Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's The Open FRL Tips

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Steve Bamford's Tips for the 2018 Open Championship FRL market. Follow Steve on twitter: @bamfordgolf

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, firmer later, 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 probably too many levels of complexity!

Going back to 2012 and Royal Lytham, 8 players have shared the First Round Leader market spoils over 6 renewals. 6 of those 8 players teed off in the morning. Although that’s hardly a representative sample size, it does however tell a story about course conditions. Unless there’s a change in weather during the course of the day, early starters will often get the most receptive greens from overnight watering a well as first use of the putting surfaces; that’s typically offset by lower temperatures meaning that the ball doesn’t fly through the air quite as far. Wind conditions will vary from year to year, however if there’s no significant weather pattern influencing the area then we also often see calmer conditions in the morning.

Weather for Thursday at Carnoustie looks relatively settled. Light breeze across the morning starts to build slowly from lunchtime to a peak at 7pm with winds averaging 12 mph and gusting up to 15 mph. Temperatures for the early starters will be 14 degrees Celsius, which will peak at 19 degrees Celsius at 4pm BST. The temperature differential from morning to afternoon is only 5 degrees, but the wind scenario suggests to me that 2pm starters will face a significant disadvantage with dry turf conditions, well-used greens and moderate breeze which will only take the edge of scoring. Players affected in that late stage of the tee times include Matt Wallace, Bubba Watson, Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter, Brooks Koepka, Sergio Garcia, Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama, Russell Knox, Jason Dufner and Ryan Fox.

Looking at FRL market winners since 2012, we’re talking about an elite group of players – with 18 Major titles between them, it’s a high quality bunch:


  • 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


  • 13:26 – 2016 – Royal Troon – Phil Mickelson
  • 13:37 – 2017 – Royal Birkdale – Matt Kuchar

The timings of their endeavours is also enlightening. With players on the course at the Open Championship from 06:35, the earliest a First Round Leader has set off in our 6 year sample is 08:42. Past that point, there’s a definite 90 minute ‘sweet spot’ when a selection of the best players start their tournaments. From there we then jump to a small time frame at 13:30 where again a small selection of elite players go out.

2018 Key Bookmaker Open Championship Promotions

First Round Leader punters often get forgotten about by the bookmakers, but that certainly isn’t the case at the 2018 Open Championship. Both Betfair Sportsbook and Paddy Power have gone 8 places each-way at 1/5 odds across Thursday’s opening round action. Betfair Sportsbook shades it in terms of better prices, so I’m placing a number of my bets with them. The advantage being that there are 3 more paying places to fill as opposed to a group of bookmakers who are simply handing out the standard 5 places each-way at 1/4 odds.

Betfair Sportsbook have gone 8 places EW at 1/5 odds in the First Round Leader market plus get £100 in free bets for new customers using code ZBBC01  full details here.

  • Betfair Sportsbook Up To £100 in free bets: New customer offer. Place 5 x £10 or more bets to receive £20 in free bets. Repeat up to 5 times to receive maximum £100 bonus. Min odds 1/2 (1.5). Exchange bets excluded. 18+, T&Cs apply.

I have a bunch of selections going off in the 0925, 1020, 1242, 1304 and 1315 groups. My First Round Leader selections are as follows:

Kevin Na 1pt EW FRL 95/1 with Betfair

Kevin Na arrives at Carnoustie fresh from his 2nd PGA Tour victory at the Greenbrier and that makes him a dangerous entity this week. Yes, I don’t subscribe to the World Number 41 lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday evening, but he fulfils a lot of the First Round Leader criteria I’m looking for this week. Na shot 63-65-64 across Friday to Sunday in West Virginia to win by 5 shots. In essence he blew away the Greenbrier field and that closing -6/64 will be a huge boost for the Las Vegas-based 34 year-old. Aggressive off the tee, Na is at the peak of his short-game powers right now and that makes him a huge danger off a 09:25 tee time grouped with another fast starter in the shape of Scott Jamieson. Kevin shot 62 to lead at Colonial in the last week of May and also shot a 67 last month in Korea to share 3rd place after Day 1. But Na can also start fast in Major Championships: 7th at the Erin Hills hosted U.S. Open last year, the Seoul-born Californian was also 8th after Day 1 at St Andrews in 2015 and 12th last year at Royal Birkdale. But I’m also hopeful because in 2014 Kevin lost in a play off at the high-profile Memorial Tournament in Ohio. 2 weeks later at the Pinehurst Number 2 hosted U.S. Open he shot an opening round 68 to sit in 2nd place. A confident Kevin Na carries form and that could well spill over to Carnoustie on Thursday. RESULT: T18

Paul Casey 2pts EW FRL 40/1 with Boylesports

Paul Casey, like Na, arrives in Scotland in high enough spirits. A long-awaited 2nd PGA Tour win in March has been backed-up by 15th at The Masters, 5th at Quail Hollow, 20th at Wentworth, 16th at the U.S. Open and 2nd last time out at TPC River Highlands. A fresh-faced Casey led the 2004 Open Championship at Royal Troon after Day 1 and he also led the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach after shooting a 69. More importantly, in recent times Paul has become a bit of a Major Championship first round leader specialist: 4th at the 2016 Masters, last year saw the Surrey-man start his 4 Major campaigns with 12th at Augusta, 2nd at Erin Hills, 4th at Royal Birkdale and 8th at Quail Hollow. An opening round 65 on his last appearance at The Travelers was good enough for 6th spot and from there rounds of 67-62 saw Casey leading in Connecticut on Saturday night by 4 shots. Yes, he couldn’t stop Bubba Watson’s Sunday charge, but Paul seems the sort to see the bigger picture. In terms of motivation, he will want to cement his spot in the European Ryder Cup team over the next 2 weeks (he plays the Porsche European Open in Germany next week) and he has an ideal 10:20 Thursday tee-time with Louis Oosthuizen and Masters Champion Patrick Reed.  RESULT: T72

Russell Henley 1pt EW FRL 95/1 with Betfair

Russell Henley is developing as a player very nicely right now and arrives at his 6th ‘British Open’ in cracking nick. A 12:42 first tee time with Mathew Fitzpatrick and amateur Jovan Rebula place his group right in the midst of the elite player mix with Fleetwood/Stenson/Walker ahead of him and Leishman/McIlroy/Olesen behind him. I expect he would have preferred a morning slot, but Henley is in such good form I’m not sure he will care too much. You may remember that he co-led the U.S. Open last month after Thursday when he started with a 12:52 tee time. Week after in Connecticut he shot 66-65-67 to go out in Sunday’s final group at The Travelers – he eventually finished 6th – and arrives in Angus fresh from a closing -7/63 at the Greenbrier which was the best in the field. For a player who’s never finished in the top 10 of a Major Championship he also has an excellent 1st Round Major record: 6th at the 2015 Masters, 3rd at the 2015 PGA Championship, 9th at the 2016 PGA Championship and 4th at the 2017 Masters highlight that Russell likes a fast start. The Kiawah Island, South Carolina resident is a must-back for me.  RESULT: T8

Dustin Johnson 2pt EW FRL 20/1 with Betfair

Dustin Johnson features as Paul Williams’ Number 1 selection in his main tips Betting Preview and I’m 100% behind that. The World Number 1 looks to be the perfect sort for the challenge this week and he’s been starting fast in recent outings. He led the Players Championship after Thursday, was 13th at the FedEx St Jude Classic before going on to lead after Friday’s action and then produced a Thursday afternoon masterclass at Shinnecock Hills to sit tied for the lead after Round 1 at the U.S. Open on his last appearance. 4th after Round 1 at Muirfield in 2013 and at St Andrews in 2015, DJ comes to the fore by the coast and his 13:04 grouping with Alex Noren and fast-starting Charley Hoffman sits in the lunchtime tee time sweet spot. RESULT: T129

Zach Johnson 1.5pt EW FRL 60/1 with Betfair

We produce 1st Round Leader specific statistics every week here at Golf Betting System and our stats uncover Zach Johnson. Nobody in this week’s field surpasses him for the number of top-5 First Round finishes, with 4 to his name in the past 6 years. 2nd in 2012 at Royal Lytham, 1st at Muirfield in 2013, 2nd at St Andrews in 2015 (a title he went on to capture) and 4th at Royal Troon in 2016, Zach simply loves to start fast in this tournament, so his 60/1 price looks fantastic value. His fast starts on our shores seem to coincide with a superb Sunday closing round at the preceding tournament where rounds of -6/65 (2012 John Deere Classic), -3/68 (Zach finished 2nd overall at the 2013 John Deere Classic), -6/65 (2015 John Deere Classic) and -5/65 (2016 Bridgestone Invitational) saw the 2-time Major Champion arrive brimful of confidence. So my eyes lit up last weekend at the John Deere Classic where Zach shot 67/64 over the weekend in Illinois. That Sunday -7/64 was tied best in the field and Sea Island, Georgia resident Johnson has already topped the leaderboards twice on the PGA Tour in 2018 at both the Sony Open and the recent Travelers Championship.  RESULT: T8

* Betfair Sportsbook Up To £100 in free bets: New customer offer. Place 5 x £10 or more bets to receive £20 in free bets. Repeat up to 5 times to receive maximum £100 bonus. Min odds 1/2 (1.5). Exchange bets excluded. 18+, T&Cs apply.

** Boylesports New Customer Offer – Significant Terms:18+ T&Cs apply. Cash stakes only. Min £10 stake required for initial £5 free bet. Min odds ½. Max £25 in free bets. Subsequent free bets equal 50% average of each 3 qualifying bets. 13 bets required to receive full £25 free bet. Qualifying bet must be placed within 30 days of opening account. Free bet expires after 7 days. Payment method restrictions apply. T&Cs Apply.

Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 12:30BST 17.7.18 but naturally subject to fluctuation.