Carnoustie plays host to the 147th Open Championship this week for what will be the 8th time in the tournament's history and the first time since Padraig Harrington grabbed the Claret Jug in 2007 when he held off Sergio Garcia in a play-off. Garcia's 8-foot putt for par on the 72nd hole in regulation play lipped out which presented the Irishman with a lifeline after he'd made double bogey at the last - the rest, as they say, is history. More famous than that finish though was the incredible drama we saw in 1999 when Jean Van de Velde famously relinquished a 3-shot lead standing on the 18th tee which left a jubilant Paul Lawrie to pick up the pieces in a 3-way play-off which also featured Justin Leonard. Whether this year's event can match either of those two renewals for sheer drama remains to be seen, however we live in hope that the 2018 renewal of golf's oldest Major will be memorable from both a viewing and punting perspective.
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As has become the norm in Majors in recent times, the odds compilers are struggling to separate the elite players at the top of the market with World No.1 Dustin Johnson rating as the clear favourite with most firms at around 12/1. Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy follow a short way behind DJ at around the 16/1 mark, however with the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson and Tiger Woods all available at around the 20/1 to 25/1 mark, this is another truly open Major Championship.
2018 Key Bookmaker Open Championship Promotions
The Open Championship always gets punters excited and bookmakers have risen to the challenge in 2018 with a fantastic range of Open promotions. Let's start with a Golf Betting System exclusive, where new customers to 888Sport can treble their odds on any player in this week's field, paid in cash - details as follows:
888Sport are offering Golf Betting System readers an exclusive Treble The Odds on any player/any single bet (win only - excludes each-way bets) at the 2018 Open Championship. This deal is for new customers only and is valid on your first bet. No promo code required when registering. Deposit £10 or €10 via a payment card (e-wallets such as Paypal etc are excluded, so please ensure you deposit using a card), then place your first win-only bet with a stake of £10 or €10 on any player in the 2018 Open Championship. Tick the 200% Profit Boost box within the betslip and you will receive treble the odds if they win, which is paid in withdrawable cash. 18+, T&Cs apply - use this qualifying link - no promo code required, simply leave that section blank to claim.
With such a plethora of big names in with a shout, the bookies have pulled out all the stops when it comes to each-way betting this week with 10 places each-way available from Paddy Power and Coral, plus 8 places each way available from a host of other firms for pre-event bets:
Paddy Power have a history of providing extended each-way places on golf week-to-week and at the Major Championships historically. A few weeks ago they provided 10 places each-way, 1/5 odds at the US Open and have done so again this week offering 10 places each way at 1/5 odds for the Open Championship. Their £/€20 risk-free bet, returned in cash for new customers, is available below:
Paddy Power have gone 10 places EW at 1/5 odds plus get a £/€20 risk-free bet for new accounts using code YSKA01 - details here.
Alternatively, Coral are also offering the same each way terms so well worth checking both out before placing your bets:
Coral are offering 10 places each-way, 1/5 odds at the 2018 Open Championship. Coral, via Golf Betting System, offer new customers a freshly boosted Bet £/€10 Get £/€30 of free bets sportsbook account opening offer. 18+, T&Cs apply: No promo code required – use this qualifying link to claim.
If you want a great balance between strong prices and extended each-way places look no further than bet365. They have now extended their place proposition out to 8 places each-way at 1/5 odds for this year's Open. Their attractive new customer promotion is available below:
bet365 have gone 8 places EW at 1/5 odds, plus get up to £100 in Bet Credits for new accounts using code SPORT100 - details here.
Carnoustie Golf Links - Championship Course, Carnoustie, Fife: Designer: Tom Morris, Alan Robertson, James Braid, 1931, renovation pre-2007 Open; Course Type: Technical, Coastal, Links; Par: 71; Length: 7,402 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 5; Fairways: Fescue, Bentgrass and Ryegrass; Rough: Fescue, with Wavy Hair grass 3.5"; Greens: Bentgrass (50%), Fescue (30%), Annual Meadow grass (20%).
2012 Open Champion Ernie Els has seen all of the event's venues over his long and very successful career and had this to say about Carnoustie back in 2007, "I think Carnoustie is the toughest of the whole lot. It's got length. It's got great bunkering. You've really got to have your wits with you to play this golf course. It's probably the best bunkered course that you'll ever find anywhere in the world."
The Championship Course at Carnoustie has very much evolved over time. Old Tom Morris set out the course on the North Sea coastline in 1867 and this is still very much the footprint for the test we see today. James Braid made significant alterations to the course prior to the 1931 Open, which was the first to be hosted at the venue. The course we see today is effectively the same as we saw in 2007 when Padraig Harrington won his first Major Championship. At over 7,400 yards it's the longest of the Open rota courses and that's one of the core constituents of its difficulty. Dependant on wind direction, plenty of the holes play into the wind - or even worse, if a cross-wind plays across the course it becomes a very stern test indeed.
We're in a privileged position this year as Carnoustie will play pretty much as it did back in 2007. At 7,402 yards this is a long golf course, especially as the par 71 only has two par-5s on the card. The Championship course also features one of the toughest closing stretches in professional golf. The 248 yard, par-3 16th named 'Barry Burn' is a flexible and particularly difficult 3-shotter as this video highlights brilliantly. The par-4 17th, named 'Island', is stretching at 461 yards with the Barry Burn in play. But it's the signature closing 18th hole, named 'Home', which sticks long in the memory. The Barry Burn is very much in play across both the drive and the approach shot to the green. At a fraction under 500 yards in length, it's a beast of a closer and naturally both 1999 and 2007 Open Championships turned amazingly for Van De Velde, Lawrie, Garcia and Harrington on this hole.
The course itself is on flat topography similar in that respect to St Andrews; fairways are much tighter though at 22 yards to 26 yards in width. A number of holes have out-of-bounds which encroach tightly to fairways and if you miss fairways by a significant amount, thick gorse and unmown 'Wavy Hair' grass up to 2 feet high comes into play. The course though is also defended by deep, well-positioned pot bunkers that encroach on fairway landing areas. Wind strength and direction often dictates strategy off the tee and whether they can be taken out of play by the longer hitters. Find a number of them and the only option is to play out sideways.
A rare par-71 format which features 13 par-4s and only 2 par-5s, the famous par-5 6th hole, named 'Hogan's Alley', features a very close out-of-bounds down the left of the hole. At 578 yards it's reachable in 2 shots downwind, but with a headwind it's a wedge 3rd shot approach for all. The other par-5 14th, named 'Spectacles', gives some respite at a little over 500 yards from the back tees. However the ingrained difficulty of the Championship course is inherent with the fact that 7 of the 13 par-4s measure over 450 yards, with 6 of them at circa 470 yards or more. In windy conditions, this can turn Carnoustie into an absolute monster.
In general, green complexes themselves, which feature a Bentgrass/Fescue grass mix, aren't the most undulating on the Open course rota. A number of them do repel approach shots with contouring channelling balls away from the centre of the green. However others are quite flat and more than receptive if soft. Another feature of Carnoustie is that most holes have plenty of room around the greens with surrounds that are extremely tightly mown, taking approaches into collection areas. Those with an excellent short chipping game have a huge advantage as they can scramble pars.
In all, you get the feeling that if conditions were like-for-like with Birkdale last year, Carnoustie would be a tougher golf course. It's certainly all in front of the players, but its sheer length, bunkering and the Barry Burn, which always features heavily, are quite considerable defences. This is undoubtedly a genuine links test that can be played on the ground on many holes which don't feature bunkers at the front of green complexes. And as with all links golf courses, it will play as difficult as turf conditions and the weather dictate. Tommy Fleetwood is the course record holder with a -8/63, but that was in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship which features amateur-friendly pin positions. Sergio Garcia's opening -5/66 from 2007 does show that even with an Open-tough setup, the Championship Course does yield birdies - but don't expect the 2018 Open Championship to be a low-scoring affair.
Below are some revealing comments about the course in 2007 from the players:
Padraig Harrington: "There's no question playing last week (at the Irish PGA Championship as opposed to the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond), just getting used to the fact that you could hit 7-iron into the wind and it's only going to go 125 yards. That just doesn't happen in our regular golf. We're used to hitting a 7-iron 180 yards into a slight breeze because it's warm. All of a sudden you go to a links course and that same little breeze is taking 20, 30 yards off the shot. A good example, like I had 162 to the pin on the first playoff hole. And like I know -I've got 7-iron in my hand and I know because of the temperature and it's only - there's hardly a breeze out there, but I know I'm probably going to hit my 7-iron 180 yards. But I know in these conditions I'm doing well, I hit that well to get to pin-high. Just playing last week, definitely you have to spend time to getting used to the different conditions. And obviously chipping and putting, similar sort of thing. I had great pace this week. I had no fear standing over 25-yard, 30-yard, 40-yard putts from off the green. I had no fear. I rolled them up stone dead. Like I had a great week of rolling putts up like on 16 up that bank. I was confident I was going to put that in."
Sergio Garcia (Round 1): "It was possible to shoot a 65 (-6). More than anything because it rained. The course is - I said it yesterday, I think, I think it's the best shaped links course I've ever seen. I've never seen a links course where the fairways are so pure and the greens are so good. It's definitely - if you get going and there's not much wind, like it was today, there was a little bit of a breeze and it was a little cool so that didn't make it easier. But at least it felt like it was playable. You could hit a 5-iron and it wasn't going to release 15 yards or something like that, so you could stop it somewhere around the hole. You still have to hit a lot of good shots because there's a lot of good holes on the back nine, 10, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18. So you still have to hit a lot of good shots. But there were some birdie chances out there. I managed to hit some good shots and hole some putts."
Sergio Garcia (Round 3): "15 I hit driver on Thursday and 3-wood yesterday, yeah. 18, I've been hitting driver every day. But the wind was different. The wind was from the left, it was an uncomfortable wind, it wasn't hurting as much. I knew I could rely on my iron play. I could rely on a good, solid 2-iron off the tee and leave myself a 4- or 5-iron to the green, hit a solid shot. Even if I don't hit the green, hit it around the right bunker or maybe in the left trap, and from there I can make four, five at the worst. What you don't want to do is start hitting to these bunkers and get in trouble. So I was very much relying on that. And I don't have any complaints about it."
Tiger Woods: "Well, I've never heard anyone say Carnoustie is easy, even the times I played the Scottish Open here it was more benign than this, and the scores really weren't that low. There are so many holes where you're forced to hit long irons into the greens. Obviously if you miss the ball in any of the pot bunkers off the tee you have to go sideways, if you can. You can't advance it forward. I think that's probably a misconception. If you watch guys play practice rounds you're going to see them hit a lot of long clubs. Granted there are some short holes. It depends on the finish. If the wind is into you coming home, it's all you want on the golf course. Yes, it's extremely fair. It's not like it was in '99. It's probably a little more difficult than it was in the Scottish Opens I played. So it's roughly right in between. And if we have wind like yesterday morning, conditions like that, or any kind of wind on this golf course, it just becomes a lot more difficult than you think. You really do have to hit the ball well here. The greens are extremely subtle, just like all links courses, they're hard to read."
Phil Mickelson: "There certainly are some courses that set up differently than others, even though they might look similar. I really like this golf course or I feel comfortable on this course because of the way a lot of the holes are set up and some of the shot values that we have into the greens. I like a lot of the holes that have bunkers 30 yards short of the green downwind. It's a challenge to carry over them and get the ball stopped on the green. 16 is an example. 15 is another example, and probably the best one is 12. Those are holes where you have to carry the ball and still get it in soft. Even though you're playing a crosswind or downwind you want to bring the ball in high and soft, which is a lot like the shots we hit back in the States. The holes that tend to play into the wind, there seems to be enough room to keep the driver in the fairway and attack some of the greens. What I really like about this course is how much room around the green there is to hit shots and hit chip shots and have a chance to let your short game make pars for you. I think that's my favourite thing about Carnoustie."
Justin Rose: "The third hole was an interesting hole with the wind hard off to the left. They're trying to make you hit it down the left side which brings the creek or the burn into play down the left. With the wind off the left today it was a very interesting hole. It was hard to keep it down the left, and it was bringing those two right-hand bunkers into play. You have to get it close to the bunkers to carry the rough and the moguls in the middle of the fairway. It began to be a tricky hole, what used to be quite a straight forward hole. 6 is a classic - it's a great links par-5, downwind is straight forward. Downwind the landing area becomes much wider. It's a legitimate birdie chance. Into the wind you've got to play it as a three-shot hole. If you hit one bad shot, it's like a chain reaction hole. If you put it out of position on the tee you're looking at six, or have a bad layup you're looking at six, so it's really a par-5.
On 17 and 18 that's the main holes where I think the back tee on 18 the Barry Burn just cuts in a little bit on the right side, probably about say 260. So into the wind, which on Monday was into the wind, that burn is going to cut in more so than it has in the previous years where you've been driving it down to where the bunkers are. 17, it's an interesting hole because whether it's into the wind or downwind you're placing your drive in a very similar situation, in a similar spot on the fairway. Because the burn cuts across the fairway. So it really - it limits the way you can play the 17th hole in my mind, which is a good thing. It's a good strategic hole. There's no way to get it out without dropping it."
Ernie Els: "I think Carnoustie is the toughest of the whole lot. It's got length. It's got great bunkering. You've really got to have your wits with you to play this golf course. It's probably the best bunkered course that you'll ever find anywhere in the world. I think this one and Lytham are really well bunkered, but this golf course has the length, as I say. And it seems like the wind always blows here. I'm staying at St. Andrews this week, I was at St. Andrews this morning, and the flags were -- there was no wind. You come out here and it's blowing. So it seems like this course, with the weather conditions and the way that the layout is, it's a very demanding layout. You've got to play every shot in the bag. Every links shot you can think of you get tested here. It's got everything."
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: Form/Event Stats | Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Jordan Spieth, 16/1; 2016: Henrik Stenson, 33/1; 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 8 years based on the 2017 European Tour schedule click here; for the same on the PGA Tour click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the area is here. After a prolonged period of dry weather in the UK for a number of weeks now, very little is likely to change over the course of this year's tournament which means we're in for firm and fast conditions. Any brief showers are unlikely to amount to anything much and with wind speeds of 10-15mph expected, it will be those conditions and how the course plays on the ground which will present players with the biggest challenge.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Let's take the final skill statistics from Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Andres Romero, Ernie Els and Richard Green from the latest 2007 Open Championship held at Carnoustie. This gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Naturally these statistics have to be taken in the context that the 2007 event was played in relatively soft conditions and scoring was good; balance that with the fact that Paul Lawrie won at +6 in 1999 and it's clear that the conditions very much dictate how difficult Carnoustie plays.
One consistent factor that stands out in both the 1999 and 2007 renewals is the requirement for the ability to scramble. Top 5 finishers in 1999 Lawrie, Leonard, Van de Velde, Cabrera and Parry ranked 6th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st and 12th respectively for scrambling on the week which, if anything, is even more pronounced than the numbers above. To back this point up, 2 Senior Opens have been played at Carnoustie since Harrington's triumph and the top-6 finishers in 2010 ranked 2nd, 4th, 10th, 6th, 1st and 6th for scrambling; likewise in 2016 the top-6 ranked 5th, 3rd, 6th, 42nd, 1st and 28th for getting the ball up and down. In short, to compete here a player needs to bring a very sharp short game.
There are a number of identifiable trends from the past few Open Championship winners that are worth considering this week:
Recent Wins: In terms of recent winning form, 12 Open Champions from the last 18 renewals (67%) 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), Rory McIlroy (14), Henrik Stenson (16) and Jordan Spieth had all won in the same 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 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 in 2015, 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 nick. 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.
Jordan Spieth's incredible putting performance and eventual victory over Matt Kuchar 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 6 champions we can see a pattern that's easy to extrapolate:
Last 10 event form of Open Championship winners since 2010 reads as follows:
Open Championship 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. 12 of the last 13 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: Jordan Spieth's win last year at Birkdale blew a few theories about having to be game-sharp out of the water as he'd not teed it up competitively since winning the Travelers Championship 4 weeks before. Prior to that, with the exception of Zach Johnson who was playing in the United States, 6 of the previous 7 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; McIlroy finished 14th in 2014 and Stenson finished 13th before lifting the Claret Jug in 2016.
It's also interesting to note that only two players since 2000 have won The Open whilst ranking outside of the world's top-55 when entering this week - Ben Curtis in 2003 and Darren Clarke in 2011 were the two to achieve this. In general, an in-form player with some relevant results from previous Open Championships and/or links/coastal events has triumphed in this event and I'd be surprised if the player who lifts the Claret Jug on Sunday deviates from this a great deal.
In summary, Carnoustie quite rightly has a reputation as a fierce test of golf. The challenge from off the tee in terms of the requirement for length and accuracy is clear to see, however those who've excelled here in recent times have supplemented their ball-striking performances with an excellent game around the greens. With just two par-5s and three par-3s, taming Carnoustie comes down to how players perform on the par-4s and with a series of long, testing holes this layout on the Angus coast can quickly wear players down. The pot bunkers are virtually a penalty stroke when found from off the tee with chipping out sideways often the only option and with fairways angled to encourage balls to find the traps it can quickly become a grind for those who aren't at the top of their game.
Dry weather in the area has baked the fairways which in my view will put more emphasis on accuracy from off the tee this week. The cream is likely to rise to the top and the eventual winner will need every facet of their game to be firing if they're going to triumph.
My selections are as follows:
Dustin Johnson 5pts Win 12/1 with Bet £/€10 get £/€30 for new customers*, use promo code C30. 18+, T&Cs apply:
The only World Number 1 player to win The Open Championship this century is Tiger Woods. 2000, 2005 and 2006 were the years that Woods was victorious from the most lofty of OWGR positions and if Dustin Johnson is to win here this week then he'll be the only player to achieve that feat other than the great man himself. DJ is the type of player who rewrites trends and history though and, for me, he's the most likely winner here.
It's difficult to pick holes in a field of this quality and a case can undoubtedly be made for the likes of Rose, Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth, Rahm, Koepka, Thomas - the list is almost endless - however when at the top of his game there are few that can live with Johnson. It will need him to bring his A game to win this of course - nothing less will suffice - however history suggests he can play firm, fast courses; he can play tough, technical tracks; and he relishes golf by the coast. His length off the tee will give him additional options to fly bunkers here this week that others will be hoping to avoid bounding into from the rock-hard fairways and attacking the pins with as little club in hand has got to be an advantage.
A solitary Major title at the 2016 US Open doesn't do justice to the amount of times that the 34 year-old has put himself in position to win one of golf's 4 biggest events. Looking at the Open Championship in isolation, he was 7th going into Sunday in 2010; 2nd going into Sunday in 2011; finished 9th in 2012; 2nd going into Sunday in 2013; 3rd into Sunday in 2014; led at halfway in 2015; finished 9th in 2016 and was 7th going into Sunday last year - clearly he's held some strong positions that haven't been converted, however what we've started to see more of recently is a ruthless streak when he's at the very top of his game. 2 wins on the PGA Tour in 2018 have come in dominant fashion with 8 strokes being the winning margin at the season-opening Tournament of Champions and more recently he finished 6 shots ahead of the field at St Jude.
A Major Championship form line of 13/10/3 backs up an overall record of 14 Major top-10s as well as his victory at Oakmont and we should be in no doubt whatsoever that Dustin has what it takes to add to that tally, more so now as he continues to mature as a golfer and as a competitor. A lack of an Open Championship warm-up event may put some punters off, particularly with the Scottish Open having provided 6 of the last 8 winners, however Dustin's been up at Carnoustie for a few days now practicing on the championship course and that can only be a positive signal of intent.
As the FedEx Cup leader, you'd expect Johnson's stats to be impressive but in truth there are phenomenal at present. If length and accuracy are key this week then we can point to top-10 Total Driving performances in 5 of his last 6 starts; if scrambling is critical then he's ranked 4th and 6th on that count over his last 2 events. He ranks 1st for the season-to-date for Strokes Gained Off The Tee on the PGA Tour, 1st for Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green, 1st for Par-4 Scoring Average, 2nd for Putting Average, 2nd for 3-Putt Avoidance and 8th for Scrambling which is very much an area of vast improvement for him of late. Looks like a full house to me and I'm happy to back him accordingly.
Sergio Garcia 2pts EW 33/1 with Get a £30 welcome bonus*** for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 places EW, 1/4):
As Padraig Harrington was taking a penalty drop from the Barry Burn on his 72nd hole in 2007, he crossed paths with Sergio Garcia who was playing the 17th hole at the time. The Spaniard had led at the end of each round following an opening 65, however he'd relinquished that lead on the Sunday to the mercurial Irishman who'd played some incredible golf up until that point of disaster. Harrington's double bogey meant that a par up the last would suffice for Sergio, however after playing out to eight feet or so from sand on the 18th hole, he saw his winning par putt lip out agonisingly before losing the ensuing play-off. That near miss still ranks as the closest that the 38 year-old has come to winning an Open Championship, however with 10-top-10s over the years in total, 3 top-6 finishes from his last 4 attempts at this and a number of contending positions held over the years, it would surprise few if he lifted the Claret Jug before his career's through.
One of the more surprising facts about Sergio's career is that despite his many starts on the European Tour over the years, his attendance at the Open de France a little over a fortnight ago was his debut at that event. Likewise he's never played the Alfred Dunhill Links which features 18 holes over this week's venue, although admittedly it's at the back end of the year played in typically far softer conditions with an easier set-up for the pro-am format. That lack of experience at Le Golf National didn't prevent Garcia from entering the final day in 3rd place with an excellent chance of securing victory before making a triple-bogey on the first hole to make his task far harder, with double on the last when seeking a birdie for the play-off proving to be the final nail in the coffin. That lack of course experience didn't hamper him too badly seeing as he could have won and the fact that only that aforementioned effort here at Carnoustie is his only tangible course form shouldn't be seen as a negative either in my view.
Last year's triumph at Augusta gave Sergio the Major title that he's undoubtedly deserved for his efforts over the years, however it's fair to say that winning the Open would be the icing on the cake. With victory at the Andalucia Masters last autumn and further success at the Singapore Open in January (tentatively) getting him a tick in the recent winner's box, it was clear that he was playing some excellent golf and was striking the ball beautifully - until, that is, he attempted to defend his title at Augusta and produced that now infamous meltdown on the 15th hole that took him out of the reckoning in one fell swoop. 4 missed cuts from his next 5 events and a seriously tailed-off 70th at TPC Sawgrass suggested that the whole episode had done more than hurt his pride, however to his credit he looks to be building confidence once again. 12th at the BMW International Open featured his best ball-striking since that Augusta episode as he ranked 4th for Driving Accuracy and 3rd for GIR on the week and he backed that up a week later with his aforementioned effort in France where he ranked 5th for Scrambling and 6th for Putting Average. To win this week at Carnoustie, he needs to splice the positives from those two efforts together and overcome any lingering memories of 2007, however with the Major monkey off of his back perhaps this is the best chance he's had so far to win The Open.
"I’ve worked so hard. I’ve won a lot in my junior career, did great things in my amateur career, was 6-0 in match play at NCAAs, won NCAAs two years in a row, was third individually one year. I just don’t see a lot of guys that have done that, besides Tiger Woods, of course, and all of the other legends of the game. It’s just one of those things that I believe in myself – especially after how hard I’ve worked – that I’m one of the top five players in the world." A young, perhaps naive Patrick Reed back in 2014 surprised, amused and annoyed the golfing world in equal measure with his declaration that he was good enough to be top-5 in the world after winning at Doral. Confident words from a confident character who has shone at Ryder Cups and gradually won the hearts and minds of many of his critics, however what was perhaps a flippant comment at the time is now only a stone's throw from reality.
The 27 year-old's maiden Major victory at Augusta earlier this year showed the kind of guile and determination required if he's going to hit those dizzy OWGR heights as he held off the late challenges of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler with an assured display under the most intense of pressure. Flanked either side of that effort are his two other best Major efforts as he finished runner-up to Justin Thomas at Quail Hollow last August and 4th behind Brooks Koepka last month at Shinnecock Hills, having briefly threatened to produce back-to-back Major wins on the Sunday. At 12th in the World Rankings following last week's warm up at Gullane, the Texan can take another huge step towards proving those who dismissed his top-5 comment with another prominent performance here and with his game in good shape, there's no reason to suggest he won't be in the mix here this week.
Previous Open Championship efforts have included 20th at St Andrews in 2015 as well as his best finish of 12th a year later at Royal Troon where he sat 2nd after the opening day, however that form should be tempered with the fact that he missed the cut in both 2014 and 2017. With a Major Championship in his locker since that time though and a grinding game that's well-suited to the challenge of Carnoustie, a personal best performance is quite possible this week and that may well be enough to reward each-way backers at least.
Reed is in the minority of American players who regularly makes the effort to play in Europe and quite rightly the European Tour have historically bent over backwards to keep him sweet. That additional experience of life outside of his homeland gives him an advantage of sorts over many of his equally capable compatriots, however aside from that he has what it takes to contend at this year's Open. Whereas many players go immediately off the boil after winning their first Major, Patrick proved at Shinnecock Hills that he was hungry for more success and a GIR rank of 6th in the field and putting average of 7th didn't go unnoticed. By his own estimation, last week's event at Gullane was more about a care-free warm-up than anything more strenuous, however 5 birdies in his first 6 holes on Thursday suggested that his game was good and at 9-under through 27 holes he could have been excused for pushing on towards victory. That's was never the goal though and I like the fact that a free-wheeling 23rd place finish and some good work done on the links ahead of the main event should set him up nicely for this week.
Matthew Southgate 1pt EW 150/1 with Bet £10 get £30 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply***. (10 places EW, 1/5 odds):
It will come as no surprise whatsoever if you've read any of my previous previews for links (or links-style) tests that Matthew Southgate is one of the names that finds my team. Whilst many players can claim to enjoy the many and varied challenges of links golf, the 29 year-old can back that assertion up with cold, hard facts. As an amateur, Southgate first proved his fit to this format of the game with a 5-stroke victory at the St Andrews Links Trophy and whenever the Tour hits the coastlines of the UK and Ireland, plus a few other compatible courses around the European Tour circuit, it's wise to bear the Southend man, who's been a member at Carnoustie since he was 16, in mind.
A cursory look at some of Matthew's top OWGR-yielding results tells an impressive story ahead of this week: 2nd to Jon Rahm at Portstewart at last year's Irish Open ranks as his best finish as a professional, however of perhaps more importance are his 6th places finish at last year's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale which backed up the promise he'd shown when finishing 12th at Royal Troon the year before. I backed him at 150/1 earlier this year at the inaugural Oman Open which has some linksy characteristics and he led going into the final day before faltering when it mattered most with a disappointing round of 75. I also backed him last month at the Open de France, this time at 200/1, on a track which again is linksy in style - particularly when it's firm and fast - and he rewarded us with a full each-way place by finishing in a tie for 5th. 11th at the 2016 Open de France is another positive result and he also has a runner-up finish in Scotland for good measure back on the Challenge Tour in 2011.
Perhaps Matthew Southgate winning the Open Championship is a bit of a stretch of the imagination, however at the price on offer I'm happy to take the chance that he can reward each-way backers and last week's mid-division finish at Gullane is perfectly respectable as it contained round of 65 and 66 whilst never really threatening to worry the bookies into slashing his price massively for this week.
Of all of the Major Championships, The Open is by far the most likely to produce a more 'experienced' winner in my view given the nature of links golf and with Stewart Cink we have a player who's already tasted success in this oldest of Majors. That success came at the age of 36 when he broke the hearts of those rooting for 59 year-old Tom Watson who'd astounded the golfing public to put himself in position to win his 6th Open Championship title with a par on the 72nd hole at Turnberry. It wasn't to be and a deflated Watson lost the ensuing play-off by 6 strokes, in turn giving Cink his victory.
The fact that Cink was able to win a Major shouldn't have come as a complete shock - after all, the Alabama man had already finished inside the top-3 at each of the other Major Championships at some point in his career and was 3rd heading into the final day at the 2007 Open Championship held here at Carnoustie before finishing 6th, 3 shots behind the Harrington/Garcia play-off. He ranked 3rd for GIR that week and with a little more finesse with his short game he could well have been closer to the eventual winning score of 7-under. Clearly he needed a bit of help from Watson to get over the line two years later, however that's nothing unusual in golf and the fact that he dominated the play-off makes him a worthy champion despite upsetting 99% of the golfing world by beating Tom.
So why, 9 years down the line, should Stewart Cink be a viable bet for this year's Open? 6th in 2007 as I've mentioned is one aspect of course, however having dipped as low as 333rd in the OWGR back in 2013, it's clear that his game has been steadily improving. The odd top-10 finish every now and then has been enough for the 6-time PGA Tour winner to retain his playing rights, however an explosion of form in recent times cannot be ignored. 2nd to Bubba Watson at the Travelers Championship last month was his best result since winning at Turnberry and that had followed an impressive 4th place finish at St Jude which was fuelled largely by a 3rd round of 64. 23rd on his last start at the Quicken Loans National featured a Driving Accuracy rank of 9th in the field, GIR rank of 5th and Scrambling rank of 7th - if he can reproduce that as well as some of the form he showed with the flat stick at the Travelers then an each-way payout or, dare we say it, better isn't out of the realms of possibility.
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