VINCE BLISSETT (@Vince_RFC) shares his expert opinion on the 2017 Open Championship from Royal Birkdale.
The Open | 20th-23rd July 2017 | Sky Sports
I normally conclude my previews by mentioning the varying offers and places available from the bookmakers but with SkyBet paying-out on an unprecedented 10 each-way places at The Open this week, we’ll start here.
You won’t find them best priced on many but the 10 places is too good to turn down so all the odds I mention in this piece will be from from SkyBet.
The Claret Jug is up for grabs as The Open returns to Royal Birkdale and it could turn out to be a classic; the favourite being available to back at 16/1 indicates just how wide open it is.
The reason being, links golf is very different to anything else and not everyone gets on with the challenges it brings.
Royal Birkdale, located on the coast in Southport, has hosted the Open nine times previously, most recently in 1998 and 2008. Mark O’Meara won in a play-off in 1998 after being level-par through 72 holes. Padraig Harrington won in 2008 with on +3 – amazingly +10 was good enough for a top-five finish that year.
The weather played a massive part in those tournaments though with heavy rain and gale force winds. Without any wind, Birkdale is a simple and brilliant course. The fairways and greens are flat, there are no blind shots and everything is there to see.
If the wind picks up though, it’s a whole new ball game and, like any links courses, it becomes very tough to play. At the time of writing, the weather conditions look to be pretty steady throughout the four days play so there shouldn’t be any advantages due to the draw but you never know.
Stats and trends
In Majors I tend to ignore all the normal stats, course compatibility etc. The best players are invariably among the best in each category so it seems a waste of time to try and whittle things down that way.
However, if you’re that way inclined the ability to scramble well tends to be an advantage, along with the normal greens in regulation.
I’m not normally one for trends either but for The Open they’re too hard to ignore. A quick look down the list of previous winners screams experience.
The last six winners (Henrik Stenson, Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Darren Clarke) had an average age of 38.5 when winning, or 41.2 if Rory is ignored.
All six had also had very good finishes at an Open before winning, with five having finished tied-third or better previously. Just Johnson lets that’s stat down, who’d only had a tied-sixth before lifting the Claret Jug.
It’s also worth noting that 10 of the last 12 winners had racked up 11 appearances in an Open, so that’s another angle to take into consideration. In 2010 Louis Oosthuizen won whilst in his 20’s and having never played the weekend but that seems to be an anomaly.
The Scottish Open is always played the week before The Open and since 2011 it’s been played on a links course and the results have been telling. Five of the six winners since have played in the Scottish the week before.
This year the Irish Open has also been moved back in the calendar and played the previous week to give two weeks of links tournaments heading into the Open.
I may come to regret this but I’m instantly ruling out anyone who hasn’t played in either of those tournaments. That rules out Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Sergio Garcia but seven of the top 10 in a wide open market all played at least one of the Irish and Scottish.
Ricky Fowler (14/1 SkyBet) is next up after a top 10 at the Scottish and has a second and fifth at Opens before but I’ve never been much of a fan and I’m not keen on his price.
Jon Rahm (16/1 SkyBet) won the Irish Open two weeks ago at a canter but this is a completely different proposition. He’s got the game but not the experience; he’ll win this in the not too distant future. McIlroy (18/1 SkyBet) played both tournaments and missed the cut in both so he’s crossed of the shortlist fairly quickly.
Justin Rose (18/1 SkyBet) fits the bill nicely. The Masters runner-up has two top 10’s at The Open and was fofurth at the Irish Open but his price puts me off. Hideki Matsuyama (20/1 SkyBet) goes under the radar a lot and again I think he’ll get his hands on multiple majors, just not this one.
Last year’s winner Stenson (25/1 SkyBet) has all the trends in his favour but one of my golf betting rules is never back anyone to go back-to-back so he’s crossed out too.
The last of the top 10 in the market is Tommy Fleetwood (22/1 SkyBet). His form this year, coupled with the fact he’s from literally around the corner from Birkdale, explains the price but it’s far too low to back now. Fortunately I know more than a few backed him at triple figures when I mentioned it back in March.
Adam Scott (28/1 SkyBet)
My first pick though is the 11th favourite according the bookies and that’s Adam Scott at 28/1 (SkyBet). I backed him for the US Open last month on the basis that he’s always there or thereabouts and he repaid me by missing the cut.
The Aussie ticks all the boxes. This will be his 18th Open and he has five top-10s to his name, four of which have come in the last five years.
He played the Scottish last week finishing 35th after three solid rounds and one poor one, plus has played Birkdale before finishing 16th in 2008. It’s a good price on a top-level player with a solid record on links courses.
Matt Kuchar (50/1 SkyBet)
I can’t help but be drawn towards Matt Kucher. He’s not won as many tournaments in his career as you might expect and his record in Majors not called The Masters isn’t great but he’s been playing well this year.
Since the Players in May his record reads 9-12-4-16 after which he took a month off before finishing fourth at the Scottish last week. He’s only had two top-20’s in 12 attempts at an Open and two missed cuts at Birkdale but I’m hoping that form from last week may carry over.
Kuch is running out of opportunities to win a Major and this may be one of his best chances.
Soren Kjeldsen (125/1 SkyBet)
Next up another guy I’ve backed for a Major this year in Soren Kjeldsen. The Dane finished a respectable 37th in the end at The Masters.
This will be his ninth Open with a best result achieved last year with a ninth-placed finish. He’s got decent links form having won the Irish Open in 2015 and in the last two weeks has accumulated 62nd at the Irish and ninth at the Scottish Opens.
Matthew Southgate (250/1 SkyBet)
Lastly a youngster who looks to be a big price in Matthew Southgate. As always these will go one of two ways but it’s worth a small chance.
The young Englishman knotched up an impressive 12th at last year’s Open which followed a fourth at the Irish earlier in the year.
This time round he went slightly better and finished second, whilst ranking first in GIR and Driving Accuracy plus 24th in Scrambling.
Last week wasn’t so good with a missed cut but quite often a poor week follows a good one with younger players. At 250/1 and 10 places, he’s too big to ignore in my opinion.