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The Old Course at Royal Troon plays host to the 145th Open Championship this week for what will be the 9th time in the tournament's history with the big question being exactly how tough this classic links will play with some wet and windy weather forecast to roll into Scotland as the weekend approaches. For new visitors, Golf Betting System is into its 8th season providing free statistics, predictor models and previews across every Major Championship, PGA and European Tour event. We also have a thriving golf betting community with constant golf betting chat and insight from golf punters 24/7 on our Facebook Group. Welcome aboard!
It's an exciting period of golf in which we find ourselves as we head to this year's Open Championship with Dustin Johnson's back-to-back wins at Oakmont and Firestone in the loftiest of company catapulting him to 2nd place in the world rankings - we surely now have a 'big 4' in top-level golf, an assertion that's clearly backed up by the bookmakers this week. Between 9/1 to 12/1 at the time of writing, the talented quartet of Day, DJ, McIlroy and Spieth form a substantial portion of this week's market and it's virtually impossible to envisage an Open (or any Major to that end) that doesn't heavily feature at least one of them and I suspect this week will prove to be no different. We shall see of course.
The Majors have a habit of delivering triple digit each-way punts in the paying places, so it's well worth reading our dedicated Longshot & Alternative Markets preview by Steve Bamford who's been digging into the various markets out there this week, plus he's also had a look at the Barbasol Championship which is happening on the PGA Tour at the same time this week.
Course Overview. The Open Championship is always a stern test of golf, but the Old Course at Troon is seen by the professionals as a very fair links test. Since the course was toughened by converting it to a par 71 for the 1997 Open - won by Jason Leonard - the winning scores here have been -12 and -10. A relatively easy opening 6 holes is followed by a much tougher closing set of 12 holes: intimidating tee shots, blind drives, deep gorse, the nearby beach and a very much in-play railway line (think Whistling Straits but closer) make for an interesting test which, like every Open Championship venue, plays as tough at the British summer dictates. As Tiger Woods summarised on his last visit in 2004, "This golf course is a hundred percent dependent on the weather. And if it doesn't blow, then the guys are going to shoot some good numbers. If it does blow, it presents quite a challenge, especially coming home."
The Old Course, which will play as a 7,190 yard, par-71 across the 2016 Open Championship, is a true test of two halves. A prevailing north-westerly wind tends to dictate how the course plays and its strength is the key to scoring levels. The outward nine heads in a south-easterly direction with the opening 6 holes staying close to the coastline. To contend, players make their scores on these holes with the wind at their backs, but typically firm links conditions makes stopping the ball far from simple. From the 7th hole onwards, making pars rather than birdies becomes the challenge. The 8th is one of the most famous holes in golf with the 125-yard par-3 looking tempting on paper - until you see the bunkers and run-offs which surround the tiny green.
The inward nine usually plays into the prevailing wind and turns into a challenge of survival. A number of blind tee shots intimidate, as does the drive at the 'Railway Hole' 12th which is one of the toughest in world golf. Players constantly talk about keeping the ball low and out of the wind on the inward nine where trouble including gorse, tough fescue rough and deep bunkers are only a slight mistake or misjudgement away. However, as ever with most links set-ups, the Old Course plays as tough as the weather conditions dictate. If there are light winds, scoring will become far easier, but if conditions are dry with wind a factor then the course can bear its teeth. Indeed the Old Course is renowned for its small and well-defended green complexes. Defence can be in the form of deep pot bunkers although the 9th, 10th and 13th holes feature greens with no surrounding bunkers. The vast majority of green complexes feature drop-offs and severe slopes, repelling approach shots and making top-level scrambling an absolute must.
Now the curveball here of course is Mother Nature. In 'typical' conditions the course is played with a prevailing north-westerly breeze and with firm and fast conditions on the ground, however that's not likely to be the case this year. Wet weather in the weeks leading up to this year's event have dampened down the course and a low pressure system pushing into the UK from Friday will introduce South/South-Westerly winds which in all likelihood will change the dynamics of the course. Colin Montgomerie, who knows this Ayreshire linksland better than anyone, summarised the conditions underfoot in Monday's press conference, "Yeah, it's not playing the links course that we all wished it was. Obviously we had a very dry May and June here in Scotland, but a very damp July. It softened the course, there's no question, and it's playing a lot longer than it would do normally. There's less heat in the air, so of course the ball doesn't go as far either, so it's playing long, there's no question. And the ball's not rolling on the fairways that it would normally. You're getting say 10, 15 yards' run as opposed to 40 yards' run. So it's not playing the links course that you would think it would in July."
Below are some revealing comments about the course in 2004 from the players:
Ernie Els: "It's a difficult course, especially coming back to the clubhouse, a lot of difficult par-4s into the breeze, you've got to drive it very well. You've got to hit a lot of long irons. And then going downwind, the first nine, birdies aren't guaranteed. It's a couple of long par-5s. You've got to have a pretty sharp, short game to make birdies on the front nine. So all in all, it's a very fair, good test of golf this week on a very tough golf course. The rough is not terrible, you can get the ball out of the rough. So it makes it more exciting. You'll see some of the shots out of the rough. The greens are great. The greens are running beautiful, and I can't see the greens getting away from us this time."
"I think you can play quite safe off the tees on the front nine and give yourself a little bit longer shots into the greens. But even the longer shots you're even going in with short irons, from a 7-iron down to a wedge. With those kind of clubs, you've got to at least hit the green and get yourself within 25, 30 feet range. And as I said, even though it's short, going downwind it's tough to control the ball. You have to do it because that's your only real chance to make birdies. On the back nine it's just, try to hang on, hit it as good as you can, and if you shoot even par, 1, 2, 3 over, you're going to be happy with that on the back nine. So there's an extra bit of anticipation to get yourself off to a decent start maybe this year."
Phil Mickelson: "Given the prevailing (north-westerly) wind, the birdie holes are the first nine holes. They're not easy birdie holes, because it's hard to stop the ball close downwind. But it is by far the best opportunity to go under par. The backside is a tough stretch, the golf holes that you would take par on any hole. Downwind I'm going to be having full swings, taking some of the release and roll out of it. And then the backside are the holes that I really anticipate hitting lower shots and letting them run off."
Adam Scott: "I think you're probably going to have to change your ball flight a bit. I really don't want to hit it too high in the wind. You can take advantage of these downwind holes going out and getting a little length off the tee, and getting it down by some of the greens. Coming back, anything up in the air is going to be hit by the wind. I've seen some balls out there the last couple of days moving 20, 30, 40 yards up in the wind if it just gets up in the air a bit. So I think there's going to be a premium on keeping it as low to the ground coming back in into the wind, and hopefully running it up to the fronts of the greens, which is a pretty good position."
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Open Championship that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes. In addition we've produced some stats going back to 2011 for each of this week's attendees performances in recent Major Championships.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2015: Zach Johnson, 110/1; 2014: Rory McIlroy, 18/1; 2013, Phil Mickelson, 20/1; 2012: Ernie Els, 45/1; 2011: Darren Clarke, 200/1; 2010: Louis Oosthuizen, 250/1. For a summary of winners' odds for the past 6 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The weather for Troon is here. The latest forecast is for a dry Thursday with a light breeze all day before rain arrives into Friday morning, accompanied by ever increasing winds reaching 30 km/h. The weekend will be a mix of sunshine and showers with Saturday likely to be the windiest day of the event with gusts up to 40km/h forecast and the potential for the Old Course to really bite. Sunday is a little calmer although showers are expected throughout the day with a 25 km/h breeze. Of course whether the forecast and reality are anywhere close to being aligned remains to be seen and, as always, conditions can change very rapidly in this part of the world.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Let's take the final skill statistics from Todd Hamilton, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson from the latest 2004 Open Championship held on the Old Course at Troon. This gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Three aspects jump out from these statistics. Well-directed power from the tee is an advantage. Hitting greens consistently is tough as the combination of wind, fast conditions and green complexes which repel approach shots creates a real ball-striking test. And then there's the requirement for a decent week on and around the greens. As you'd expect, this is an all-round test of a player's game.
There are a number of identifiable trends from the past few winners that are worth considering this week:
Recent Wins: In terms of recent winning form, 10 Champions from the last 16 renewals (63%) had won a tournament in the same season prior to triumphing at The Open. Tiger Woods (00, 05, 06), Ernie Els (02), Todd Hamilton (04), Padraig Harrington (07), Louis Oosthuizen (10), Darren Clarke (11), Phil Mickelson (13) and Rory McIlroy (14) had all won in the season prior to lifting the Claret Jug.
In terms of 'non-winners', David Duval had 3 Top 10 finishes and had finished 2nd at Augusta at the preceding Masters prior to his triumph Royal Lytham in 2001. 2008 saw Padraig Harrington accumulate 4 Top 10s prior to winning by 3 shots at Royal Birkdale and the following year saw Stewart Cink arrive at Turnberry with 2 Top 10s including a 3rd at the World Match Play.Zach Johnson may have arrived as a 110/1 shot last year, however with 7 top-10 finishes in the season to date and incoming form of 6/3 over his previous two events, he was clearly in decent form. Only Ben Curtis at Royal St Georges in 2003 came from way off the page. In his rookie season on the PGA Tour he'd managed a 13th at the Western Open 2 weeks prior to The Open before beating Bjorn, Singh, Love III and Woods to take the coveted Claret Jug back home to Ohio, USA.
Zach Johnson's gritty win at St Andrews last year adds even more gravitas to the fact that in-form players are the guys to follow at the Open Championship. It makes sense that those who are struggling with their games are unlikely to find them on a tough links course and in the last 4 champions we can see a pattern that's easy to extrapolate.
Open Record: Positive previous Open Championship performances have also been a factor when you look through the history of the most recent winners of golf's oldest Major. 10 of the last 11 Open Champions had all previously secured at least a top-10 in this event in their careers - the exception to that rule being Louis Oosthuizen's win at St Andrews in 2010.
Scottish Open Attendance: Prior to last year, the previous 5 winners of the Open Championship all played the week before at the Scottish Open. Fortunes varied considerably with Oosthuizen missing the cut in 2010; Clarke finished 66th in 2011; Els finished 52nd in 2012; Mickelson won in 2013 and McIlroy finished 14th in 2014 before lifting the Claret Jug the week after.
Now this year is a little different of course with schedules being altered to accommodate a season impacted by the Olympics and many elite players refusing to play three weeks straight with the WGC Bridgestone having been wedged in between the US Open and this week. The cancellation of last week's Greenbrier Classic due to flooding also removed the option of a Stateside warm-up for some players too so whilst a run out in Scotland last week will have exposed some players to the type of conditions we might expect this week, I'm not going to let it form a crucial part of my decision-making process.
Each Open Championship is different and trends are there to be broken of course, so creating an identikit winner from all of these factors may either be a masterstroke or a mistake depending on how the week actually plays out. For me a softer than expected course with winds coming in from 90 degrees further south than the norm will create a different challenge with the easier front 9 and tougher back 9 playing with cross-winds for the most part which will level out of the difficulty to a certain degree and put more emphasis on managing ball flight. The last 6 winners at Royal Troon have been Americans and, for me, a softer track negates any significant local advantage that the European contenders may tenuously claim. To win this event a player will need to manage his own emotions, enjoy a little luck with the weather and the odd favourable bounce here and there, however ultimately it's likely to be a worthy champion who prevails on Sunday evening.
My selections are as follows:
The Champion Golfer of the Year isn't necessarily the player who's World No.1; nor is he necessarily the player who's produced the best golf in the season up until this week in July each year, however if Dustin Johnson wins this week, and for me there's every reason to suspect that he will, and Jason Day finishes outside of the top 10, then he'll leapfrog the Australian to golf's summit and few could argue that he's not playing the best golf of any player in the world at this point in time. A case can be made for Day this week of course, as it can for Spieth and McIlroy - an immensely talented trio who are capable of winning pretty much any event, anywhere in the world when their own individual brand of golf is at its best. However, for me, with DJ in the mood we've seen over his last two events - finally capturing a long-overdue first Major at Oakmont before surging into an unassailable lead in Ohio a fortnight ago - he's going to take some beating.
The post-round penalty imposed on Johnson at Oakmont and the furore surrounding the ineptitude of the USGA officials has now been consigned to history - in the end it didn't matter a jot with the 32 year-old having opened up a big enough lead to absorb the punishment and it's to Dustin's great credit that he didn't let it affect his play coming down the stretch. Butch Harmon mentioned in commentary that the Florida-based bomber was playing without a swing thought and so it proved with a combination of length and accuracy proving pivotal and that's a massive weapon to possess on any track, anywhere in the world including here at Royal Troon. Some naysayers will no doubt argue that winning three consecutive events isn't likely - for the mere mortals of professional golf I'd agree - however for a truly elite player at the top of his game it's more than achievable. Rory McIlroy is the most recent player to produce the kind of streak I'm suggesting here when he delivered his Open/Firestone/US PGA burst in 2014 that returned him to the OWGR No.1 spot and a similar set of results for DJ is well within the realms of possibility given how he's been playing of late.
On top of his two recent successes, the 11-time PGA Tour winner also had a number of opportunities earlier in the year having recorded 7 top-10 finishes in 12 starts and statistics including 1st for scoring average, 1st for strokes gained total, 1st for par-breaking and 1st for par-4 scoring underline just how well he's been playing in 2016. With a settled personal life, the first Major monkey finally off of his back and in the form of his life, I see no reason whatsoever to oppose him here and for me he should be the clear favourite. He's had various chances at The Open in the past - 2nd in 2011, 9th in 2012, 12th in 2014 and was the halfway leader last year - if anything it's been his final round that's scuppered his chances each time. Nerves? Maybe. But from the evidence of the past few weeks, if ever there was a time to expect him to surpass those previous efforts should he find himself in a position to win on Sunday then this has to be it. A bargain the price isn't I grant you, however give Dustin 9 or 10 attempts at this title with his current state of mind and state of game and surely he'd justify the price on at least one occasion. RESULT: T9
If DJ should fail to win then having some able supporting players isn't a bad shout and, of the cast below the top 4 players, I make Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler the best options here this week. Branden Grace would have been worthy of support at a slightly longer price, however he complained of a lack of concentration for letting him down at Castle Stuart once he reached the lead on Saturday and there's no place for any lapse this week on what's likely to be a more exacting test.
The season started in magnificent style for Adam Scott with back-to-back victories at the Honda Classic and WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral and despite not reaching those same heights since, his form has still been bubbling away under the surface and he, like Dustin Johnson, is another who's had a number of chances to win an Open Championship in the past. 12th at TPC Sawgrass, 18th at Oakmont and 10th on his last start at Firestone are hardly disastrous efforts in world-class company and with the course here at Troon 'setting up great' for Scott by his own estimation and with a little experience to fall back on from 2004 (he finished 42nd), he can approach this week's renewal in confident style, particularly having stated in interview at Firestone that he'd played some of his best golf from tee-to-green for some time on his way to a top-10 finish. The 35 year-old has Open Championship form of 2/3/5/10 over the past 4 renewals which makes him an excellent each-way bet - extending that further he's produced 7 top-5 finishes in his last 22 Majors all told - however that doesn't tell the whole story. The former Masters champion suffered a late meltdown at the 2012 Open to hand Ernie Els victory and he's led 3 of the last 4 Opens with half a dozen holes to play, so clearly has been knocking on the door ever louder and, as DJ proved at Oakmont, eventually that door may well open. RESULT: T43
Another player who got off to a quick start in 2016 was Rickie Fowler who added another European Tour victory to his CV in Abu Dhabi before narrowly losing out to Hideki Matsuyama in Phoenix in a play-off, however that defeat seemingly took its toll on the 27 year-old as his form drifted a little by his own high standards. 6th at the Honda Classic, 8th at Doral, 10th in Houston and 4th at Quail Hollow where he led the all-round category would be an excellent return by most players' standards though and it was more of a surprise than anything when he missed three consecutive cuts between the Players Championship and the US Open. A marked improvement on his last start though was evident from watching him on TV and by virtue of his 10th place finish, "I've been swinging irons very well. Driver has been a little spotty. I felt like I drove it fairly decent today. Nice to have the short game working a bit. Then had a few putts go in.Definitely some good building last week in D.C., had a good start, but I felt like I got some good work in over the weekend despite the poor scores. Nice to get off to a good start today. Some positives in every part of the game." he said in interview at Firestone. With wind in the forecast, Fowler is one of the very best equipped golfers at the top of the game to deal with the elements and two top-5 Open Championship finishes from his six career attempts singles him out as another with strong each-way credentials. RESULT: T46
Steve Bamford will cover some longer-priced players in more detail, however one player I couldn't resist backing for small stakes is Graeme McDowell who's shown some progressive form with his long game of late and will relish the challenging conditions expected here this week. Life's been a little hectic for G-Mac off the course in recent times following the birth of his first child at the end of 2014 and with a baby boy due in the next few weeks the Northern Irishman has clearly been keeping himself busy, however there have been sporadic signs of life in his golf game with a win at the OHL Classic at the end of last year, 3rd the week after at Sea Island, 5th at the Honda, 9th at Sawgrass and 18th at Oakmont. Last week's top-10 finish at Castle Stuart is perhaps the most tangible of all though as he ranked 9th for GIR (80.6%), 4th for scrambling (71.4%) and 3rd all-round which had him purring, "Yeah, I hit the ball fantastically this weekend. I was really happy the way I drove the ball. My ball shaping is back. I've got a nice fade back in the bag which I really need for Troon next week and working on a couple small shots that I'll need off the tee for next week."
G-Mac's US Open victory came at Pebble Beach back in 2010 and the Portrush man has links golf running through his veins and will be right at home on the wet and breezy Ayreshire links. Past wins on the tricky tracks at Valderrama and Le Golf National (twice) single McDowell out as a player who can compete when the course is a decent challenge and his ability to play shots in the wind shouldn't be underestimated here if the more Southerly breezes do indeed materialise which will create cross-winds on many holes. A previous winner at Hilton Head on the PGA Tour, McDowell can take many positives out of last week's warm-up and as one of the more rain-positive players he'll be better equipped than most with the changeable weather forecast that's expected this week. RESULT: T63
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