The new points system I've introduced for this year's trends pieces has worked out pretty well in the first three majors of 2022.
US Masters - top-ranked Rory McIlroy finished runner-up.
US PGA - play-off was fought out by two players, Justin Thomas and Will Zalatoris, who both ranked in the top eight points scorers.
US Open - winner Matt Fitzpatrick and runner-up Zalatoris were both ranked joint-second in the points scoring charts. Two others who ranked in the top six points scorers, Scottie Scheffler and Collin Morikawa, finished tied second and tied fifth respectively.
The tweaks go on and this time I've got 11 categories to sort through.
The first three staples, World Ranking, Nationality and Age, don't really have clear-cut trends in this major as it turns out. But for each of the other categories, there is a dominant trend that has registered at least eight times in the last 10 editions. I need to use editions rather than years here due to the 2020 Open being postponed because of the pandemic.
The 11 categories are World Ranking, Nationality, Age, Open Form, St Andrews Fit, Winning Form, Recent Majors Form, Majors Excellence, The Augusta Link, Current Form and Week Before.
With the usual caveats that top-level mathematicians could point to flaws in the process (my mother was a maths teacher - I get it!), let's enjoy this walk through recent Open history and see which players come out as the best fit.
Let's use this category to explain the points system. The key is frequency. So, in this article, it's how many times something has happened in the last 10 editions of the Open Championship. Looking at world rankings, seven of the last 10 winners were ranked inside the top 25 in the OWGR. Those in that category this year score 7pts. But it hasn't been a monopoly - Shane Lowry was 33rd, Ernie Els 40th and Darren Clarke 111th - so others further down the rankings score something too. That leads to the following scores:
Ranked in world's top 25 = 7pts
Ranked 26th to 40th = 2pts
Ranked over 40th = 1pt
There was a time when Americans dominated this event (from 1995 to 2006, US players won 10 of the 12 Opens) despite many not having much experience on the links. But that has ended now and although Morikawa added one for the Stars and Stripes last year, that was just their fourth Open win in the last 10 editions.
Americans have enjoyed at least a 60% strike rate over the last 10 editions in each of their home-soil majors but not this one. We've seen more European winners (5) than Americans while the Rest of the World have been represented too thanks to Ernie Els in 2012.
European = 5pts
American = 4pts
Rest of World = 1pt
I tried using an average age system in the US Open and players got more points the closer they were to that mean number of 28.2. However, the Open tends to be won by very talented young bucks or those with plenty of experience. So the problem with doing an average in this case is that we land on an age between the two main clusters of champions so it's not very representative.
Let's focus on the successful age ranges. Six of the last 10 champions were 35 or over so those in that age bracket this year get 6pts. We've seen three winners aged 25 or below so those in that younger generation get 3pts and the rest just a single point.
Aged 35 or over = 6pts
Aged up to 25 = 3pts
Aged between 26 and 34 = 1pt
Collin Morikawa won the Claret Jug on his Open debut last year so does that mean it's an old-timer's myth to think that you need bags of experience? Well, Morikawa is something of a freak - in a good way - given that he won two of his first eight majors.
But before he ripped up the rule book at Royal St George's, all the previous nine Open winners had posted a previous top 10 in the event. That's a strong trend and isn't good news for elite players such as Justin Thomas and Viktor Hovland.
Top 10 in an Open = 9pts
No top 10 in an Open = 1pt
St Andrews fit
Looking at past stats from Opens (we only have traditional numbers rather than Strokes Gained) shows that Scrambling is the key skill.
Seven of the last 10 Open winners (seven of the last eight actually) ranked in the top seven for Scrambling.
As for St Andrews: in 2015, the three best scramblers on the week finished tied fourth (Jason Day), tied second (Marc Leishman) and first (Zach Johnson).
Three of the top five scramblers finished in the top six in 2010 while Tiger was in the top 10 for scrambling in both his 2000 and 2005 victories.
The huge double greens are easier to hit but getting up and down regularly sorts the wheat from the chaff.
To turn that into points, I'm going to divide this season's Scrambling stats into blocks of 25 and award points accordingly to reflect that those with the sharpest touch around the greens have an advantage.
Ranked 1-25 = 8pts
Ranked 26-50 = 7pts
Ranked 51-75 = 6pts
Ranked 76-100 = 5pts
Ranked 101-125 = 4pts
Ranked 126-150 = 3pts
Ranked 151-175 = 2pts
Ranked 176 or lower = 1pt
Lowry is ranked 3rd in Scrambling this season so banks the full 8pts but Rahm is only 142nd so gets just 2pts.
Having a win earlier in the season has been common to eight of the last 10 Open champions so that's another strong trend.
Morikawa had captured the WGC-Workday Championship in February while even Darren Clarke, despite being sent off at 200/1, had posted a win as recently as May before going on to win at Royal St George's in 2011.
Won that season = 8pts
Not won that season = 2pts
Recent Majors Form
As we noted at the US Open, winners at this level don't come out of thin air; they've usually advertised their credentials with a good performance in a recent Major. US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick had done exactly that by finishing tied fifth in the US PGA just a month earlier.
As for this tournament, despite some slightly surprise winners of the Claret Jug, eight of the last 10 had posted a top 20 in one of their previous two majors.
Top 20 in one of their last two Majors = 8pts
No top 20 in last two Majors = 2pts
Although having a good run in a recent Major is seen as a big plus, is it an advantage to have won one already?
History is slightly mixed here with six of the last 10 having already landed a major. But, if we extend that to near misses, we scoop up everyone as all of the last 10 Open winners had already posted a top two in a major during their careers.
Top two in a Major = 10pts
No top two in a Major = 0pts
The Augusta Link
The history books tell us that when Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones designed Augusta National they very much had St Andrews in mind. Clearly the two courses are very different but the thinking, creativity and shotmaking at both venues can be very similar.
If the majors were to be paired off, the US Open and US PGA would go together but so would the US Masters and the Open. There are numerous examples but Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros' combined haul of 11 majors were either Green Jackets or Claret Jugs.
A stat then: nine of the last 10 winners at St Andrews had previously posted a top three in the US Masters. Yep, even John Daly. The odd one out is 2010 St Andrews winner Louis Oosthuizen, who would go on to lose a playoff at Augusta two years later. Zach Johnson, the 2007 US Masters champ, added to that trend when winning at the Old Course in 2015.
Had a top three in the US Masters = 9pts
Not had a top three in the US Masters = 1pt
Although links golf can be regarded as a unique test that sees the specialists come to the fore whatever their current form, the numbers say it's important to have had a good recent finish.
Eight of the last 10 Open champions had posted at least one top 10 in one of their three previous starts. In fact, the last five winners had enjoyed a top two in one of their last three.
The conclusion seems to be, if you're playing well, that translates well to an Open course even if it is a completely different test on paper.
Top 10 in one of three previous starts = 8pts
No top 10 in one of three previous starts = 2pts
Is it a smart idea to play the week before and, if so, where?
It makes sense that playing some links golf ahead of the Open would be a smart ploy but we've seen in recent times players lift the Claret Jug a week after contesting the John Deere Classic, despite that course being nothing like a links track.
In all, history says playing anywhere is a good move and eight of the last 10 Open winners teed it up the week before.
Played previous week = 8pts
Had previous week off = 2pts
The Top Points Scorers
The scores are in and - drumroll - these are the top 10 in the rankings:
79 Xander Schauffele
76 Scottie Scheffler, Hideki Matsuyama
74 Rory McIlroy
72 Justin Rose
71 Sungjae Im
68 Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth
66 Collin Morikawa
65 Matt Fitzpatrick
Notes: Spieth could climb to 74 with a top 10 in the Scottish Open. Cameron Smith would join Fitzpatrick on 65 with a Scottish Open top 10.
So, it's time for the X Man!
Looking at Xander Schauffele, he's 11th in the world rankings, has a top two in the Open, two tops three at Augusta National, has a recent top 20 in a major (T14 US Open, T13 US PGA), won the Travelers Championship two starts ago and is contesting this week's Scottish Open. He's 44th this season for Scrambling.
Not that it affected his score in any way but Schauffele beat an all-star cast to capture the 36-hole JP McManus Pro-Am on Tuesday. He's certainly a man in form.
Let's back him each-way at 23.022/1 on the Sportsbook.
Rory McIlroy's backers at St Andrews - and there will be lots of them! - will be happy to see him tick a lot of boxes and sit fourth.
Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Rose are slightly surprise entries in the top five although both are major winners who keep on racking up top 10s at this level.
Rose was runner-up at Carnoustie in 2018 and tied sixth at St Andrews in 2015 while Matsuyama was tied sixth on his Open debut at nearby Muirfield, tied 18th at St Andrews in 2015 and fourth in last month's US Open.
Both have a top two at Augusta which has been a great pointer. That also spells good news for joint-second ranked Scottie Scheffler. The current Masters champion was tied eighth on his Open debut last year.