Ryan Fox nabbed two thirds of the place money again with another strong links showing and Whee Kim looked like also returning some of the place money until he double bogeyed the 18th. It was his final few holes that did for him the whole week and if he hadn’t finished so poorly each day he may well have applied some pressure on his namesake Michael. It wasn’t to be though and we move on to one of the top 2 weeks of the golfing year with The Open at Carnoustie.
2018 pts advised = 302.50
2018 pts returned = 335.02
ROI = 10.75%
The Open Championship
While being one of the sterner tests on the Open rotation and always bringing with it plenty of drama, for some reason there has often been a long time between drinks from the Claret Jug at Carnoustie. This week will see just the 8th hosting of The Open at a course that was first opened in 1842. The first edition at Carnoustie was in 1931 and won by Tommy Armour. While they were held semi-regularly after that for a period there were none from Tom Watson’s win in 1975 until Paul Lawrie triumphed in 1999. There was then another 8 year gap to Padraig Harrington’s win in 2007 and it hasn’t been back since.
Paul Lawrie’s win was as dramatic as they come with Jean Van De Velde famously throwing his chance down the Barry Burn as he took a treble bogey down the last when a double would have seen him over the line. He would go on to lose the three man playoff and etch his name on the wrong side of history as he is now fondly remembered as the highest profile collapse in Open history.
There was similar excitement in 2007 when Harrington and Garcia went toe-to-toe with the Spaniard starting the day with a 3-shot lead before Harrington found himself with a 2 shot lead playing the 18th. He too would throw his chance away down the 18th before ultimately composing himself to beat Garcia in the 4 hole play-off.
Jordan Spieth defends this year after his brilliant win around Birkdale while Harrington returns to the scene of his greatest victory. Bernard Langer makes the field having won last year’s Senior Open and he is another course winner having also won the Senior Open here in 2010. Unfortunately Scotland’s last Open champion misses out through injury.
Carnoustie is perhaps the most difficult course on the rotation and that reputation has only been enhanced on the other side of the Atlantic since they nicknamed it Car-nasty. The main reason behind that is the length as the Par 71 plays to some 7400 yards making it comfortably the longest Open venue. This means there are some brutally long par 4s and that isn’t something that we always associate with links golf. Three of the final four holes are par 4s in excess of 450 yards and that difficult closing stretch probably helps define Carnoustie. Whoever navigates their way through those holes best over the four days should find themselves on the leaderboard at worst.
Beyond the length, the deep pot bunkering and narrow enough fairways make it one of the more demanding Open venues off the tee and that will only be accentuated by how baked out the course is. Normally when England has a brilliant summer Scotland is somewhat left behind but that hasn’t been the case this year. Glorious sunshine has left Carnoustie a classic picture of bald brown fairways and sparse brown fescue rough. It will play as hard and fast as any venue since Muirfield in 2013 and while that will negate the length somewhat, it will also mean that driver will be left in the bag my many. The greens however still appear very lush green as they have clearly been watered and well maintained through the dry summer. This makes it a little harder to gauge exactly how the course will play once the greens have been reached. If the greens are still receptive enough for people to aim directly at flags then we could see quite a different sort of challenge and one that not too many will have faced. At Muirfield in 2013 the greens were rock hard along with the rest of the course. I suspect with the forecast that even if they are green on Thursday morning by Sunday they will likely be as brown as the rest of the course however. The weather brings us on to the most important aspect of any Open course and that is wind. Year after year links courses are defined by how hard the wind blows and with the current forecast of wind in the area being 12mph-18mph with gusts in the 20s I expect Carnoustie will show it’s teeth most of the week. The green complexes are tricky without wind so with a stiff enough breeze greens will be missed and only the best scramblers will survive till Sunday evening. Proven wind and links exponents will be at a huge advantage around one of the true classic links tests. Carnoustie is also used as one of the host courses at the Alfred Dunhill Links in October and while that is set up very easily for the amateurs and it also has no bite October, it certainly won’t be a negative to have shot a low round at the course and a perusal of recent editions is surely worthwhile.
What is needed to win?
While we know that it pays to follow good links players whichever the course, with Carnoustie hosting this year it is worth paying particular attention to its nuances. It is perhaps one of the most classic links courses on the rotation and famously the hardest. As mentioned above the last two Opens there were won by Paul Lawrie (1999) and Padraig Harrington (2007) and at their peak there were very few better around the greens. Lawrie was so good he was nicknamed “Chippy” while throughout Harrington’s career he has been among the very best chippers on both Tours. I have looked at both those Opens together with the two Senior Opens (2010 and 2016) to see if this was borne out in the stats.
From the 4 events at Carnoustie there were 3 huge standouts from looking at the more general stats. The first one I noticed was scrambling and that was obviously no surprise but it was particularly interesting just how well the top 5 scrambled in each event. in 1999 Lawrie ranked 2nd in scrambling but none of the top 5 ranked outside the top 12 for scrambling. In 2007 Harrington led the field in getting up and down while Garcia was 6th and 4th placed Ernie Els was 3rd. On the Seniors circuit Paul Broadhurst was 5th in scrambling when he won in 2016 and again runner-up McCarron was 3rd while 5th place Byrum led the field. In 2010 Langer was 2nd in scrambling while again everyone in the top 5 was inside the top 10 for getting up and down.
The second key area was bogey avoidance as Lawrie ranked 3rd, Harrington 1st, Broadhurst 3rd and Langer 1st in that area. While it makes sense that avoiding bogeys is going to be a positive their numbers for birdies are nothing like as impressive (20th, 17th, 2nd and 14th) confirming that being able to keep bogeys off the card is crucial at Carnoustie.
The 3rd and final stat of note was Par 4 scoring and again that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise on a tough, championship, par 71 layout. Harrington was 9th on the par 4s but each of the other 3 winners led the field in scoring on the medium holes. With so many long par 4s again it makes perfect sense that playing them well is important.
Obviously being strong in the other key areas like GIR and putting isn’t going to hurt but it does seem clear that these 3 are key attributes that will be required this week at Carnoustie. While looking at the stats rankings for the year can only tell us how players have fared to date in those areas, they are ultimately the best guide for trying to predict who might perform well in those areas again. I would recommend a look at all 3 stats for anyone looking to pick their own players this week. With the new European Tour stats area all three of these can be easily accessed for both Tours now.
It just so happens that these stats back up two of my favourite links players and repeat Major tips so that gives me two confident headline plays. If you can ever be confident about a major that is!
Rickie Fowler hasn’t so much been banging the door down to get into the major winner’s house as he has been knocking quite loudly and repeatedly. Until perhaps April at Augusta he was falling into the Kuchar sort of area where he was being unfairly criticised for consistently playing well yet not really managing to properly contend right up to the 72nd hole. Many believe that Fowler upped his game that day as he played his back 9 in 4 under par to post -14, a score that could easily have landed a play-off on another day. As one of his bigger fans I’ve been of the opinion that he will win multiple Open Championships for some time but for those who disagree he maybe isn’t the bet for you this week at a restrictive enough 18/1 given the strength of the field. For me he is the best links player out of the top bracket of golfers and I have backed him in some shape or form in the last 6 Opens. I can’t stop now! Fowler has absolutely everything required to dominate links golf, he normally drives it fairly long and fairly straight, hits plenty of greens, scrambles with the best of them and is also one of the better putters on Tour. Most importantly though he has the ability to flight the ball down and move it in the wind allowing him to run the ball into the greens as they firm up over the weekend. With the summer that Scotland has seen that will be crucial on this baked out course, even more so if the wind blows.
Over the last few years things have gone against him in the Open, namely being on the wrong side of the strong draw bias in 2015 and 2016 while perhaps courses didn’t play as tough as he would have liked on other years. This is why I think the difficult Carnoustie is absolutely perfect for him. Looking at 2018 stats Fowler ranks brilliantly in the main 3 departments. He is 5th in scrambling, 4th in bogey avoidance and 5th in par 4 scoring. He is already a links winner having won the Scottish Open in 2015 and his overall Open record is extremely good even if he hasn’t figured on the leaderboard at the last 3. While the 18/1 maybe isn’t the best of win prices the value on the place terms makes up for that. Fowler has returned the each way money in 7 of his last 18 majors which makes the 18/5 about a top 8 finish an excellent price. I think he is ready to win one and having prepared with a 6th place finish at Gullane last week his game will be in perfect shape and I expect him to contend again at Carnoustie.
My other main bet is my 2nd go-to Open bet and that is Henrik Stenson. I must get the negatives out of the way first and point out that he withdrew from last week’s Scottish Open with an elbow injury but I’m hoping that was more precautionary ahead of this week. As ever Stenson’s game sets up perfectly for Championship golf as he currently leads the PGA Tour in driving accuracy and GIR. He also ranks highly in the strong Carnoustie stats as he is 5th in scrambling, 1st in bogey avoidance and 3rd in par 4 scoring. Despite his light schedule so far in 2018 he is one of only 3 men to finish inside the top 10 at both this year’s Majors. His 5th place at Augusta marked his best ever Masters finish while I thought he was a little unlucky at Shinnecock while carrying our money. He got himself to the front after 45 holes before throwing 5 shots away on the back 9 as conditions got very close to unplayable.
Moreover I just get the impression that he is targeting majors and nothing else as he realises he probably only has another 4 or 5 years left at the very top. That makes him dangerous again this week and doubly so when we consider Carnoustie looks absolutely perfect for his game. Another confident selection and excellent back up to the main Fowler selection. An extra string to both player’s bows is that they are also more than capable of hanging around if the greens do somehow play softer all week. Adaptability is often an under rated attribute with regards to golfers but when conditions can not be trusted 100% in advance it becomes even more crucial.
I’m adding two more proven links types in the outright market. Firstly Tyrrell Hatton who came close last week and unfortunately ruined his price somewhat but he has won the last two Alfred Dunhill Links events and shot Carnoustie rounds of 65 and 67 while doing so. Everything about his game suggests he can win an Open at some point and a test like Carnoustie while playing well might just be his best chance at a major to date. That means I can forgive the price of 33/1 as we get 10 places with Skybet and the place value makes up for it.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello perhaps isn’t playing well enough to win this at the moment but that has also seen his price pushed out and I really like his game for Carnoustie so am going to take a chance that he enjoys the more difficult layout this week. He has missed his last 3 cuts so this bet might not be for everyone but last week he signed off with a 67 and it was more his inability to make birdies than making bogeys that cost him. If we forgive him this slight blip in form then he was playing excellent golf prior to the US Open. He ranks 7th in scrambling on the European Tour and 22nd in both bogey avoidance and par 4 scoring. I’m hoping Carnoustie can focus the mind a little and given that a wayward driver has been one of the main things holding him back, he may opt to leave it in the bag. If he does then his proven links ability will help him from the fairways and in.
My left-field outsider for this is Charl Schwartzel and I’m not entirely sure I can explain why without boring everyone to tears. Basically I’ve had a look through courses where Harrington, Lawrie, Langer and Broadhurst have played well and Schwartzel’s name kept coming up. Schwartzel is a solid links player despite not having a reputation as such, even more so when conditions are hard and fast. He was 22nd around Hoylake in 2006 as a 22 year old and then 15th at Muirfield in 2013. He returned a year later to Hoylake to record his first Open top 10.
As much as anything he just looks a massive price for someone who can still show plenty of flashes of his world-class ability. Just two months ago he was runner-up to Webb Simpson at the Players Championship and he has only played three events since. Coming in fresh might just be an advantage for someone like Schwartzel who can get very down about his game when things aren’t going well.
After seeing some chat on Twitter about the rough not being overly penal I’ve decided to squeeze Ryan Fox into the team even if he doesn’t really have much of a major pedigree yet. The New Zealand bomber has been brilliant on the links courses of Ireland and Scotland over the last two weeks and knowing he will probably let rip with his driver again this week I think I have to include him again. He drove the 18th green on Friday at Gullane and while everyone was getting it fairly close he hit that some 450 yards which is quite ridiculous. While he only hit 40% of his fairways he was making that distance count again as he still hit 78% of his greens. Carnoustie is obviously a different beast but I’d be gutted to miss out on another good showing so I’ll make him the 6th and final each way play.
I’ve also backed a few at big prices on the exchanges just because I expect they might play quite well and possibly trade somewhat lower. I wasn’t sure how to advise them but as I have backed them I felt I had to include them so I have just gone with 0.5pts win at their current Betfair price. I’ve also advised place bets on the same 3 players.
Cameron Smith was brought up on the hard and fast courses along the East coast of Australia and he has shown his enjoyment of difficult championship courses already in his early career. He finished 4th on his major debut at Chambers Bay in 2015 while he was 5th at this year’s Masters. His brilliant scrambling skills will be key this week and he looks over priced in most of the markets for me. Could really take to Carnoustie and if he does he should trade considerably lower than 360.0
Thorbjorn Olesen has had a very impressive 2018 to date and he went into my notebook when he led the field in scrambling at the Irish Open 2 weeks ago. That was good enough for 6th and it came just a month after his win in Sicily. Olesen has long been considered an Open Champion in waiting and he won the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2015 where he shot a 68 around Carnoustie. Had a solid major record early in his career posting top 10s at both The Open and The Masters. Looks to be back to somewhere near his best this year and its worth remembering he is still just 28 years old. Has everything required to win a major and looks over priced on the Exchange where we can get nearly double some of the bookmaker prices.
Hideto Tanihara was 6th at the Open around Hoylake in 2006 and that is one of the few hard and fast tests we have seen in recent times. He went off the radar for quite a while on the world stage until he popped up at the WGC Match Play in 2017 where he beat several big names on his way to the semi-finals. On his day Tanihara is a brilliant scrambler and with fairly recent form of such a high standard he just seems a bit over priced here at the maximum 1000.0 on Betfair. The Japanese star was in the World’s Top 50 just last year and he also finished inside the top 30 on the Race to Dubai. It should also be noted that he shot a 61 around Gullane on Friday! Under rated here so I’m also taking his generous top 20 price of 12/1
Finally, Skybet are offering 3/1 for this year’s Open to be decided by a play-off. That to me looks like a great piece of value when we consider the last 3 Opens at Carnoustie have all gone to a play-off. Looking at the wider picture 7 of the last 20 Opens have gone to extra holes. With the difficult 18th hole and no real bail-out area off the tee it is the sort of hole where a 4 shot lead is required to be truly safe and mentally it is one of the toughest finishing holes you will see in major golf. Makes me think this novelty bet is worth a go for 4 Carnoustie play-offs in a row!
First Round Leader Picks
Right now the forecast for Thursday is for the wind to pick up in the afternoon to around 13mph with gusts in the 20s. Therefore I have gone for three players with early tee-times.
Since Thomas Pieters’ last missed cut at Wentworth he has turned a bit of a corner and in his 5 events he has thrown in 10 rounds in the 60s with three of those coming in the first round. Overall in 2018 he sits 5th on the European Tour for 1st round scoring. He opened last week with a 68 and then signed off with 64-66 over the weekend for a 6th place finish. He has an early tee-time of 7:52am and if he is to get involved at all this week I imagine it will be from the start. The 66/1 looks very fair with 8 places.
Erik van Rooyen has being going very low lately in round 1 and throughout most of the year as he sits just below Pieters in 8th place. Missed the cut last week but still shot a Friday 64 in doing so and the week before he went 65-66 in Ireland on Friday and Saturday to get to the top of the leaderboard. So he clearly knows how to go low on links courses and with an early tee-time (6:46am) hopefully the nerves of his first Major won’t get to him until Friday when maybe he is sitting inside the top 8 after an opening 68! There is as big as 150/1 out there but I prefer the 110 with Betfair and 8 places.
There were several more that I liked including Tanihara, Martin Kaymer and Matthew Southgate but instead I have plumped for another fast starter and links expert in Paul Dunne. He sits in 14th position in round 1 scoring and opened with a 67 last week in Scotland before missing the cut on the number after a 70 on Friday. The cooler conditions in the morning won’t phase him at all and he will relish the chance to get out and make a score having fond memories of contending for 3 rounds at St. Andrews as an amateur in 2015. Take the 95/1 with Betfair and get 8 places.
Summary of bets
Rickie Fowler – 3pts ew @ 18/1 (1/5 odds 8 places)
Henrik Stenson – 1.5pts ew @ 28/1 (1/5 odds 10 places Skybet)
Tyrrell Hatton – 1pt ew @ 33/1 (Skybet)
Rafa Cabrera-Bello – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 10 places PP) and 1pt Top 20 @ 4/1
Charl Schwartzel – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 (Skybet) and 2pts Top 20 @ 6/1
Ryan Fox – 0.75pt ew @ 100/1 (Skybet)
Cameron Smith – 0.5pt win @ 360 Betfair and 1pt Top 20 @ 8/1
Thorbjorn Olesen – 0.5pt win @ 130 Betfair and 1pt Top 10 @ 8/1
Hideto Tanihara – 0.5pt win @ 1000 Betfair and 1pt Top 20 @ 12/1
A Play-off to settle The Open – “Yes” – 2pts @ 3/1 (Skybet)
First Round Leader
Thomas Pieters – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Betfair and Paddy Power)
Erik Van Rooyen – 0.5pt ew @ 110/1 (Betfair)
Paul Dunne – 0.5pt ew @ 95/1 (Betfair)
Weekly points advised = 26pts