Sportswarbler

Warbling. Opinion. Insight. Advice.

The Open Golf Championship, Royal Lytham & St. Annes GC – 19-22 July 2012

on July 16, 2012

The last time The (British) Open was hosted at Royal Lytham in 2001, there was a certain Darren Clarke on the leaderboard eventually finishing in a tie for third behind Niclas Fasth in second place and winner David Duval.  That was Clarke’s best finish at the Open prior to winning the event last year at Royal St. George’s. It says something of Darren’s relatively poor form since claiming his first Major win that he will probably start at around the same odds when he begins his defence this week on the East Lancashire links course. There are a few good omens for Darren though and he’s no forlorn chance to become the latest player since Padraig Harrington to win back-to-back Open tournaments.There’s another name on that 2001 leaderboard that I like the look of for this week and that’s Raphael Jacquelin who finished 13th in 2001 and has been playing very well coming into the tournament.

The Open always conjures up a certain romance each year and there would be no more romantic winner than Paul Broadhurst who, along with Barry Lane, has qualified this year by beating a 72 player field at nearby St Annes Old Links with a strong 7-under two-round total. It will be “Broady’s” 15th Open Championship appearance and he was top amateur at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1988. He’s as good a 1000/1 shot as you’ll find and, although it would test the imagination of Walt Disney to see him winning, he is very capable of putting some good rounds together and a back-to-lay in-running ploy or a bet to “make the cut” could see a profitable return. The last time he played in The Open – in 2006 – he finished 12th.

The perennial curtain raiser for The Open, last week’s Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, didn’t provide many pointers for this week’s tournament. The conditions in Scotland were remarkably benign for the first three days and when the breeze off the estuary finally worked itself up – to barely a fraction of what is likely to be experienced at Lytham – the players found it difficult to adapt and scores plummetted. Aside from the weather – which should be somewhat tougher this week – the course set-up in Inverness was less punitive than will be the case in Lytham.

The views of players in the early practice rounds on the Open course back up what we already knew: it is imperative that players find the fairway or they will be consuming a stroke – at least – to get the ball out of the rough and back on the short stuff. Obviously being able to hit the ball low under the wind is key, as is the ability to use imagination in getting the ball around the course, more often not going for the flag but factoring in the approach and contours, scrambling to save par half the time, and as ever clinching putts within 10′ and getting close from outside 30′. A steady temperament and positive mindset that accepts the course is “unfair” at times yet equitable to all, taking your punishment and moving on to the next hole. Avoiding double bogey is going to be a severe challenge, and the winner will be the one who copes with the ‘downs’ as much as the one who makes the most of the ‘ups’ serendipity throws his way. The course is a real leveller and can scupper the chances of the best golfers but, at the same time, I don’t think that means just anyone can win. The Open demands a inner serenity and ability to play within oneself and not force the score along… look at Clarke last year, Oosthuizen the year before, Harrington, Woods… they all managed to sustain momentum and close it out.

The last fifteen majors have been won by fifteen different players – including the last nine by first time winners. Apparently that’s the longest run in golf history and with the likes of Westwood and Donald chomping at the bit, there’s every reason to think that trend may be extended this week. Of course, the run coincided with Tiger Woods’ vacation from the game but as his three tour victories already this year are testament, Tiger is most definitely back and is favourite to prosper again this week. Along with Harrington and Els, Tiger is the most likely past Major winner to have his name engraved on the claret jug on Sunday. Harrington won two consecutive Open Championships in 2007 and 2008 and has shwon signs recently he’s ready to win again. Likewise, Els is a two-time winner with his game in the best shape for years and he finished 9th at the US Open last time out. Purely in value terms, I think I’d prefer Els at 45/1 than Harrington at 20/1.

With the emotion of Darren Clarke’s victory last year overshadowing the rest of the field, it’s easy to forget the great performances of Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. With the run of the green and a different bounce here and there, Mickelson could have been the one winning last year. But it was the maturity of Rickie Fowler and his ingenuity around an unfamilar golfing environment that took my eye. He finished 5th on only his second time playing a British Open – he was 14th on his debut the previous year. He’s won his first tour event this year and, if the break since the US Open has done him good, he could make it third time lucky. He’s only 40/1 which is less than Poulter, Els and Oosthuizen so I will be looking for bigger prices on Betfair before I commit to back him.

As the latest winner on the tour at the Scottish Open last week, one has to say that Jeev Milkha Singh looks a big price at 150/1 for someone who is no stranger to the winner’s circle. In winning, he also qualified for the Open and it’s amazing how well the last minute qualifiers do each year probably because they are “glad just to be there” and savour the experience.

Of the players yet to win a Major, I doubt anybody has a better record here than Lee Westwood. He missed the cut last year – which only proves anyone can be defeated by an Open course – but was 2nd and 3rd the years before and has another top-4 finish to his name too. Lee definitely has the game to win a British Open and if he can just find some confidence on the greens in the first couple of rounds, this might just be his year. Along with Harrington, I think Westwood @ 16/1 is the best value amongst the top-6 in the market.

It’s great to see some of the elite PGA tour players making the trip across the altantic for a shot at the most presitgious tournament in the world rather than spending a week at Disneyland with the family. Jason Dufner is a player I admire a lot and he’s having the season of his life this year. He’s won two of the last five PGA tour events and hasn’t finished outside of the top-4 in the last three tournaments. He’s #7 on OWGR and 3rd on the money list (FedEx pts) this year. He’s played in the last two Open Championships and is yet to make the cut, but he hasn’t been playing this well before and I think he’s a decent bet for top US player and could yet make 50/1 look a big price come the weekend. He was 4th in the US Open but given his British Open record he just fails to make this week’s select list.

Former winner Ben Curtis has also won on tour this year – his first win anywhere since his victory at the 2004 Open – and was in sparking form earlier this season including 2nd in the Players Championship. His form has dropped away in last couple of months but he’s the type to go very well if making a decent start. A former winner with $2.2M in the bank this season already available at 100/1 is worth a second look.

The South African contingent looks typically strong this year. Alongside Ernie Els bidding for a third win are Louis Oosthizen, Charl Schwartzel, Retief Goosen, George Coetzee, Branden Grace and Richard Sterne. With the young guns falling away a little after tremendous starts to the season, I feel the best chance of another SA win is likely to come from Els, Oosthuizen and Schwartzel. Els is sure to go well but I just favour Schwartzel at odds of 66/1. Although he’s not in the very best form, his Open record is good and he can cope with the worst of the conditions better than most.

Working up from the bottom of the odds list, one can’t but help take a second glance at Kevin Na who is available at 250/1 generally and higher on Betfair. He’s been playing consistently well this year and will be playing the Open for the third time. He has a missed cut and a T27th to his name and this year he’s in much better form. Not without an each-way chance at a big price.

To think of the Open is to evoke deep memories of championships past – whether Seve’s victories, Clarke’s emotional win last year,  or the never-to-be-seen-again images of Jean Van de Velde’s antics down the 18th at Carnoustie in 1999. Another thought that comes to my mind is of an amateur Justin Rose taking the silver medal by finishing 4th when just 17 years of age in 1998. He hasn’t got any closer than that but he must surely have a great chance this year. Playing as well as ever, he’s currently #1 on the race to Dubai rankings and will relish every minute of the test. I believe he will win at least one Open Championship and this could well be his year.  He’s at least as qualified as Westwood and twice the price at 33/1.

There are plenty with chances this year. I am avoiding Tiger at the prices but another with an outside chance is Sergio Garcia – one of the forgotten men of golf and yet he’s still only 32. Garcia, like many of his contemporaries with little else to prove, reserve their best golf for the Majors. His record this year is pretty good and his last seven appearances at the Open have yielded finishes of 9th, 14th, 38th, 51, 2nd (lost playoff), and 5th.

There’s no european player in better form than Francesco Molinari. I have backed him the last two weeks and he’s finished 2nd both times in Scottish Open and French Open respectively. Could he make it third time lucky at the biggest Open Championship of them all? Many golfers find it difficult to maintain their form at such a high standard and possess the mental toughness to be involved in the final pairings each week knowing a dropped shot here or a birdie there could be the difference between winning and losing. But I think Francesco is worth chancing. Obviously he’s in great form, but its been his consistency off the tee, quality of ball striking and shot making that lead me to think he will stay out of trouble more than most this week and give himself a great opportunity of winning. He didn’t handle the changed conditions too well on Sunday in Inverness mind you, but he didn’t implode either. He’s worth another chance at 40/1.

As the betting bank is bulging right now, I’m going for a proportional staking plan as follows:

Lee Westwood 2pts e/w @ 16/1 (1/4 odds, first 7 places)

Justin Rose 1.5 pts e/w @ 33/1 (1/4 odds, first 7 places)

Francesco Molinari 1pt e/w @ 40/1 (1/4 odds, first 7 places or 50s on Betfair)

Sergio Garcia 1pt e/w @ 40/1 (1/4 odds, first 7 places)

Paul Broadhurst 0.5pt e/w @ 1000/1 (1/4 odds, first 7 places)

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