Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Open Championship Preview

Tour: All Tours – a Major
Tournament: British Open Championship
Course: Royal St Georges, Sandwich, Kent
Yardage: 7211
Par: 70
Time Difference: GMT

Lee Westwood is our main selection to win the Open Championship this week and merits a maximum bet. Retief Goosen has a consistent record in the third major of the year and merits support. Padraig Harrington excels at links golf and he can get in contention to win a third Open.

Sergio Garcia has shown decent form following a sabbatical from the game and looks a good bet in the Top Continental European market. Matt Kuchar showed his adaptability at the Scottish Open last week and we like his chances to be top American. Simon Dyson proved his liking for links golf in Scotland and as an outsider he can make the top ten.

This year’s Open Championship is being played at Royal St Georges in Sandwich on the Kent coast. The course is the only Open venue on the current rota that is located south of the north west of England. That region has three different Open venues and the rest of time the championship is played in Scotland. There is a train link from London so there should be healthy crowds due to size of the catchment area.

The Open has been held at Royal St Georges four times since 1981. Two of the champions have originated from the United States, one from Europe and one from Australia. The winning scores have been 4 under, 2 over, 13 under and 1 under. Greg Norman won the tournament with 13 under in 1993 when playing and weather conditions led to low scores.

The only player to break par over the 72 holes of the 2003 renewal was Ben Curtis who holed a putt of decent length on the 72nd to post a score that nobody could match. However, this was a tournament that Thomas Bjorn lost. He took 3 to get of a bunker on the 16th hole and those dropped shots cost him the title. Scoring was relatively high eight years ago and avoiding bogeys was the key attribute.

As with all links courses scoring can be affected by weather conditions. If the wind blows then finding the greens and fairways is of paramount importance. Temperatures are forecast to be below average for this time of year and moderate winds are also expected. This course rarely produces a birdiefest as the fairways allow little room for error and the greens are difficult to navigate.

The Open is the third of the four major championships that take place during the golfing year. The only notable absentee is Tiger Woods who has withdrawn due to a selection of injuries. The favourite is Rory McIlroy who won the US Open last month in some style. However only Woods since Mark O’Meara in 1998 has won more than one major throughout any one season.

Luke Donald is currently at the top of the world rankings. He has contested 10 tournaments in the US Tour this season and made the top ten eight times. He won the PGA Championship in May which is the flagship event of the European tour and last week’s Scottish Open. Despite such consistency Donald’s best finish in a major was a third in the 2005 Masters. In 26 appearances in major championships Donald has finished in the top 10 on just four occasions.

Lee Westwood has risen to number two in the world on the back of great consistency in the majors over the last three years. In that time he has had five top 3’s from 10 championships. He was third in the Open of 2009 when a 72nd hole bogey cost him a place in the play-off with Tom Watson and eventual winner Stuart Cink. He was second a year ago at St Andrews, seven shots adrift of champion Louis Oosthuizen. On his current progression Westwood has a great chance of winning his first major at this year’s Open.

Westwood was interviewed before the final round of the Scottish Open on Sunday. He virtually admitted that he wasn’t overly concerned about winning that tournament. He suggested that his focus was the Open Championship. Tee to green Westwood is an imperious golfer and I believe his time has now come to win his first major championship.

Retief Goosen has made the cut for the last twelve years at the Open. In that time he has had seven top 10s, including in the last two years. In 2009 Goosen was just 2 shots away from a play-off and last year he was 6th, 7 shots behind the winner Louis Oosthuizen. In his last eight rounds in the Open Championship Goosen has beaten or matched par. He was tied 10th at Sandwich in 2003 so knows he can play well on the course.

On current form Goosen deserves our support this week. He made the cut at the US Open in June with a score that in normal circumstances would have been close to winning. The selection is a proven major champion having won the national championship of the United States twice, in 2001 and 2004. He played well at the Scottish Open and may have got closer to the winner if the tournament had not been reduced to 54 holes due to the weather.

Padraig Harrington won the Open Championship in 2007 and 2008 and also has a US PGA Championship to his name. He has mastered the art of links golf and is a perennial winner of the Irish PGA Championship, often played on a links course. He chose to play the Scottish Open last week, probably because it was played on a seaside course. He played three solid rounds in similar weather conditions as those expected at Sandwich.

The selection was 22nd when the Open was held at Sandwich in 2003 but since then he has taken his game to a new level. He is in the top thirty for finding the greens in regulation on the European Tour. He also figures in the top 25 for total putts per round. These skills will be at a premium on the Kent coast. The Irishman will not be fazed by any inclement weather and has the temperament and ability to hold his game together if the wind blows.

Sergio Garcia deserves a major due to an overall level of consistency over the first 10 years of his career. He first made a name for himself at the 1999 US PGA Championship when he beat everyone in the field except Tiger Woods as a 19 year old. The player formerly known as El Nino has an excellent game from tee to green but his woes on the greens have been costly. He was 7th at the recent US Open with four solid rounds at or below par.

In 2007 at Carnoustie he missed an eight foot par putt on the last hole to claim his first major. He was beaten in the playoff by Padraig Harrington despite hitting the pin on one of the extra holes. Twelve months earlier he was in the final group with Woods at Hoylake. Overall he was in the top five in the Opens of 2005, 2006 and 2007. His finishes in the Open have improved progressively over the last 3 years. He is the most consistent performer in the Open over the last 10 years of players from Continental Europe.

The highest ranked player from the United States is Steve Stricker at number five. The former world number 2 was 5th in the US Open in 1998 and 1999. He has recorded 5 top 10 finishes in the 20 majors he has played since 2006. Stricker’s tournament win at last week’s John Deere Classic was his eleventh on the US Tour. He has played in 10 Opens since 1996 and recorded just two top 10s over that period. By choosing to play in the States last week he is at a disadvantage due to the need to acclimatise and adapt to links golf.

In contrast Matt Kuchar decided to play in Scotland last week. He has played in the Open 6 times and his best finish was 27th a year ago. We recommended Kuchar last week as we thought his game would be suited to seaside golf. His bogey free round of 66 on Friday suggests Kuchar has the attributes to score well playing golf in the dunes. He eventually finished tied 10th in Scotland after three rounds below par. At third favourite in the top US market, Phil Mickelson may be supported but in 17 appearances at the Open he has just one top 10 finish and Kuchar is preferred.

Simon Dyson indicated his liking for links golf when interviewed in Scotland over the weekend. He secured a place in the Open field when David Toms withdrew through injury. He was third in the BMW Championship, the tournament that has the strongest field in Europe after the Open itself. He played well in Scotland, beating par in each of his three rounds. The Open has a record of producing big priced players doing well and Dyson looks a good price to make the top 10.

It’s going to be a great championship at Sandwich this week. we’re not expecting a birdiefest but the winning player will have to consistently find the fairways and greens and hole out to avoid bogeys when required. That profile applies to Lee Westwood and we can see him finally winning the major championship that he craves and, in our opinion, deserves.

Trading Recommendations

When betting on golf you should bear in mind that you don’t require a high strike rate to make a profit. The prices available are such that several winners a season can result in a healthy profit. The recommendations initially are all back bets but we will suggest lay trades when applicable as each tournament develops. Last week we recommended a 2 point bet on Steve Stricker on the US Tour and he won at 8.2. He was available to lay at 1.4 before the final round so a profit was guaranteed whatever the outcome.

5 points win Lee Westwood at 13.0
1 point win Retief Goosen at 55.0
1 point win Padraig Harrington at 44.0
2 points win Sergio Garcia Top Continental European at 7.0
2 points win Top US Matt Kuchar at 12.5
1 point win Top 10 Finish Simon Dyson at 14.0 

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