The Open – Betting Preview

With four golfers in the places it was another good week but with the way Zach Johnson and Ryan Fox finished their rounds it was a little annoying to have their place returns diluted. Ultimately it was another profitable week though and keeps confidence high ahead of arguably the highlight of the golf year, The Open Championship.

2017 pts advised =322 pts

2017 pts returned = 240.36pts

ROI = -25.36%

In case you missed it, to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the blog I’m running a competition this week for the grand prize of £10! To enter simply retweet the preview and reply with a guess of how many players will finish the tournament under par. Please add a winning score as a potential tie-breaker.


The Open

This is the third time that I have previewed The Open and on both the previous occasions I anticipated the usual Open weather resulting in a proper test of links golf. Despite two brilliant tournaments, that didn’t really materialise at either St. Andrews or Troon. The players were taken off the course during the only strong winds at St. Andrews while Stenson and Mickelson exchanged weekend blows on a sun-drenched yet rain-softened Ayrshire coast last year. With everything we have seen before at Royal Birkdale however, the traditional Open enthusiasts should get their wish this week.

royal-birkdale-golf-club-2

While not being a classic out and in links course, every other aspect of a traditional links course is present at Royal Birkdale. Fairways sculpted into the dunes with rugged fescue all around, strategic pot bunkers in the fairways, large green complexes with swales and run-offs and more often than not a stern breeze whistling through it. While there are some undulations it is one of the flatter courses on rotation and 2008 champion Harrington claims it to be a very strong but very fair course that isn’t tricked up at all. What you see is what you get with the course and the majority of tee-shots are elevated meaning a clear view of where the drives are going. That is in complete contrast with the U.S. Open at Erin Hills where the players were faced with several blind tee-shots and aspects of a course like this can be key for many. Some golfers will be far more relaxed with this week’s driving lines and we may see the likes of Johnson, Rahm and Pieters in a better light here. Although it is worth noting that Birkdale has been claimed to be one of the toughest driving courses on the rotation. The fairways are narrow enough and the bunkers are as penal as you will see. Unlike some shorter links courses the bunkers can’t just be flown so strategy will be required off the tee.

In 2008 the field scrambled at just 42.6% which is the 3rd lowest in the last 15 years. The greens were also very hard to hit as the field managed just 53.7% which is actually the lowest total in the last 15. It may sound like I’m stating the obvious but you really only want to consider players this week that can continue to hit greens in difficult conditions and also scramble well around tightly mown links run-offs when they do miss the greens. That is what I focussed on but there are also some other key elements to Royal Birkdale from a historical point of view.

Key trends from the previous 9 Royal Birkdale Opens;

7/9 were already Major champions prior to Birkdale win

6/9 were or would go on to be a multiple major winner (the 9 have 34 majors between them now!)

5/9 were from the U.S.A (13 of the last 22 Open winners too)

3/9 were already Open winners (another 3 would go on to win The Open again)

The finishing position of the 9 Birkdale winners in the previous year’s Open;

1954 Peter Thomson – 2nd in 1953

1961 Arnold Palmer – 2nd in 1960

1965 – Peter Thomson – 24th in 1964 (already won at Birkdale in 1954)

1971 – Lee Trevino – 3rd in 1970

1976 – Johnnie Lee Miller – 3rd in 1975

1983 – Tom Watson – 1st in 1982

1991 – Iain Baker-Finch – 6th in 1990

1998 – Mark O’Meara – 38th in 1997 (was 3rd at Birkdale in 1998 and also won the Lawrence Batley International there in 1987)

2008 – Padraig Harrington – 1st in 2007

Essentially all these just tell us that this week’s Open will be won by a classy golfer who is already a major winner (or expected to become a multiple winner) and has a very strong bank of Open form already. Where does that leave us then?

I have thought Rickie Fowler was going to win The Open every year since his impressive showing at Sandwich in 2011 in dire conditions when he finished 5th to Darren Clarke. Indeed I have bet on him every year since and therefore I can forgive anyone who dismisses my main tip this year on grounds of me becoming obsessive! But this looks like the most traditional combination of both course and weather that we have seen since 2011. Birkdale looks absolutely perfect for Fowler and it has also come at a time when he is in brilliant form.

Rickie-Fowler-Cover

Whether or not you subscribe to the theory that he is the best active player without a major, nobody can deny that he has paid his dues already at the relatively young age of 28. Yet until his final round at Augusta I had personally never seen him do much wrong in contention for one of the Majors. That Sunday round alongside Spieth was a concern but he flew out of the blocks at Erin Hills in a fashion that suggested he had already forgotten about it. The fact that he finished 5th that week was actually testament to his grinding skills. He clearly wasn’t playing his best from Friday onwards yet he managed to just about hang around most of the tournament when Koepka, Fleetwood and Harman were playing their very best golf. He has held his form nicely since with a 3rd place finish at the Quicken Loans before crossing the Atlantic for his links warm up at the Scottish Open.

Over the weekend in Scotland Fowler cut the figure of someone who was merely sharpening their game ahead of the real tournament. I got the impression that he wasn’t overly worried about being off the pace and was happy to avoid the mental strain that comes with being in contention. With regards to trying to peak for this week, I believe his 9th place finish was ideal preparation. His 2017 has not only been succesful from a results point of view but his stats are excellent yet again this year. Fowler ranks 9th in scrambling, 3rd in total driving, 8th in strokes gained: approaches and 3rd in strokes gained: putting. It is no coincidence that he has contended at both this year’s majors as his whole game is as good as it has ever been.

For me, Rickie is ready and I believe this is his time if he is to go on to be the outstanding links player of his generation that I think he can be. He has already won around Gullane and finished 6th at Royal Aberdeen which are two visually similar courses to Birkdale.

The recent trend of experienced Open winners is certainly relevant but at the same time the nine Birkdale winners were an average of 31 yrs old when they won. Given Fowler came on the scene so early he is probably as experienced at 28 as the average golfer at 31 as this is his 8th Open already. Indeed the last three Birkdale winners played in their 8th Open respectively at 31, 34 and 31. I’m going to have 3pts ew at 14/1 with Skybet’s 10 places offer and a further 2pts win at Betfair’s 18.0

I’m going to take three more proven links players as back up to Rickie Fowler. Firstly the reigning Champion Golfer of The Year, Henrik Stenson. I was gutted not be on last year after making him my main tip at St. Andrews the year before. I can’t even remember why I left him out now, possibly as I hadn’t forgiven him for an average showing the year before. This year he hasn’t been playing his best but things have picked up a little and his stats have improved over the last few weeks. Despite finishing down the field in 26th, he was 1st in the all-round ranking last week, let down only by his putter as he ranked 1st in fairways and 12th in GIR. But not making birdies won’t be too detrimental this week as the bulk of the field struggle their way to par. His slow start to the year means we can still get roughly the same price as last year. If we consider the relatively poor form of many of the world’s top players and that he is now a major winner, this looks to me like some value. Stenson was also tied 3rd here in 2008 as he shot the best round in the field on the windiest day we have seen for years at an Open. He also has a very strong record at Opens where scrambling is tough. In the last 10 years his finishes when the field got up and down less than 50% were as follows; 2nd-68th-3rd-13th-3rd (the 68th coming during his slump year of 2011). He is expected to put up a strong defence this week.

Henrik

I badly wanted to include Justin Rose again but I still can’t get over his missed cut at Erin Hills so instead I’m going to include his good friend Ian Poulter. Poulter was runner-up here in 2008 as he handled the brutal winds better than everyone bar Harrington. His recent up-turn in form ahead of his return to the scene of his best Open performance is timely and it means he looks a shade of value, especially after faltering a little on Sunday to ease his price again. Despite the many that condescend to Poulter by criticising his sometimes average ball-striking, make no mistake that there are very few in the game who have maximised their talent quite like Poulter. He has had a similar career to Darren Clarke and I wouldn’t put it past Poulter to stick a cherry on top at the age of 41 much like his Ryder Cup captain did 7 years ago.

Regaining his PGA Tour card for this year when he thought he had lost it has given him a new lease of life and will have realigned his perspective. Playing without too much pressure he has managed a 2nd at the Players Championship and just last week his whole game was in excellent shape as he finished 9th at the Scottish Open on a proper links course in very typical Open weather. Some will be quick to point out how poorly he played in that final round but this was the first tournament in a while where he would have expected to win going into the final round. The refresher course can only have helped him with regards to next time he is in the final group and his record in contention in general is a good one. He ranked 9th in fairways at Dundonald and 20th in greens so that level of accuracy will help him at Birkdale. Skybet’s 60/1 doesn’t give us much juice on the win portion but again the 12/1 for a top 10 finish looks very nice given he has made the top 10 in three of his last eight Open appearances.

Steve Stricker fits the profile of a Birkdale winner absolutely perfectly, so much so that I’m going to get involved in several markets with the 50yr old Wisconsinite. The Open didn’t used to mean that much to Sticker and he has skipped it in the past. But now in his Senior years he relishes any chance to still play in a major and that has shown in his results. Amazingly he hasn’t missed a major cut since 2009’s US PGA Championship. That is 24 consecutive cuts which returned 13 Top 20 finishes. He was tied 16th at both this year’s Masters and Erin Hills so my main bet will be in the Top 20 market but I think there are plenty reasons to think he can go even better.

Stricker was 4th in last year’s Open at Troon as he minimised mistakes over the weekend and slowly crept up the leaderboard. But he was also 7th in 2008 when Harrington won and both those results align perfectly with previous Birkdale winners. If we also consider that the last 6 Open winners have been aged 40-39-25-43-42-41 then we can see that it isn’t just a myth that experienced players fare well in The Open. Stricker seems to tick so many boxes that I can’t believe the 230.0 that was available on Friday on Betfair. Hopefully some of you might have noticed my tweet and got on board but I still think the 170 is a good price and I also like Sky Bet’s 100/1 with 10 places on offer. That gives us 20/1 about a top 10 which seems like an absolute gift from a value point of view even if the win portion is probably about right. I’m advising 1pt win on the Exchange at 170, 1pt ew with Sky Bet @ 100/1 and also 2.5pts Top 20 @ 7/2. At the very worst we get the chance to cheer on one of the good guys in golf knowing that he should at least make the cut given his current streak of 24 not out. From there his experience and temperament could see him out stay plenty over a tough looking weekend.

I had been eyeing up a top 20 bet on Paul Waring for a few weeks so when he shot a 78 on Saturday I was a little bit miffed. But he closed with a 69 and I think he has the right sort of combination of steady tee-to-green game, solid putting stroke and a liking for tough conditions. Waring was 19th at Birkdale in 2008 but he is a far better player now and is enjoying his best year on Tour. I think he looks a solid bet for another Birkdale Top 20 at a general 10/1.

My last top 20 bet is quite a speculative one at the price but Paul Broadhurst perhaps shouldn’t be 33/1 for a top 20 considering he qualified for this by winning last year’s Senior Open at Carnoustie. Obviously it is a huge jump in class but Broadhurst was always a fine links player such was the quality of his short game. He is 51 yrs old now but we all remember how close Greg Norman and Tom Watson came to winning this so I see no reason why he can’t make the cut and if the wind gets up he should enjoy the test more than most.

Others who came close were Haas, Leishman and Snedeker but they haven’t repaid the faith shown in them over the last two years so instead I will monitor their progress and perhaps get on in-play if they start well.

First Round Leader

As well as winning The Open in 2015, Zach Johnson has built himself quite the Open record and he has made the last 10 cuts in a row dating back to 2006. I couldn’t say for sure but I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t the only player to have done that. His results in that time have been increasingly impressive too; 20-51-47-76-16-9-47-1-12. While his return to form at the John Deere Classic was interesting, I don’t think one performance on his favourite course is enough to suggest he has fully turned the corner, however, it will mean that he arrives at Birkdale full of confidence. It could be that he flies out of the blocks and continues where he left off so I was considering him for 1st round leader even before I looked at his recent Thursday knocks at The Open.

Starting with his most recent, Johnson’s run of ten consecutive Open weekends opened up with rounds of 67-66-71-66-65-72-72-70-73-73. The last five in particular are impressive but just two of those were over par in 10 years and he would have given some sort of each way returns in the first round leader market in four of the last five years. He looks a great each way bet to start well again even if his poor 2017 suggests he might fall away as he struggles to put four solid rounds together.

In most of the last 10 Opens we have seen an old head flirt with the leaderboard throughout the tournament but even on the occasions where they fell away quicker than Greg Norman or Tom Watson did, there has always been someone fighting the good fight for the older generation on day one. From last time at Birkdale in 2008 there has been an over 40 in the first five every year; Norman, Watson, Daly, Jimenez, Lawrie, O’Meara, Furyk, Goosen and last year both Stricker and Mickelson. So it looks perfectly fair to expect some senior representation again this year.

I’m not going to dive into another market with Steve Stricker although hopefully he can start well. Instead I am going to add Paul Broadhurst in the 1st round leader market too. He might not manage the physical exertions of 4 rounds at this level but he has an early tee-time and hopefully he can start strong.

Lastly I’m going to include Jason Dufner for no more reason than I have a feeling he could start well this week flying in completely under the radar. Dufner has missed his last two cuts since winning at Memorial but we can forgive that and prior to those his previous opening rounds read 74-69-73-69-68-71-68-68-70-71-71-65-68. He will enjoy the accuracy test off the tee and has a nice early tee time. With the weather forecast changing every hour I have stuck with the morning starters who will at least see the greens at their best.

For one last bet I’m going to have a double on what are for me the two outstanding candidates in the remaining majors, Fowler, as already covered, and Jon Rahm for the US PGA. His win in Ireland was excellent and he just keeps getting better. The Quail Hollow course will be set up perfectly for him and I think he will be the man to beat. The 20/1 currently available looks generous.


Summary of Bets

The Open

Rickie Fowler – 3pts ew @ 14/1 (Skybet 10 places at 1/5 odds) and a further 2pts win @ 18.0 on Betfair.

Henrik Stenson – 1pt ew @ 25/1 (Skybet)

Ian Poulter – 1pt ew 60/1 (Skybet)

Steve Stricker – 1pt win @ 170 on Betfair Exchange, 1pt ew @ 100/1 (Skybet) and 2.5pts Top 20 @ 7/2

Paul Waring – 1pt Top 20 @ 10/1

Paul Broadhurst – 0.5pt Top 20 @ 33/1

 

Zach Johnson – 1pt ew @ 80/1 – 1st Round Leader

Paul Broadhurst – 0.25pt ew @ 300/1 – 1st Round Leader

Jason Dufner – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 – 1st Round Leader

0.5pt ew double Rickie Fowler to win The Open and Jon Rahm to win US PGA @ 356/1 (10 places and 5 places with Sky Bet)

 

Weekly pts advised =  23.5pts

2017 pts advised = 342pts

 

@theGreek82

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Scottish Open and John Deere Classic – Betting Preview

It was a profitable week and therefore I can’t really complain, especially with the way Ryan Fox holed two lengthy par putts on 17 and 18 to hold onto 3/4 of the place money. But Russell Henley was a little disappointing on the Sunday given he was surrounded by less experienced players and he never really mounted a challenge. Kelly Kraft birdied the 17th to tie for 5th and that halved our returns. Michael Kim also did all the hard work for a back door top 20 only to go and double bogey the straight-forward 18th hole to fall one shot out of the top 20.

There were 19.94 pts returned and hopefully the next winner isn’t far away. The European Tour continues its links trail this week and hops over the Irish Sea to Ayrshire for The Scottish Open and the PGA Tour holds its customary pre-Open John Deere Classic.

Total 2017 pts advised =309pts

Total 2017 pts returned = 222.11

ROI = – 28.12%


The Scottish Open

After very little wind to speak of last week in Ireland and a soft, receptive course, scoring was very low and players and fans alike will be hoping for more of an Open warm-up this week in Ayrshire. But I’m not convinced that we will get one here although higher winds are forecast than in Ireland last week. They are coupled with rain though and it sounds like we will see another soft course where links specialists may have their advantage removed somewhat. While Jon Rahm won last week with his combination of power and touch around the greens he didn’t really have to change too much of his game as the soft greens and minimal wind allowed more of a target golf tournament. There was plenty of trouble off the tee at Portstewart but the course was short enough that Rahm could still muscle his way out of the fescue. This was highlighted by him hitting 82% of the greens despite only finding half the fairways.

This week’s course is a new one to the rotation but it is on the much trodden Ayrshire golf coast just north of Turnberry and Troon. It is relatively short at just over 7000 yards so if the wind doesn’t get up we could see another birdie-fest this week.

It is a Kyle Phillips design and in keeping with his mantra the fairways are very wide with the focus on tactical approach shots. The greens are huge allowing for lots of different pin placements which will give the organisers the chance to toughen things up should the weather stay benign. Phillips has designed several courses currently used on Tour but perhaps the most pertinent this week will be Kingsbarns. It is used on the Alfred Dunhill Links rotation and every year it plays as the easiest of the 3 courses. Its fairways are some of the biggest you will see on a links course and while Dundonald’s don’t appear quite so wide, I think the bomber types will be well suited to the relatively new Ayrshire track. The greens are well protected and have some undulations so it appears to be all about getting close to the flags, lag-putting well when they end up 60ft across the green and scrambling from tight lies at the bottom of run-offs. If the wind doesn’t materialise then again the best way of getting close will be with as much loft as possible, just like Jon Rahm managed last week. However if it does blow then the links specialists will feature on the leaderboard and must be given respect. Therefore it may well pay to side with players who are adaptable and can thrive in both environments.

Other Kyle Phillips designs to note are PGA National (Nordea Masters 2014, 2015), The Grove (British Masters 2016), Verdura Golf Resort (Sicilian Open 2012, 2017) and Hilverschume (KLM Open 2010, 2011, 2012). He also helped with remodelling works at Celtic Manor and Valderama. A look through these leaderboards repeatedly throw up the same sort of players. Long drivers who hit high numbers of greens in regulation in windy/tough conditions and scramble well when they miss. This has given me a specific skill set to focus on and I have found two at the head of the market to focus on.

I have left Rickie Fowler out this week largely due to the price and the fact that he might want tougher driving conditions to be seen at his best. Additionally I think he will be using this as a stepping stone to Birkdale where I make him the man to beat barring a horror show here. Despite leaving Fowler out I feel like I have still gone a little Jeremy Chapman here by picking two out of the front 6 but then again it is hard to argue with his record so I’ll crack on.

I haven’t tipped Alex Noren for a while but his chance of going back to back looks very strong. Noren won last year around Castle Stewart and that is another links course with wide open fairways. He has won at two other Phillips courses already with his win at The Grove last year following up his 2015 win around his home PGA National course. He also finished 3rd in the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2012 and reached the final of the Paul Lawrie Match Play around Archerfield Links last year. Add to this the fact he has won 6 of his last 28 regular European Tour events and you realise that the price of 16/1 isn’t actually a bad one at all. Simply put Noren is one of the best players on the European Tour, he has become a prolific winner and he is suited to this test perfectly. Room off the tee, a windy course and tricky green complexes where scrambling is key, this is what Noren is all about and therefore he rates a solid each way bet in his quest to defend his title.

Five years ago for Alex Noren you could have read Branden Grace. He was winning lots of regular Tournaments on exposed courses where his then deadly short game helped him to excel in the wind. But Grace has actually worked very hard on his long game and his most recent win at Harbour Town on the PGA Tour required a great deal of accuracy both off the tee and with approach shots. Unlike Noren however, Grace has built up a strong Major record over the last few years, so much so that in the U.S. he is perceived as a steady major type who enjoys a difficult tee-to-green test. But this is a far cry from the deadly putter who first came on the scene back in 2011 and in his 7 wins on the European Tour he has averaged -18. Three of those have been on links courses with his 2012 Alfred Dunhill win (including a course record 60 around Kingsbarns!) preceding two Qatar Masters titles. There is no question that his short game is at its best on slick, grainy greens like he was brought up playing on in South Africa. Grace finished 2nd at Castle Stuart when Mickelson won in 2013 and that was further proof that he will enjoy this sort of test. He has also been dismissed a little in the market and I think he looks to be a nice price at 25/1.

George Coetzee probably gets tipped a little too often in this blog so some may want to leave him out this week but I can’t at odds of 100/1. He has missed his last two cuts but this test is right up Coetzee’s street. He excels on wide open links layouts like this where his wild tee shots go unpunished and he can show off his short game skills. Coetzee shares the course record of 62 at the Old Course at St. Andrews and has also gone low at Kingsbarns which helped him finish 3rd in the Alfred Dunhill in 2012. He also came 3rd at Castle Stuart in 2011 and lost in a play-off at Gleneagles that same year. That form in Scotland shows just what he is capable of with a little room off the tee helping to keep the big numbers of his card. Those who think he is a little out of his depth in this sort of field are pointed to his 7th around Whistling Straits in the 2015 U.S. PGA. It is hard to know which Coetzee will turn up this week but at the price he looks to be excellent value to me.

Ryan Fox deserves another shot this week as he played superbly in Ireland to finish in a tie for 4th. Most of his mistakes came from his wayward tee shots so the big-hitting New Zealander will relish the extra space here. The rest of game was strong last week as he ranked 9th in GIR and he looked comfortable adapting his game to links conditions.

 


John Deere Classic

With focus very much on the Scottish Open I haven’t had too much of a look at the John Deere. The short course at Deere Run always comes down to who combines their wedge play and putting best of all and that is why Stricker, Zach Johnson and Spieth have had somewhat of a monopoly over the last 10 years. They are three of the best wedge players and putters we have seen in recent times so those are certainly the attributes to focus on this week. In terms of stats then strokes gained: putting, one putt percentage, proximity to hole and scoring relative to par from approaches 100-125 yards and 125-150 yards all look key this week.

With a relatively weak looking field I have decided to keep this very simple and back both Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson. As everyone knows their records around Deere Run are immense and while Johnson is in fairly poor form, Stricker has actually been playing very well this year. He finished 16th at both the Masters and U.S. Open making him one of only five men to return top 20s in both majors. The other four are Koepka, Matsuyama, Kuchar and Fowler which is lofty company to be keeping at 50 years old. Stricker has three wins and two other places at the course, most of these coming after his 40 birthday when he was already playing a fairly limited schedule. So arriving off a light 2017 won’t have too much of an impact and he should play well. Davis Love III showed just last week how the seniors can still contend when conditions allow and I expect Stricker to continue to fly the flag for the veterans this week.

Zach Johnson is harder to make a case for but with little else taking my eye here I decided he was worth a go due to the ridiculous course record he owns. His recent results are 34-3-2-2-1-3-21-2 and while he hasn’t been at his best this year he has gone off sub 20/1 here ever since his win and I think given his record the 28/1 still has some value in it with no Jordan Spieth in the field. He also ranks 25th in one putt percentage so if he can give himself chances then he should manage to get competitive on greens he knows better than anyone.

Finally I have added Wesley Bryan as a back-up to the two course horses incase neither are quite at it this week. Bryan is an excellent putter and I didn’t expect him to get his first win around such a fiddly track like Harbour Town. However it is another short course where he would have been using a lot of wedges for his approaches. Despite a recent drop off in his form, his stats are still excellent for this sort of test. Bryan is 5th in one putt percentage, 7th in scoring relative to par from 125-150 yards and 25th for the same stat at 100-125 yards. Deere Run should play to his strengths and as a winner just 10 weeks ago I thought he looked a fair price at 80/1 although I’m not so excited about the general 66/1 around now. However I had already decided to back him so I’m still going to have a small each way interest.


Summary of Bets

Scottish Open

Alex Noren – 2pts ew @ 16/1

Branden Grace – 1pt ew @ 25/1

George Coetzee – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1

Ryan Fox – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1

John Deere Classic

Steve Stricker 1.25pt ew @ 28/1

Zach Johnson – 0.75pt ew @ 28/1

Wes Bryan – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1

 

Weekly pts advised = 13pts

Total 2017 pts advised = 322pts

@theGreek82

 

Greenbrier Classic and Irish Open – Betting Preview

Last week was an exciting one on both Tours but there wasn’t a lot to shout about in terms of betting over the weekend. Storm and Luiten were both in a good position after Friday but went backwards over the weekend. Robert Garrigus upped his game as expected but despite starting his 2nd and 3rd rounds brilliantly he couldn’t maintain that through 18 holes. It was a good week for him though as he finished in the top 30 and he will be looking to push on now during the second half of the year.

Centre stage moves from the U.S. to Ireland this week as the build up to The Open begins with two links warm-ups. First up is the Irish Open this week which is followed by the Scottish Open next week. Both are on classic links layouts and that opportunity for the world’s best to have a links practice has brought about two fairly strong fields.

Total 2017 pts advised= 297pts

Total 2017 pts returned= 202.17pts

ROI = -31.93%

 


Irish Open

The chance for the game’s best to hone their links skills ahead of the Open has been available since the Scottish Open left Loch Lomond back in 2011 but it was only really after Phil Mickelson’s back to back wins at Castle Stuart and Muirfield in 2013 when players started to really see the benefits. Now with the Irish Open firmly in the calendar the week before the Scottish Open there is the potential for three brilliant weeks of links golf and with the venues we have this year, that is exactly what we should get.

Portstewart Golf Club has never hosted a professional tournament before but the timing for its debut couldn’t be much better. Visually it is almost a double of Royal Birkdale as both courses feature many holes with fairways winding through dunes and high fescue. It will be a great preparation for the players and with rain and wind forecast over the weekend it will be a chance for some of the seasoned British links players to qualify for the Open.

   Royal Birkdale          royal-birkdale-golf-club-2

    Portstewart             Portstewart

Rory McIlroy is the defending champion after winning last year at the K Club and he has helped to gather an all-star field here with Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose making the journey alongside many of the household European Tour names and it has given the tournament a great boost and also created a very interesting betting heat.

As ever with an out-and-out links test I’m looking at those proven on links courses and proven in the weather that we so often see across four days of golf on these shores. Luckily there seem to be more and more of these with the Scottish Open having been played on links layouts since 2011 as well as the Open every year. In addition to that we have the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship although it must be noted that those courses are set up considerably easier for the Pro-Am element of the competition but is also played in October when the weather is even worse.

For me the main stats to look at with links golf are GIR, scrambling and putting. A good combination of those together with the ability to shape shots and control distance with irons are what will be needed to go well over the next three weeks. With the weather set to get up and make things difficult over the weekend then scrambling will probably be the most important. It was interesting to see Alexander Bjork (tipped many times on the blog) at the top of the leaderboard in France last week and he sits 2nd in scrambling on Tour over the last 3 months. When conditions are tough, greens are missed and getting up and down on fast links greens can take a lot of skill and will make or break many a week in Ireland.

I saw enough from Thomas Pieters last week in France to convince me that he isn’t far away at all from being able to win on a links course in this strong a field. He fired 17 birdies on the week but was undone by 4 double-bogeys that were a result of finding water. A lot was said about his petulant attitude and while I agree that it looks more to his detriment at the moment, he came very close to winning in spite of this. His two doubles on Sunday were as a result of typically aggressive golf from Pieters, knowing that he had to make birdies to catch Fleetwood. However there won’t be any water in play this week and while there will still be trouble lurking in the rough, there is a little more space off the tee at Portstewart and even if he does hit the odd wayward drive he is likely to be looking at one dropped shot rather than two.

All three of his wins on Tour came on links layouts around Europe; Albatross Golf Club in Prague, Kennemer Links in Holland and Himmerland in Denmark. He is yet to do anything exceptional in Britain but that is surely just a matter of time. The Belgian powerhouse currently ranks 2nd on Tour this year for scrambling and with the addition of three even bigger names to the field, 25/1 looks to be a nice piece of value to me.

Ryan Fox makes the team this week despite not yet having had the chance to impress in proper links conditions but he is just too big a price to leave out. There are plenty of things in his favour however that suggest he should go well. Firstly he is in great form having shot a final round 67 to finish 6th at Le Golf National. Only Peter Uihlein had a better combined ranking for GIR, scrambling and total putting as Fox ranked 6th, 11th and 34th respectively. Fox has also won up in Northern Ireland previously on the Challenge Tour and although that was a parkland course there would almost have certainly been some typical British weather. He also has a 2nd around the Spey Valley course in Aviemore which plays very much as an inland links course. Some of his best results over the last year were on the Australian swing where he finished 9th and 4th at the Australian PGA and Open respectively and they were both played on hard, fast, exposed layouts as is typical of the area. He is a very talented player who is expected to go on to big things on the European Tour so he looks a little over priced at the available 150/1.

Max Kieffer also performed well last week in France ranking 12th in GIR and 3rd for scrambling. He has some decent finishes on links type courses and finished 5th in last year’s Irish Open, albeit not on a links course, but he was 8th in 2015 at Royal County Down. He reached the Quarter Finals of the Paul Lawrie Match Play last year in Scotland which was played on a very exposed Archerfield course on the East Lothian coast. He has always seemed to me like a player who should be suited to links golf so with him in good form I think he looks worth a chance here as he returns to Ireland with fond memories of the last two years.

I’m adding Bernd Ritthammer here purely on his record in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Last year he won the Volopa Irish Challenge in the south and also finished runner-up to Fox in the Northern Ireland Open. He hasn’t had a great start to his year but he looks massively over priced for a top 20 given that he clearly enjoys playing on these shores. He has missed his last 3 cuts but his stats aren’t awful for this test as he ranks 20th for scrambling and 12th for total putting over the last 3 months.

 


The Greenbrier Classic

If the Irish Open is an attractive betting heat this looks to be the opposite so I’m going to keep stakes small as it really does appear to be the sort of event where anyone in the field could win. The course is the Old White TPC and unlike last week’s tee-to-green grind, this is one of the easier courses on Tour. Stuart Appleby shot a final round 59 here in the first event in 2010 to stop Jeff Overton getting his maiden win and while they have tried to make things a little tougher since, the winning score has still been comfortably in double figures under par.

The course is reasonably long for a Par 70 at 7287 yards and the fairways are wide enough. This suggests that we should look at some of the bigger hitters who play par 4s well and can really rack up the birdies. However the list of winners isn’t quite a who’s who of bombers so I had a look at the stats for the six editions do far.

Most of the winners rank highly in birdie average and strokes gained: putting but perhaps the single most relevant stat recently has been Par 4 Birdie or Better in which the last two winners have ranked 14th and 18th during the year of their win. This backs up what I expected from the course so I have used these as my main criteria for the week.

Russell Henley looks to be the pick at the prices here as his 40/1 looks very fair compared to those just ahead of him in the betting. It seems everyone has forgotten that he was in contention at the U.S. Open until the back 9 on Sunday and that he was a winner just three months ago. In fact that win was at the Houston Open which has some form lines with the Greenbrier as several players have very strong records in both and they can often come down to who performs on the greens. He also has a win at the Sony Open in Hawaii which was designed by Seth Raynor who helped Charles B Macdonald design the Old White TPC.

Henley ranks 14th on Tour in strokes gained: putting and he finished 5th here in 2015. He will enjoy the birdie fest and rates a confident bet now he has managed to shake off the disappointment of Erin Hills with four rounds at the tricky TPC Potomac last week.

Sung-Hoon Kang was very close to being bet this week even before I noticed that he was 2nd at the Houston Open behind Henley in April.  At the Quicken Loans he was extremely unfortunate to be on the 16th green with a short birdie putt on Sunday when the torrential rain arrived. Kang and his caddie were unprepared and he was absolutely drenched prior to taking his putt. He missed it and would then go on to double bogey the 17th to ruin his chances, still clearly unsettled from a downpour that was nowhere to be seen in the forecast. He spoke well afterwards with Sky and he didn’t give the impression he would be dwelling on the missed opportunity for too long.

Kang ranked 14th in total putting last week and that boosted him to 65th on tour in strokes: gained putting so the low scoring nature shouldn’t bother him. Given that his two best performances so far on Tour have been on a course with good form links to TPC Old White and just last week I think he looks a great bet at 66/1.

One final dart here at Michael Kim who figures highly in a couple of key stats and also finished 12th at the Houston Open and 20th at the Sony Open this year. Kim ranks 38th in par 4 birdies or better and 33rd in strokes gained: putting. Could be overpriced at 150/1 and also looks worth a top 20 bet.


Summary of bets

Irish Open

Thomas Pieters – 1pt ew @ 25/1

Ryan Fox – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 9/2

Max Kieffer – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 15/2

Bernd Ritthammer – 1pt Top 20 @ 16/1

Greenbrier Classic

Russell Henley – 1pt ew @ 40/1

Sung-Hoon Kang – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1

Michael Kim – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 13/2

 

Weekly pts advised = 12pts

Total 2017 pts advised = 309pts

@theGreek82