144th Open Championship Preview

Image courtesy pga.com Image courtesy pga.com

The 144th Open Championship
St Andrews Old Course
16-19 July 2015

Introduction

To my way of thinking this Championship is about three things: the course, Jordan Spieth & Tiger Woods.

The Old Course needs little introduction, having hosted this most venerable and famous of golf tournaments on no less than 28 previous occasions - more than any other track.

Jordan Spieth also needs little introduction though he visits for the first time but as the reigning Masters & US Open champion. And he doesn't even turn 22-y-o until 27 July!

He will thus be seeking to add the 3rd leg of a calendar year Grand Slam; something that has always seemed highly improbable, Tiger Woods excepted, in the modern era. The unfortunate withdrawal of Rory McIlroy has certainly made Spieth's Slam task at least a little easier.

Tiger Woods visits St Andrews for an Open for the 4th time, having slaughtered the field by 8 shots in 2000 and by 5 shots in 2005. He was 23rd in 2010 when Louis Oosthuizen annexed the title by 7 shots. His heyday has passed but can he contend once more after showing signs of life last start in the Greenbrier Classic?

The Course

Believe it or not, the Old Course started life in the 1400's and took on its current shape as long ago as 1863. No surprise it's often referred to as 'the home of golf' and it was the first course to have 18 holes

At a par of 72, including only two par 5's and two par 3's, and measuring just 7,300yds, it's short and most fairways are wide. Also,most holes are unchallenging but, conversely, several are world class (eg the Road Hole 17th) while the finishing hole has its own unique risk/reward characteristics, including the famous 'valley of sin'.

However, the course has not been able to be expanded to accommodate technological advances in clubs and balls and in the modern era can easily be overpowered. Victor Dubuisson shot 62 in the 1st round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2012! Only windy weather combined with hard ground conditions can combine to make it challenging.

As I write, the course, according to Tiger Woods, is comparatively soft compared to previous Opens and expected to remain that way. This leaves only the wind to defend the old lady's honour.

The long-range forecast for the coming week is for mostly fine weather but with relatively strong winds on Friday & Saturday with Sunday more benign.

To master this course the three key requirements are: intelligent drive placement ideally allied with length, creative scrambling when greens are missed and putting. So, stats nuts should examine: Par4 performance (since there are 14 of them), scrambling and putting average.

Recent winners of The Open Championship at St Andrews have been:

1995 John Daly
2000 Tiger Woods
2005 Tiger Woods
2010 Louis Oosthuizen

Top of the Bookmaker Market (Monday 13 July)

7.00 Jordan Spieth
13.00 Dustin Johnson
18.00 Rickie Fowler
19.00 Justin Rose
23.00 Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott & Louis Oosthuizen
29.00 Tiger Woods & Jason Day
34.00 Paul Casey & Phil Mickelson
36.00 Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer & Hideki Matsuyama.

The Favourites Previewed

As I wrote in previewing the US Open, nothing Jordan Alexander Spieth does surprises me these days! He was the youngest US Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923!

Of peripheral interest is that he was also a member of the US Walker Cup team that was defeated by GB&I 14-12 at the Balgownie Links of the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. Spieth (then aged 18) was undefeated, winning both his singles and drawing his one foursomes, so can lay some claim to British links credentials.

As an aside, how a US team containing Patrick Rodgers, Spieth, Kelly Kraft, Blayne Barber, Patrick Cantlay & Peter Uihlein was beaten defies logic! Let's attribute it to inexperience in the conditions, which only makes Spieth's performance even more meritorious!

Jordan may well be on the brink of surpassing Rory McIlroy as world #1, however at 6/1 and with the added pressure of a potential Grand slam hanging over his head, I don't see value in his price.

Dustin Hunter Johnson has proven ability, even superiority, at links golf on both sides of the Atlantic. However, he seems to find a way of being right in contention then not winning Majors, doing so again as recently as the US Open at Chambers Bay and that makes his 12/1 price here unattractive. I rate him 14/1 (15.00).

Johnson frustrates me intensely in that he has all the physical attributes a golfer could ever wish for, and more, but repeatedly fails to maintain his concentration / judgement in the heat of battle on Sundays in Majors. Should he ever get it right from the neck up, he'll win Majors.

Rickie Yutaka Fowler rightly received a lot of kudos for finishing Top5 in all four Majors in 2014; it was a remarkable achievement. Unlike most of his american counterparts, he handles links golf well and, with a Players Championship victory under his belt this year and another in the just completed Scottish Open, I rate him a serious contender but carrying no price value at 18.00.

4th favourite, Justin Peter Rose, shone like a beacon of hope for British fans with his breakthrough 1998 Open Championship 4th placing, but nothing he has done in the intervening 17 years on links courses suggests he'll contend at St Andrews.

Though exhibiting quality around the world in recent years, he's played 12 Opens since 1998 with zero Top10's, so in my opinion he's no 18/1 shot!

Henrik Stenson, 17 times a winner globally, has been one of the best 20 or so players in the world since he joined the PGA Tour in 2007. He's been in the mix many times in Majors, with seven Top3 placings including three in Open Championships, but to date there have been no wins and there's little to suggest that at age 39 he'll suddenly change his spots and snag a Major.

At 22/1 Henrik's unattractive as a betting proposition; I rate him 28/1 (29.00).

Adam Paul Scott does have some price appeal at 23.00 and if he hadn't had a few well-publicised putting woes this year I reckon he would have been the 12/1 2nd favourite here. I rate him 15/1 (16.00)

A positive is that he had Steve Williams back on the bag for the first time this year in the US Open and finished 4th after an earlier run of poor form. Williams will again be his bag rat at St Andrews and toted for Tiger Woods in both his wins there.

As a proven links performer and one of the best ball-strikers who ever played golf, the only question mark is putting. If he can putt well, he can win.

Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen is also very attractively priced at 23.00. As the reigning (2010) St Andrews Open champion and in hot Major form this year (19th at The Masters; 2nd US Open) he simply cannot be overlooked.

His recent form has been rubbishy but it also was before the US Open and a return to the scene of his greatest triumph should be a positive. I rate him 18/1 (19.00) here and the best win bet value, narrowly ahead of Scotty, among the faves..

Of the remainder, a win by either serial Major contender, Philip Alfred Mickelson or Eldrick Tont Woods would, frankly, be a surprise to me. Their prices are too short simply because a lot of punters globally will back the famous names - so bookmakers will always be able to lay bets on these two at 'unders'. Realistically, both should be around 40/1 (41.00).

The magnificently talented Jason Day continues to contend in Majors without winning. He's played 19 Majors and recorded eight Top 10's, including three 2nd's. Talent indeed!

However, he unfortunately continues to reaffirm the air of fragility that has always surrounded him and that is a negative for punters. There were serious back problems in 2012, a long-term left thumb injury and wrist problems in 2013 the vertigo attacks at Bridgestone (2014) & Chambers Bay in 2015. I just can't recommend a player who I know could WD.

Bet Selections

To win, I really like the prices of proven Major winners: Louis Oosthuizen (23/1) & Martin Kaymer (33/1). Both look to be 'overs' to me, ie the bookmaker prices are too generous.

My Oosthuizen logic is outlined above while Kaymer returned to form with a last start 4th in France and has an excellent St Andrews record. In addition, if he gets into contention you just know he can hang tough on a Sunday afternoon.

ps: I had planned to tip Rickie Fowler at 22/1 instead of Kaymer but Fowler's win in Scotland at the weekend has seen his price plummet to the point where it represents no value.

My each way value lies with: top links player Tommy Fleetwood (70/1 - 80/1) & the reformed (or recovered or re-focused) Victor Dubuisson (80/1 - 90/1).

My longshot to snag a Top10 place is proven links player & 2013 Alfred Dunhill links champion David Howell (150/1).

Cheers and good luck with your golf punting!
@smartgolfbets

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