It was a good week last week but it was still hard not to be a little gutted with another 2nd place, even if it was accompanied by a 3rd place too. Tyrrell Hatton was one of a whole host of players who played their final round like a seasoned winner and he can be very proud of the fight that he put up against Alexander Noren. If he continues in that vein then it is just a matter of time before he gets his first win.
It was also good to see Nicolas Colsaerts keep his form going as expected with a couple of 66s on the weekend. He is another that will be looking to get back to winning ways this year but he might have to wait a couple of weeks as I don’t see this week quite suiting him.
Hatton on the other hand could go well after ranking 2nd in the all-round ranking and should certainly be given some consideration.
Their combined return of 31 pts helps to finish the 1st year with a profitable week and it leaves the totals as follows.
Total pts advised in first year – 692.50
Total pts returned – 780.79
ROI for one year – 12.75%
In April most golf fans will tell you their sporting highlight of the year is The Masters but as soon as we reach July that narrative changes somewhat and The Open becomes the focal point of the golfing year. They are tough to separate and while both are completely brilliant in their own way, they are two very different tournaments and there is nothing quite like an Open Championship.
Having finally attended my first Open three years ago at Muirfield I can now appreciate the buzz of the early morning tee offs and 15 hours of solid golf (weather permitting of course). I had heard people talk about it before but it was truly amazing spending time on the 1st tee and listening to the dulcet tones of Ivor Robson announce world-class golfer after world-class golfer. Sadly Mr Robson is retired now but everything else is as we were and Royal Troon is the lucky host this year of what is one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the Sporting calendar.
It is twelve years since the course last hosted although Troon has held seven previous Opens after being a bit of a latecomer to the rotation in 1923. To my mind it is a quintessential links course and while St Andrews carries with it all the history and glamour, Royal Troon is far more of a links course’s links course and features the classic 9 holes out and 9 holes back. Despite its classic appearance however there is very much a feeling within the game that Troon is one of the more boring courses on the rotation with too many holes that lack any character. While that may well be true everyone in the field still plays the same 18 holes and I don’t believe that will detract too much from the excitement this week.
Visually to me the course resembles both Royal Birkdale and Gullane and that is very welcome as last year’s Open never really took the form of a proper Open due to both the perfect conditions for the last two rounds and it being held at St Andrews. Louis Oosthuizen is a prime example of the different test presented by St Andrews. He has finished 1st and 2nd around The Old Course but elsewhere he can only boast a 19th, 36th, 54th and three missed cuts. It looks all about links golf exponents in Ayrshire this week.
Despite apparent one-hit wonder Todd Hamilton winning in 2004, Troon is normally won by one of the game’s elite; Justin Leonard in 1997, Marc Calcavecchia in 1989, Tom Watson in 1982, Tom Weiskopf in 1973 and Bobby Locke in 1950. Not only that but you have to go back to Locke’s 1950 win to find a winner that didn’t hail from the USA.
The fairways at Troon meander up and down and around and if you see a flat lie anywhere this week then pause your TV and take a photo. There are hillocks and undulations as many of the holes are framed by dunes, fescue and gorse. There are deep bunkers galore as you would expect both on the fairways and protecting the greens, many of which are elevated. When they get to the greens however they will be met with some of the best surfaces in the whole of the UK. They are a blend of poa annua, bent grass and fescue and as long as the wind doesn’t blow too hard there should be absolutely no complaints about them whatsoever. (the USGA should take note!)
The forecast currently suggests that the wind will be steady all week (10-15mph) but as someone who lives at the Scottish coast I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see something a bit stronger. Just last week at Castle Stuart we saw the mild forecast winds turn in to 40mph winds. With quite horrid rough I expect driving accuracy to be important this week as you certainly don’t have double fairways to hit like St Andrews. The course isn’t the longest at 7175 yards but as ever the further you can get off the tee the closer you are to the green. So total driving was on my mind even before I took a look at the stats from Hamilton’s win in 2004.
The 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th , 9th,10th, 13th and 16th ranked players in total driving for the week all finished inside the Top 10 and it is rare to see such a strong attribute for any tournament never mind a host course for a major.
The next most pertinent attribute looks to be scrambling as the 1st and 2nd ranked scramblers finished 3rd and 7th respectively. Who can forget Hamilton’s bump and run with his 3 wood to set up his 2ft putt to win the Claret Jug? Imagination around the greens is very important in links golf but especially so at Royal Troon.
With the greens being immaculate the better putters would normally be expected to thrive on them but they obviously need to get there first. The greens are average in size and well protected but relatively flat. That might take away some of the advantage that the likes of Spieth and Day have at reading the breaks on undulating greens, however lag putting will be crucial to avoid 3-putts.
I expect hitting greens and indeed proximity to the hole to be very important this week, particularly from the tougher 175-200 yard range and if we look at 2004 season’s final rankings then that is backed up. Hamilton finished the season ranked 18th in GIR from 175-200 yards and 12th in approaches from 175-200 in the rough. Many others from the leaderboard also finished the season in lofty positions in this area and while there are a number of short holes at Troon it will certainly test their longer irons too, even more so if the wind does get up.
Other stats in which Hamilton ranked highly that season were 3-putt avoidance, putting inside 10ft and approach putt performance and that just confirms the need to keep the three-putts to a minimum. While Justin Leonard’s win in 1997 came before such an array of stats were available he did rank 2nd in scrambling and 3rd in putts per round during that season and he was regularly one of the better drivers on Tour.
I think on the whole this gives us a decent idea of the attributes that will help win this week. A decent links pedigree, proven in high-class fields, long and accurate driving, good GIR numbers from distance, strong scrambling ability and solid lag-putting.
With Dustin Johnson having won his last two tournaments, the US Open and WGC Bridgestone, he has firmly pushed himself into the World’s top 4 players and the market here can barely separate them with Day, Spieth, McIlroy and Johhson all trading at around the 10.0-12.0 mark. Their chances must be respected but I don’t really like any of them at the prices this week on a course like Troon. Day has been very wild off the tee lately and will probably find himself in trouble too many times to finish on top this week. Spieth’s game just hasn’t been at its best in 2016 and while he was one putt away from the play-off at St Andrews last year I think he would need to be playing better to win here and doesn’t make much appeal to me at the prices. McIlroy also hasn’t been playing his best stuff and has struggled for consistency across four rounds since returning from injury last year. With his well-known aversion to poor weather I can’t consider him at single figures when it looks like we could be in for proper links golf conditions.
But I don’t have to look much further down the market for my idea of the best bet in Ayrshire. I have backed Rickie Fowler in most Open Championships since 2010 when he finished in 14th place at St Andrews after an opening 79. He played the last three rounds better than anyone and firmly announced himself as an Open specialist (5 shots better than the 3rd lowest!). I probably won’t stop until he wins one as he is surely an Open Championship winner in waiting and possibly the next Tom Watson if he can win one soon.
Fowler is a self-confessed lover of links golf and that is clear every year with the number of different shots he plays. He has every type of links shot in his locker and at the age of 27 that is quite impressive. He can shape the ball both ways in the wind and has the imagination to flight the ball down and use the lie of the land to his advantage. That is something that took the likes of Phil Mickelson years to appreciate and then a few more to master before winning his Claret Jug in 2013.
But it isn’t just links potential with Fowler any more as he won the Scottish Open at Gullane’s hybrid Championship course last July. That is a classic links course and as I have already alluded to, it more than resembles Troon with its narrow fairways sculpted into the land. Fowler won that with an exquisite week on and around the greens ranking 5th for scrambling and 3rd in total putting. He didn’t drive the ball well but Fowler handled playing out of the rough perfectly. He was able to get the ball out and get it running on the firm fairways and that is yet another important aspect of links golf as there will be some nasty lies in the rough where hitting a towering 7 iron just isn’t possible. He can also play the bump and run around the green that is so important in links golf. Anyone that was watching the Scottish Open at the weekend will have noticed the number of times that the players were forced to utilise that shot given the undulating nature of the ground around the greens.
At the start of this season it was actually his long game that was standing out and through the first few months of the year he was right at the top of total driving and GIR but struggling to get the putter going. He still ranks 26th for total driving and an impressive 4th in GIR. Throw in the fact he is sitting 13th in scrambling from the rough, 21st in 3-putt avoidance and 4th in GIR from 175-200 we can see how well his game should suit from a statistical point of view too. I have touched on the important attributes this week but moreover at Troon every aspect of the game is tested so it also worth having a look at the all-round ranking. Fowler at the top of his game has very few weaknesses and that is perhaps another reason that he goes so well on links courses.
If we look exclusively at his Open record then it is very solid for one so young. The 14th place finish at St Andrews was his debut and he followed that with a T5th in 2011 (Royal St. Georges), a T31st in 2012 (Lytham), a missed cut in 2013 (sun-baked Muirfield), a T2nd in 2014 (Hoylake) and then a T30th last year when crucially on the wrong side of the draw at St. Andrews.
His form in 2016 has been quite up and down so far but he did win in January in Abu Dhabi and he still has some high finishes with a proper return to form two weeks ago at the WGC Bridgestone where he finished in a tie for 10th. His 2016 results read 5-1-MC-2-6-8-38-10-MC-20-4-MC-MC-MC-44-10 and that is a lot of golf with trips to Hawaii and Abu Dhabi in there so it is fair to think that he was maybe just running on empty by the time he missed his three consecutive cuts. The lack of weekend golf will have helped him re-energise however and he also arrives after a week off. I’m expecting to see the Rickie Fowler of 2015 and early 2016 rather than the one that we witnessed during May and June. If that proves to be the case then he will take the world of stopping and at 33/1 he looks a solid alternative to the front 4 in the betting.
Graeme McDowell has always been a very good links player and as soon as I saw him on the leaderboard at Castle Stuart I knew I would be backing him for Troon if his price held. His accuracy off the tee will help this week and he ranked 3rd in the all-round ranking at the Scottish Open. He isn’t the longest of drivers but he makes up for that with a very accurate long iron and hybrid game when playing at his best. The 80/1 for such a classy major winner is frankly a bit strange. Not only did he finish in the Top 10 last week but he won earlier in the season in the US and he also finished T18th at the US Open so his game is pretty close to its best.
He currently ranks 8th for driving accuracy so will be finding more fairways than the majority of the field and should he miss the green he is an excellent scrambler on links layouts, ranking 4th in that department last week.
He already has a win in Scotland to his name further north at Loch Lomond and he has a solid Open record with the pick being a T5th at Royal Lytham in 2012. He also has a win at Celtic Manor where the weather is usually miserable and two wins on Le Golf National layout in Paris which plays very much as a links track. If the wind blows and Troon doesn’t play too easy then GMac should make a mockery of his price this week.
One of the interesting course links that I found when researching Troon was through the Honda Classic. The last two winners at Troon, Justin Leonard and Todd Hamilton both won the Honda Classic around Country Club Mirasol in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Now I guess that might not be that interesting unless you take into account the fact that it was Hamilton’s only other win on Tour.
This told me that there must be some sort of link so I looked a little deeper. The other two winners at CCM were Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald which gives an impression of both short game prowess but also some sort of correlation with links conditions.
Looking at pictures of the course doesn’t make anything immediately obvious however the fairways are undulating, it is exposed, there are plenty of bunkers and the green complexes don’t look too dissimilar. It may be a rather tenuous link but the Honda Classic in general has always thrown up good Open players and it is interesting that Harrington went on to win his 2nd Honda Classic at the new host course which is located in the same area as Mirasol at Palm Beach Gardens. Marc Calcavecchia and Tom Weiskopf have also won the Honda as well as a Troon Open so while I can’t fully explain it I’m going to take the hint and back Luke Donald accordingly.
I backed him last week at 50/1 and he had an ok week finishing in 45th place as he struggled to get anything going but it will have been good preparation all the same . For someone who doesn’t have the best of major records his Open results are actually a little bit better than you might think. Since 2009 he has 4 Top 12 finishes and Donald is probably another that has taken some time to get used to the unique challenges of an Open Championship. Two of those were T5th finishes and they both occurred on proper links layouts, Turnberry and Royal Lytham.
He currently ranks 6th for scrambling and if his short game is anywhere near its best then Troon should play to Donald’s strengths. If the wind gets too severe then he might struggle but he has always coped well in light winds having won at Castle Stuart and Wentworth.
He also has the advantage of having played Troon competitively 12 years ago even if he did miss the cut when a far less accomplished player. Over the last few years we have seen a few older winners that have perhaps arrived not expecting too much. Playing without that pressure can surely only be an advantage and when Donald was at his peak it appeared to often be the expectations that ruined his chances with a poor opening round. I’m expecting him to have a good week and his price has more than a touch of value at 150/1.
Given the nature of Hamilton’s win and a couple of other left field American winners this century, I was keen to get an outsider from the US onside. The Honda Classic link has thrown up Russell Henley who won it in 2014 and given that we know his two main strengths are long, accurate driving and putting it seems fair to part with some cash at a massive 250/1. He also had his best Open finish in three attempts last year finishing T20th.
He hasn’t been at his best in 2016 missing a lot of cuts but yet he still ranks 4th in total driving, 36th in scrambling and 12th in 3-putt avoidance. He also pulled out a 7th place finish from nowhere at the Fed Ex St Jude Classic a few weeks ago so it hasn’t been all bad for him. His stats combined with the Honda link and a tasty price make him look like the sort of dark horse who could come alive on a course like Troon that clearly suits players from the USA.
With the short prices of the front 4 and most bookies paying 6 places there is a lot of value around so I have added a couple of late picks just on price alone.
Patrick Reed and Kevin Kisner are no strangers to this blog and I rate them both very highly. Reed is one of the best scramblers in the world game but it has been his putter that has stopped him from pushing on in 2016. He arrives fresh from two closing 67s in Scotland last week and if he can keep that going then he should go well. His price probably reflects how poorly he has done in the bigger tournaments this year but I think he has a chance on any course where scrambling is vital. It could be that his driving gets him into trouble this week but 66/1 for a proven winner who excels in the wind looks too good to pass up.
Kevin Kisner could just have the perfect profile for the week and I must admit he wasn’t really on my radar for this until I saw his price. He is a general 200/1 and that seems far too high and surely must be backed. His form has dropped off a little in 2016 after closing 2015 brilliantly with his 1st win. His stats still look very solid for this week’s test though as he ranks 32nd for total driving, 20th in 3-putt avoidance and 10th in putting inside 10ft. It isn’t even like he is in terrible form right now with a 16th place finish at Firestone last time out. That is another tough driving course and with his long game clearly in good nick I’d expect a strong showing in Scotland from Kisner.
Lee Westwood has a brilliant record at Troon having finished T10th in 1997 and then T4th in 2004. We know he is in excellent form having been in contention at both 2016’s majors so far. Unfortunately he played poorly again when properly in the heat of battle and so it is hard to recommend a win bet this week despite the fact he is sure to play well. Instead I will back him for his 19th major Top 10 at his 74th attempt. A stat which makes the 5/1 available look great value even without considering his brilliant course form.
There is just no way I can get away from having some sort of bet on Colin Montgomerie this week at his home course as he returns to The Open after 6 years away. It is just a question of how to back him. With his recent success in Senior majors he will be confident of a good showing here and I’m going to have a small play on the 1st round leader and the Top 20 markets. Betfred are offering a huge standout price of 14/1 for the Top 20 and that looks like perhaps the best piece of value around this week.
Dustin Johnson came good with a place in the 1st round leader market at the US Open and backing him to be leading on the Thursday would have yielded some serious profits over the last 18 months. I don’t see any reason to stop despite how obvious a bet it is.
I’m also going to play Callum Shinkwin in the 1st round leader market. He will be arriving full of confidence having qualified for this with a 9th place finish at the Open De France before firing a closing 65 in Scotland last week on his way to another Top 10. Countless times we have seen young, relative unknowns surge up the leaderboard at the Open on a Thursday. Shinkwin currently ranks 2nd in total driving and 18th in GIR over the last three months and finished 7th in the all-round ranking last week so I think he could easily take to Troon. It’s a tall ask for him to even contend but if he carries on from that final round at Castle Stuart then he could outplay his odds of 150/1
Summary of Bets
Rickie Fowler – 3pts ew @ 33/1
Patrick Reed – 1pt ew @ 66/1
Graeme Mcdowell – 1pt ew @ 90/1
Kevin Kisner – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1
Luke Donald – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1 and 2pts Top 20 @ 5/1
Russel Henley – 0.5pt ew @250/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 9/1
Lee Westwood – 2pts Top 10 @ 5/1
Colin Montgomerie – 1pt Top 20 @ 14/1 with Betfred and 0.5pts ew 1st round leader @ 150/1
Dustin Johnson – 1pt ew 1st round leader @ 16/1
Calum Shinkwin – 0.5pt ew 1st round leader @ 150/1
Outright winner bets are 6 places this week.
Weekly outlay 23pts