Paul Williams

Paul Williams' The Open FRL Tips 2021

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For full FRL stats for the 2021 Open with tee times added click here.

The First Round Leader (FRL) market is fascinating given there are many ways to review the data to hand, especially at the Open Championship which uses a course rota system.

How does the weather forecast impact conditions? Will it be softer earlier, windier for some, warmer for others? What tee times have the recent FRL winners had? Have the recent FRL winners started well in an Open Championship in the past? Have the recent FRL winners started well in their recent events, have they even been playing well in recent events?

Lots of questions and the odd red herring along the way I’m sure, however I think there are a few factors to consider which might help point us in the right direction.

First up the weather: Windfinder Forecast | BBC Forecast

Both forecasts are in consensus that there will be a fairly steady 15mph breeze blowing in from the north, slowly shifting during the day from north-west to north-east. Both forecasts have the gustiest conditions tailing off just a little in the afternoon, combined with the warmest temperatures of around 70 Fahrenheit, although this is coastal golf and all that could change in the next 24 hours of course.

Conditions underfoot are expected to be relatively soft for an Open Championship played in mid-July, with the course having seen a lot of rain over the last couple of months and more again over the weekend and on Monday. Dry conditions will prevail for the 4 tournament days and the course will gradually become less soft, however I’m not expecting it to become firm and fast immediately, and certainly not between the first and last tee times on Thursday.

Going back to 2012 and Royal Lytham, 10 players have shared the First Round Leader market spoils over 8 renewals; 7 of those 10 players teed off in the morning. Although that’s hardly a representative sample size, it does however tell a story about course conditions plus more receptive greens for the early starters. But as Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and JB Holmes proved in 2016, 2017 and 2019 respectively, late starters can start fast, especially if a weather window appears.

Looking at FRL market winners since 2012, we’re talking about an elite group of players – with 20 Major titles between them, it’s a high quality bunch:

AM

  • 08:42 – 2012 – Royal Lytham – Adam Scott
  • 09:26 – 2014 – Hoylake – Rory McIlroy
  • 09:33 – 2015 – St Andrews – Dustin Johnson
  • 09:47 – 2017 – Royal Birkdale – Jordan Spieth
  • 10:06 – 2013 – Muirfield – Zach Johnson
  • 10:09 – 2017 – Royal Birkdale – Brooks Koepka
  • 07:52 – 2018 – Carnoustie – Kevin Kisner

PM

  • 13:26 – 2016 – Royal Troon – Phil Mickelson
  • 13:37 – 2017 – Royal Birkdale – Matt Kuchar
  • 14:26 – 2019 – Royal Portrush – JB Holmes

2019 was interesting in that there was a perceived, if slight, advantage for the afternoon wave with lighter winds and warmer temperatures, and that proved largely correct with JB Holmes shooting 66 from a 2.26pm tee time to lead by a stroke from eventual winner Shane Lowry, who’d teed off in the morning.

If we look back at 2011 when The Open last visited Royal St George’s, Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lewis shared the lead after day 1 with rounds of 65. The tee times from the top 5 after 18 holes was as follows:

  • 1st. Thomas Bjorn: 07:25
  • 1st: Tom Lewis: 14:32
  • 3rd: Lucas Glover: 13:10
  • 3rd: Webb Simpson: 15:05
  • 3rd: Miguel Angel Jimenez: 08:09

A mix of tee times then 10 years ago, with the PM starters just shading it overall. My take this year is that the PM starters should get marginally better conditions with the gustiest of the winds early in the day and temperatures at their peak in the afternoon sunshine. That doesn’t preclude an early starter from posting something outstanding of course, however it may be slightly tougher for those to do so.

2021 First Round Leader Bookmaker Open Championship Promotions

First Round Leader punters often get forgotten about by the bookmakers, but that certainly isn’t the case at the 2021 Open Championship.

8 Places Each-Way at 1/5 Odds

Boylesports, Betfair and Paddy Power have all gone 8 places each-way at 1/5 odds across Thursday’s opening round action, so do check their odds before placing your bets: Boylesports | Betfair | Paddy Power.

7 Places Each-Way at 1/5 Odds

If you want to take the very best odds available, taking a snapshot of the top 20 in the First Round Leader market at 09:00 on Wednesday 14th July 2021, Unibet dominated. Indeed they offered industry best (or joint industry best) odds across 9 of the top 10 players in the market and remember they are offering a boosted 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds. You can check their odds here, and their new customer offer is detailed below:

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My First Round Leader selections are as follows:

Corey Conners 1pt EW 90/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

  • Open Starts: 1
  • Open FRL Best: 54th (2019)
  • Open FRL Top-8s: 0
  • Last 6 Event FRL Form: 18/1/41/65/90/148
  • Tee Time: 1.26pm

Early reports from the course are that it’s relatively soft, as was anticipated with the wet early summer in England coupled with rain over the weekend, and that the rough is particularly thick. Unfortunate bounces from the fairway may be negated due to the lush turf conditions, however there’s still likely to be a premium on keeping your ball in play and that may be exacerbated over any given 18 holes if an accurate player can hit virtually all of the fairways.

Of those in the field with the game to keep the ball in play more than most, Corey Conners makes the most appeal. 12th on the PGA Tour’s Driving Accuracy statistic for the season to date and 9th for SG Off the Tee puts him in the very upper reaches of those key statistics; his approach play isn’t too shabby either, ranking 12th for GIR and 8th for SG Approach.

Statistics are all well and good though and a player needs to translate that into a score on the course in elite company to reward us here. The Canadian has certainly stepped up in that respect over the past couple of years, winning his maiden PGA Tour title in a 15mph breeze in Texas in 2019 before cementing himself in the OWGR top 50 this year following a series of strong results including 7th at The Players and 8th at The Masters.

One thing that’s coincided with his step forward in 2021 has been a marked improvement in Thursday performances. 66 to lead the Arnold Palmer Invitational after day 1 was impressive, as was 67 at the US PGA Championship to sit 2 shots better than anyone else with 18 holes completed. 3rd at The Players after day 1 is also fast-starting, elite-level form and it’s clear that he’s increasingly comfortable rubbing shoulders with household names.

A missed cut at the US Open and another weekend off in Scotland may put some off this bet, however there was some significant momentum from that effort at Renaissance as he closed with a bogey-free 65 to miss the cut by a stroke, taking just 26 putts on the fescue greens that will feel quite similar to this week’s task. RESULT: T19

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Russell Henley 1pt EW 100/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

  • Open Starts: 6
  • Open FRL Best: 8th (2019)
  • Open FRL Top-8s: 1
  • Last 6 Event FRL Form: 111/127/54/1/15/12
  • Tee Time: 2.26pm

If you’re a believer in historical trends repeating themselves in golf then read on; if not then skip the next paragraph and start from below there as there’s plenty to like about Russell Henley’s chance for First Round Leader regardless.

Firstly the quirky bit. In 2017, Henley shot 64 to lead The Northern Trust in the PGA Tour Playoffs; his next FRL was at the US Open the following June before shooting 69 to sit 8th after day 1 at The Open the following month. In 2020, Henley shot 64 to lead The Northern Trust in the PGA Tour Playoffs; his next FRL was at the US Open this June. Spooky, coincidence, irrelevant – delete as applicable, however it peaked my interest nevertheless and perhaps he’ll follow it up with a top-8 here after day 1.

2 Major FRL performances tell us firstly that the American isn’t afraid to post a low score in elite company. In fact, his effort last month at Torrey Pines went further still as Russell sat at the top of the tree until a Sunday 76 put paid to any lingering hopes he may have had that a maiden Major was coming his way, however that’s useful experience and perhaps there’s more to come.

19th at the Travelers and 11th last week at the John Deere Classic since that last Major are useful outings and his long game in particular looked on song before jumping on the charter flight from Illinois to prepare for this week’s task.

Low rounds are quite possible with Russell – this is the man who shot 63 three times to win the Sony Open back in 2013, having just stepped up from the 2nd tier – and a 2.26pm tee time, identical to JB Holmes who led the last Open Championship after 18 holes, could be perfect if the weather is slightly easier in the afternoon. RESULT: T48

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Lucas Glover 1pt EW 150/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

  • Open Starts: 9
  • Open FRL Best: 3rd (2011)
  • Open FRL Top-8s: 2
  • Last 6 Event FRL Form: 111/98/39/135/21/29
  • Tee Time: 10.53am

Finally the longest-priced player of my trio of Thursday hopefuls has the earliest tee time, however by late morning the wind may be a little more consistent, albeit still significant, and without the more significant gusts that might scupper the rounds of a few of the earliest of starters.

Arriving with the momentum of victory last week at the John Deere Classic, Lucas Glover could hit the ground running in conditions that should suit ball-strikers who can deal with the breeze. The 41 year-old should be on the crest of a wave after securing his first win in a decade on Sunday, courtesy of a closing round of 64 that tied the best of the day, and he returns to St George’s where he led heading into the weekend back in 2011.

66 to open his account that week had the Florida resident sitting in 3rd place after the opening 18 holes, hot on the heels of another quick start the year before at St Andrews where he’d shot 67 to find himself inside the top 10 after the first day.

5th and 7th after day 1 in the past at the US Open, the latter of which was in 2009 when he secured his maiden Major title at Bethpage Black, Lucas also led the 2006 US PGA Championship back in 2006 after an opening round of 66.

Long game excellence is Glover’s forte, and that was evident once again last week at TPC Deere Run where he ranked 3rd for SG Approach and 4th for SG Tee to Green, however – and whisper it quietly – he’s putting quite nicely of late and has been SG positive with the flat stick for 5 events on the trot, which ultimately translated into a field-leading 24 birdies last week. More of the same on Thursday could see him in a lofty position at the end of play. RESULT: T137

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 09:15BST 14.7.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation.