The Open Championship
It was never going to be our week at the John Deere from the moment that Bryson Dechambeau tweaked his shoulder playing from the rough on his second hole.
Basically as a far as our main team was concerned it started badly and went downhill from there!
The one silver lining was the performance of our trader JJ Henry who played well for the first couple of days and got matched at the target price.
So with the John Deere firmly in our rear view mirror we come to the biggest week of the year with the playing of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Known as ‘The Beast’ [or ‘Carnasty’ as it is often referred to in America]. Carnoustie is seen as the toughest of the courses on the Open rota.
Historically when the Claret Jug has been awarded on Sunday afternoon this toughest of examinations has rewarded one of the games giants of the time. This can be seen from the fact that the roll of honour at Carnoustie includes Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Padraig Harrington.
The notable exception to this [with all due respect to him] was when Paul Lawrie lifted the trophy in 1999.
Lawrie’s victory of course is as much known for Jean Van De Velde’s famous meltdown as it is for the Scotsman’s success.
For younger readers who may not have seen it, or remember it, I shall briefly recap the 18th hole from the Championship Sunday of that year, which will no doubt be etched in the Frenchman’s mind for ever.
Van De Velde stood on the 18th tee with a three shot lead meaning he could afford to take a double bogey six and he would still lift the Claret Jug.
For his tee shot instead of playing safe Jean took the driver and barely clearing the Barry Burn landed on the 17th.
Next up, again instead of laying up the Frenchman chose inexplicably to go for the green with his second.
The ball hit one of the railings on the grandstand, bounded toward a stone wall that guarded the Barry Burn and then bounced high in the air, 50 yards backward, coming to rest in tall, thick rough.
Again at this point Jean could have pitched out, then hit his fourth on to the green and two putted for the win, however once again with his head clearly scrambled he chose to try and find the green with his third.
Unfortunately the thick rough proved more problematic than Van De Velde had anticipated and his third came up short of the green and landed in the creek/water in front of it.
What came next is probably the most lasting picture that people will have etched in their mind of this whole farrago as Van De Velde removed his shoes and socks and waded in to the creek with a view to playing the ball where it lay in the water.
Fortunately at this point he finally came to his senses and opted instead for a penalty drop back in the rough.
Now playing five Jean hit his next in to the bunker at the front of the green before hitting his sixth to within approximately 6ft of the whole.
Finally, and to his great credit, Jean managed to hole his seventh to limp in to a play off with Lawrie and the forgotten third man, Justin Leonard.
From there as they say, the rest was history, as Lawrie went on to claim the trophy.
In doing so he set a record, which still stands today [and I suspect will for many, many years to come] as the person to overcome the greatest Sunday deficit to win a major, 10 shots.
Anyway that’s enough of a trip down Memory Lane for this year, what of this week.
Well, as to be expected of course we have a world class field on display with no big name injury absentee’s. [at the time of writing!]
Dustin Johnson is heading up the market.
Next in the betting come Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler & Rory, whilst defending champion Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood are to be found at around the 20-1 mark.
Carnoustie Golf Links is situated on the Angus coast on the East of Scotland between Dundee and Arbroath.
It is approximately 25 miles further north up the coast from St Andrews, the home of golf.
The course was originally designed by Tom Morris, Alan Robertson & James Braid in 1926 before first playing host to the Open in 1931.
Carnoustie was modified significantly [although it kept its original routing from 1926] prior to the Open returning in 1999.
Carnoustie is a par 71 but only has two par 5s which can be found at the 6th and the 14th.
The course measures 7402yds.
The greens are a mix of predominantly Bent Grass with Fescue and Animal Meadow Grass.
As mentioned earlier Carnoustie is renowned for being the toughest as well as being one of the longest on the Open rota.
The course boasts seven par 4s measuring over 450 yards.
The closing stretch consisting of the 248 yard par 3 16th, the 461 yard par 4 17th and the 500 yard plus par 4 18th is particularly tough.
If there is a score to be made at Carnoustie it is most likely to be done on the first 6 holes.
The par 5s whilst seemingly not particularly long also present their challenges.
The par 5 6th for example has out of bounds very close to the left hand side of the hole which will gobble up any errant tee shots. In addition, as is the case throughout the course, the bunkers are also strategically positioned to catch any slightly loose tee shots.
Measuring 578 yards, if playing down wind it is naturally reachable in two, however if it is playing in to the wind it becomes a ‘three shotter’ to reach the green.
To sum up Carnoustie is a very tough challenge any time, however this week with the course pretty certain to be playing firm and fast I can see it playing particularly tough and accuracy and patience are arguably going to be the two key ingredients.
So lets take a look at the recent winners.
2017 Jordan Spieth
2016 Henrik Stenson
2015 Zach Johnson
2014 Rory McIlroy
2013 Phil Mickelson
2012 Ernie Els
2011 Darren Clarke
2010 Louis Oosthuizen
2009 Stewart Cink
2008 Padraig Harrington
So what does this tell us? Well go back ten years plus and the Open had a reputation for giving us shock winners every now and then with the obvious ones springing to mind being Todd Hamilton in 04, Ben Curtis in 03 and off course Paul Lawrie here in 1999.
This was put down to the various vagaries that come with the Open Championship such as the draw bias with the weather and the lucky bounces here and there.
In essence you could be forgiven for thinking that finding the winner of the Open had basically become a bit of a lottery.
In more recent years though this has not been the case and since Hamilton’s win in 2004 there has only been one winner who had not already been a member of a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team, Louis Oosthuizen.
Louis off course has since cemented himself as a big name player who has represented the International Team in Presidents Cup, however he has undoubtedly underachieved and whilst taking nothing away from his performance in St Andrews in 2010 he undoubtedly benefited considerably that week from the draw.
So if we believe that there is not going to be a huge draw bias this week [30mph winds on Thurs AM & Fri PM etc], which the forecast at the moment doesn’t appear to indicate, it would seem that for the winner we should be focusing on elite players.
The next thing to consider is the recent form coming in to the event of the winners over the past 10yrs. Here are the previous three starts of the past 10 winners with the most recent shown first.
I have also noted how many wins, if any, the player had in that calendar year prior to their Open victory.
2017 J Spieth 1 35 10 2 wins in the year.
2016 H Stenson 13 1 WD 1 win in the year.
2015 Z Johnson 3 6 72 0 wins in the year.
2014 R McIlroy 14 76 23 1 win in the year
2013 P Mickelson 1 MC 2 2 wins in the year
2012 E Els 52 9 58 0 wins in the year
2011 D Clarke 66 MC 46 1 win in the year
2010 L Oosthuizen 68 WD MC 1 win in the year.
2009 S Cink MC 27 8 0 wins in the year
2008 P Harrington 17 36 4 0 wins in the year
So as we can see from this six of the past ten winners had already won an event in the same calendar year whilst seven of them had notched a top 10 in their previous three starts.
Finally I want to take a look at how many of these winners had tee’d it up the week before at the Scottish Open or indeed anywhere.
The answer to this seven, Stenson, Rory, Phil, Ernie, Clarke and Oosty had all played in the Scottish the week before whilst Zach had hopped straight of the plane from a 3rd place finish at the John Deere.
The odd ones out are Spieth last year who was making his first start since winning the Travelers and Harrington back in 2008 who had finished 17th two weeks prior at the European Open and Stewart Cink.
All in all though the evidence seems to point towards the fact that a competitive run out the week before on the Scottish Links is of benefit.
So in summary it would seem that we should be looking for one of the games elite with Ryder or Presidents Cup experience who has been in good solid form this season and who played in the Scottish Open.
That’s not to say though that DJ isn’t capable of pitching up and winning!
As all of us based here in the UK already know it has been an incredibly hot, dry June and July here and this includes the East coast of Scotland.
As a result barring any kind of unforeseen torrential downpours over the next few days we are in for a very firm, fast Open.
To back this up some of you may have already heard the reports and seen the tweets from the likes of Harrington and Snedeker over the weekend talking about hitting 430 yard drives on the 18th hole!
With the forecast at the time of writing only calling for the possibility of some light showers on Monday and nothing more in the way of rainfall through the week those conditions don’t look like changing.
Temperature wise it looks like all four tournament days will be in mid 60s with a mixture of cloud and sun.
The key weather element at an Open is of course always the wind however this is not forecast to go much above 10-15mph through the week.
From what I can see at present there does not appear to be any great draw bias with both Thursday and Friday showing the lightest winds earlier in the morning before their strength gradually picks up through the day.
As I say every week though this can always change and this is even more so the case on the Scottish Coast!
So having taken everything in to consideration I have gone with six players this week as follows;
JUSTIN ROSE – 16-1 - 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 2nd
Rose arrives at Carnoustie this week with form figures reading 9 10 6 1 in his last four starts.
He has arguably been the most consistent player in world golf since October last year with three world wide wins to his name and no missed cuts.
Since bursting on to the scene at Birkdale back in 1998 to finish 4th as a 17yr old Justin’s record in the Open has been less than stellar with nothing better than a 6th place finish in 2015 at St Andrews to show.
Whilst this is a slight concern I have solid reasons for thinking this will change this week, which I shall explain.
Firstly with the course set to play firmer and faster than any open course in the past ten years I think more than ever accuracy of the tee will be critical this week.
This isn’t so much because Carnoustie is especially narrow of the tee, as it isn’t, it is because of course anything slightly inaccurate will bound through the fairway in to the fescue, or even more likely in to one of the strategically placed pot bunkers.
Secondly, whilst the course is set to play fast as one of the longest courses on the Open rota distance of the tee could be an advantage this week.
So with this in mind the fact that Justin sits 7th in total driving at present on the PGA Tour is certainly eye catching.
In fact if you go through Rose’s stats for the season on the PGA Tour, not unsurprisingly considering how he has been playing, all of the key ones are incredibly strong.
He sits 26th in GIR, 16th in scrambling and 7th in SGP.
The scrambling stat is of particular interest as this is an area that most recent Open winners have performed strongly in.
The area that has always been the biggest concern for Rose over the years has been the putter, however as noted above he currently sits 7th in SGP on the PGA Tour this season so the flat stick is obviously working well as a whole this year.
This week unless the winds were to really pick up, which would lead to the greens having to be watered and slowed down, we should see firm greens and this is something I particularly like about Justin.
This is because Justin has always tended to produce his best putting performances on faster greens such as at Muirfield Village the home of the Memorial and of course at Merion.
Finally I think another key requirement this week will be patience and a cool temperament and these are certainly qualities Justin possesses in spades.
If we look at Justin’s performances over the years in Majors he has always been a factor in ones where par has been a good score and one would think that would the case this week.
Inevitably even the players who are on top of their game are going to have the occasional tee shot that just runs in to a pot bunker and the patience to take their medicine, accept the bogeys and keep the double bogeys of the card this week will be a key requirement.
As I noted earlier the most successful route to victory at the Open over recent years has been to play the Scottish Open the week before.
Back in 2014 Rose won the Scottish Open and perhaps peaked a week too early. This year however he has had the perfect build up finishing 9th at Gullane.
This year more than ever, allowing for the totally unique conditions the players will face this week I think that having played in similar firm conditions the week before will be key.
To sum up then Justin arrives at Carnoustie this week in the form of his life with all key components of his game in working order, his temperament and patience should be perfect for the course and he has had the perfect warm up.
I am therefore hugely confident Justin can add the Claret Jug to his US Open trophy this week.
RICKIE FOWLER – 18-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 28th
Whilst I am expecting a bold showing from the market leader Dustin Johnson the other player I have settled on from the front of the market this week is Rickie Fowler.
I understand there will be a few raised eyebrows at this as the perfectly fair counter argument to backing Rickie at this sort of price is that he of course doesn’t yet have a major to his name and that he doesn’t win enough full stop
As I say this is a perfectly fair argument and I can understand why anyone may be put of from backing Rickie on this basis.
From my point of view however whilst this argument would and has recently put me of backing Rickie in a regular tour event when he is priced up similarly, it does not concern me so much this week.
This may seem a bizarre comment to make however there is logic to my thought process.
Whereas in a week in week out PGA tour event anyone could pop out of nowhere and take home the trophy. [exhibit A, Michael Kim last week!], in a major you can rule out a vast chunk of the field.
This fact becomes even more pertinent at the Open Championship as even many of the higher ranked players in the field haven’t yet shown an acumen for Links Golf.
This of course though is not a an accusation which can be logged at Rickie as he already has two top 5 finishes in the Open Championship to his name as well as a Scottish Open title.
Many people, myself included have had Rickie in their notebooks as a potential winner of the Open since he first started coming over to the UK. He has proven himself a great wind player, has all the imagination to play the shots required and is a great scrambler around the greens.
Fowler currently sits 6th on the PGA Tour in scrambling and his whole game has been trending nicely over recent weeks.
His last four starts on the PGA Tour read 12 20 8 14 and he has added a 6th place to that at the Scottish Open, so basically the perfect warm up.
Rickie showed at Augusta in the spring that he can produce the goods in a major under extreme pressure and I believe this week he has a great chance to finally land that elusive first major.
SERGIO GARCIA – 33-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED MC
Next up for us this week is Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
I remember when Darren Clarke won the open a few years back there was a lot of head shaking, mine included, that such an Open specialist who had already won that season had gone unbacked at 200s!
Now obviously Sergio is not 200-1 this week however I suspect that if he did lift the Claret Jug next Sunday their would be a similar reaction from those who had missed out at 33s.
The first thing I want to look at to back this up is Sergio’s Open record, which really is quite extraordinary.
Since the turn of the century in 17 Opens he has finished in the top 10 on ten occasions. Of those top 10 finishes 6 of them have been top 6 finishes meaning that based on the e/w terms we have taken this week we would have got a return on just over 1 in 3 occasions over that period.
The next thing I want to touch on is Sergio’s last visit to Carnoustie in 2007, as I definitely believe he will think there is unfinished business here.
To cast our minds back in 2007 Sergio entered round he final round of the Championship with a three shot lead over the field, a six shot lead over eventual winner Padraig Harrington, and one hand on the trophy.
What followed from Sergio was a closing round of 73, which included a bogey on the 18th when a par would have got the job done.
After Sergio had missed the 8ft putt for victory on 18 he and Padraig headed out on a four hole playoff.
On the first hole of the playoff Harrington built a two shot cushion courtesy of his birdie to Sergio’s bogey. He then nursed this lead to the final hole of the play off and with Sergio only able to make a par Padraig could afford to take a 5 for victory.
If the loss hadn’t been hard enough to bear for Sergio’s fans what then followed in his press conference was even tougher to take as in a petulant soliloquy of self-pity he blamed the loss on bad luck and a slow greens crew, basically on anything other than his own play.
Fast forward eleven years and of course we have a very different Sergio on our hands, one that finally has his major championship and one that I suspect, [albeit quite possibly privately too himself] has had Carnoustie and the Claret Jug as the focus of his season all year long.
So why is Sergio, the biggest links specialist in the field with a major to his name now, going of at 33s, the same price as Molinari to name but one and 13 points bigger than Rahm as I type.
Well the simple answer is his form this year, which results in him remarkably coming in to the Open this year as a somewhat forgotten man.
It is true of course that Sergio has not played well this year however that corner appears to have been turned in his last two starts where he has finished 12th at the BMW and followed this up with an 8th place in Paris.
As things stand Sergio currently sits outside of the European Ryder Cup team places in the qualification process so he requires some big weeks.
Sergio will therefore be undoubtedly fired up this week for all sorts of reasons and I am more than happy to include him in our team at the price on offer.
PATRICK REED – 40-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 28th
From the 2017 Masters Champion I shall now move on to the 2018 one and again I am struggling to fathom the price on offer this week for Patrick Reed.
I can only assume that the layers think that the idea of Patrick landing two major trophy’s in one season is fanciful, however there is of course plenty of history of this happening over the years.
Since Reed’s Masters victory he hasn’t [unlike many players when winning their first Major] taken his foot off the gas and he went on to finish 4th at Shinnecock Hills in the US Open.
That means Reed’s last three major starts read 4 1 2. Clearly therefore he has worked out how to play them!
The only blip on his recent form book was a MC at the Travelers the week after the US Open, however I am happy to forgive this after the tough test the players were put through at Shinnecock.
After a couple of weeks off Patrick tee’d it up in the Scottish Open and had a very satisfactory outing to finish 23rd.
He should therefore be fully acclimatized and in tune with the fast conditions the players will get this week.
Reed’s Open record is not a particularly stellar one however he does have two top 20s to his name in four starts.
In a Ryder Cup year I am sure the thought of a Major win on European soil will be hugely appealing to Patrick and I can see him going very close to achieving that this week.
BRANDEN GRACE – 40-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5th odds 1st 8. FINISHED MC
Next up this week is South African Branden Grace.
I said when putting Branden forward for the US Open that I could see him lifting his first Major trophy at either Shinnecock Hills or Carnoustie and whilst Shinnecock passed him by I still firmly believe that this week is a great opportunity for him.
Branden’s links pedigree is of course not in doubt and he showed this again last year when memorably shooting 62 to finish 6th at Birkdale.
In addition Grace is also a former winner of the Dunhill Links Championship which includes Carnoustie in its course rota.
I should say at this point in relation to Dunhill Links form I am not putting too much stall in it this week, as the conditions that the players will face come Thursday morning will be like night and day compared to what they experience in the October pro-am. Having said this of course it can’t do any harm to have played well previously around the track.
The 2017/18 season so far has been a case of quietly ticking along for Branden, with no missed cuts on either the PGA or European Tour and with three top 5 finishes.
To be honest this isn’t hugely surprising as I am sure Branden’s focus in the early part of the year was on the impending birth of his first child, a little boy, Roger, who arrived not long after the Masters.
The one slight concern is that Branden has not tee’d it up anywhere since the US Open, however I am fairly sure that he will not need as much acclimatizing to the conditions the players will face as others will.
My reason for thinking this in particular is that the firm, fast conditions should be very similar to what he is used to from Fancourt back home in South Africa and therefore should right up his street.
My hope is that Branden will arrive at Carnoustie, a course he knows well in a condition he will love, raring to go and if I am correct in this thinking I can see him coming close to landing his first Major this week.
RUSSELL HENLEY – 150-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED MC
For my final pick this week I am going to roll the dice with American Russell Henley.
If you had asked me to give you a list a couple of years ago of ‘lesser name’ American players who could win an Open Championship one day Henley would have been pretty near the top, if not at the top of the list.
The logic for this is that he has shown with his victories on the PGA Tour at the Sony Open and Honda Classic that he can produce the goods in windy, links type conditions.
The win at the Honda is of particular interest as this tournament down the years has proved a remarkably good pointer to the Open, even down to Todd Hamilton’s win!
This season like our previous selection Branden Grace, Henley is playing with the ‘Nappy Factor’ effect as he welcomed his son Robert in to the world just before the Masters.
Since then Russell has steadily built momentum on the PGA Tour. He finished 25th at the US Open when in the hunt halfway and has subsequently added two further top 10s.
Henley has always been known as a strong putter however what I particularly like about him this week is his long game. He currently sits 9th on the PGA tour in DA and 22nd in GIR.
If Russell can bring that long game to Carnoustie this week and get his putter working I can see a big week for him ahead.
UPDATED 17th JULY
TRADER - CHRIS WOOD FINISHED 28th - BEST PRICE TRADED 38
Wood burst on to the scene when he finished 5th as an Amateur in the 2008 Open Championship at Birkdale.
He then backed this up by finishing 3rd the following year at Turnberry in his first Open as a professional.
In his most recent start in the Open he finished 14th on his return to Birkdale last year.
Since then Wood has gone on to become a leading player on the European Tour with three victories to his name.
His maiden tour win came in Qatar, which is another rubber stamp for his proven quality in windy, links type conditions.
Wood has also tasted victory in the European Tour's flagship event the PGA Championship at Wentworth.
With regards to form at Carnoustie in his last 4 starts in the Dunhill Links Chris has finished 4, 7, 9, 15 so clearly he enjoys his golf on the East Coast of Scotland.
Allowing for Chris' links pedigree I was somewhat surprised to see him languishing in the high 200s on the exchange and I was therefore thinking that he must be horribly out of form.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see that in fact, although Chris just missed the cut at the Scottish Open last weekend, he had finished 14th the week before that in Ireland and 2nd the week before that in France, showing he is anything but out of form!
On this basis the weekend off at Gullane may well have been a blessing in disguise in that it gave Chris a couple of days to recharge the batteries.
Wood is clearly a lover of links golf with a proven track record in the event and comes in to the week in good solid form and on this basis I can see him giving us a really good run as our trader.
CURRENTLY TRADING AT 280