The Open Championship
It was another one of those ‘nearly but not’ quite weeks for us at the Genesis Scottish Open that we seem to have got on a bit of a run of of late.
Our headline pick Tommy Fleetwood was right in the hunt on Sunday as the players battled the tough conditions, however after not quite being able to pull up alongside the leaders he double bogeyed the last to tumble down the leaderboard ending up in a five way tie of sixth place. Meanwhile our 200/1 play Garrick Higgo finished one shot shy of the top 12 we had him on side for.
The event itself was won by Rory McIlroy who produced a superb birdie, birdie closing salvo to break Scottish hearts after home favourite Robert McIntyre had posted a superb 14- under clubhouse target. The Northern Irishman will surely now be relishing his return to Hoylake as he looks to end his nine year Major drought.
Meanwhile at the Barbasol where we only had the one pick, James Hahn, who missed the cut, the Swedish Rookie Vincent Norrman landed the trophy in a play off win over Englishman Nathan Kimsey.
Norrman was on an awful lot of peoples radar coming in to the week due to his suitability in theory for the track. Ultimately though as a rookie with just one top ten to his name I couldn’t justify backing him at the restrictive odds he went off at so sadly we missed out. Congratulations to him though on what is a huge win for him.
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 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake.
Situated on the North West Coast just South of Liverpool, Royal Liverpool last hosted the Open Championship in 2014 when Rory McIlroy lifted the Claret Jug.
This week will mark the 13th occasion on, which Royal Liverpool, will have hosted the Open and the third this century with Tiger Woods triumphing here in 2006 prior to McIlroy’s success in 2014.
As with any Major Championship there are plenty of fascinating storylines coming in, will Rory McIlroy finally land another Major, will Scottie Scheffler’s incredible consistency translate to a second Major, will the Fleetwood or Hatton bag a Major breakthrough on home soil or will the likes of Schauffele or Cantlay finally bag their first Major?
Needless to say the field is a stellar one with all of the games biggest names in attention.
The market is headed up by Rory McIlroy fresh of his win in Scotland. McIlroy is then followed by the ultra-consistent Scottie Scheffler who is also in single figure odds. This duo are then followed by Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith.
Royal Liverpool is a par 71 measuring just under 7400yds.
The greens are a mix of bentgrass, poa annua and fescue.
The course was officially designed by Harry Colt in 1895. More recently it has undergone an overhaul under the hands of Martin Ebert, with 70 yards overall being added since the 2014 edition. Part of this overhaul has seen a new par three 17th hole added, which has seen the overall par change from 72 to 71 since 2014.
The course features three par fives, four par threes and 11 par fours, with two of the par fives having seen length added since 2014 and the par five 15th now measuring 620yds.
A typical links test the courses main defence is the wind and in principal its many penal bunkers, many of which have been strategically re positioned since 2014 to have more impact.
In addition stray too far away off the fairway the penal fescue is there to catch you and with plenty of rain in the North West over the past few weeks I would expect this to have grown a bit. Furthermore out of bounds is in play on six holes ready to catch wayward tee shots.
Add all this up then and allowing for changes, you would think that perhaps the course will provide a tougher test than in 2014 and 2006 when Rory and Tiger triumphed with 17- under and 18- under respectively, however a lot of this will of course be down to the weather.
So let’s take a look at the winners since 2011.
2022 Cameron Smith.
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 then more recently 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, while Lowry has gone on to make his Ryder Cup debut and is seen as one of the games elite players.
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 since 2011. 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.
2022 C Smith 10 MC 48 2 wins in the year
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 nine of the past 11 winners had already won an event in the same calendar year. Nine of them had notched a top 10 in their previous three starts, while six of the last seven had posted a top three in their previous three starts. Furthermore none had missed the cut in their previous start and only three 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 last year. If we then go back to 2021 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.
This year to be fair this trend has been bucked slightly as Wyndham Clark missed the cut at the PGA before his superb triumph in LA, while Jon Rahm had been a lowly 34th at the Open last year before his win at Augusta. Brooks Koepka though undoubtedly telegraphed his PGA victory with his big performance at Augusta the previous month.
All in all then a strong Major performance in your previous Major start looks to be a big pointer to bagging one of the games biggest trophies.
From a correlating course point of view it is worth noting that the designer here Harry Colt was also responsible for the original design at Portrush where the 2019 Open took place, The East Course at Wentworth and Hamilton G&CC where the 2019 RBC Canadian Open took place.
While you would not necessarily see at first glance a huge link between these other tracks aside from Portrush lets not forget Rory McIlroy has a win at Hamilton G&CC and at Hoylake, while Shane Lowry has a superb record at Wentworth having won there last year, finished second in the 2019 RBC Canadian Open and of course won at Portrush.
Next I want to take a look at how many of these Open winners had tee’d it up the week before at the Scottish Open or indeed anywhere.
The answer to this is seven, Smith, 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 eleven winners being in their 40s.
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 and performed strongly at LACC.
The general vibe for the week is mixture of sunshine and showers, which will start from Monday and continue throughout. Add this to the rain that the area has seen over recent weeks and the course will certainly have an element of softness to it, with the rough also having grown.
Temperatures look set to sit in the mid to high 60s.
Wind, however, which of course is the main defence of any links track looks to be a factor with 20-25mph+ gusts particularly on Sunday 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;
VIKTOR HOVLAND – 20/1 – 2.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 13th
First cab of the rank for us this week is Viktor Hovland.
Hovland struggled in the spotlight of the final pairing at St Andrews last year labouring to a closing 74, which saw him eventually finish fourth, however the hugely talented Norwegian has used that first experience of being really in the heat of battle at a Major to push on in the games biggest events this year.
First up was a seventh place finish at Augusta, a venue where many thought Hovland’s short game would be found out, however again Sunday, where he once more posted 74, was a struggle.
On to the PGA however and while Viktor ultimately failed to bag the trophy, his performance on Sunday where he went toe to toe with the Major behemoth Brooks Koepka before finally coming unstuck in the bunker on the 16th hole after finding the lip with his second, showed us he really has what it takes at this level.
Prior to that 16th hole he had produced a superb performance and there is no doubt that once the dust settled that day will have given him great confidence in the Majors going forward.
Following the PGA it all came together for Viktor a couple of starts later at the Memorial where he finally landed his first win on US soil.
Perhaps understandably Hovland failed to build on that win at the US Open on his next start in the spotlight, finishing 19th, and since then he has posted two top steady top 30 finishes including 25th at the Scottish Open at the weekend. In that performance in Scotland though Viktor posted a 63 on Friday while he was fourth for the day on Sunday from tee to green in the tough conditions. To me then that was the perfect low key warm up, not too dissimilar to his outing prior to the PGA at the Wells Fargo.
So we have established that Hovland has been trending strongly in the Majors this year, something, which is so often a pointer to the next Major winner, however what of his suitability to the test?
Well to me this is where things get really interesting. Hovland won his US Amateur title by the coast at Pebble Beach while his first three PGA Tour titles also all came by the coast, in Puerto Rico and twice in Mexico.
Furthermore the 25yr old also landed the trophy at the Hero World Challenge by the coast in the Bahamas both in 2021 and 2022, so that’s five wins by the coast for him. Basically whenever the sea is in view the Norwegian seems to come to life!
A look at Viktor’s stats for the season show us that he is strong in all areas from tee to green ranking in the top twenty in all of the key long game strokes gained stats. Furthermore at 36th in accuracy he should have the tools to stay in the short stuff off the tee this week, something that could well be key.
As we know the short game is where Hovland has struggled through his career, particularly around the greens, however, there is no doubt he has improved in this area, and I will take my chances that his strong iron play will mean that his short game is not put under too much pressure.
Tio sum up there is no doubt in my mind that Hovland will land one of the games biggest prizes sooner rather than later and I have always felt the Open would be the one that suited him the most. On that basis I think he has a great chance this week to cap off his strong Major year by landing the Claret Jug.
SHANE LOWRY – 28/1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me this week is Shane Lowry.
Lowry who lifted the Claret Jug at Portrush in 2019 comes to life as we know whenever links golf and some breeze come in to play and from that point of view he is always going to be on our radar for the Open.
Aside from the obvious links pointer though what particularly catches my eye this week is the Irishman’s record on Harry Colt golf courses, with Colt the original designer here at Hoylake.
Looking across Shane’s body of work on the renowned designer’s layouts and we see that as well as his win at Portrush, another of Colt’s designs, he is a course specialist at Wentworth, bagging the BMW PGA title there last autumn, while he was runner up at the Colt designed Hamilton G&CC at the RBC Canadian Open in 2019, where incidentally Rory McIlroy the 2014 Hoylake Champion triumphed.
Furthermore Lowry was also ninth here in 2014 so we know that the course fits his eye.
Looking at Shane’s form this season on the PGA Tour and while he hasn’t yet landed a trophy he has been on a consistent run of form since his 12th place finish at the PGA Championship, posting five top 20s in his last six starts culminating with a 12th place in Scotland at the weekend.
At the Scottish Open Shane actually struggled in the area that has been his strength this season, his iron play, as he ranked 73rd in approach play for the week, meanwhile the area that has been causing him problems this season, the putter, fired for the week as he ranked second on the greens.
As we know golf is a fickle game so it was typical that the strength of Lowry’s game deserted him just as his weak link improved, however the positive spin of course is that if he can keep the putter hot while fixing the glitch in his approach play then he looks set for a really big week.
Ultimately though as a links specialist Lowry is never going to be far from the radar in the Open and if you then add in the Harry Colt link he looks a great play this week.
DUSTIN JOHNSON – 35/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
My next pick this week is Dustin Johnson.
Johnson of course plies his trade on the LIV Golf circuit these days, meaning it can be harder to gage exactly where his form is at.
As we have seen though this year from the likes of Brooks Koepka, Bryson Dechambeau and indeed Johnson himself in Los Angeles, the games biggest names who moved to the LIV circuit have found a way to keep their games sharp so they can peak for the four biggest events.
With regards to Johnson’s form this year and he landed the trophy at the LIV event in Tulsa back in May, while his last two starts at Valderrama and most recently at The Centurion Club have seen him finish ninth and fifth so his game is clearly ticking along nicely. In addition he sits fifth in the LIV stats for GIR so we know his approach play is also in good shape.
Meanwhile at the US Open in June he posted a really strong tenth place finish reminding us that he still has what it takes to compete at this level.
Johnson has shown his prowess for links golf on numerous occasions over the years and a record of five top tens in the Open stands up to close scrutiny. Furthermore a 12th place finish here in 2014 offers further encouragement.
Of all the Majors the Open over the years is the one where experience has counted the most so at 39yrs old Dustin is certainly not past the peak to triumph in this event.
Coming in then slightly under the radar and at attractive each way odds Johnson looks a live contender to me this week and I am keen to have him onside.
TALOR GOOCH – 70/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
Sticking with the LIV theme and there is no doubt the man of the season on that circuit is Talor Gooch, who has now hoovered up three of the three round events this year.
First in the LIV rankings Gooch has landed trophies in Adelaide by the coast, Singapore and at Valderrama over his last six starts and at fifth in Driving Accuracy, ninth in putting and ninth in GIR on that circuit clearly everything is in tip top shape.
So we have a golfer who has the winning habit who is arriving in great form but what of his potential to perform well in a links event?
Well as well as the Adelaide win Gooch landed his lone PGA Tour title to date at the RSM Classic in 2021 so we have a nice bit of coastal form there as well, however even prior to this he had made my notebook as a player who could perform well in this environment as he often popped up with strong finishes on tough golf courses including the likes of Bay Hill where he was seventh last year and Torrey Pines where he was third back in 2019, which are often subject to plenty of breeze. In addition as a native of Oklahoma we know Talor will have had plenty of experience playing in the wind.
It was well documented that Gooch felt aggrieved to have missed out on the start in the US Open that he had earnt through his play in the Fedex Cup last season, to the extent that he chose not to try and qualify again for the event.
A player though who does appear to thrive in the spotlight, and from some quarters the criticism, that has come with his move to the LIV circuit, I can see Gooch being desperate to put in a big performance this week to make his point on the course.
In addition of course there are those, no doubt including Gooch himself, who feel the 31yr old should be a much bigger part of the Ryder Cup conversation and if he were to produce a big shock this week and land the Claret Jug, or even finish in the top five that conversation would clearly get a whole lot louder.
All in all though Gooch has the sort of solid, accurate all round game that should thrive at Hoylake, is proven in the wind and has been winning for fun this year, all of which makes him a hugely attractive each way proposition to me this week.
EWEN FERGUSON – 225/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED MC
For my final pick in this week I am going to roll the dice on Ewen Ferguson at big odds.
Ferguson has two wins to date on the DP World Tour both of which came last year and one of, which came in the Qatar Masters, an event, which includes Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Ernie Els, Branden Grace, Adam Scott and Paul Lawrie on the roll of honour. In other words a who’s who of links golf specialists.
Hailing from Scotland on top of the win in Doha, we can take a reasonable guess that Ewen has had plenty of experience in windy conditions however we have a huge plus factor this week in that the 27yr old won the boys amateur at Hoylake in 2013. There is no doubt then that he will be relishing getting back to the North West coast this week.
After his two win season in 2022 Ferguson has not rested on his laurels this year and while he is yet to add another victory to his CV he has an impressive six top 15 finishes to his name this year already including four top tens.
Furthermore he comes in here this week on the back of a fourth place at the British Masters and a 12th last week in Scotland where he ranked a solid 17th from tee to green and 12th in approach play for the week.
Ewen headed out to Royal Liverpool recently for a practice round and when reminiscing about his week at Hoylake in 2013 he said “I remember loads from that week. I putted really well, I think the course suited a bit of a fade. I did that all well that week. Hitting low little iron shots, everything. I’m pretty good at links golf. I’m used to it.”
Encouraging comments indeed then and at the odds on offer I am happy to chance the inform Scotsman to be the surprise package this week.
UPDATED 19th JULY - FIRST ROUND LEADER - BRIAN HARMAN 80/1 - CHRIS KIRK 100/1. BOTH 1pt E/W 1/5 1st 7. - HARMAN FINISHED 4th
With the weather forecast calling for consistent breezez throughout the day I'll hedge my bets and take one from the AM wave and one from the PM in the First Round Leader market.
The first of my two American picks is chris Kirk who goes out at 8.47am.
Kirk has returned to the winners circle this year at the Honda Classic, an event, which has long since been seen as as a great pointer to Open form, with the likes of Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and even Todd Hamilton winning the event.
A neat and tidy player from tee to green Kirk's game looks a good fit for Hoylake, while two top 25 finishes in his last two starts show his game is in decent shape.
Harman meanwhile who tee's off at 1.48pm has finished 19th and sixth at the last two Open's and is in strong form of late finishing 12th in Scotland last week.
At 31st in round one scoring on Tour his Thursday's have been really strong of late with his last four day one scores being 65 66 68 and 67. He looks great value to start here quickly once more.