Dave Tindall

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Open Championship Preview

Monday, July 17, 2017


Royal Birkdale stages its 10th Open Championship this week and the first since Padraig Harrington took the trophy there in 2008.

 

Harrington was the defending champion that week and continued a theme. In a remarkable nod to past links form, he became the seventh Royal Birkdale winner out of nine to have arrived on the Lancashire coast having finished in the top six of the previous year’s Open.

 

In the majors this year, it’s Europe 1, USA 1 after the wins for Sergio Garcia at the Masters and Brooks Koepka in the U.S. Open. You could also score it one win for the 30-somethings and one for the 20-somethings.

 

History suggests the more seasoned pros will have the edge this week as experience is a valuable commodity in the Open Championship. Overall, eight of the last 10 winners have been aged 35 or over and four of the last six had already celebrated their 40th birthday.

 

Some lists….

 

Top five finishers in last 6 Opens

 

2016 (Royal Troon): 1 Henrik Stenson, 2 Phil Mickelson, T3 J.B. Holmes, 4 Steve Stricker, T5 Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton

2015 (St. Andrews): 1 Zach Johnson, T2 Louis OosthuizenMarc Leishman, T5 Jason DayJordan Spieth

2014 (Hoylake): 1 Rory McIlroy, T2 Sergio GarciaRickie Fowler, 4 Jim Furyk, T5 Adam ScottMarc Leishman

2013 (Muirfield): 1 Phil Mickelson, 2 Henrik Stenson, T3 Lee WestwoodIan PoulterAdam Scott

2012 (Royal Lytham): 1 Ernie Els, 2 Adam Scott, T3 Tiger WoodsBrandt Snedeker, T5 Graeme McDowellLuke Donald

2011 (Royal St. George’s): 1 Darren Clarke, T2 Phil MickelsonDustin Johnson, 4 Thomas Bjorn, 5 Chad CampbellAnthony KimRickie Fowler

 

That’s 36 players if you’re counting. By region? USA 15, Australia 6, Continental Europe 5, England 4, Ireland 4, South Africa 2.

 

 

Winning Scores and Stats in most recent Open at Royal Birkdale

 

2008 Open Championship

 

1 Padraig Harrington (DD: 45, DA: 37, GIR: 30, Scr: 13, PA: 4, AA: 7)

2 Ian Poulter (DD: 50, DA: 13, GIR: 7, Scr: 26, PA: 37, AA: 8)

3 Greg Norman (DD: 37, DA 76, GIR: 38, Scr: 3, PA: 21, AA: 22)

4 Henrik Stenson (DD: 18, DA: 4, GIR: 38, Scr: 4, PA: 31, AA: 1)

5= Jim Furyk (DD: 31, DA: 26, GIR: 5, Scr: 24, PA: 61, AA: 11)

5= Chris Wood (DD: 15, DA: 32, GIR: 38, Scr: 10, PA: 31, AA: 6)

 

Notes: Scrambling and All-Around do best. The modest GIR figures are surprising.

 

 

The Course - Royal Birkdale

 

The Fred Hawtree-JH Taylor layout – a 7,156-yard par 70 where the first par 5 doesn’t come until the 15th hole - is hugely popular with players. “It’s one of the fairest courses we play, it’s right there in front of you,” is an oft-repeated phrase. A big reason for those comments is that the holes run between the dunes rather than over them. That means an absence of blind shots and flat fairways which cut out much of the quirky bounces. Perhaps it’s a big the reason why Royal Birkdale has produced so many classy winners. By country it reads five Americans - Arnold Palmer (1961), Lee Trevino (1971), Johnny Miller (1976), Tom Watson (1983) and Mark O'Meara (1998), three Australians - Peter Thomson (1954 & 1965) and Ian Baker-Finch (1991) and one Irishman - Padraig Harrington (2008). Every winner since the world rankings became a thing was a top 25 player; every winner before they existed would probably have been in the top 10.

 

 

The weather

 

Experience suggests that it’s folly to get too carried away by weather forecasts and draw bias. I’m writing this on Monday morning and much could change. For up-to-date, check here: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/forecast/gctc540pv

 

After hot weather in Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice days, the Met office says:

Thursday: Cloud/sun, winds of 16-17mph all day. 10% chance of rain, 56-60 degrees

Friday: Likely to rain (80% chance at 10am, 40% pm), winds 17-19mph, 56-60 degrees

Saturday: 40% chance of rain from 10am to 7pm, winds 15-17mph, temps in early 60s

Sunday: 20% chance of rain, winds 14-16mph, temps in early 60s.

 

It’s not great weather but it seems fairly uniform as opposed to having dramatic swings from morning to afternoon or day to day. I’ll believe it when I see it though.

 

Let’s go then. This preview looks at the European challenge and adds in others available for the official European Tour fantasy game. Matt Cooper’s preview will look at some of the outsiders/sleeper options.

 

 

The Leading Contenders

 

Jon Rahm

A brilliant six-shot winner of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on the links at Portstewart GC two weeks ago but he isn’t going to be shooting 24-under at Royal Birkdale (Harrington carded +3 to triumph in 2008 and seven of the other eight Opens held there were won in single digits under par). That said, Rahm is doing some amazing things this season and his breakthrough PGA Tour victory also came on the coast at Torrey Pines. It’s worth noting that he turned pro just before last year’s Open at Royal Troon where he made the cut and finished T59.

 

Rory McIlroy

Rory would love some of Rahm’s swagger at the moment. The four-time major champ will enter this Open on the back of three missed cuts in his last four starts, the latest two coming on links courses in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Despite the usual soundbites that he’s “close”, gamers are losing faith and many won’t be convinced that a windy par 70 is the ideal hunting ground for a Rory revival. That said, he did battle the elements well to finish T5 at Royal Troon last year while he won the 2014 Claret Jug at Hoylake (just 28 miles along the coast from Royal Birkdale).

 

Sergio Garcia

For Mark O’Meara in 1998 (won first major at Masters before coming to Royal Birkdale three months later and adding another), read Sergio in 2017, perhaps. That’s certainly a very realistic outcome for the Spaniard given that he has a wonderful Open record with 10 top 10s. It includes T5-T6-T2 in his last three while he was also runner-up in 2007. He didn’t get it going at Royal Birkdale in 2008 when T51 (perhaps a reaction to the previous year’s heartbreak at Carnoustie?) although he was T15 going into the final day. Since his Augusta glory, Garcia has finished 30-20-12-21-2 so he deserves to be a hugely popular pick this week.

 

Justin Rose

The then amateur Rose first introduced himself to a worldwide golf audience at Royal Birkdale in 1998 when completing a memorable week by famously holing out at 18 to finish T4. Curiously, he’s never bettered that finish in 14 subsequent Open starts although he was T6 at St. Andrews two years ago and has made the top 25 for the last three years. A hugely unfortunate runner-up to great friend Sergio at Augusta National this year, Rose would be a deserved winner and he enjoyed a nice links prep with T4 in the Irish Open two weeks ago.

 

Tommy Fleetwood

The local man and we really do mean local. Fleetwood and his dad would walk the dog at Royal Birkdale and he used to sneak on and play a few holes as a young kid. He, himself, is expecting a first baby in October (so will shut it down for a while after September) and life is certainly sweet all round after his sensational 2017. Wins in Abu Dhabi and France and a top four in the U.S. Open have rocketed him up to a career-high 14th in the world rankings and his form heading to his hometown Open reads 4-6-1-10. There will be distractions, of course, but if the laid-back Fleetwood can handle them he can run another huge race on ground so familiar.

 

Henrik Stenson

Like Garcia, Stenson also has a recent historical precedent in his favor. Nine years ago, Padraig Harrington came to Royal Birkdale with the Claret Jug and left with it still in his possession. It’s a huge ask to win back-to-back Opens but Harrington and Tiger both did it in the previous decade and Stenson was T3 at Royal Birkdale in 2008. He’s clearly a big fan of the course and links golf in general having made the top three in four of his last eight Opens. The World No. 7 honed his skills with T26 in the Scottish Open last week.

 

Paul Casey

Not available for the official European Tour fantasy game but Casey should certainly be considered for selection in other formats. Firstly, he has some Royal Birkdale pedigree having taken T7 there in 2008, an Open finish he’s only beaten once (T3 at St. Andrews in 2010). He’s not played well in this event since but some strong form this year, including 6th at Augusta National, 26th in the U.S. Open and T5 at the Travelers on his most recent start, suggests a challenge is brewing

 

Alex Noren

The defense of his Scottish Open crown didn’t go well (missed cut) but pulling the camera back a little to get a wider picture shows that he has a win (at Wentworth thanks to a closing 62), two top 10s (PLAYERS Championship and Open de France) and a T15 (Nordea Masters) in his last six starts. The Swede has played well, indeed won, in windy conditions and it’s notable that he was T19 on his Open debut at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and that included a double bogey at the 72nd hole. Also T9 in the 2012 Open at nearby Royal Lytham, Noren could give handsome reward this week.

 

Thomas Pieters

The Belgian made his Open debut 12 months ago at Royal Troon and impressed, opening with a 68 and posting T30. He’s made a significant jump since and T4 on his Masters debut shows just what is possible. He’s been mixing missed cuts and top 15s since and perhaps there are more suitable Open venues than this (St. Andrews an obvious first thought) but Pieters has the talent and belief to put on another big show.

 

Branden Grace

The battling South African has delivered four top five finishes in his last 10 majors so can be a real factor at this level. A little surprisingly, T20 at St. Andrews is his only top 40 finish in six Open starts although that modest record must improve soon. He’s a winner in windy conditions in Qatar (2015 and 2016) and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship (2012) and could be coming into form at the right time after T15 in the Scottish Open last week and T9 at Wentworth two starts earlier.

 

Louis Oosthuizen

He’d be one of the first names on the team if this Open were at St. Andrews (won there by seven in 2010 and lost a play-off in 2015) but gamers will need a little more convincing at other venues. He didn’t play at Royal Birkdale in 2008 while his best finish away from the Old Course is T19 at Royal Lytham in 2012. The South African has connected four top 25s since April, the obvious highlight his second place in the PLAYERS Championship. Last seen finishing T23 at the U.S. Open.

 

Bernd Wiesberger

The name ‘Wiesberger’ hasn’t been seen on the famous yellow Open scoreboards yet. In fact, his record is not just poor but surprisingly poor (64-MC-68-MC) so managers will need to take him on trust a little. Better news comes from looking at his form in this year’s majors (T45 Masters, T16 U.S. Open) and his week-to-week results which show a string of top 10s and 20s over the last 12 months. He played the Scottish Open although T51 wasn’t the prep the Austrian was hoping for.


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Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky Sports.com in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on tindall_david@hotmail.com and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.
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