The Open – St Andrews
Golf returns home this week to The Old Course at St Andrews as part of it’s now customary five-year rotation. South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen ran away with it in 2010, cruising to a 7 shot win from England’s Lee Westwood. This will be the 29th hosting at St Andrews and most of the twenty-eight prior have produced winners of the highest calibre. Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods amongst the recent players to have tasted claret success there in recent times. But it was as long ago as 1860 that the very first Open Championship was contested at Prestwick, won by Willie Park Snr. Now we reach the 144th Open and while the late withdrawal of World No.1 Rory Mcilroy may detract for the everyman, golfing enthusiasts around the globe are anticipating Jordan Spieth’s attempts to continue his Grand Slam chase around The Old Course.
While the Old Course at St Andrews is the home of golf and indeed a classic links course with 9 holes going out and 9 holes coming in, it doesn’t quite play like some of the sterner tests such as Carnoustie or Royal Birkdale. Playing as a Par 72 at 7305 yards St Andrews is no more than average in length compared to the modern golf course.
With its wide fairways, many of which run alongside each other, St Andrews can be forgiving off the tee, especially for those with a tendency to miss to the left. So while solace can be found for the wayward driver, there is still plenty punishment for those who are careless off the tee. St Andrews has 112 bunkers waiting to accept those long bounding drives. Oosthuizen only found 1 bunker in 2010 and Tiger famously avoided all 112 on way to his 2000 rout.
Once on the lush green fairways (Scotland has had a very wet summer!) more often than not they will be presented with an approach to a very large green. St Andrews has 7 double greens, each pairing adding up to 18. Given these large green complexes, 3 putts will be plentiful. The average green size is around 13,000 ft² compared to around 5,500 ft² on Tour.
The greens play to a rather slow stimpmeter reading of 10.5 due their exposed nature, meaning that they yield many birdies in calm conditions. This helps explain the low scoring Opens of 2000, 2005 and 2010.
Unlike most Par 72 golf courses where you have four par 5s and four Par 3s, St Andrews only has 2 short and 2 long holes giving rise to 14 assorted par 4s.
What do you need to do to win?
Well, while every winner has been world class, that’s not to say we can’t try to delve into the type of player that does well on Links courses, especially the slightly different test of St Andrews. An all round game certainly helps at any major but perhaps more so at St Andrews.
What strikes me immediately about the last 4 Open winners at St Andrews (John Daly, Tiger Woods twice and Louis Oosthuizen) is that they are all big hitters off the tee. So this suggests that St Andrews, with its afore-mentioned wide fairways, suits the bombers. Additionally, many of the fairway bunkers can be cleared by those who can carry the ball 280-290 yards off the tee which essentially removes the main dangers of many of the Par 4s. Furthermore the course also has a few short par 4s, again allowing the big hitters to find the large greens in 1, setting up long eagle putts.
So if driving distance is certainly a positive, so too is finding the right spot in the fairway to allow aggressive approach shots to the large undulating greens. In normal summer conditions the fairways play hard and fast resulting in any tee shot lacking control to run off into the rough or indeed one of the deep fairway pot bunkers. If you must back a wayward driver then at least make sure that they miss the ball left. Due to the out and back nature of the course, many of the fairways have another one running alongside on the left meaning a right hander’s huge hook could find itself a better lie than a straight drive that lands with an unlucky bounce.
Once in the fairways (correct or otherwise!) the players will be faced with a great variety of pin positions due to the size of the greens. Most of these, however well guarded, can still be attacked with a degree of loft in the players hands. Again this hints at the importance of driving distance but many of the back pin positions can still be attacked by the shortest of hitters providing they are accurate with their longer irons. If you do miss these large greens then scrambling can be very tough. Even from the greenside bunkers they could be faced with 40 yard bunker shots to try to save par. Not to mention many tricky valleys and run offs only too willing to accept errant approach shots. This highlights how important distance control will be with their irons in trying to hit the greens in the correct number, especially with the windy conditions (of which there isn’t a great deal forecast, but trust me, it is always windy by the sea in Scotland. Always!)
While hitting these greens in regulation is great, it by no means sets up the worst case scenario of a straight forward par like so many of the modern US courses. The players will be faced with many long, double breaking lag putts where a 2 putt will feel like a birdie/eagle. But if they can get the ball close with their approaches (inside 20ft) they will be rewarded with very makeable putts on some of the truest greens they will see all year.
So in summary, I’m looking for someone who plays Par 4s well, enjoys links golf, drives the ball long and accurately, staying out of trouble off the tee. They must be a true ball striker allowing them to tackle the winds and control the distance of their iron shots, keeping their proximity to the hole high and missed greens low. A great touch is needed from distance so as to keep 3 putts to a minimum in addition to the ability to hole at least their share of putts from 20ft and in and scrambling efficiently when they do miss. If pushed for the most important attribute this week, I would say putting just edges it.
Players I’m backing
Firstly, I think Jordan Spieth has a great chance and couldn’t put anyone off backing the best player in the world. But with his lack of links experience, his price of around 13/2 is a little bit short to be just assuming he will enjoy St Andrews. Happy (ish) to leave him out and back him for the Slam at US PGA if he does win this week.
One player jumps out at me when I think of the skill set required at St Andrews.
Henrik was 3rd there in 2010 so we know he can play The Old Course. He leads the ball striking stats on PGA Tour (for the non stats geeks, a hybrid stat made up of Driving Distance, Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation). This backs up my own opinion that an in form Stenson is the best player tee to green in the world. On many occasions where accuracy is at a premium, he will take out his trusty 3 wood which he can hit as far as most of the field hit their drivers. The extra loft he gets will allow him greater control while plotting his way around the fairways at St Andrews. Stenson also ranks 1st in Greens in Reg. on the European Tour so we know that he is striking the ball more consistently than anyone in world golf.
But as with so many ball strikers, his putting can let him down. Not so much this season though as he sits 15th in Strokes Gained Putting on the PGA Tour. He also ranks 12th in putting inside 5ft meaning he will be assured over those testing par saves in the cold wind. The slower greens will also play to his strengths as he doesn’t always fare so well putting on hard and fast greens.
A 2nd place finish at Muirfield 2 years ago further bolsters his Open pedigree, losing out only to an inspired finish from Phil Mickelson. For me Ice Man Henrik ticks every single box to win at St Andrews and his only negative is that he still hasn’t won a Major at 39 years of age. But I prefer to focus on the fact that he hasn’t yet had a high profile collapse and he can most definitely get the job done down the back 9 if contention on Sunday.
3pts EW @ 22/1 and a further 2pts win @25s on Betfair Exchange.
Rickie comes here off the back of a great win across the Firth of Forth at Gullane last week in the Scottish Open. While this has done nothing for his price, it has further strengthened the opinion that he is one of the finest links golf exponents around. He also has a 2nd, 5th and 14th (St Andrews!) already from his 5 Open appearances.
He has also shown over the last 18 months how much he relishes peaking for the bigger tournaments. In 2014 he finished in the Top 5 of all the majors and in May this year he played one of the greatest closing stretches ever seen to lift The Players Championship. A self-confessed Links golf lover, Fowler will handle St Andrews however it plays next week and while his odds of 22/1 may appear skinny at first, he is in the form of his life and looks sure to contend again come Sunday. Ok, his 22/1 has now gone since I first wrote this and 18/1 is very short but I can’t leave him out.
2pts EW @ 18/1 + 1pt win @21 on Betfair Ex and 1pt Top 5 Betfair Ex
Another links lover who finished 7th at St Andrews in 2010 and won the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2010. Now a 2 time major winner, we know he has the right mentality for the test he will face at The Open. Kaymer also has a great all round game when on form with the exception of his chipping. However in winning his US Open in 2014 he putted superbly from all the run off areas at Pinehurst and can certainly utilise that touch again on these greens. While I think he will go well he makes the list as much on price as anything but a 4th place finish last time out will set him up nicely.
1pt ew @ 40/1
I also wanted some putters in my team. Snedeker has been one of the very best around for many years. Long lag putting, holing 20fters and also holing out from inside 5ft, Brandt excels at all aspects. His short stabbing putting stroke helps him in windy conditions and he has recent Open finishes of 3rd and 11th which tells us he has learned how to play links golf. His laid back attitude on the course will be a huge help too and I think he is a decent ball striking week away from contending in yet another major. But with 3 consecutive Top 10s leading in to the Open, one of which at the tough Chambers Bay links layout, his whole game is in great shape which makes the 45/1 look like stand out EW value
1pt EW @45/1 and 2pts Top 10 @ 5.8
Now for my main longshot bet. While I’m not convinced he can definitely win The Open yet, I do believe the 400ish odds on Betfair are far too big for a player that has won twice this season and also jointly holds the course record at St Andrews with a 62 at the Alfred Dunhill. Add to that George being one of the best putters in the game and an impressive scrambler and you can begin to see why he has a couple of Top 20 Open finishes already.
This Pretoria resident was brought up on grainy, links greens in South Africa and tweeted only on Sunday how much he loves St Andrews. The extra wide fairways will allow the erratic but long driver some leeway where he will enjoy firing at the pins with his aggressive iron play, knowing that he has the short game to get him out of trouble should he miss the green. With his 2 wins this season George will come into this years Open with the belief that he can get the job done over the weekend should he start well.
While longshots are always just that at Majors, especially St Andrews, his price is too good for me to ignore and if he can keep the big numbers off his card then he can certainly make enough birdies on a course that suits his game perfectly.
3 pts win @390 , 1pt Top 10 @ 17/1, 2pt Top 20 @ 8/1
In addition to these main bets, I’m also going to have small win bets on a few proven Links players at rather inflated prices.
Ben Martin – Great ballstriker, in superb form and has shown a liking for Links golf as well as Majors and could outplay his price. 1/2 pt win @ 410s (Betfair Ex)
Victor Dubuisson – Another who shares the St Andrews course record, Victor has slowly came back to form and fitness in 2015 and had a Top 10 last week at the Scottish Open. He is a great putter and one of the most aggressive iron players around. VDub will attack every flag and with a hot putter could go very well. 1/2 pt win @ 100s (Betfair Ex)
Thomas Aiken – Nobody on the European Tour consistently drives it straighter and hits more greens than Aiken. Another South African who is suited to Links golf, Thomas just needs to start holing a few putts to remind everyone of his solid Open record. 1/2 pt win @590s (Betfair Ex)
JB Holmes – Great form this year with a win and a couple of other Top 5s. Finished 14th at St Andrews in 2010 and has the game to go better this year. 1/2 pt win @100s (Betfair Ex)
I also like to throw a few pounds at the 1st Round Leader market, especially on Major weeks. For this the weather forecast is paramount in Scotland when you could have a lovely warm summers morning followed by it “blowing a hoolie ” in the afternoon. Luiten and Petersson both have early tee times which looks more favourable and Holmes, Moore and Jiminez are well known for their fast starts.
Joost Luiten 1/2 pt win @ 100/1 1RL market
Carl Petersson 1/2 pt win @ 250/1 1RL market
Ryan Moore 1/2 pt win @ 125/1 1RL market
Miguel Angel Jiminez 1/2 pt win @ 125/1 1RL market.
JB Holmes 1/2 pt EW @80 1RL market
I will also have a few Top 10/20 bets for when all my outrights miss the cut!
JB Holmes Top 10 – Reasons above! 1pt @ 8/1
Tommy Fleetwood Top 10 – He is 26 under par for his last 4 rounds at St Andrews. Great links player but faultered on Sunday at Scottish Open so not getting any outright money. 1pt @ 7/1
Joost Luiten Top 20 – One of the best players on European Tour now and a multiple winner on Links type courses. Contended last week at Scottish Open and sure to take to St Andrews with no real weakness to his game. 1pt @ 11/2
Retief Goosen Top 20 – At his peak he was one of the best 5 golfers in the World and regularly showed up on Open leaderboards recording a 5th place at St Andrews in 2005. 2015 has seen Goosen’s recurring back injury improve and he has posted some decent results. He will enjoy the greens with his classy putting stroke and 9/1 looks too good simply for a Top 20 finish. 1pt @ 9/1
Summary of Bets –
Stenson 3pts EW @ 22/1 plus 2pts win @ 25 (Betfair Ex)
Fowler 2pts EW @ 18/1 and 1pt win @21s, 1pt Top 5 @6s
Kaymer 1pt EW @ 40/1
Snedker 1pt EW @ 45/1 and 2pt Top 10 @5.8
Coetzee 3pts win @390, 1pt Top 10 @17/1, 2pts Top 20 @8/1
Martin 1/2 pt win @ 410
Dubuisson 1/2 pt win @ 100
Aiken 1/2 pt win @ 590
Holmes 1/2 pt win @100
1/2 pt win 1st RL on Luiten @100/1 , MAJ @125/1, Moore @125/1 and Pettersson @250/1. JB Holmes 1/2pt EW @100/1
JB Holmes Top 10 – 1pt @8/1
Tommy Fleetwood Top 10 1pt @7/1
Joost Luiten – Top 20 1pt @11/2
Retief Goosen – Top 20 1pt @ 9/1
Total outlay – 35pts
Ideally I will have the 1st 5 home but that’s not realistic so my main goal is to make a profit while having the chance to win a substantial amount if the week pans out as hoped.