No returns last week although George Coetzee came up just one shot shy. On to arguably the best golfing week of the year with The Open Championship from Northern Ireland.
2019 pts advised = 362
2019 pts returned = 473.28
ROI = 30.7%
The Open Championship
The Open crosses the Irish Sea for only the second time ever and the first in 68 years and it’s safe to say the locals are rather happy about it. You don’t have to look too far on Twitter to find pictures of the pro’s practicing or detailed course previews from locals and we might be set for one of the best atmospheres ever at the Open. That’s before we even consider the ridiculously strong field and a course that by all accounts is in absolutely pristine condition. Royal Portrush hosted that 1951 Open Championship won by Max Faulkner but since then it has only seen a handful of Amateur Championships and the 2012 Irish Open won by Jamie Donaldson. The main problem holding the course back was a lack of space for the infrastructure required to host an event of that stature. So a few holes were changed and others were moved to create a large space at the old 17th and 18th holes. The result is a Championship course that will play to a par 71 this week and some 7337 yards. The original was a Harry Colt design way back in 1888 and the most recent changes were carried out by Martin Ebert.
There isn’t too much point me going in to great detail about the course as I would only be stealing material from others given I don’t know a great deal about the course beyond it being a classic Irish links course winding through lots of dunes. So instead I’ve just pasted the links to two excellent hole by hole guides created by @neverupneveron and @MattCooperGolf
With this info we can at least try to think about who might be suited to this test, one which I’m treating as a proper links test in the hope that we see at least some sun and wind to make things tricky for some of the 4 days. A proper links test usually requires one of two things and that is hitting greens relentlessly for 4 days when others are missing or scrambling brilliantly while others make bogeys. From looking at Portrush these appear to be the two challenges. The course is firm enough that there is some rollout on the the fairways but apparently most players will be looking to find the same landing areas resulting in approaches being paramount. The difficult green complexes will further highlight the importance of well struck approach shots as there are run-offs and hillocks a plenty around every green that will swallow up any shot that misses its target even slightly. The same undulations will require imagination around the greens if they are missed and you seldom ever see an Open winner that can’t scramble well under pressure. How important putting will be might depend on what the weather does, if we see a low scoring week like the two previous links events then the winner will need to have made plenty of birdies. If we get a proper test with some wind and the course firming up, I’d expect the flat-stick to be less important the more that par becomes a good score. I’m looking largely at players who excel with their approach play or scrambling and if you can find players who do both well then all the better.
Trends wise The Open throws up perhaps more than it should given the change of course every year. Some of these need to be given more attention than others however but I’ve highlighted 3 that can be useful this week;
- 13 of the 19 winners this century had won a tournament already that calendar year, essentially all this tells us is that they are having a good year and in form. If they haven’t won for 6 years then ok it might be a stretch for them to win an Open but if they have lots of top 5 finishes, are playing well and won last season then you shouldn’t dicsount them. But definitely concentrate on players who are in good form.
- 9 of the last 10 winners had previously recorded an Open top 10. Very important! There’s no point being too strict with this but you want your player to have played well in an Open before and contended in some capacity. Experience is crucial at The Open.
- You have to go back to Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 to find a winner who had missed the cut in either of the Majors in the season of their Open win. Again not one to be too strict with but it basically tells us that they need to have been playing well in elite fields so far this season. It’s worth noting a couple of these withdrew or didn’t make the field for whatever reason but not a single major MC in that season for the last 9 winners tells us a lot about the state of their games.
Having followed Henrik Stenson around The Renaissance Club on Friday afternoon I decided he would be my main bet this week despite the lack of the all important recent win. Basically all a recent win says is that they are in excellent form and there are other ways of proving that without lifting a trophy. Stenson absolutely flushed his tee shots and his approaches all week and it was extremely enjoyable to see him and hear him up close. Stenson’s putting let him down as he missed quite a lot inside 10ft but from what I saw his lag putting was absolutely spot on and if Portrush plays at all difficult then that will be every bit as important as the 8ft birdie putts. His nearly peerless tee-to-green game was right back to it’s best as he ranked 2nd in fairways hits (75%) and 1st for GIR (91.7%). While the immediate rough was basically non existent, some of the fairways were narrow enough and he really did have the ball on a string. Stenson plays a very light schedule these days at 43 years old and that probably contributes to his lack of a win as he tends to just play the big events with elite fields. His results have been decent enough recently as he is on a run of 8-9-4 while he holds his almost customary position at the top of the strokes gained: approaches category on the PGA Tour and 8th on the European Tour.
Stenson’s recent Open record is superb with his career achievement coming at Troon in 2016 when he beat Mickelson head to head and posted the all-time low Open score of 264 (-20). On top of that he has another three top 3 finishes and hasn’t missed the cut since 2007. His warm up last week looks absolutely ideal and a birdie fest never fully suits Stenson unless he is putting well but the fact he got to within 3 shots putting so poorly has to be a positive. I expect him to carry that form over and he will be suited to the more difficult test where any improvement with the putter has to see him go close. His odds have contracted a little but 25/1 for such a talented player close to his best still makes plenty of appeal for me.
Matt Kuchar’s odds to win golf tournaments these days never cease to amaze me. How he was 60/1 to win the Open two weeks ago I have no idea. He has rightly been cut but I still think the 33/1 on offer is too big for the man who currently leads the Fed Ex Cup rankings having won twice this year and has seldom been outside the top 20 wherever he has played. Kuch fits the veteran profile that so often wins the Open due to the required links experience and patience required if the weather turns. He lost out to Spieth in 2017 but in all honesty did very little wrong as he was three strokes ahead of 3rd place and Spieth rode his luck at times.
Kuchar sits 5th on Tour for GIR and 8th in scrambling and that is exactly the sort of combination that we want at Portrush. Playing in his 15th Open he is now a seasoned links player and only a poor round on Friday stopped him from properly contending last week in Scotland. His 2019 major season has been very strong indeed as he has gone 12-8-16 and another contending week seems on the cards therefore the 10 places look a gift for a top 10 machine like Kuchar. He just simply seems too big a price even having been cut and really should be backed on value grounds alone.
Kevin Kisner also make the team on price alone as it is hard to believe how he is 125/1 despite a poor performance last week. He is a far better player than those odds suggest and also having a far better year than those around him in the market as he won the WGC Match Play and also posted a 21st at the Masters as well as 6 other top 25s. Kisner contended all the way last year before finishing T2nd and this will be his 5th Open appearance, improving each year. He is one of the grittiest players around when it comes to saving par and he seems to thrive on the pressure of getting up and down when it matters. He is a proven winner with 5 professional wins and we have seen lots of players win a WGC on their path to a major and Kisner could join that list this week. Kisner was a little bit wild off the tee last week but that was quite out of character and he was perhaps trying to hit it harder knowing how easy the rough was. I’d expect him to get back to hitting fairways this week as normal and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he popped up as the latest in a long list of lesser known US winners of the Claret Jug.
I’ve been back and forth on Patrick Cantlay but I’m willing to forgive his relative lack of links experience due to the fact his price looks relatively fair at 25/1. Cantlay finished 12th last year at Carnoustie on his debut and that was a heck of an effort. But despite that being his debut he did have some very solid links form at Royal Aberdeen where he took 2.5pts out of 4 at the 2011 Walker Cup. He has been superb this year and his win at Memorial capped off an excellent run of golf. His tee-to-green game is almost as good as anyone already but his putting has improved this year while he leads the PGA Tour in scrambling. He really fits the profile of the type of player that wins their first major in a fairly obvious fashion leaving everyone wondering how they missed out. So I’m going to have to back him but maybe more as a saver.
I feel like I’ve got to include Romain Langasque after his performance last week and the fact he is an Amateur Chamionship winner back in 2015 at Carnoustie. He has struggled to get over the line on the European Tour since becoming a pro but he looks likely to play well again this week and while he maybe isn’t over priced at 200/1, I do very much like the place part of the bet with 10 places at Skybet. If he can keep the ball in play off the tee then he should take to Portrush as the rest of his game has been superb this year, ranking 12th in GIR, 10th in scrambling and 21st in strokes gained: putting. That looks like an excellent combination for Portrush however it plays. I’m going to advise a small each way bet and I’ve already had a few pounds on the Exchange at 610, which I couldn’t putt anyone off of. I’m also going to have a top 30 bet as he could realistically have a really good week but still find himself down in 23rd due to such a strong field.
Zander Lombard has been in awful form missing 7 of his last 8 cuts but the one blip was a 9th place at the Irish Open two weeks ago at Lahinch. Lombard’s scrambling game for links golf is superb and he clearly likes playing in Ireland as he was 6th in the Irish Open last year. He then went on to contend for the first three rounds at Carnoustie before falling away on the final day. But the main reason for me backing him is that he played in the 2014 Amateur Championship here and shot a 69 in the strokeplay before going on to make the final where he lost to Bradley Neil. That experience of the course together with his record in the Irish Open makes the 500/1 look huge despite current form. If he can keep the ball on the fairway, a big if with Lombard, then he should out play his odds. I’ll also include a Top 40 bet at 5/1.
Tyrell Hatton and Shane Lowry both came very close as their cases for links golf are very strong. They are even both decent prices I just couldn’t bring myself to back them though a they have both flattered to deceive lately with my money on. I think Lowry will have put a lot of pressure on himself while Hatton hadn’t been playing great until Scotland and he might struggle to sustain that form. I’ll be watching both very closely in-play though.
I’m going to continue yet again with my regular major bet of Hao Tong Li to make the Top 20. It hasn’t gone to plan yet in any of this 3 year’s majors but he has always given the bet a run only to fall short on Sunday. He missed the cut last week but was 15th prior to that at Lahinch and he showed us his links prowess when storming through the field at Birkdale on the Sunday in 2017. I’m probably going to keep going with this bet until it wins so it’s maybe best ignored!
Benny An’s last win was around Colt’s famous Wentworth design and while he hasn’t showed too much on links designs to date he has a 5th at the Qatar Masters, a 4th and 6th at the Dubai Desert Classic and most importantly a 5th at the Abu Dhabi Championship where Jamie Donaldson has won. All three desert courses have been dominated by links lovers over the years and I just think An is a little over priced in most markets given what an assured long game he has. He will most likely infuriate on the greens if he gets anywhere near the top 20 but he looks worth a go given how key approach shots will be this week.
Andrea Pavan looks massively over priced given he has won twice in the last year and also finished 4th on a links course on Sunday. His most recent win was at Golf Club Eichenried where several Open champions have won this century (Daly, Stenson, Els) and plenty other links lovers too (Kaymer, Karlsson, Bjorn, Jimenez, Fasth, Romero). I couldn’t put anyone off an each way bet at 250/1 but instead I’ll advise a top 30 bet at 5/1.
I wanted to have a really chunky place bet on someone steady but after two good bets on Scott the bookies finally have his prices a little tighter this time around. I can’t really find anyone else that I’m particularly confident about but I might add something more tomorrow yet.
1st Round Leader bets
It just so happens two of my outright bets have very nice looking early tee-times and while I hate doubling up on this market I’ve done so to very small stakes. Romain Langasque tees off in the 5th group at 07:19 and Zander Lombard is in the group in front at 07:08. Both are very low-key groups and there is every reason to think that their best round of the week could be their first round. Langasque has shot 8 of his last 15 opening rounds in the 60s and opened with a 65 last week in Scotland. More of the same could be on the cards as he will be full of confidence and will be freed up having secured his European Tour card with last week’s 3rd place. Lombard shot a 67 to tie for 2nd place after the first round at Carnoustie last year and I’m hoping lightning can strike twice. Opened with a 64 two weeks ago in Ireland and even shot a Thursday 69 last week before missing the cut.
I’ll also add three more so that I don’t have too many eggs in one basket. I’m sticking with the early starters as rain is currently forecast all day Wednesday but it is supposed to be clear first thing on Thursday before raining again most of the day.
Andy Sullivan opened with a 64 last week and looked for a while like he was going to grab the first round lead. Eventually a few came in with 63s though to overtake him but I think he can do the same again here. In Ireland he opened with a 68 where he would go on to finish 2nd and he was 6th the year before at Portstewart so clearly enjoys this coast line.
Padraig Harrington could roll the years back from an early tee-time and if there is rain and win few handle it better than the 2-time Open Champion. He shot a Thursday 67 last week before adding a 72 on Friday to miss the cut but that is easily done when it falls at -4! He knows Portrush well and had the course record there before McIlroy shot his 61. Looks a decent price at 125/1 given the likelihood of some very average weather.
Finally I’m going to take a huge leap of faith and side with perennial Open disappointment Bubba Watson. Given how wet the course could play he might get something resembling the target golf that he loves on Thursday morning. He isn’t in great form but was still 12th at the Masters this year so can still perform when conditions suit. A very soft and receptive course will certainly have Bubba’s attention should it transpire and he is more than capable of shooting one good round even if he falls away after that. Probably too big a price at 125/1 even if when he shoots a moody 78.
Summary of bets
Henrik Stenson – 2.5pts ew @ 25/1
Matt Kuchar – 1.5pts ew @ 33/1
Kevin Kisner – 1pt ew @ 125/1
Patrick Cantlay – 1.25pts ew @ 25/1
Romain Langasque – 0.5pts ew @ 200/1 and 2pts Top 30 @ 5/1 (Betfair)
Zander Lomard – 0.25pts ew @ 500/1 and 1pt Top 40 @ 5/1 (Betfair)
(all outrights Betfair or Skybet with 1/5 odds 10 places)
Hao Tong Li – 1.5pts Top 20 @ 5/1
Benny An – 1.5pts Top 20 @ 13/2
Andrea Pavan – 1pt Top 30 @ 5/1 (Betfair)
1st Round Leader
Romain Langasque – 0.25pts ew @ 175/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Betfred)
Zander Lombard – 0.25pts ew @ 200/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Betfred)
Andy Sullivan – 0.25pts ew @ 100/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Unibet)
Padraig Harrington – 0.25pts ew @ 125/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Betfred)
Bubba Watson – 0.25pts ew @ 125/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Unibet)
Weekly pts advised so far = 23.5pts