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

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

 

The Open Championship – Betting Preview

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%

 


 

The Open

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.

Troon

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.

Rickie-Fowler-Cover

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.

monty

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

@theGreek82