The Open 2017: Bank on Royal Birkdale providing the ultimate Open experience

Royal Birkdale is a true links test
Royal Birkdale is a true links test

Three weeks out from the season's third major, Paul Krishnamurty explains why Royal Birkdale is his favourite Open Championship venue and why it sets up perfectly for betting...

"This is an Open course that always provides the sternest test...Fairways are relatively narrow, bunkers typically penal and greens famously tricky. Consecutive holes are often played into opposing wind directions. When the winds get up, Birkdale becomes a monster."

Inevitably, what constitutes a great venue for a major championship is entirely subjective, as mixed reviews for the recent US Open venue demonstrated. Erin Hills was widely slated for being too easy, as generous fairways, light wind and softened greens created a birdie-fest. Those of us expecting a slog were disappointed but others enjoyed the very low scoring. Whatever your view though, it unarguably played nothing like a US Open.

That is one thing that could never be said about the Open Championship, because it is always played on a classic UK links course. Differentials between courses on the rota can be stark, however, and our opinions about them are similarly divided.

As a gambler, who isn't too bothered about tradition and would rather watch golfers struggle for par than fire at pins, I would happily drop St Andrews from the Open rota. Too many holes - particularly the 1st - are hopelessly outdated. Without significant wind, it is too easy for big-hitters. Take out the sainted Road Hole 17th and there aren't that many big swing holes. Front-runners invariably dominate, ensuring some pretty dull betting heats over the years.

By all means play the 'Home of Golf' every so often, for the history, but the special status that means it hosts two Opens every decade is outrageous, given that there are so many better courses. None more so than this year's venue which incidentally has appeared second most often since it's 1954 debut.

I've had the pleasure of watching four Opens at Royal Birkdale during my lifetime, all of which produced utterly absorbing entertainment. Memories of 1983 are very hazy but Tom Watson's brilliant back-nine to deny strongly placed clubhouse leaders left a lasting impression, showing just how fast things can change on a link course. Aged ten, I wasn't aware of the betting but if Betfair had been around, the final round swings would have ensured a memorably volatile market.

This is an Open course that always provides the sternest test - even when the wind isn't too severe. Nobody has managed double-digits under par since Lee Trevino in 1971 and the last two winning totals were +3 and level par. Every aspect of a player's game is constantly challenged. Fairways are relatively narrow, bunkers typically penal and greens famously tricky. Consecutive holes are often played into opposing wind directions.

When the winds get up - and they invariably do on at least one day here - Birkdale becomes a monster. On the Saturday in 1998, Constantino Rocca's level par 70 was the best round by two strokes, with Open champions Phil Mickelson and Nick Price shooting 85 and 82 respectively. In 2008, only 12 players made par or better over the weekend.

Yet while Birkdale is difficult, this isn't just a slog where every hole is primarily about making par, even if the first few holes can feel that way. All bar the long par-4 6th yielded a respectable share of birdies in 2008. If you can hold a respectable score together through the first 14 holes, there are chances to really make hay down the stretch.

The finish here is one that anyone familiar with in-running betting will appreciate. Both the par-fives on this course - at 15 and 17 - are potential gamechangers, yielding eagles and multiple bogeys. Harrington famously secured victory by making three at the 17th. With both the 16th or 18th tough par-fours, a swing of three shots or more over this final quartet of holes is perfectly realistic.

Another good factor for betting is that Birkdale doesn't seem to discriminate against a particular type of player. Amateurs have been placed in the last two. Justin Rose made his first impression in 1998. So too Chris Wood in 2008, in the same year 53 year-old Greg Norman played in the final group and finished third. All were available at the maximum odds of 1000.0, as surely would have play-off loser Brian Watts in 1998.

Nevertheless, this is a track where the formbook stands up. All of the nine Birkdale champions would have been priced below 100/1 - Baker-Finch and O'Meara were least likeliest at around 50/1. Padraig Harrington defended his title here. O'Meara was a course specialist and his other closest pursuers were Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, making their first serious bid for the Claret Jug. Baker-Finch had twice blown the lead in this major. Watson was winning his fifth Open.

Fundamentally, expect an Open in which the cream rises to the top, especially with regards links and Open form. If you can't handle wind, forget it. As for the winner, why not back Rose to make amends for his Masters miss, nearly two decades on from stunning the world as a 17 year-old?


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