Dave Tindall assesses the mood of the players and arms you with the stats that matter for a punt on the Top 5 and Top 10 Finish markets ahead of the 2021 Open Championship...
"Looking through his records shows that 10 of his 11 top 10s in majors were actually top threes. Therefore, when he's on, he's on and Spieth is best played in the Top 5 market at 5.95/1."
Jon Rahm - Spaniard will play first Open as a major champ
The newly-crowned US Open champion is not a stranger to Royal St George's. "I have played here before. I think I played in 2009. The course hasn't changed. I've changed quite a bit. It'll be a different experience. We played the British Boys over here, and that was my first-ever tournament I believe in links golf, so some fond memories from the area," said Rahm on Tuesday. And, of course, he'll play his first Open as a major winner, something he also talked about. "I felt like for the better part of five years, all I heard is major, major, major just because I was playing good golf, as if it was easy to win a major championship." A double winner of the Irish Open, Rahm is a committed links lover and he was again in contention in last week's Scottish Open. He's yet to have a top 10 in an Open but surely that has to change.
Last four events: 7-1-WD-8
Open form: 11-MC-44-59
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 32%, Top 10: 56%
Rory McIlroy - Northern Irishman struggling for form but Open record is excellent
"I think over the last few years, my best performances in major championships have been at this event. I've just become more and more comfortable with this style of golf, and I think more than anything else, there's a lot more variables in the Open Championship and on links courses. Once you learn that you can't control those variables, then you just have to go out and accept whatever is given to you. I think as I've gotten a little more experience and matured, I've been able to play this championship a little bit better." Missing the cut at the Scottish Open isn't ideal but it allowed McIlroy to get to Royal St George's early. He said: "I feel good. I've hit the ball really good in practice the last few days. I feel like I figured something out on Sunday here, which has been really good. I hit the ball great on the range yesterday, and I hit the ball well today on the course." After the woe of Royal Portrush in 2019, perhaps this is where he bounces back.
Last four events: MC-59-7-18
Open form: MC-2-4-5-DNP-1-MC-60-25-3-47-DNP-42
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 30%, Top 10: 52%
Brooks Koepka - Major expert deserves full respect
"I feel good. Coming off a couple good finishes. Felt like I was playing well. I'm pretty excited for this week. It's a major, so I'll be up for it, and excited to play this week. I've always enjoyed coming over here. I came over here when I was a little kid. Actually here, watched Ben (Curtis) win. Me and my brother and my mom came. I must have been like 10 years old or something. Yeah, I've always enjoyed playing links golf. I think it takes a lot of creativity and imagination. It's fun. I love it. I love it over here." That all sounds good although, showing his bluntness, he said of this week's track: "It's not my favourite venue that we've played. I think Portrush and St. Andrews are definitely the favourites." Still, it would be foolish to get side-tracked by a line that probably many in the field are thinking. Bottom line: Koepka is brilliant in the majors and has made the top five in the last two.
Last four events: 5-4-MC-2
Open form: 4-39-6-DNP-10-67-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 6%, Top 5: 26%, Top 10: 32%
Dustin Johnson - DJ has course form from 2011
This was DJ when he played in the 2011 Open at Royal St George's: "It's a tough golf course. I had never seen the course when I came here, so I didn't know how it would suit my game. I didn't know how it would fit my eye. But after playing the course a few times, I thought it set up pretty well for me." It certainly played out that way as Johnson teed off in the final group on Sunday and had a great chance to reel in winner Darren Clarke before leaking a 2-iron out of bounds on 14 and finishing runner-up. "If I had to do it over again, I'd hit a 3-wood instead of a 2-iron," he admitted later. His tied second remains his only top five in the Open while he has just two top 10s (2012 and 2016) so although DJ is a big fan of links golf his results aren't amazing. He hasn't had his best stuff in recent months although there are signs of a return to form.
Last four events: 25-19-10-MC
Open form: 51-MC-54-9-49-12-32-9-2-14-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 12%, Top 5: 30%, Top 10: 44%
Xander Schauffele - American building superb majors record
Those playing Schauffele in the top 10 market have been racking up the profits since he entered this arena in 2017. The American has played 17 majors and in nine of them he's cracked the top 10. Six of those have doubled as top fives and include a tied second in this event at Carnoustie in 2018. Here's what he has to say about links golf: "I think I really enjoy that challenge of trying to think a little bit more. Your search for perfection that you can kind of get stuck into on parkland golf sort of disappears for me. I sort of fall in love with hitting shots and trying to hit different shots versus trying to work on my swing or anything like that. I've always enjoyed playing golf over here, different style of play obviously and I just look forward to colder weather, windier weather." That's some claim and after T3 and T7 in two of this year's three majors, Schauffele has to have every chance of being high on the leaderboard again.
Last four events: 10-7-11-MC
Open form: 41-2-20
Last 50 starts - Win: 2%, Top 5: 26%, Top 10: 34%
Justin Thomas - Scotland warm-up should boost JT bid
Thomas was one of the Americans who came over to play last week's Scottish Open and got plenty out of the week despite one horrid topped fairway wood in round three. He said after his T8 finish: "It was solid. I didn't really get much out of the middle two days, which is what's going to end up costing me this tournament. But I played well. I showed some good signs. I've been working really hard trying to get back into contending every week I play and winning more tournaments." Looking ahead to Royal St George's he added: "I'm excited for it. I like the state that my game is in. I like the way that it's trending, at least. But that being said, it's golf, and it doesn't just continue because you want it to. You have to keep working at it and pushing at it. I've got a day to rest and then get to learn a course I've never played before and get ready come Thursday." After struggling for his first three Opens, he made something of a breakthrough last time when taking T11 at Royal Portrush, a course he fell instantly in love with. We'll have to see if he has the same feelings for Royal St George's.
Last four events: 8-19-42-40
Open form: 11-MC-MC-53
Last 50 starts - Win: 10%, Top 5: 24%, Top 10: 36%
Jordan Spieth - Birkdale hero will be seeking second Claret Jug
This is why Spieth loves links; it allows him to play golf rather than golf swing. Here's what he said when defending at Carnoustie. "Coming to an Open Championship requires a lot of feel and imagination, and I think that's what I needed a bit of in my game. I'd gotten very technical and very into making everything perfect instead of kind of the way that I normally play. So this week kind of provides that opportunity where you don't know how far the ball is necessarily going to go off the tee. You need to play the spots, and then you have to use your imagination from there - hold the ball, ride the wind, a lot of different scenarios based on where pins are and the distance that you have." As for his current form, he said recently: "It's been a good year. I've put a lot of work into kind of trying to get back towards the top of the FedExCup standings, get back in the winners circle, and really most importantly be a very consistent player week in and week out. I feel like this year results are finally lending themselves to kind of that work that's been put in."
Last four events: 19-18-2-30
Open form: 20-9-1-30-4-36-44
Last 50 starts - Win: 2%, Top 5: 14%, Top 10: 30%
Bryson DeChambeau - Monster hitter has yet to crack Open code
Here's Bryson on his poor Open record. "I don't know why. I played well in the Walker Cup when it was here. Maybe the conditions have been favourable when I played over in the Walker Cup, where I do pretty well with not as windy conditions and firmer ground environments. The times I've played in the British Opens in the past, I think they've been a little wet and windy. I usually struggle on that in general. I think that hopefully if we get a little bit of a dry week, I can get the wind under control in my brain, hopefully I can have a good week. I love links golf." And this week's venue? "Royal St. George's is an amazing golf course. I hope I can hit it far enough to where I can wedge it out still onto the green if I get good enough lies, but there's certain lies out there it's going to be a pitch back to the fairway, and that's including for everybody. I hope that the length will be a little bit of an advantage. I just have to drive it well. That's what I have to do this week, and the speed controlling the greens is going to be huge." DeChambeau was bang in contention at the US Open before a back-nine collapse although his current results show just one top 10 in nine starts.
Last four events: MC-19-26-18
Open form: MC-51-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 6%, Top 5: 22%, Top 10: 38%
Viktor Hovland - Norwegian making Open debut
Hovland is still new to the majors scene and this will be his first start in an Open Championship due to the original 2020 date being put back a year. So there's plenty of guesswork for punters involved. The positive spins would be that before withdrawing from June's US Open with an eye problem he'd posted a T12, a T13 and nothing worse than T33 in his six major starts and two of those were as an amateur. Also, his two PGA Tour wins have both come by the coast - the Puerto Rico Open and the Mayakoba Golf Classic. In addition, he has the confidence boost of becoming the first Norwegian to win on the European Tour after capturing the BMW International Open in Germany last month. We've not seen him since. Finally, he played his college golf in Oklahoma where high winds are often prevalent so he should have the skills to deal with a gusty Open Championship.
Last four events: 1-WD-47-30
Open form: -
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 22%, Top 10: 26%
Louis Oosthuizen - 2015 winner has been a standout in 2021 majors
Oosthuizen has been one of the standout stars in the majors this year after finishing runner-up in both the US PGA at Kiawah Island and the US Open at Torrey Pines. He was in golden position to win both but couldn't find any back-nine killer instinct. He played at Royal St George's as the defending champion in 2011 after a brilliant win at St Andrews but had to settle for 54th, and said: "This golf course, just coping with the fairways and everything, the way it slopes. Your course management has got to be really good around here, and like any links golf, you're going to have a bad bounce, but you're also going to have good bounces. So you're going to have shots going straight towards a bunker and it takes a bounce away from it, and you're going to have it the other way, too. All in all I think it's the same for everyone, so that's Open golf." While outright backers have been frustrated by him, he's done the job admirably for Top 5 and Top 10 punters in recent majors but it's worth noting that his only Open top 10s have come at St Andrews.
Last four events: 42-2-18-2
Open form: 20-28-MC-MC-2-36-WD-19-54-1-MC-MC-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 8%, Top 5: 18%, Top 10: 36%
At the time of writing, Jordan Spieth hadn't been in for his press conference at Royal St George's but, to be honest, given his links pedigree and current form, I'd be happy to back him on any Open course.
Spieth won the last Open to be played on English soil at Royal Birkdale in 2017 while he was tied ninth at Carnoustie in 2018 after being the 54-hole leader again, fourth at St Andrews in 2015 and tied 20th at Royal Portrush.
Looking through his records shows that 10 of his 11 top 10s in majors were actually top threes.
Therefore, when he's on, he's on and Spieth is best played in the Top 5 market at 5.95/1.
A Justin Ray stat on Twitter shows that Spieth has the lowest cumulative score (-29) over the last five Opens.
Fifth on that list is Rory McIlroy and I have a sneaky feeling that he can have a big week following the trauma of his missed cut on home soil at Royal Portrush.
Let's not forget that McIlroy still shot a 65 there, once again showing that he's an excellent links performer.
The four-time major winner had finished 2-4-5-1 in his four Opens before that, landing the Top 5 money each time.
Current form will put many off but Rory has a habit of bouncing back strongly from missed cuts and last week's early exit in Scotland allowed him to get to Royal St George's early.
I'll back a McIlroy Top 5 at 7.06/1.
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