It's Open Championship week - the third major of the season, and the Grand National of golf betting. A standout factor for me ahead of the 2014 edition of the Open Championship is the location of this year's preceding Scottish Open. At Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, it will be a case of more of the same, unlike Castle Stuart or Loch Lomond in the past. Players who fine tuned their games on the Balgownie Links on the Aberdeen coast will have a significant advantage on the rest of the field in my opinion.
Many players have been up practicing at Royal Liverpool in recent weeks and some chose to miss the Scottish Open to work out the nuances at Hoylake. US Players just flying in now will have a lot of catching up to do. Tiger Woods, at 21.00, is once again dividing opinion as he looks for Open Championship title no. 4, and of course Woods was the last person to lift the trophy on this particular track. The American has had one outing since his comeback from surgery - a MC at Congressional, where he said his game was in decent shape, he just couldn't score. Tiger gave a masterclass and a few clues as to how to tackle Hoylake back in 2006 when the 2 iron from the tee was the weapon of choice.
Other Market Notables
Justin Rose will be many people's favourite and indeed he leads the betting at 15.00 alongside Rory McIlroy. The major winner comes into the Open Championship off the back of two in a row, the second win being a classic links and front running performance in Scotland last week.
Phil Mickelson (26.00) was interviewed after Sunday's play in Scotland where he mentioned he felt huge benefit from having played 72 holes at Balgownie. Phil said he will go off to work on a couple of intricacies but now feels ready for a big title defence.
US Open winner and man of the moment Martin Kaymer must not be forgotten at 21.00 while links specialist Graeme McDowell (31.00) has hit full throttle and fancies his chances off the back of victory in France.
The course - Royal Liverpool, Hoylake
"It's a course where you have to hit the fairways, and greens are equipped with some flat areas where you can hole putts" was what the aforementioned G-Mac had to say about Royal Liverpool. Again stressing the importance of accuracy, and it will indeed be vital to hit fairways and greens this week. Hoylake plays circa 7,300 yards to a par of 72 with punishing rough and gorse, strategically placed bunkering, run-offs and no less than 7 doglegs there to add to the test. The track is "blown upon by mighty winds" and this is it's number one defence; favourites will fall by the wayside. Dunes line the track and those accustomed to true links conditions and more than competent in the shot shaping and ball flight control departments should be the targets.
Three from the pack
At 56.00 or 12.00 the place, Thomas Bjorn may give off the air of a Bulldog chewing a Wasp and while possibly depressing to look at, it's that inner ego and trait of beating himself up over little things that makes him more focused in bigger events and happier to take on the best quality of fields. Bjorn never really got amongst it in Scotland but he warmed up nicely with a top 25, shooting 68-69 on the weekend. The Dane demonstrated his big event pedigree at Wentworth when 5 clear at one point late on the Saturday and is always on the radar on links layouts. Thomas has been 2nd twice at the Open including at Royal St.Georges in 2003 when he led by two with just 3 holes to play, and threw it away. He sits 1st in the Race To Dubai rankings.
I mentioned the "Grand National of golf betting" and I was referring to the wind factor getting the better of some of the bigger names and knocking them out of contention. A perfect example of this is fine links exponent Jamie Donaldson who took down the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012, and Jamie succumbed to conditions in Scotland, posting 74-74 to miss the cut. Jamie actually chipped in on his closing hole and with two top fives recorded in his previous two events, I'd completely overlook the weekend off. I followed Donaldson around in the wind at Carton House in 2013 and there are not too many better ball strikers on the European Tour. The Welshman trades at 81.00 or 17.00 the place.
Next up is Stephen Gallacher at 81.00 or 17.00 the place. Stephen is challenging strongly for a Ryder cup slot, and rounding into top gear at the right time. When asked by Tim Barter on Sunday about being +4 early on and going on to post a -10 total and T4 finish, Stevie seemed extremely confident, declaring he is playing his best golf ever. He mentioned seven 3-putts and a 4-putt with two rounds of solid putting in between. The Scot has moved up to a new level after recent wins in strong fields in the desert and has always been renowned for his ball striking ability - ranking well over an average of 70% GIR in recent years. He could be the big ginger dark horse at Hoylake if the putter behaves.
A man that tied for fourth with Gallacher at Royal Aberdeen is Shane Lowry (126.0 or 23.00) and write him off at your peril. When you look up the term "links specialist" in the imaginary dictionary, a picture of Shane Lowry is what you see. The Irishman shot to prominence after taking down the Irish Open at Baltray as an amateur in 2009 and Lowry is one of the best you'll find when it comes to shot making around the greens. A near miss at Wentworth a few weeks back preceded by a good showing at PGA Catalunya was the turning point this year for Shane and he's well worth a play at current prices.
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