The Open Championship stands on a pedestal, sharing it only with The Masters as the Major Championship that professional golfers covet the most.
The delayed 2021 Open Championship returns to Sandwich, Kent, or the Royal St George’ Golf Club to be precise, for a tournament that was due to be played in July 2020. The field is very much a hybrid – think 2020 Masters Tournament held in November – but yet again the best players from around the globe will be gathering in Kent to get their hands on the famous Claret Jug.
The 149th edition of the Open Championship takes place from Thursday 15th July 2021. Now into our 12th season, Golf Betting System will as ever be hunting for profit with our Open tips from Paul Williams and Steve Bamford. Golf Betting System has full 2021 coverage with Open Championship tips, long-shot and alternative market selections, a full range of free course and player statistics, plus of course our famous free statistical Predictor Model.
St George’s is a regular host course on the Royal & Ancient Open rota. This will be the 15th Open Championship played here at Sandwich, with recent winners including Bill Rodgers (1981), Sandy Lyle (1985), Greg Norman (1993), Ben Curtis (2003) and Darren Clarke (2011).
Set on a pretty flat, and some would say bleak, stretch of the Kent coastline looking out directly across the English Channel towards France and Belgium, Royal St George’s features plenty of sand dunes, marshland out of bounds and super tough bunkering.
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Open Championship Insight, Stats and Tips Research
It’s worth remembering that the Open Championship (or British Open, if you are reading this on the other side of the Atlantic) and links golf in general is very niche; it’s a defined golfing specialism which in itself produces opportunities from a betting perspective. Mistakes can be costly; however select the right player or player portfolio and the rewards can be strong.
Golf Betting System’s goal is to provide you with informed Open Championship tips, free tournament research tools, insight and information that will help you make educated decisions about which players to back at the 2021 Open Championship.
Royal St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent was the venue of the very first Open to be played on English soil back in 1894. A true classical links test, the course flanks the Kent coastline and is very much open to the elements with virtually no trees to offer respite from the wind.
It last hosted the 2011 Open Championship, when Northern Irishman Darren Clarke captured his one and only Major at the age of 42. His 2011 win followed on from fellow Northern Irishmen Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy capturing their first Majors at the 2010 and 2011 US Opens.
One of the sternest tests on The Open rota, Royal St George’s has traditionally proven tough to score on. Of the last five winners at the venue, Greg Norman is the only one to have recorded a winning total lower than -5/275, posting a stunning -13/267 in 1993. That remained a record low score in the Championship for 23 years, until Henrik Stenson shot -20/264 to win at Royal Troon in 2016.
Royal St George’s Golf Club – Sandwich, Kent, England: Designer: Laidlaw Purves, with Martin Ebert 2019; Course Type: Coastal Links; Par: 70; Length: 7,189 yards; Fairways: Fescue, and Bentgrass; Rough: Fescue, and Bentgrass; Greens: Bentgrass (40%), Fescue (60%).
What to Expect at Royal St George's
After St Andrews, Royal St George’s has hosted more Opens than any other course on the Open rota. Founded in 1887, Royal St George’s hosted the first Open outside Scotland in 1884, won by Englishman J.H. Taylor.
St George’s position on the south-east coast leaves it extremely open to the elements. Positioned on Sandwich Bay, the course is set on a flat piece of land with no protection from the English Channel and with no trees for protection.
Famous for tall sand dunes, deep bunkers and firm Fescue/Bentgrass green complexes with plenty of surrounding run-off areas, St George’s is no picnic. Uneven lies aren’t just commonplace here, they are to be expected, and despite the levelling out of some holes via a Mackenzie & Ebert renovation pre-2011, there are masses of good looking shots which end up in serious trouble and vice-versa on this golf course. It’s true links golf at its very best.
And there’s been another Mackenzie & Ebert renovation pre-2021, which has included the restoration of the huge bunkers at the 4th and 7th holes, the reinstatement of a large bare sand area to the left of the 5th hole, conversion of two bunkers to the left of the 17th green into a swale, and the reconfiguration of the bunkering at the 18th hole to offer more choices from off the tee.
Back in 2011, World Number 1 at the time Luke Donald described the challenge of Royal St George’s far more eloquently and accurately than I can. He said, “As I’ve said before, there’s very few tournaments we play where the golf is anything even similar to this. You know, it’s a different set of circumstances, different grasses, different shots. You’re having to manipulate the ball a lot more, really control it, and especially when you get windy conditions like we had today, it’s a challenge. It’s not just standing up there and kind of swinging away; there’s a lot more thought to it and a lot more control of the golf ball that’s needed, and I think this is a tough one to win at.”
Below are some revealing comments about Royal St George’s and how it played at the 2011 Open Championship from the players
Darren Clarke: “Yeah, I played very nicely. I hit the ball solidly all day. Most of the time I was in control. How many bogeys did I make, two, I think, and both of them I drove in the fairway bunkers, which weren’t that great a shot, but the fairway bunkers are very, very penal. But overall played nicely. Been lucky this week, seen an old friend of mine, Bob Rotella who’s here this week, I haven’t seen him for quite some time and was able to catch up with him because my ball-striking and tee-to-green stuff has been very good, very solid, but the putter has been today, but today it was very good.
Yeah, I didn’t hole everything today by any stretch of the imagination but I putted nicely. Any time I step back on links I always enjoy it. This one is particularly difficult because of the undulation in the fairways and the demand that it puts on the second shots. It’s just a real, real tough, stern test. You’ve got to stay patient this week, which has not always been one of my strong points. But this week that’s what the Open and around links is all about.”
Ben Curtis: “You’ve got to be able to control the flight of your ball here, more so than in the States, and you’ve got to know — you’ve got to kind of figure out how much roll you’re going to get after the ball lands. And that’s just through a little bit of preparation, playing today, tomorrow and Wednesday, just getting used to seeing how far each club in the bag would roll downwind, into the wind, side wind. You have a pretty good idea by Thursday, and then you still learn more as you go on and on.
That’s probably the two biggest things. And obviously course management; you’ve got to stay out of those bunkers. Back home some courses you can hit it in every bunker on the course and you’ll be all right. But over here almost every one you go in is not a good place to be. So you’ve got to avoid those, and obviously you’ve got to chip and putt it real well and just try and play to your strengths, as well.
But the biggest thing is controlling the flight of your ball, especially if the wind gets up, which it normally does here. If you can’t keep the ball down or can’t control your flight or hit the shots you want, you’re in trouble.
Lee Westwood: “Yeah, we don’t play a lot of it now. Maybe three times a year, which is more than, say, American golfers or people playing on the PGA TOUR would play it. They probably only play it once. We play the Dunhill Links at the end of the year and then obviously the Scottish Open last week and then this. We might play a links style course in Holland or Belgium. But certainly growing up I played a lot of links golf. A lot of the boys’ championships and English amateurs we played and our winter nationals we played on links golf courses. I played a fair share of Leven Gold Medals and stuff like that on links golf courses. So you tend to find that you learn a lot when you’re young, and if you’re brought up on that style of golf course it stays with you, the knack of playing it.
Yeah, I like the golf course. You know, there are a few places where you accept where you’re going to get bad breaks, but you get good breaks, as well. Strategically it’s a good golf course. You have to plan your way around it. It’s not always driver off every tee, which is quite nice. Downwind there will be a few 5-irons or 6-irons off tees out there, but at the same point if the wind gets up, the green might become drivable on those holes. So it makes you think constantly and adapt to the situation.“
Phil Mickelson: “I enjoyed playing in this kind of wind. It was interesting to see a drive on 17 go 380 yards and a drive on 11 go 210. It’s just interesting, the air is so thick and the wind is so strong, to have such a varying degree and such an importance of trajectory and flight. I really enjoy playing here. I think it’s a fun challenge, whether I play well or not.
It’s in my mind still a British Open. The conditions are still firm. Drivers are still running quite a bit. You’re still playing along the ground quite often. The one advantage that you have is that you can play the short irons through the air and get the ball stopped fairly quickly with the amount of spin and make some birdies. I don’t think the scores will be ridiculously low here at all. I think that making No. 4 calling it a par-4 now immediately knocks four shots off the score relative to par. So already we’re going to have a tough time breaking par over four rounds. And I think we will get some weather at some point throughout the four days. It’s very rare for it to be perfect for 14 hours a day, four days a week. I’m trying to come here and play the way links golf should be played, along the ground, as effectively as I can, and really enjoy the challenge that it brings, because again, it’s a different style of play. We can’t play through the air. We have to accept what the ground gives us when we have conditions like we had today.
Yeah, I wouldn’t say there’s an absence of rough, but it’s certainly not the wedge-out thick rough that we had in ’03, and to me the subtleties of this golf course come through now that we’re able to keep playing and not have to wedge back to the fairway. The 1st hole is a great example of what I see throughout the rest of the golf course. There are three bunkers in front of the green that you have to clear, and the front of the green is pitched away pretty severely, so you have to be in the fairway to get the ball stopped. If you’re coming out of the rough and it doesn’t have any spin, there’s no way you’ll stop the ball on the green. You have to carry the bunkers, and then when it lands on that downslope will go all the way over.
In 2003 the rough was so thick that you didn’t have a shot if you missed the fairway. You had to wedge back into the fairway, so everybody was hitting a shot from the fairway essentially, even though only a third of the field managed to hit that fairway. Because of that, the subtleties and the nuances and what really makes this course strategic and great, they didn’t come through the way they are this week, and now it’s starting to really shine. And the angles at which you have to approach greens, landing them 40, 50 yards short of the green, the way the bunkers are staggered, working around left of one bunker, right of the other, that is starting to come through on almost every hole, and I know the guys are really starting to enjoy it. I know I am. I’m starting to appreciate the golf course now.”
Rory McIlroy: ” Yeah, it’s a completely different golf course to Congressional where I won the U.S. Open. It’s firm, it’s fast. But the thing is with this wind, you’re going to have to keep the ball low. But sometimes it’s hard to run the ball into these greens because they’re so undulating and they can go so many different ways. I think you’re going to really need a very strong ball flight, especially if the wind still picks up the way it is. I don’t think you’ll be able to run many shots in because, as I said, it can catch the wrong side of a slope and it can go 20, 30 yards away from the green.
I mean, there’s a few drivers out there. I played last week on Tuesday, and it was basically flat calm. There was a few drivers, and then on the Wednesday it was pretty windy, so I got to see the course in two different conditions, which was pretty good. I think especially with the rough not being up, I think this golf course is going to be all about the second shot and making sure that you get the ball in the right position on the green because the greens are so slopey that you’re going to have 25, 30-footers all day if you do hit the greens.
Yeah, it’s going to be making sure you put your second shots in the right place and then being pretty good around the greens.”
Royal St George’s hosts its 15th Open Championship on the exposed Kent coastline
Power Off The Tee, In Tandem With Greens In Regulation
Let’s take the final skill statistics from Darren Clarke, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson from the latest 2011 Open Championship held at Sandwich. This gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
1st, Darren Clarke (-5). 312 yards (17th), 41.1% fairways (56th), 70.8% greens in regulation (2nd), 35.7 % scrambling (61st), 1.69 putts per GIR (11th).
2nd, Dustin Johnson (-2). 335 yards (1st), 50.0% fairways (29th), 65.3% greens in regulation (6th), 41.3% scrambling (41st), 1.66 putts per GIR (6th).
2nd, Phil Mickelson (-2). 307 yards (27th), 48.2% fairways (36th), 69.4% greens in regulation (3rd), 52.1 % scrambling (17th), 1.76 putts per GIR (31st).
Tournament Skill Averages:
Driving Distance: 15th, Driving Accuracy: 40th, Greens in Regulation: 4th, Scrambling: 40th, Putting Average 16th.
Now if there was one Major not to have an ante-post bet on, it has to be the Open Championship. Coastal golf and links golf in particular is by far the most weather-dependant, with scoreability of courses like Royal St George’s pretty much determined by the weather.
Coastal golf courses have two main defence mechanisms. Speed of the course, be that on both the fairways and greens: a long, hot summer tends to be produce firm and fiery Open tests. Secondly, the strength of and direction of the wind. Even with the very best meteorological technology, coastal weather patterns can be very localised and very insular; and just because the Open is played in July, don’t expect the best summer weather.
The older amongst us may remember the 2011 Open Championship held here, with a strong breeze on Friday before even higher intensity wind mixed with rain entering the fray across the weekend. As the wonderful Peter Alliss commented on Sunday, “it’s been like 4 seasons in one day.”
It’s only a single renewal and, as I say, links golf is so weather dependant, but looking back at 2011 Sandwich really seemed to suit the longer hitters. Lucas Glover, Rickie Fowler, Anthony Kim, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson from an American perspective all had parts to play across the 4 days of action, and all sat in the top 80 for Driving Distance on the PGA Tour arriving in Kent. Royal St George’s was fast enough on the fairways, with plenty of roll-out, but in the main the longer hitters thrived. And naturally that included Darren Clarke, who averaged 312 yards with the driver, good enough for 17th across the week.
Ultimately though, in this pre-Strokes Gained era, Greens in Regulation was the key statistic at Sandwich in 2011. Clarke was 2nd at 70.8%, with runner-ups Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson ranking 6th (65.3%) and 3rd (69.4%) for Greens Hit. And when you look at shock winner Ben Curtis and his statistics from 2003, the Ohio man ranked 21st for Driving Distance at 304 yards, 3rd for Total Driving, 16th for Greens in Regulation and 3rd for Ball Striking.
Open Championship Pedigree
Louis Oosthuizen won the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews with a performance which belied his lack of Major Championship experience. The South African, who was 27 years of age at the time, had played in 8 Majors, including 3 Open Championships. His record read as 3 missed cuts in The Open, among 7 Major missed cuts, and he had a best finish of 73rd at the 2008 PGA Championship. No wonder he won at a massive 250/1.
I start with Louis though because he is the exception. From 2011 onwards, all Open Championship winners have shown a level of pedigree at the ultimate links golf test prior to lifting the trophy. Indeed every Open Championship winner for the past 9 years had finished in the top 10 of an Open at least once prior to lifting the Claret Jug.
Bringing this right up to date, Shane Lowry had finished 9th at the 2014 Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) Open that Rory McIlroy won. Francesco Molinari had a top-10 and 2 top-20s to his name before winning at Carnoustie in 2018. Jordan Spieth had a 4th place finish at St Andrews on his CV prior to victory at Birkdale in 2017, which was only his 5th Open appearance. 2016 Champion Henrik Stenson had garnered 3 top-10s and another top-20 from 11 appearances before beating Phil Mickelson in their famous Troon duel.
It’s also fascinating to note that on average across the past 9 winners, they had appeared in 12 Open Championships prior to winning. Jordan Spieth with 4 Open appearances and Ernie Els with 21 are the outliers statistically. All of this suggests that if you are looking for a winner of the Open Championship, you need to be looking for those with a proven track record, over younger starlets.
2019 Champion – Shane Lowry
7 Open Appearances – Top 10s = 1, 9th Hoylake 2014.
2018 Champion – Francesco Molinari
11 Open Appearances – Top 10s = 1, 9th Muirfield 2013; Top 20s = 2, 13th Turnberry 2009, 13th Hoylake 2014.
2017 Champion – Jordan Spieth
4 Open Appearances – Top 10s = 1, 4th St Andrews 2015.
2016 Champion – Henrik Stenson
11 Open Appearances – Top 10s = 3, 3rd Birkdale 2008, 3rd St Andrews 2010, 2nd Muirfield 2013; Top 20s = 1, 13th Turnberry 2013.
2015 Champion – Zach Johnson
11 Open Appearances – Top 10s = 2, 9th Lytham 2012, 6th Muirfield 2013; Top 20s = 2, 20th Carnoustie 20th, 16th St George’s 2011.
2014 Champion – Rory McIlroy
6 Open Appearances – Top 10s = 1, 3rd St Andrews 2010.
2013 Champion – Phil Mickelson
19 Open Appearances – Top 10s = 2, 3rd Troon 2004, 2nd St George’s 2011; Top 20s = 2, 11th St Andrews 2000, 19th Birkdale 2008.
15 Open Appearances – Top 10s = 3, 2nd Carnoustie 1997, 7th St Andrews 2000, 3rd Lytham 2001; Top 20s = 3, 11th Lytham 1996, 11th Troon 2004, 15th St Andrews 2005.
Will World Number 1 Jon Rahm win at Royal St George's?
Tempted to get on the World Number 1 (at the time of writing) Jon Rahm at the Open Championship? Well here’s a word of warning for all those tempted to jump on: no World Number 1 since 2000 apart from Tiger Woods (who else) has won The Open. Jon, fresh from his first Major Championship victory at the U.S. Open, is undoubtedly the rightful favourite.
But, for the record, Shane Lowry was 33rd when he won this in 2019, Francesco Molinari was 15th, Jordan Spieth was 3rd, whilst Henrik Stenson was 6th, Zach Johnson was 25th, McIlroy was 8th and Mickelson was 5th in the OWGR at Muirfield in 2013. The previous 5 winners in Els, Harrington, Cink, Oosthuizen and Clarke were all ranked outside of the World’s top 10 when triumphing.
It would also me remiss of me not to point out that I raised this trend continually before The Masters as well, until that is World Number 1 Dustin Johnson captured that title in November 2020.
Open Championship OWGR Analysis
Open Championship Winner
Recent Form Is Key
Shane Lowry’s first Major Championship win at Royal Portrush in 2019 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 links course, and in the last 8 champions, namely ‘Shano,’ ‘Frankie’, ‘Golden Child’, ‘Ice Man’, ‘Z-Money’, ‘Rors’, ‘Lefty’ and the ‘Big Easy’, we can see a pattern that’s easy to extrapolate.
Shane Lowry in 2019 had won the stellar year-opener, the Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour and backed that up with his most successful period on the PGA Tour. 3rd at the RBC Heritage (coastal), 8th at the Bethpage Black-hosted PGA Championship and 2nd behind Rory McIlroy at the RBC Canadian Open had preceded top-30 and top-40 outings at the US Open and Irish Open.
Francesco Molinari, like Zach Johnson in 2015, arrived in Scotland directly off the John Deere Classic charter flight from Illinois, and boy his confidence must have been sky high. A huge win (his 5th on the European Tour) in May at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth was followed by 2nd at his home Italian Open when defending. But the Italian’s summer got even better when he flew out to Washington in July to player Tiger’s tournament at TPC Potomac which he won, in the process winning his first tournament in the United States. And he arrived in Scotland having just shot a field best -7/64 in the final round to finish T2 in the John Deere Classic.
Jordan Spieth flew into the northwest of England fresh from his 10th PGA Tour victory, which he had racked-up at TPC River Highlands, when clinching the Travelers Championship in a spectacular play-off victory over Daniel Berger. Spieth had never previously played at the Travelers, but made short shrift of the River Highlands course shooting -7/63 in Round 1 to take control of the tournament from the very outset. From there he held off the attentions of Boo Weekley, Troy Merritt and finally fellow ‘Bro Group’ member Berger to win the title at 10/1. In Strokes Gained parlance he was 7th for Approach, 2nd for Around The Green and 1st for Tee to Green, whilst he was not bad with the putter finishing 3rd for Putts per GIR.
Henrik Stenson arrived in Ayrshire fresh from a free-wheeling 13th at the Scottish Open played at Castle Stuart. 76 in Round 1 was then followed by rounds of 69-66-70. However a fortnight prior to the Scottish Open, Stenson had won the BMW International Open at Gut Laerchenoff with a -17/271 total. His performance in Germany, and his 3-shot winning margin, was made even more impressive by the fact that he topped Driving Accuracy, Total Driving, Greens in Regulation and All-Round categories; he was also 2nd for Scrambling. Henrik had also finished 4th at Bro Hoff Slot in June. All of this made him very backable, especially as his Open record contained 2nd (Muirfield 2013), 3rd (Birkdale 2008) and 3rd (St Andrews 2010) place finishes. 30/1 was a cracking price to land.
Zach arrived at Edinburgh airport on the charter flight direct from Silvis, Illinois where he’d just finished a single shot behind Jordan Spieth at the John Deere Classic. 5th at Las Colinas and 6th at TPC River Highlands in preceding PGA Tour outings highlighted a player at the top of his game, so even now the fact that he was available at 110/1 to win at St Andrews is jaw-dropping!
Rory had won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, a track which had always been his nemesis, until his closing 66 destroyed the field. He then limbered up with a free-rolling 14th at Royal Aberdeen the week before triumphing in Cheshire, where a horrible 78 on Friday was surrounded by rounds of 64, 67 and 68. Rory was 18/1 second favourite prior to the tournament.
Phil Mickelson had already won at TPC Scottsdale and finished 2nd on the tough tests of Merion (US Open) and TPC Southwind before he touched down in Scotland. Arriving at Castle Stuart the week before The Open, Phil was a 20/1 shot to win the Scottish Open, which he duly did, before travelling down the east coast to Muirfield, where he shot an incredible -5/66 on Sunday to win by 3 shots from Henrik Stenson, again at a healthy 20/1.
Ernie Els was available at 45/1 prior to Royal Lytham in 2012 and quite rightly we tipped him up as a great Top 20 bet in my Open Longshots column that year. With 4 top-5 finishes (Fancourt, Copperhead, Bay Hill and New Orleans) plus a 7th at Wentworth and 9th at the US Open just prior to the Open, he had huge momentum and was in the right place at the right time when Adam Scott collapsed over the closing 4 holes. It’s fact that Ernie was the latest in a long line of form players to triumph at the British Open.
14 Champions from the last 20 renewals (70%) had won a tournament in the 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), Jordan Spieth (17), Francesco Molinari (18) and Shane Lowry (19) had all won in the season prior to lifting the Claret Jug.
This is Steve Bamford’s pre-event preview. Paul Williams will be back with his final Open Championship tips on the Monday before the event.