The Open Championship was the only Major of 2020 that wasn't played so there's much anticipation for the 2021 running. Steve Rawlings takes an early look at the tournament.
"Darren Clarke winning here, just when his chance to bag a major looked to have gone, might just inspire his big mate, Lee Westwood, and I was happy to take the industry-best 100/1 available with the Sportsbook."
The 2021 Open Championship
Royal St George's, Sandwich, Kent
All four days live on Sky Sports
Had it not been for the Coronavirus pandemic, we'd be looking forward to the 150th edition of the Open Championship in the summer - staged at St Andrews - but after the tournament was lost this year, the 2021 renewal will be the 149th edition and we're off to Royal St George's in Kent, which would have been the venue in 2020.
With the other three majors being squeezed into the schedule late on in 2020, the Open Championship was the only one not to be staged this year so Shane Lowry, who won the event at Portrush in 2019, is the defending champion.
Royal St George's has an extremely rich Open Championship history and it's been a great venue for famous multiple major championship winners.
More than 100 years ago, Harry Vardon won the third and the fifth of his six Open titles at Royal St George's, Walter Hagen won the first and third of his four titles here, and Henry Cotton won the first of his three victories here in 1934. Bobby Locke would take the title three more times after he'd won here in 1949, Tony Jacklin won here in 1969, a year before he won the US Open, Gary Player won his third Open and the eighth of his nine majors here in 1974, Sandy Lyle won the Open here in 1985, three years before he won the US Masters, and Greg Norman won the second of his two Open titles here in 1993.
Put simply, the cream often rises to the top here, but the last two winners have been hard to spot...
Ben Curtis caused one of the biggest sporting shocks ever when he won the Open Championship here in 2003, having qualified courtesy of his 13th place-finish in the Western Open two weeks earlier. That was his best-ever finish as a pro and at the age of 26 he was the first player to win the first major he'd played in since Francis Ouimet won the US Open in 1913!
At 42 and playing in his 20th Open Championship, the 2011 winner at Royal St George's, Darren Clarke, contrasted starkly with Curtis, but he too was very much a surprise winner given he was matched at in excess of 300.0299/1 before the off.
Outsiders have a decent record in the Open and last year's winner, Shane Lowry, was matched at a high of 140.0139/1 before the off so given the last two results here, don't be afraid to back an outsider but they may need to have finished inside the top-ten at an Open Championship previously.
Looking back, ten of the last 11 winners have finished inside the top-ten previously and given they play so much golf on a links course, the home contingency has a decent record too. As many as six of the top-nine last year were either English, Irish or Scottish.
If the last two renewals at Royal St George's are anything to go by, Greens In Regulation is going to be a key stat in July. Curtis only ranked 16th but Thomas Bjorn, who threw the title away when he took three attempts to extricate himself from the greenside bunker at the 16th on Sunday, ranked first and the man alongside him in a tie for second, beaten by just a stroke, Vijay Singh, ranked tied for third for GIR. As did Davis Love III who finished tied for fourth.
In 2011, Darren Clarke ranked second for GIR and the two Americans to finished tied for second, who both looked like winning at various stages in round four, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, ranked third and sixth. The man who topped the GIR stats in 2011 was Davis Love III, who finished ninth.
Given Americans have fared so well at Royal St George's, Dustin Johnson will be on many people's shortlists. He traded at odds-on before he drove out of bounds on the par five 14th to record a double-bogey seven in 2011 but he hasn't figured in an Open Championship since finishing 49th at St Andrews in 2015, having led by a stroke at halfway. The big question now, after his facile victory at Augusta in November, is how is he going to respond to bagging his second major championship?
DJ has always looked like he could win an Open with ease so at a venue he's already shown he likes, he's a very worthy favourite but I'm happy to leave him alone for now at around 10/1. He'd have to play really nicely throughout the first six months of 2021 for that price to look big. He's the one I like best towards the head of the market but I'm happy to leave him out for now and tuck away a couple of small bets on a pair of outsiders...
Darren Clarke winning here, just when his chance to bag a major looked to have gone, might just inspire his big mate, Lee Westwood, and I was happy to take the industry-best 100/1 available with the Sportsbook.
Westwood has always been an excellent links player and he's contended in a number of Open Championships but he's yet to win a major. If you believe in fairy tales, and Clarke has shown that they do occasionally come true, Westwood is the sentimental play that may just come good.
My only other bet is on Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who I've also backed to win the US Open. The world number 34 is a great price at an industry-best 200/1 with the Sportsbook given he's won three times on the European Tour and he has the quality to win a major. He missed the cut at Portrush last year, in his only previous Open Championship, and he doesn't have an abundance of links form, but he's finished runner-up in both the Qatar Masters and the Dubai Desert Classic - two events that correlate nicely with links events - and if he plays anything like he did at the end of 2020 in the early part of 2021, 200/1 is going to look huge come July.
I'll be back next week with my Sentry Tournament of Champions preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter