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With the leading bookmakers all keen to get your business, the 2016 Open Championship at Troon makes for an exciting punting proposition this week. With up to 8 places each way available this year with some bookies and the Friday/Saturday forecast looking decidedly gnarly, finding a value outsider is a tactic that's potentially packed full of profit!
The Old Course at Troon looks like it will play relatively soft and receptive with a tranquil Thursday being followed by rain and wind across Friday and Saturday which will highlight the links nature of the course. Some players simply can't handle links style golf where the ability to grind is paramount. In reality this is probably the most likely of all Majors to produce a long-priced, even 3-figure winner, as per Zach Johnson 12 months ago. The last few years have produced the following outsiders, each of whom finished in the top 7 at least:
Paul Williams has given us his view of the outright market in his preview here. I have also based these selections from my Open Preview piece which is here. However here's a set of longer shots and an alternative market bet, all of whom have a strong chance of making the each way places or better in my view:
Scotland's last Open Championship winner was Paul Lawrie in 1999. Naturally Colin Montgomerie in his pomp carried Scotland's hopes and finished 2nd in 2005 at St Andrews to Tiger Woods. Since then though there has been a dearth of Scottish challengers, but Russell Knox might just change that at Troon. Knox became the first Scottish World Golf Championship winner in November when he won the HSBC Champions at a soft Sheshan International and PGA Tour season 2015/16 has seen him continue to consolidate his OWGR top 30 spot with 2nd place finishes by the coast at both El Camaleon and Harbour Town, allied to a fine 2nd behind Rory McIlroy in gnarly conditions at the K Club on Poa Annua greens. Knox is Florida-based and PGA Tour focussed so appearances in the United Kingdom have been sparse, but the aforementioned 2nd in Ireland in combination with consecutive 10th positions at Gullane (2015) and Castle Stuart (2016) hosted Scottish Opens give encouragement. Knox said last week "I didn't forget how much I love playing links golf, but it's in my blood. It truly is the best way to play. You can run the ball on the ground. It's really fun battling the conditions.". 23rd at Oakmont in his last Major Championship, Knox has both the game plus growing confidence to get in the mix this week in windy and soft conditions which he plays well in. RESULT: T30
Chris Wood has had a stunning 14-month period which sees him on the verge of automatic qualification for the Ryder Cup. A links golf specialist who plays well in windy conditions, Wood had to pull out of the Scottish Open with a neck complaint on Thursday, but since Saturday has practiced fully at Troon - make of that what you will. I'm not concerned about that, instead I'm fully into the 28 year-old Bristolian who finished 3rd, 20 miles down the coast at Turnberry in 2009 as a first year pro. That followed on from an amazing 5th as an amateur at Birkdale in 2008. It's clear that the Open Championship is the best suited Major for Chris by a country mile. Wood broke his European Tour maiden at Doha GC in 2013 - a course synonymous with links specialists like Els, Lawrie, Grace and Garcia - and also has a fantastic record at the Dunhill Links Championship where he hasn't finished outside the top 9 since 2013. United States outings have been limited for Wood who to this point has always been European Tour focussed, but a World Golf Championship top 7 at Firestone (2013 - Bent Poa greens) jumps from his CV. Chris though seems to have climbed to another level since the autumn of 2015 where he strung together top 10 finishes across the Alfred Dunhill, British Masters, Portugal Masters, Turkish Airlines Open and Nedbank Golf Challenge. This surge into the OWGR top 50 was capped by his fantastic win at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, which has been followed by 6th in Austria, 23rd at the US Open and 11th at the Open de France. For me, like his good friend Danny Willett, Wood will be focussing on the next step which is a run at a Major and qualification for the Ryder Cup - Troon is a huge opportunity. RESULT: WD
In an event like the Open, backing a real specialist at a triple-digit price who's running into form is a never a bad ploy. Step forward Padraig Harrington who gave us all a real run for our money in this column 12 months ago at 175/1. St Andrews will never suit a player like Harrington as well as a purer links test like Troon and it's exciting to note that Paddy is running into form at just the right time and has enlisted his mental guru Dr Bob Rotella who will be on site at Troon across tournament week. That's a big move for Padraig who has always put down a large part of his 3 Major Championship success firmly at the door of Rotella and there's no doubt that Harrington seems revitalised at the present time. The corner was turned in Japan recently where the Irishman finished 9th at the ISPS Handa Global Cup, 30th at the Open de France featured a 6th in the All-Round category and 21st at Castle Stuart last week saw him right up with the pace after Friday. The key is that Harrington has started to find fairways and greens on a consistent basis and that makes him extremely interesting with wind a factor across Friday and Saturday at Troon. 5th here at Troon (1997), 5th at Muirfield (2002), 1st at Carnoustie (2007) and 1st at Birkdale (2008) mark Harrington out as the Open specialist he is and when he's on-song he can still mix it with the best as he did when winning the Honda Classic last year and finishing 6th at the star-studded Hyundai Tournament of Champions (set on the Pacific coast) in January. RESULT: T36
With form of 2nd US Open - 2nd Bridgestone Invitational, I was pleasantly surprised to see Scott Piercy at 125/1 with Coral paying 7 places 1/5 odds. Yes I know Piercy has limited Open Championship experience, but here's a player who's undoubtedly playing the golf of his life right now and a softer Old Course which will undoubtedly play to his strengths. So I'm going to follow the old adage that an in-form player can play well on any track especially this week at Troon which is renowned for being a fair test, at which Americans have won the last 6 Open renewals. A glance at his CV shows masses of top 20 finishes on the PGA Tour at seaside venues such as Kapalua, Waialae, Torrey Pines, El Camaleon and Sea Island, plus he acquitted himself well last October on his first visit to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship where he elevated himself into the top 10 on Sunday. Piercy is the type who can hold his form over 3-4 tournaments and his powerful ball-striking at present will be ideal on a soft course which features Bentgrass Poa Annua mix greens the like of which he has won 2 of his 3 PGA Tour titles on. Played well in the wind at Augusta in April, finished 5th at the Oak Hill hosted PGA Championship in 2013 and was runner-up at the US Open in June, so has a burgeoning Major pedigree. RESULT: MC
Alternative Market Betting Without Day, McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Spieth Market
Taking Sergio Garcia in the without Day, McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Spieth market with BetVictor makes masses of sense this week. Garcia is playing some wonderful stuff in Ryder Cup year and, as he proved as recently as 2014, he can challenge for the victory on an Open links course. His US Open challenge at Oakmont was excellent, following on from his first PGA Tour title since 2010 at TPC Four Seasons where he outlasted Brooks Koepka in a play-off. Sergio has always been the sort who can string top-level results together after a win so his strong Oakmont showing was no surprise and he shot -9/207 across the closing 54 holes in Germany on his last appearance to finish 5th after just arriving from the rigours of the US Open. Naturally it's difficult to place Sergio in an outright market for obvious reasons, but I really like him in this without the top-4 market where BetVictor are paying out 5 places each way at 1/4 odds. With soft conditions a reality, you can't see a number of the market leaders not featuring, so this bet takes them out of the equation. RESULT: T5
Barbasol Championship Tips
Whilst the Open Championship takes place at Troon, another 'second division' alternate tournament on the PGA Tour takes place. The Barbasol Championship was introduced into the Tour last year and is played at the Grand National Lake Trail, Auburn, Alabama. The course is a 7,302 yard, par-71 where the green light is always on to shoot low scores.
Won last year by Scott Piercy (amazing how his career has come on leaps and bounds since) at 25/1, the full 2-year PGA Tour exemption available to the winner is a huge carrot, as is the possibility of harvesting enough FedEx Cup points to grab a spot in the magical top 125 or even top 150 (partial status for 16/17). Played in sweltering and humid conditions in deepest Alabama, Piercy shot -19/265 from Birmingham, Alabama native Will Wilcox 12 months ago.
At 131st in the FedEx Cup standings, Robert Garrigus knows that a top 5 this week will guarantee him full PGA Tour status for 2016/17. 4th at TPC Four Seasons and 8th at Congressional within his last 4 outings highlight a player whose confidence is growing. Garrigus has always performed best on Bermudagrass set-ups and his happiest hunting ground is the Southern United States. His only PGA Tour win was in 2010 at Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida where he shot -21/267 to both save his Tour card in the Tour's last event and redeem himself from the self-destruction he'd suffered at TPC Southwind the previous June where he threw away certain victory on the 18th. Prefers resort-level scoring and performs well across Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee. His performances improved at TPC Louisiana when he switched to a new Cure putter. RESULT: T11
Aaron Baddeley reminds me a little of Scott Piercy from 12 months ago. A 3-time PGA Tour winner whose game is undoubtedly on the up right now, 'Badds' has played well in 2015/16 and at 85th in the FedEx Cup standings he's earned full playing privileges for 2016/17 - his 2015/16 playing opportunities have been limited due to his lowly Past Champions Tour status. Much of his improvement this term has been due to coach Scott Hamilton who's finally got Baddeley hitting fairways and greens again in numbers which allow him to compete given his unbelievable putting prowess. 10th here 12 months ago when playing some dour stuff, Aaron topped Strokes Gained Putting on the week. Takes these 2nd Division events seriously as 4th at CC of Jackson last November, 8th in Puerto Rico in March and a fast-finishing 17th last time out at Montreux ably demonstrate. RESULT: Winner
At 141st in the FedEx Cup standings, Camilo Villegas has recently woken up to the fact that his exemption for winning the 2014 Wyndham Championship finishes next month. Sure enough the ex-World Number 7 and 4-time PGA Tour title holder has started to hit greens on set-ups which suit and as a result he's started appearing on leaderboards again. Villegas has always been a hugely positive Bermudagrass player and this week he'll play on Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces upon which he thrives - a look at his record at TPC Southwind and Sedgefield confirms this. Led at Riviera with an opening 63 in February and in his last 2 starts has been tied 3rd and tied 2nd after 18 holes at Congressional and Montreux. So I'm playing him in both the FRL and Outright markets. RESULT: WD
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