Betting Overview and market
It's Open Championship week and destination Royal Troon, which was last used on the rotation in 2004. Todd Hamilton, little known to most Europeans at the time - was the last man standing that year and I always refer to the Open Championship as the Grand National of golf betting. Due largely to adverse weather conditions, short priced winners are far from the norm and the big boys can be taken on this week.
Darren Clarke and Louis Oosthuizen - 51.00 - are two of the last 6 Open Champions who were matched circa 400.0 on the exchanges antepost. Zach Johnson went off at three figures in places ahead of last year's renewal at ST. Andrews. In 2014 Rory McIlroy - 11.00 - was triumphant at Hoylake but conditions were benign and set up for the Irishman to overpower the course with a winning total of -17. By all accounts early weather reports for the 2016 edition are suggesting a real mixed bag, with strong winds and rain in the lead up to the event.
It was one of the favourites - Ernie Els - who Todd Hamilton conquered in a playoff in 2004 and the American looked down on the likes of Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood tucked in behind him on the leaderboard. Only the duo finished on double digits under par. 66 was the lowest round total shot that year by Thomas Levet, Skip Kendall, Phil Mickelson 41.00 - and Paul Casey. Levet and Casey led after round one with a score of -5 (66). Westwood - 51.00 - hit progressive rounds of 72-71-68-67 to finish on a total of -6 under par, good for solo 4th, and Lee looks decent value here with some good recent form behind him, including a T2 at The Masters, and only three players were ahead of Lee after 54 holes of the US Open at Oakmont.
Dustin Johnson - 10.00 - comes to the Open Championship following a week of links preparation in the Emerald Isle and he could prove the man to beat. He enjoyed the Dublin city centre nightlife on Saturday and flies in refreshed after a momentous couple of weeks where he took down his first major at Oakmont and followed it up with a WGC win at Bridgestone. He's just 1 point off market leader Jason Day - 9.00 - in the betting and there's little separating them from the aforementioned Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth - 12.00 - who occupy the top 4 spots in the world rankings. Wind specialist Sergio Garcia - 29.00 or 6.50 - may be the man to infiltrate the big four after a win and two top 5s in his last three, including at Oakmont. He was also 3rd in Valderrama and has come so close at the Open championship in the past.
The course - Royal Troon - Par 71 - 7,064 yards
Royal Troon is known "one of golf’s most challenging venues". Deep fescues mixed with gorse bush line a number of tight fairways and provide the challenge of a track sculpted throughout large dunes. Many of the greens are smaller than average and GIR% wasn't a standout stat on the 2004 leaderboard here. Deep pot bunkers protect the surfaces and avoiding them will be paramount. As usual on the links it will be the wind and weather conditions that dictate scoring.
Troon plays on a loop with the front nine generally going with the wind, and then coming home can be fierce if the breeze is up. The first 5 holes offer tremendous scoring conditions if the wind is with. Holding your score down the stretch will usually be the brief. The holes around the turn played the hardest in 2004. The iconic "postage stamp" par 3 8th hole plays just 125 yards and will offer up some drama. Ernie Els holed out from the tee in the first round at Troon in 2004. The concoction for success this week will be controlling the ball in strong winds, keeping the ball in play, and a good touch and imagination on and around the greens.
He said: Justin Rose - 36.00: I've played it in a couple of different winds now which is really valuable. I've played it into the wind coming back in yesterday [Friday] and then downwind today, so it's amazing the difference. "Yesterday I was hitting some three irons into some of the par fours and today I hit wedges, so I am learning the course in all weather conditions which is what The Open is all about."
Open Championship Best Bets
Branden Grace - 31.00 or 7.00 - has been a lot of people’s antepost favourite in the months leading up to the Open Championship and he's been backed in from 50s. At the current quote he's still worth getting onside in my opinion. Grace was brought up on the links at Fancourt and he talked about this again at the Scottish Open where he was challenging at half way, and how he felt it gave him an advantage. Grace mentioned his low ball flight claiming that he had a "lower ball flight than 90% of the guys on Tour" and this is the key reason I like him at Royal Troon. This was Grace's weapon when winning a couple of months ago at the Harbour Town Links and his wins include the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and two trophies in Doha at the Qatar Masters which is a very windy, links-style test. Branden is in fine form with a top 5 finish at the US Open and a top 10 finish at Bridgestone over the last few weeks.
You'll notice a theme of wind specialists this week and that's the profile I'm looking for. Henrik Stenson - 34.00 or 7.50 - has three top 3 finishes at the Open Championship under his belt and narrowly missed out to Phil Mickelson in tough conditions at Muirfield in 2013. The Swede is renowned as a ball striking machine: he's 7th in strokes gained: tee to green and 3rd in greens in regulation % on the PGA Tour in 2016, and this is what makes him such a strong wind player and links exponent. The slow greens at Troon will help negate any putting woes Henrik has been struggling with of late. Stenson has had four top 4 finishes in his last 9 including a win at the BMW International Open a few weeks back. He warmed up at Castle Stuart with a T13
Martin Kaymer - 51.00 or 11.00 - is arguably the best value of the week for me. The German is another player with strong wind / links pedigree. He's won the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the Open De France, the KLM Open, the Players Championship, and one of his 2 major championship wins also came at Whistling Straits. Again, controlling his ball flight in the wind is one of the German's real strengths and he claimed recently while in contention at Valderrama that he loves these sort of conditions and the tougher the better for him. Kaymer comes here simmering off the back of top 5s in Ireland and France and a T7 at Wentworth. He was T13 at Castle Stuart last week.
Open Championship Sleeper watch
According to Graeme McDowell - 91.00 or 19.00 - there will be plenty of holes where iron shots can be a 4 or 5 club difference from day to day. He posted a clip of himself punching a 6 iron to a 125 yard shot on the famous postage stamp 8th down into the wind while up there practising on the Saturday and Sunday of French Open week in very windy conditions. Gmac is a course management expert who has all the shots for links golf. He won his US Open at Pebble Beach golf links and demonstrated his pedigree once again with a top 10 at Castle Stuart last week. His most recent win came in strong winds at Mayakoba and his CV also includes wins at the Harbour Town Links, and back-to-back wins at the links style Le Golf National. Gmac ranks 8th in driving accuracy but more importantly he can control his ball flight and shape it both ways in the wind.