The Open Championship
It was a steady week for us across the two events as although we failed to bag any returns in the Scottish Open one of our picks in the Barbasol 66/1 shot Vince Whaley bagged us a full place return with a solo sixth finish.
Over in Scotland and the event was won by Xander Schauffele who showed what the confidence of one win can do as he added his second trophy in consecutive starts.
Meanwhile at the Barbasol we were reminded once again how a win in one of these opposite field events can be a life changing experience as 30yr old Trey Mullinax bagged his first tour win and with it the huge rewards it comes with. Starting with a place in this weeks Open!
So onwards we go and we come to what in many people’s eyes is the biggest week of the year with the playing of the 150thth Open Championship at the Old Course in St Andrews.
Situated in Fife on the East Coast of Scotland about 50 miles north of Edinburgh and 15 miles south of Dundee the Old Course last hosted the Open Championship in 2015 when Zach Johnson lifted the Claret Jug.
This week will mark the 29th occasion on, which this regular on the Open rota, will have hosted the Open.
As all readers I am sure will know the venue was originally scheduled to host the 2021 Open Championship, however with the Championship cancelled in 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic, the decision was made to move the rota back one year with Royal St George’s the original 2020 venue hosting last year meaning the 150th Open will take place at St Andrews next year.
As with any Major Championship there are plenty of fascinating storylines coming in, will Rory McIlroy finally land another Major, will Jon Rahm follow in his idol Seve Ballesteros’ footsteps and land the Open at St Andrews?, can Fitzpatrick go back to back or will Schauffele continue his current ‘heater’ and bag his first Major?
Needless to say the field is a stellar one with only Daniel Berger missing from the those who could be considered realistic contenders.
As I type the market is headed up by Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irishman is then followed by man of the moment Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Matt Fitzpatrick.
The Old Course at St Andrews is a par 72 measuring just over 7300yds.
The course is situated in St Andrews, Fife on the East Coast of Scotland about 50 miles north of Edinburgh and 15 miles south of Dundee.
The greens are predominantly fescue topped with bentgrass and poa annua.
The course was officially designed by Tom Morris in 1895, which is when it was given its moniker of the Old Course, however golf was known to have been played on the links of St Andrews as far back as in the early 15th century to the extent that James II banned the game in 1457 as he felt it was distracting young men from their archery!
This ban was then lifted by James IV in 1507 and the rest as they say from there is history.
Although a par 72, the course strays from the typical par 72 layout in that it features only two par fives, the 5th and 14th, and two par threes, the 8th and 11th, with the remaining 14 holes being par fours.
The most famous of these par fours is the 17th, the Road Hole, which is St Andrews toughest hole and indeed one of, if not the, toughest holes in the Open rota.
A typical links test the courses main defence is the wind and in principal its many penal bunkers, however with the game having advanced as it has over recent years many of the fairway bunkers are now not in play as the modern player can simply hit over them off the tee. Add that to the fact that fairways are wide and several of the par fours are all but driveable and there are concerns that if the wind doesn’t blow the course could be taken apart and potentially deliver the lowest winning total in Open history, a record currently held by Henrik Stenson with his 20- under total posted at Troon in 2016.
To that extent the powers that be are pinning their defence on a combination of thickish rough if you do stray off the fairways, and as firm, fast a test as possible, which if you then add in the huge greens, some of, which are double greens, will undoubtedly mean we see plenty of three putts.
With ‘the home of golf’ now hosting the Open once every five years [although this year’s 150th edition would have been six years from the previous one in 2021 but for the Covid hiatus] we have seen editions here in 2015, 2010, 2005 and 2000 over the past 20yrs or so with Tiger Woods triumphing in the first two, Louis Oosthuizen who infamously benefitted from a huge draw bias, taking home the Claret Jug in 2015 and then Zach Johnson winning a three man play off over Marc Leishman and Oosthuizen in 2020.
The winning scores for those editions have been 19- under and 18- under from Woods, 16- under from Oosthuizen and 15- under from Johnson. It is worth noting though that Woods triumphed by eight and five strokes and Oosthuizen by seven before we say the play off in 2015. My suspicion is then that with forecast dry weather looking like giving the organisers the firm conditions they want we will see scoring just about kept in check and probably a similar winning total to previous years.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners.
2021 Collin Morikawa
2019 Shane Lowry
2018 Francesco Molinari
2017 Jordan Spieth
2016 Henrik Stenson
2015 Zach Johnson
2014 Rory McIlroy
2013 Phil Mickelson
2012 Ernie Els
2011 Darren Clarke
So what does this tell us? Well go back ten years plus and the Open had a reputation for giving us shock winners every now and then with the obvious ones springing to mind being Todd Hamilton in 04, Ben Curtis in 03 and Paul Lawrie in 1999.
This was put down to the various vagaries that come with the Open Championship such as the draw bias with the weather and the lucky bounces here and there.
In essence you could be forgiven for thinking that finding the winner of the Open had basically become a bit of a lottery.
In more recent years though this has not been the case and since Hamilton’s win in 2004 there has only been three winners who had not already been a member of a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team, Louis Oosthuizen and the most recent two Champions Shane Lowry and Collin Morikawa. In Morikawa though of course we had a winner who made his Ryder Cup debut several months later and whose ability to win at this level had already been well and truly shown with his PGA triumph.
So if we believe that there is not going to be a huge draw bias this week [30mph winds on Thurs AM & Fri PM etc], it would seem that for the winner we should be focusing on elite players.
The next thing to consider is the recent form coming in to the event of the winners over the past 10yrs. Here are the previous three starts of the past 10 winners with the most recent shown first.
I have also noted how many wins, if any, the player had in that calendar year prior to their Open victory.
2021 C Morikawa 71 4 2 1 win in the year
2019 S Lowry 34 28 2 1 win in the year
2018 F Molinari 2 1 25 2 wins in the year
2017 J Spieth 1 35 10 2 wins in the year.
2016 H Stenson 13 1 WD 1 win in the year.
2015 Z Johnson 3 6 72 0 wins in the year.
2014 R McIlroy 14 76 23 1 win in the year
2013 P Mickelson 1 MC 2 2 wins in the year
2012 E Els 52 9 58 0 wins in the year
2011 D Clarke 66 MC 46 1 win in the year
So as we can see from this eight of the past ten winners had already won an event in the same calendar year whilst eight of them had notched a top 10 in their previous three starts, while the last six had all posted a top three in their previous three starts. Furthermore none had missed the cut in their previous start and only two had missed a cut in any of their previous three starts.
In addition something we have seen a real pattern in of late is that Major winners tend to have produced a big finish in their previous Major start.
To expand further and Matt Fitzpatrick finished fifth at the PGA Championship while Justin Thomas and Scottie Scheffler both finished eighth in their Major start prior to their wins earlier this year. If we then go back to last season and Morikawa was fourth in the US Open before winning at Royal St George’s, Jon Rahm was eighth in the PGA before his US Open triumph, Hideki Matsuyama was 13th in the November Masters before triumphing at Augusta in May while Bryson Dechambeau was fourth in the first post Covid Major, the PGA at Harding Park before winning the US Open shortly after.
As we can see then the worst finish of any of the last nine Major Champions in their previous Major was Matsuyama’s 13th at Augusta in 2020.
From a course correlation point of view it would be foolish if we didn’t give Augusta a mention. At first glance you might think a link between the home of the Masters and the Old Course to be a bit far fetched however in addition to Woods’ two wins the 2015 champion here Zach Johnson is also the possessor of a Green Jacket while Oosthuizen lost out in a play off at Augusta. In addition Marc Leishman who, along with Oosthuizen, lost out in 2015 to Johnson in the play off is also something of an Augusta specialist. It may just be then that with Augusta being known a second shot course and St Andrews requiring a degree of precision to find the right areas of the massive greens that the same strengths come to the fore at both tracks.
Furthermore we should not forget that St Andrews itself is the regular host course for the Dunhill Links Championship played in each Autumn on the DP World Tour with two rounds played on the Old Course.
Naturally by the nature of that format, a Pro-Am event played with friendly flag positions and at a time of year where you would expect softer conditions, it is debatable as to how much you can read in to that event with regards to finding the winner here. It goes without saying though that strong past course form regardless of the event can’t do any harm. From that point of view then here is a list of the last six Champions of the event since the Open was last held here.
2021 D Willett
2019 V Perez
2018 L Bjerregaard
2017 T Hatton
2016 T Hatton
2015 T Olesen
Finally I want to take a look at how many of these winners had tee’d it up the week before at the Scottish Open or indeed anywhere.
The answer to this is six, Morikawa, Stenson, McIlroy, Mickelson, Els and Clarke had all played in the Scottish the week before whilst Zach Johnson and Molinari had hopped straight of the plane from a 3rd and second respectively at the John Deere.
This leaves Spieth in 2017 who was making his first start since winning the Travelers and Lowry as the only two not to have played the week directly before their triumph.
All in all though the evidence seems to point towards the fact that a competitive run out the week before on the Scottish Links is of benefit.
Finally whilst Major Championship golf in general tends to be a young man’s game these days this is not so much the case with The Open with four of the last ten winners being in their 40.
So in summary it would seem that we should be looking for one of the game’s elite with Ryder or Presidents Cup experience who has posted a win this season, a high finish at Brookline, a top three in his last three starts and has a strong Augusta record!
The early part of the week leading in to the Open looks dry however there is a possibility of a shower or two over Thursday and Friday before we have a dry weekend.
Temperatures look set to stay pleasant in the low to mid 70s all week.
Wind, however, which of course is the main defence of any links track looks to be a factor with 20-25mph+ gusts on all four days so I am pleased to say the players should be faced with a decent links test.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JORDAN SPIETH – 18/1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED T8
First cab of the rank for us this week is Jordan Spieth.
Spieth as we know comes to life in this format and a record of one win and three other top tens in his past six starts in the Open speaks for its self.
As we know after bagging the claret Jug in 2017 at Birkdale Jordan went winless for several years particularly losing his way in 2020 when the tour returned after the Covid hiatus.
In 2021 however things started to get back on track for the three time Major Champion and after some strong performances at the start of the year he returned to the winners enclosure at the Valero Texas Open.
Since then while there have undoubtedly been some below par efforts Spieth has consistently shown up in the events you expect him to and which tie in to nicely to this week. Let’s expand on this further by looking at his results over the past twelve months or so.
Firstly if we go back exactly twelve months and there was another great Open performance with a runner up spot at Royal St Georges. Moving then in 2022 and after a slow start to the season Jordan kick started his year by finishing second by the coast at Pebble Beach. The 28yr old then cooled off for a while however after missing the cut at Augusta he came straight out and posted a victory in another typical coastal test at Hilton Head.
In what appears to be the pattern from the Texan of late after a couple of strong showings in events you would expect him to show up in in his home state he then fell away again slightly before returning to the party in Scotland last week with only a sloppy finish meaning he did not better his tenth place.
To sum up then Spieth’s game over the past year seems to be one of ‘play well where you expect him to but otherwise to not really show up’.
Returning then to this week and his Open record in general and alongside his win in 2017 and his runner up finish last year and Jordan also has a fourth place to his name at St Andrews in 2015 where he narrowly missed the play off. Throw in his superb record at Augusta, which as mentioned earlier ties in really well here and there is every reason to think this test will be perfect for the American.
Looking at Spieth’s stats for the season and one thing that has been hugely impressive at times is his approach play for, which he ranks 41st this campaign and this should serve him in good stead this week on a course, which requires you to play to certain spots on the greens.
The area as we know Jordan has struggled with at times though is his putter, however although his struggles are mostly with the shorter ones his lag putting touch cannot be disputed and this will certainly be key this week. In addition as we know Spieth is a master of conjuring up some magic around the greens with chip ins etc and I can see him relishing the opportunity to be creative this week.
To sum up Spieth looks the perfect fit for me this week and with his ability to show up in this type of test I expect him to be right in the hunt come Sunday.
CAMERON SMITH – 28/1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 9 - FINISHED 1st!!!
Next up for me this week is Cameron Smith.
Looking at the Aussie’s profile and let’s be honest everything about it screams Open Champion winner in waiting.
Let’s take a closer look then at those credentials. Firstly brought up in Brisbane it goes without saying that Cameron is hugely at home on firm, fast coastal tracks and of course playing in the wind. This is something he firstly demonstrated back in his home country winning back to back Australian PGA Championships as well losing out in a play off in the Australian Open to Jordan Spieth.
Over recent years of course Smith has developed in to one of the games top players plying his trade on the PGA Tour and this season has seen him bag two titles, firstly at the Sentry ToC, his second title by the coast in Hawaii, and then the coveted Players Championship trophy.
Known as a superb putter Smith ranks 16th this season on the PGA Tour with the flatstick while he also ranks 32nd around the greens so if we didn’t know already the stats tell us he has the short game needed this week.
While the short game is firing then the key to success for Smith this season has actually been with his approach play, an area which he currently ranks fifth and if he can bring that level of iron play to the links this week and align it with his short game he will be a huge player.
With regards to the above paragraph and the key word is of course ‘if’ and there is no denying that since his superb form earlier in the year Cameron has slightly gone off the boil over recent weeks culminating in a missed cut at the US Open.
After a couple of weeks off though he returned at the Scottish Open and delivered exactly the sort of warm up we would have hoped for posting a sold tenth place in Scotland. Furthermore I like the fact that after a poor Friday he improved over the weekend with his best numbers for the week from tee to green coming on Sunday.
From a negative point of view for a player who leaps off the page as a potential Open Champion Cam’s record in this event is not great to date with nothing better than 20th in four efforts. He is undoubtedly though a better player now and of course has the confidence of the two wins under his belt this season so I strongly believe he can put that record behind him. Let’s not also forget that he has a superb record at Augusta which is big positive for this week.
In summary Smith is a player who I believe has the perfect game for St Andrews when on song and I am keen to take my chances with him this week.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 40/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 53rd
My next pick this week is another player who I believe has the game to be a future Open Champion, Joaquin Niemann.
Niemann has now bagged two wins on the PGA Tour with the second coming earlier this year at Riviera in the Genesis Invitational. A win that in itself ticks the box that we are looking for our selections having already bagged a trophy this year.
Known for his low ball flight Niemann is another player who is really comfortable in the wind and a look at his results over the past couple of seasons on tour backs this up. To expand further and the young Chilean has posted back to back runner up finishes in the ‘Hawaii swing’ last year along with top fives by the coast at Hilton Head and at the Mayakoba.
Looking at Niemann’s form of late and after a third place finish at the Memorial he was down the field at the US Open and missed the cut at the Travelers.
Last week in the Scottish Open however he produced a strong week to finish 16th with his tee to green game looking particularly solid.
Looking at Joaquin’s stats for the season as a whole and all areas of his long game are strong as he ranks 16th off the tee and from tee to green and 44th in approach play. In addition he is solid around the greens ranking 27th.
As is often the case though for someone who thrives in the long game department Niemann has had his struggles on the greens this season currently sitting a lowly 113th in this department. On his day though the 23yr old can certainly roll his rock and as recently as at the Memorial he had a strong week on the greens ranking 24th, a ranking that would have been better but for a poorer show on Sunday.
Niemman missed the cut on his Open debut at Portrush and finished a lowly 59th last year at Royal St George’s, however as a player with huge potential who is improving all the time I am keen to keep him on side at Major’s and in the one, which I believe could end up suiting him the best I am happy to be on board this week.
THOMAS PIETERS – 90/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 11 - FINISHED 28th
Next up in my theme as a whole of siding with players who have already bagged a trophy this year I am going to chance Thomas Pieters.
The Belgian has been resurgent over the past 18 months or so bagging two trophies, firstly the Portugal Masters late in 2021 and then the Abu Dhabi Championship early this year.
Looking at those victories, the latter in particular and a list of winners in Abu Dhabi, which includes Tyrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood x 2, Shane Lowry, Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler over recent years tells us that the event is very much the domain of people who are comfortable in windy conditions. Add in the fact that Pieters has a win in the Dutch Open on his CV and other strong finishes in Saudi Arabia and Oman, along with further great showings in Abu Dhabi and he has a strong body of week on courses that fit well for an Open Championship.
Looking at Thomas’ efforts to date in the Open itself and while he is yet to set the world alight in the event he has made the cut on all four starts, again showing us he is comfortable on this type of test.
If we then take a broader look at his Major Championship CV we will see that he posted a sixth place finish at the PGA in 2018 and more pertinently a fourth place at Augusta in 2017 so he is no stranger to getting in the frame at the biggest of events. More recently meanwhile he was a solid 27th at Brookline in the US Open.
The week after the US Open Pieters was close to bagging his second trophy of the year at the BMW Championship before just missing out in a play off to Haotong Li, showing that despite that loss his form is clearly holding up well.
Having turned 30 earlier this year, in really strong form and having knocked on the door in Majors on a couple of occasions Pieters strikes as me as exactly the type of player who could now step up and land one of the games biggest trophies and with good each way odds available he makes plenty of appeal to me this week.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 250/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 12 - FINISHED 76th
For my final pick in this week I am going to ‘go in again’ on a player I risked in Scotland last week Wyndham Clark.
I wrote before the Scottish Open that I had a hunch that Clark would take to links golf and there was nothing in his 16th place finish at the Renaissance Club that led me to think I was wrong on that front.
To recap on some of my logic to that fact and Clark first put his name on our radar for the Open with strong efforts at the Honda Classic, an event often seen as a pointer to the Open, a seventh place and 11th place in consecutive years to be precise, while he has a top ten by the coast in Puerto Rico and a runner up finish in Bermuda.
Long off the tee and strong on the greens at his best, Clark can potentially over power the shorter par fours here, with a ranking of 27th on tour in three putt avoidance also offering encouragement.
Looking more closely at Clark’s effort last week and while he struggled with his accuracy off the tee he ranked 12th for the week in good old fashioned GIR and I can see him employing a similar strategy this week before hopefully his strong short game will take over.
Wyndham qualified for this week as a result of his recent top ten finish in Canada and afterwards he spoke about how much he enjoys links golf stating “I love links golf. It is fantastic. I think it is the purest form of golf and the fans there are fantastic. I love the creativity and being subject to the wind and the weather. I love links golf and I am excited”.
Clark has shown that when he finds a strong groove of form he is someone to keep on side and if you combine his really solid effort last week with his enthusiasm for this format he could just nick a place here at huge odds.
UPDATED 12th JULY - FIRST ROUND LEADER PICKS. All 1/5 odds First 8.
TOMMY FLEETWOOD 1pt E/W 40/1, KIRT KITAYAMA 1pt E/W 100/1, - FINISHED T5th WITH 8 PLAYERS - 50% PLACE RETURN. MATTHEW JORDAN 1/2pt E/W 150/1.
With the wind forecast to gradually pick up as the day progresses I have gone with three AM starters.
Winless since 2019 as much as I would be delighted to see it I have doubts that Fleetwood could close this out, however I expect a bold showing from him for all the obvious reasons. He has opened 67 68 in the last two Opens and I will take him to start quickly again this week.
Kitayama of course will be riding the wave from last week. When he does play well he tends to get out of the gates quickly with a perfect example being his 64 at the Honda earlier this year, an event which we know is a great piointer to the Open. He opened with 66 last week & I'll take him for another quick start.
Finally I just couldn't refuse the 150/1 for Matthew Jordan who has won an amateur event here and placed in the Dunhill Links. He is hoping for a big week to qualify for his 'home Open' at Hoylake next year and he could just make a splash on day one.