The Open Championship
It was a disappointing week for us at the John Deere Classic with only Sam Ryder from our team threatening at any point to get seriously in the hunt.
Unfortunately though he could not keep up with the pace over the weekend and in the end we were purely spectators come Sunday evening.
Congratulations though to Dylan Frittelli, long seen as a potential star of the game and with a couple of wins already on the European Tour, the former Texas Longhorn has now earnt himself job security on the PGA Tour for the next two seasons at least, with his maiden PGA Tour victory.
So with the John Deere firmly in our rear view mirror we come to the biggest week of the year with the playing of the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
Situated in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush last hosted the Open Championship in 1951. Sixty eight years later and on the back of the great success of Northern Irish golf over recent years the event now returns to the home of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell amongst others.
The venue is then provisionally earmarked to host the Open again twice more before 2040.
Outside of hosting the Open it is also worth noting that Royal Portrush played host to the Irish Open in 2012.
As with any Major Championship there are plenty of fascinating storylines coming in, will Mr Major, Brooks Koepka, continue his incredible run, which has seen him finish no worse than second in the last four Majors? Can Tiger Woods get one closer to Jack’s record, can Rickie finally get that elusive first major and of course the biggest question of them all, can Rory, or indeed Gmac, deliver the goods in front of their home crowd with the weight of expectation upon them?
As to be expected of course we have a world class field on display with no big name injury absentee’s. [at the time of writing!]
As I type the home favourite, Rory McIlroy is heading up the market from Brooks Koepka. These two are then followed by Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods.
Royal Portrush is a par 71 measuring to around 7340yds.
The course is situated on the North Antrim Causeway Coast. The course occupies a triangle of giant sandhills with views of the hills of Inishowen in County Donegal in the West, the Isle of Islay and Southern Hebrides in the north, with the Giants Causeway and Skerries in the east.
The course was originally designed by Old Tom Morris and opened in 1888. It was then fully redesigned by Harry Colt in the 1930s with a new routing created.
Finally in preparation for the Open golf course architect Martin Ebert added two new holes, the 6th and 7th to replace the old 17th and 18th, by taking land from the neighbouring Valley Course.
Other than those changes the remaining 16 holes are basically the same as they were when the Open last visited here in 1951.
Englishman Colt has been responsible for many designs and redesigns in the UK including Muirfield. He also designed Hamilton G&CC, which recently held the RBC Canadian Open won by Rory McIlroy.
So lets take a look at the recent winners.
2018 Francesco Molinari
2017 Jordan Spieth
2016 Henrik Stenson
2015 Zach Johnson
2014 Rory McIlroy
2013 Phil Mickelson
2012 Ernie Els
2011 Darren Clarke
2010 Louis Oosthuizen
2009 Stewart Cink
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 one winner who had not already been a member of a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team, Louis Oosthuizen.
Louis off course has since cemented himself as a big name player who has represented the International Team in Presidents Cup, however in my eyes he has underachieved and whilst taking nothing away from his performance in St Andrews in 2010 he undoubtedly benefited considerably that week from the draw.
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], which the forecast at the moment doesn’t appear to indicate, 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.
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
2010 L Oosthuizen 68 WD MC 1 win in the year.
2009 S Cink MC 27 8 0 wins in the year
2008 P Harrington 17 36 4 0 wins in the year
So as we can see from this seven 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.
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 seven, Stenson, Rory, Phil, Ernie, Clarke and Oosty had all played in the Scottish the week before whilst Zach had hopped straight of the plane from a 3rd place finish at the John Deere.
The odd ones out are Molinari who arrived here straight from finishing second at the John Deere Classic, Spieth the year before who was making his first start since winning the Travelers and and Stewart Cink.
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 as pointed out by Dave Tindall in his excellent ‘Ten Year Trends’ piece , seven of the last ten winners of the Open were over the age of 35 with three of them being in their 40s.
So in summary it would seem that we should be looking for one of the more older heads of the games elite with Ryder or Presidents Cup experience who has been in good solid form this season and who played in the Scottish Open.
That’s not to say though that DJ or Brooks aren’t capable of pitching up and winning!
The early part of the week leading in to the Open shows the possibility of the odd shower on Tuesday or Wednesday so my guess is that come Thursday we will see a course that has a bit of moisture in it but one that certainly could not be seen as soft, and you would expect the fairways to have a decent amount of run in them.
There is then the potential for a few further showers as the tournament progresses but nothing too major.
Temperatures look set to stay pleasant enough at around somewhere in the mid 60s throughout the week.
The wind, which of course is the main defence of the track looks set to sit around the 10-15mph mark throughout the week with Sunday perhaps ending up as the day it blows strongest. All in all though it doesn’t look like it will be a huge factor or produce any kind of major draw bias over the first couple of days, but it should certainly be enough to keep the players honest.
As I always say though this could all change!
Before heading in to my picks for the week I wanted to just touch on the Rory and indeed Gmac conundrum for the week.
The question here as noted above is well the pressure of being the home favourites help or hinder them.
Obviously the answer is we cannot be certain either way however while I expect a bold showing from Rory my hunch is that it will just prove too big an ask for him and at single figure odds I am happy to swerve him.
Similarly for Gmac my gut tells me that the huge deal for him was to get here and my suspicion is that he will have to settle for a supporting role.
So having taken everything in to consideration I have gone with six players this week as follows;
MATT KUCHAR – 33-1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 41st
First cab of the rank for us this week is this years pantomime villain of golf Matt Kuchar.
As has been well documented over the past nine months or so Kooch has not done the best job at endearing himself to the golfing public of late.
Firstly there was Caddygate as he initially paid David ‘El Tucan’ Ortiz his local caddy $5000 when he won the Mayakoba, then came his spat with Sergio at the WGC Matchplay where he didn’t concede a tiddler of a putt, and finally more recently there was his bizarre run in with a rules official at the Memorial where he was reluctant to accept a ruling around a free drop he was looking for.
Despite these various antics, however Matt’s golf game has flourished in the 2018/19 season and he finds himself in the middle of a career year with two victories to his name already.
Of late Kooch has continued to be a model of consistency as aside from a missed cut at the aforementioned Memorial he has finished in the top 20 in all of his starts since the beginning of April.
Having finished 16th at Pebble Beach in the US Open Matt’s most recent start was basically a perfect warm up in Scotland as after opening with a 63 he plodded around with three further solid rounds to finish in 20th place.
Kuchar now arrives at Portrush on the back of this finish to a course that by all accounts will reward a winner that posseses a strong approach game and a good touch around the greens when they are missed. From that point of view it is good to see that Matt currently ranks 10th in SGATTG and 7th in Scrambling on the PGA Tour.
It has long been a view that the Florida native doesn’t get over the line as much as he should do allowing for how much he gets himself in to contention, however it should be noted that Matt basically would have won the Open in 2017 at Birkdale but for the unbelievable heroics of Jordan Spieth down the stretch so in my mind he has shown he has what it takes under pressure in a major to get the job done if the cards fall his way.
In addition of course the two wins this season will have gone a long way to boost his confidence in contention.
Basically to me Kuchar has the perfect all round game required for this week and in a Major which often delivers a winner from the more experienced age bracket I believe he is the man who come next Sunday will be lifting the Claret Jug.
HENRIK STENSON – 28-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 20th
Next up for me this week is Henrik Stenson. The Swede had been in solid if fairly unspectacular form through the first half of the 2018/19 season on the PGA Tour posting a string twenty to thirty something placed finishes.
Of late however Henrik seems to have stepped things up a level. Eighth place at the Harry Colt designed Hamilton G&CC was followed by a ninth place finish at Pebble Beach and he has now followed this up with a fourth place finish last week at the Scottish Open.
At the Scottish Open the 2016 Open Champion’s approach play, an area as already noted likely to be key this week, was exceptional and the club holding him back was his putter.
This to be honest was a microcosm of Stenson’s play on the PGA Tour this season as he currently ranks first in SGATTG but 99th in putting.
On Sunday in Scotland however Henrik did see a few more drop in the hole on his way to a bogey free round of 66 and the fact that he kept his card clean on the final day meant that he only had one over par hole all week, when he made a double bogey at the 17th on Saturday.
43yr old Stenson obviously showed he has what it takes to lift a major trophy when turning in an incredible performance at Muirfield in 2016 and you have to think that the way his game is trending at the moment if he can just hole a couple more putts he could come very close to adding a second Open Championship to his collection this week.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – 35-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Our third pick this week is another player very much in the Kuchar and Stenson mould of consistency of late, Hideki Matsuyama.
Hideki is currently on the longest run of cuts made on the PGA Tour, which stems back coincidentally to the Open Championship this time last year, [which is hopefully not a negative omen!] and in that time he has posted seven top ten finishes.
As most regular golf watchers will know the area that has prevented Hideki from getting over the line and adding another tour title to his name over the past twelve months has undoubtedly been the putter and I am certain there has been many a frustrated golf punter [including me!] over that time who has howled at their TV screens or at shottracker as another 6ft-10ft putt has slipped by.
This week however we find ourselves on slower greens than Hideki normally faces on the PGA Tour and the general consensus is that this is something that is of benefit to a poorer putter.
If Hideki can hole an extra putt or two per round compared to his average week that sees him currently ranked 113th on the PGA Tour with the flat stick, his long game will surely see him in contention, as he currently sits second on the PGA Tour in SGATTG, behind our previous selection Henrik Stenson.
I mentioned earlier that the Japanese star’s last missed cut on tour came at this event last year, however it is important to note that Hideki was still feeling his way back at that time following a period out with a wrist injury, and prior to this he had posted three top twenty finishes in five starts at the Open including a sixth place in 2013 shortly after turning professional.
There is no doubt in my mind that it is a case of when, not if, Hideki wins a Major Championship and it could just be that after an incredibly consistent run of form this is the week that everything clicks together for him.
WEBB SIMPSON – 70-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 30th
When scrolling down the betting one player who caught my eye at what I thought were pretty generous odds was yet another of this years most consistent performers, Webb Simpson.
Rather like our first selection, Matt Kuchar, Simpson is a player who at present appears to be performing strongly in all areas of his game as he ranks 18th in SGTTG, 20th in SGATTG, 14th in SGATG and 22nd in SGP and this is something that is reflected in his results of five top twenty finishes in his last six starts.
33yr old Simpson will be making his ninth start at the Open Championship this week and having made the cut on eight occasions he posted his best finish to date of twelfth at Carnoustie last year, so it could just be that the former US Open Champion has gradually worked out links golf to the level that he can now seriously challenge for the Claret Jug.
While Webb has not had a run out since Pebble Beach, which is a slight negative his 16th place on the California Coast, which followed a second in Canada, showed that his game is right where it needs to be at the moment.
It should also be noted that in Canada Simpson finished the week first for Scrambling and at Pebble he lead the field in Total Putts.
It is often said that a big clue to finding the winner of an upcoming Major is to look at players who have performed well at the recent Majors and from that point of view Simpson’s finishes of 5 29 & 16 this year respectively could well be a huge pointer for a big week ahead and I am keen to have on side this week.
ANDREA PAVAN – 300-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5th odds 1st 10. - FINISHED MC
Having focused so far on players that you could genuinely see lifting the Claret Jug come Sunday I am going to finish things of with a couple of far more speculative plays, which are based around the fact that many leading bookmakers are paying to 10 places e/w.
The first of these is Italian Andrea Pavan.
30yr Old Pavan broke through on the European Tour last year at the D+D Real Czech Masters and he recently followed this up with a second Tour title at the BMW International Open.
After a couple of missed cuts following this latest victory Andrea bounced back in Scotland last week with a fourth place finish so he will undoubtedly be in fine spirits as he arrives in Northern Ireland.
What particularly drew my eye to Pavan this week is that although he is making his Open Championship debut at Portrush, in addition to his fourth place at the weekend he finished 15th at Hillside in May and fifth at the Dunhill links last autumn, so he clearly knows his way around a links track and at huge odds I am happy to roll the dice on him this week.
JAMES SUGRUE – 1000-1 – 1/2pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Finally in an event that has seen memorable performances over the years from Jordan Niebrugge, Ashley Chesters, Ollie Schniederjans, Paul Dunne, Chris Wood and of course Justin Rose when they were all still amateurs I can’t resist a little dabble on recently crowned British Amateur Champion James Sugrue.
Sugrue who hails from Mallow in County Cork won the Amateur Championship a few weeks back on the links at Portmarnock to punch his ticket for this weeks field and next years Masters so he will no doubt be on cloud nine this week.
Clearly Sugrue will be comfortable on the links set up of Royal Portrush and he is bound to have strong army of travelling support, so while of course me must brace ourselves for the possibility that the 22yr old could struggle in this company, I am happy to speculate at a 1000-1 that he could just follow in the footsteps of some of the big amateur performances we have seen in this event over the years and reward us at massive odds.
UPDATED 8.30pm 15th JULY
Since posting the preview this afternoon it's been brought to my attention that Sugrue is on antibiotics for an infected insect bite that he picked up last week.
Reading between the lines I would say he will very likely still tee it up on Thursday, however it is something I wanted to be sure people were aware of.
UPDATED 17th JULY
FIRST ROUND LEADER PICKS - TONY FINAU 1/2pt e/w - 60-1 - FINISHED T3rd FRL - 1/5 1st 8 & ROMAIN LANGASQUE - 1/2pt e/w - 150-1 - 1/5 8 - NO RETURN
Two plays for me this week in the FRL market. Firstly Tony Finau. Finau has proven to be quite a man for the majors over the past 18 months or so with four top tens in seven starts. In addition he has finished inside the top 30 in each of his three starts at the Open.
On two of those occassions at the Open he was inside the top 5 after day one.
By his standards he has struggled slightly of late however last time out he played solidly enough at the 3M Open and again his best round of the week was on Thursday.
As for Langasque those who read my Paddy Power column last Sunday will have noted that I put him at 20-1 e/w on the final day in Scotland and he did us a nice favour there finishing third.
A former British Amateur Champion, which he won at Carnoustie the Frenchman loves links golf and my hope is he can ride the crest of the wave from Sundays finish to start strongly from his early tee time on Thursday.
TRADER - COREY CONNERS - FINISHED MC - LOWEST PRICE TRADED 220
Canadian Conners is making his Open debut this week and obviously there has to be fair bit of speculation as how he will take to links golf.
At the price on offer though I am happy to roll the dice on this hugely talented player as my thoughts are that the strength of his game, his arrow like approach play, will be a big asset around here.
Corey's form has tailed off recently however he showed when he won in Texas, [where the wind is certainly known to blow] that he can find his touch when seemingly struggling.
Open leaderboards are regularly littered for the first couple of rounds at least with unheralded names and if Corey does start well as a highly rated player his price would quickly crash.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 1000