors and he will be desperate to add an Open Championship to his CV and complete the third leg of the Grand Slam.
There is no denying that a couple of sloppy Major finishes more recently have taken some of the shine off of the 31yr olds air of invincibility around the biggest of events however I prefer to take the positive here that even though he has not been 100% fit or on his game in some of the Majors he has still posted a big finish.
To sum up with Koepka’s stellar record in the Major’s, his record in this event and his trending form he looks a rock solid bet to me at the odds on offer and is a ‘must’ for me this week.
TYRRELL HATTON – 28-1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me this week is Tyrrell Hatton.
Hatton as a whole it must be said has been pretty underwhelming in the Majors in his career to date however the notable exception has been in the Open Championship where he has posted two top tens, firstly when fifth at Troon in 2016 and more recently when sixth at Royal Portrush last time out.
A six time winner on the European Tour Hatton boasts two Dunhill Links Championships to his name so as well as having delivered the goods in The Open he has proven links form else where, and this has long since marked him down as a lover of the type of test we will see this week.
This year Tyrrell added the sixth of those European Tour titles to his CV in Abu Dhabi in January to give us the win on the calendar year we are looking for and since then while he hasn’t really threatened a win in the big events he has ticked along nicely enough.
Looking at the Englishman’s most recent starts we see that prior to the missed cut at Torrey Pines he posted a second place finish at the Palmetto Championship thus giving us the recent top ten we are looking for, meanwhile last week in Scotland he knocked off the rust with a fast finishing top 20, which saw him post his best effort of the week, a 65, on Sunday.
Looking at Hatton’s stats this season and this offers further encouragement as he sits third on the European Tour and 11th on the PGA Tour in approach play, which I am sure will be a key area this week.
The slight concern regarding Tyrrell is if we look at his wins on the European Tour and all six of them have come in low scoring events, something, which when coupled with his notorious temperament, could give us the impression that he loses patience when more of a grind is required. To counter act this though if we look at his lone win to date on the PGA Tour, which came last year at Bay Hill, the windy, firm conditions that week were as tough as anything seen on the PGA Tour in a regular event over recent years, and he showed that week in spades that he has what it takes to grind a win out.
To sum up Hatton is now a proven performer on the biggest of stages and a win for him here in his favoured links conditions would surprise no one and I am keen to have him on side this week.
BRANDEN GRACE – 66/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Regular readers of mine will probably have worked out the one name that was a near certainty to feature in my selections this week, that of Branden Grace.
Grace has been on my radar since the beginning of the year now having featured in my ‘six to follow for 2021’ piece and there is no doubt that he has handsomely rewarded us, firstly with his win in Puerto Rico and then more recently with his big odds place at Torrey Pines.
All along though my thoughts have been that perhaps alongside Kiawah Island, where he also featured prominently for the first three days, this is the event where Grace has the biggest opportunity to make a splash.
The case for Branden is right there in front of us but let’s summarise it anyway. Firstly and foremostly we have his superb links/wind effected course/coastal course record, This record stretches to his history on firm/fast courses back in South Africa, from being a former Dunhill Links Champion, a two time champion in Qatar, the only player to post a 62 in a major, which came at Birkdale, and the fact that his two wins on the PGA Tour came on the coast at Hilton Head and in Puerto Rico.
Basically Branden’s low ball flight makes him a perfect candidate to play well in this weeks anticipated windy conditions.
From the point of view of the statistics we are looking for coming in to the week similarly to our first two picks Grace has the win on the CV this year and the top ten finish of late with his fourth at Memorial followed by his superb seventh at Torrey Pines, so he should certainly arrive on the Kent Coast in confident mood after a low key warm up in Scotland.
Looking at Grace’s stats and his long game in particular is trending nicely, something which was seen in a superb tee to green performance at Torrey Pines and while his putting is streaky he should certainly be comfortable on these greens.
With 11 wins to his name across the European and PGA Tours there is no doubt that Branden is a serial winner and at 33yrs old he should be reaching his peak around now. Expected by many to win a Major he appears to have rediscovered his game after a barren period and I anticipate a big performance from the South African this week.
ADAM SCOTT – 66/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 46th
Next cab off the rank this week is Adam Scott.
It goes without saying that Scott can be a frustrating sort to follow and with only one Major Championship to his name the Aussie it can be argued is something of an underachiever in the biggest of events.
Scott’s lone Major success came at Augusta of course in 2013 however away from Georgia the Major he has threatened to win the most over the years is the Open.
Adam’s greatest opportunity to lift the Claret Jug memorably came at Lytham St Annes in 2012 when with the event at his mercy he imploded over the closing five holes, playing them in five over par and dropping down to tenth place.
Prior to that year Scott had posted three straight top fives in this event however since that disappointment his best result in four starts has been 17th.
This year though it may just be that with the two year gap Adam can press the refresh button on his Open challenge.
Enough though of Scott’s past Open anguish and on to this year and most importantly why I feel he can mount that challenge.
Firstly all though the assumption is always with Adam that it is the putter that will let him down this season he has actually been performing really strongly with the flat stick on the PGA Tour, ranking 20th in this department, and surprisingly it is his normally reliable ball striking, which has been letting him down.
Last time out however at TPC River Highlands his approach play improved significantly to see him gain strokes in this department every day and rank 21st in this area on the week.
At Torrey Pines meanwhile in his previous outing to that at the US Open he gained strokes off the tee, around the green and putting, whilst struggling with the approach play.
In essence then Adam is close to putting all the pieces together and if he can get the long game to click big things could be around the corner.
Scott, as is more often than not the case these days, comes in somewhat under the radar this week and having now turned 40 in any other Major you could argue that his chances of success had passed him by.
As we know though the Open Championship is an event, which has been very kind to the over 40s over the years and you could certainly draw some similarities between 2011 winner here Darren Clarke and Scott as Open ‘nearly men’ on that front.
Finally it can be no bad thing that unlike the majority of the field Adam does have experience at Royal St George’s in Open conditions having placed 25th here in 2011.
There is always a danger of course when backing Scott that he will turn in that solid but unspectacular top 20 finish that he regularly seems to deliver these days however as a proven world class performer we know he has what it takes to triumph on his day.
On that basis and with attractive each way odds on offer I am happy to chance the Aussie this week.
RUSSELL HENLEY – 125/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/6th odds 1st 12. - FINISHED MC
Finally this week I am going to side for the second week running with Russell Henley.
Having featured last week at 20/1 in our picks for the John Deere Classic and having finished just outside of the places in 11th, Russell now crosses the Atlantic and pops back up on our radar at five times those odds.
The shift in odds is needless to say a reflection in the vast improvement in the quality of the field however Henley has shown us over the years and most recently at Torrey Pines in the US Open that he has what it takes to compete on the biggest of stages.
Originally known as one of the strongest putters on the PGA Tour Henley’s work on the greens has deteriorated hugely over the more recent years, however at the same time he morphed from being suspect in the long game department to being one of the best ball strikers on tour.
Over the past twelve months or so however Russell has managed to find a far more consistent level in his short game and the result has been that he has done everything but win posting 11 top twenties including seven top tens since the tour resumed in June last year.
Three of those top twenties have come in Henley’s last three starts, a run, which included that prominent performance in the US Open at Torrey Pines and although he faded on Sunday when he had a serious chance to win heading in to the day that experience will surely serve him well when he gets in the hunt at a Major again.
Henley’s Open record, of a best place of 20th in six starts, it must be said doesn’t offer huge encouragement however anyone who has seen Russell at work on the PGA Tour over the years will know that his game looks ideal for an Open test. A three time winner on tour two of those triumphs came by the coast and his win in the Honda at PGA National is particularly of note as this is an event that has proved a massive pointer to the Open over the years.
To sum up Henley’s profile coming in to this week reminds me somewhat of another shock American Major Champion in years gone by in the form of Lucas Glover in that in 2009 Glover headed in to the US Open having been in really strong form all year but without winning, before putting it all together on the biggest of stages, and I am happy to roll the dice on Russell to produce something similar this week.
UPDATED 13th JULY
FIRST ROUND LEADER PICKS
RICHARD BLAND 1pt e/w 100/1 - 1/5 odds 1st 8 & ROBERT MACINTYRE 1/2pt E/W 50/1 - 1/5 odds 1st 8.
FINISHED - NO RETURN
With no real weather bias in the draw from what I can see I'll take two in this market, one from the AM and one from the PM, starting with Richard Bland. Bland who tee's off in the first group out on Thursday at 6.35am should arrive here in a hugely confident mood following his recent win and subsequent great form.
Sixth after day one at Birkdale in 2017 Bland could well have a big week and if this is to be the case I suspect he will be out of the blocks quickly.
My second pick Robert Macintyre tees off at 2.59pm. The Scot as we know is a big lover of links golf and if the wind does blow on Thursday as predicted this will hold no fear for him. Macintyre started strongly at Royal Portrush and I am happy to side with him here to do so again.
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - RICHARD BLAND - DK VALUE $6800 - FINISHED 67th - DK POINTS TOTAL 49.5
Sticking with Bland and he looks a really solid DK play to me this week.
As already noted he arrives here in the form of his life and his straight hitting tee to green game looks ideal for the challenge ahead.
Can he win the Open?, highly unlikely. Will he place? possibly but I dont see any huge value at the odds, can he go well though and finish top 30?, absolutely and at $6800 thats all you are looking for.
PICK 2 - LUCAS GLOVER - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 18.5
Glover is another who arrives here flying high no doubt on the back of his win on Sunday at the John Deere Classic. Add this to the fact that Lucas sat in the top five here at the halfway stage in 2011 before going on to finish 12th and a big week is certainly a possibility.
More recently the last two John Deere winners Dylan Frittelli and Michael Kim have both ridden their wins to a strong top 40 finish at the Open the following week and if Glover can do the same he will prove a solif play at $6600.