It's St Andrews, it's The Open, here is Steve Rawlings with the most in-depth betting preview of them all!
"Jack Nicklaus is the only man to win having trailed by more than two strokes after round one and he's the only winner to be outside the top-ten. A sluggish start won't do here."
First staged in 1860 and won by Willie Park, the Open Championship is the oldest of the four majors. It's also the most prestigious and the only one staged outside of the US. This will be the 144th edition.
The Old Course, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Par 72, 7,305 yards
Average score in 2010 - 73.07
A traditional out-and-in seaside links, the Old Course at St Andrews is often referred to as The Home of Golf or The Old Lady and it's been in existence in some form since the early 15th century. It first staged the Championship in 1873 and it's been the venue a further 27 times since. The most famous and most-often used venue, it now hosts the event every five years.
The course has changed very little since Tom Kidd took the title way back in 1873 and it has a number of unique features...
St Andrews has a ridiculously wide fairway on its very first hole that's almost impossible to miss. Seven massive double greens, whose hole numbers all add up to 18, with the 2nd and 16th, 3rd and 15th, 4th and 14th, 5th and 13th, 6th and 12th, 7th and 11th and 8th and 10th holes all sharing the same greens. It's famous for its numerous, often hidden from sight, tiny pot bunkers, as well as the gigantic Hell Bunker on the 14th hole, which tripped up Jack Nicklaus in 1995 when he needed four attempts to extricate himself, and the steep Road Hole Bunker on 17, which are both to be avoided at all costs.
The 2nd and 4th holes are fairly challenging and both averaged over par five years ago but once through there the players can relax as the stretch of holes between 5 and 10 is the scoring section. With the exception of the par 5 14th, holes 11 to 17 are tricky; with the par 4 17th the hardest on the course, but the finishing hole is simple enough. Famous for its 'Valley of Sin' in front of the green, at just 357 yards it ranked the easiest hole on the course in 2010 when it yielded six eagles, 186 birdies, 254 pars, just 16 bogeys and only four double bogeys. If the leader needs par or better to win after 71 holes, the engraver can probably get started, although Doug Sanders did famously miss a tiddler on 18 for par to win in 1970.
The vast majority of par 72s have 10 par 4s, four par 3s and four par 5s but St Andrews has 14 par 4s and just two short and long holes. The par 3s are the 8th and the 11th and the par 5s are the 5th and the 14th.
Wednesday 15 July
Past Open Champions Challenge, 15:30-18:00, BBC Two
Thursday 16 July & Friday 17 July
09:00-20:00, BBC Two
Saturday 18 July
10:00-12:00 & 12:10-17:15, BBC One & 17:15-19:45, BBC Two
Sunday 19 July
11:00-12:00 & 12:10-19:00, BBC One
Last Ten Winners
2014 - Rory McIlroy -17
2013 - Phil Mickelson -3
2012 - Ernie Els -7
2011 - Darren Clarke -5
2010 - Louis Oosthuizen -16 (St Andrews)
2009 - Stewart Cink -2 (playoff)
2008 - Padraig Harrington +3
2007 - Padraig Harrington -7 (playoff)
2006 - Tiger Woods -18
2005 - Tiger Woods -14 (St Andrews)
What Will it Take to Win The Open Championship?
Although different venues are used each year, the Open Championship is always played on a traditional seaside links course so it's worth looking at the stats from the last ten years. Here are the average rankings of the last ten winners in all the key stats.
Average key stats for the last ten Open winners
Driving Accuracy - 28.5
Driving Distance - 23.9
G.I.R - 18.6
Scrambling - 20.3
Sand Saves - 34.8
Putting Average - 12.9
That's of some use, if only to demonstrate that no single stat has dominated over the last decade but to give us a bit more insight, here are the stats of the last three winners at St Andrews, as well as the average rankings of the top-ten finishers at the last three Opens at St Andrews.
Louis Oosthuizen (2010)
D.A - 1st
D.D - 4th
G.I.R - 9th
Scrambling - 15th
Sand Saves - 18th
Putting Average - 2nd
Tiger Woods (2005)
D.D - 1st
G.I.R - 53rd
Scrambling - 10th
Sand Saves -30th
Putting Average - 7th
Tiger Woods (2000)
D.A - 7th
D.D - 1st
G.I.R - 1st
Scrambling - Stats not available
Sand Saves - Stats not available
Putting Average - 9th
2010 - Top-10 averages statistical rankings
D.A - 21.2
D.D - 33.2
G.I.R - 21.2
Scrambling - 21
Sand Saves -18.5
Putting Average - 21.8
2005 - Top-10 averages statistical rankings
D.A - 33.7
D.D - 29.6
G.I.R - 21.7
Scrambling - 24.4
Sand Saves - 18.8
Putting Average - 30.3
2000 - Top-10 averages statistical rankings
D.D - 27.4
G.I.R - 16.5
Scrambling - Stats not available
Sand Saves -Stats not available
Putting Average - 19
I haven't got stats for the 1995 renewal when two big hitters, John Daly and Constantino Rocca, contested a playoff (won by Daly) after Rocca had famously holed for birdie in regulation play from the Valley of Sin, and the last three winners (Tiger Woods twice and Louis Oosthuizen) are both big hitters so length off the tee is clearly a big plus here.
Since 1970 and before Daly, the Open at St Andrews was won by Jack Nicklaus (twice), Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, so the cream has risen to the top in the modern era. Oosty was a shock winner five years ago and he's the only St Andrews champion since 1964 not to be a multiple major winner. He has come close in both the Masters and the US Open since and the 1964 winner, Tony Lema, may well have gone on to win more majors had he not been tragically killed in an aircraft accident two years after lifting the Claret Jug.
The last seven event winners have all ranked inside the top-ten for either Greens in Regulation or Putting Average, or both, and over the last ten years, only Padraig Harrington in 2007, didn't rank inside the top-ten for one of those two key stats. Pod had a ranking of 8th for Putts Per Green in regulation though and he topped the scrambling stats that week but here at St Andrews, of those two very important stats, I'd definitely favour Putting Average.
The greens here are absolutely huge and a good putting touch, especially from distance, is vital and as you'll see above, the last three winners here all had a Putting Average ranking inside the top-ten and Woods won here in 2005 ranking just 53rd for GIR.
So, ideally, you need to be long off the tee and a great putter but with 14 par 4s at St Andrews, Par 4 Performance is arguably the most important stat. Oosthuizen ranked number one in 2010 and played them in 13-under-par and so did Woods in 2000 and five years later he played them in seven-under, a tally only bettered by Darren Clarke, who played them in eight-under.
Playing the par 4s isn't just vital at St Andrews - seven of the last ten Open winners have ranked 1st or 2nd so it's a key tournament stat, regardless of venue.
Here are the top-ten ranked players for Par 4 performance over the last three months (excluding the Scottish Open and John Deere Classic results) on both main tours.
European Tour Top-Ten
Thongchai Jaidee -5 3.97 average (18 rounds)
James Morrison -3 3.99 average (24 rounds)
Byeong-Hun An -1 3.99 average (17 rounds)
Miguel Angel Jimenez Lev par 4.0 average (14 rounds)
Rafa Cabrera-Bello +3 4.01 average (28 rounds)
Tyrell Hatton +2 4.01 average (24 rounds)
Daniel Gaunt +2 4.01 average (16 rounds)
Bernd Wiesberger +4 4.02 average (16 rounds)
Kristoffer Broberg +9 4.03 average (28 rounds)
Max Kieffer +10 4.03 average (32 rounds)
PGA Tour Top Ten and Ties
Rory McIlroy -17 3.9 average (16 rounds)
Pat Perez -23 3.91 average (24 rounds)
Sean O'Hair -20 3.92 average (24 rounds)
Greg Owen -18 3.92 average (20 rounds)
Francesco Molinari -10 3.93 average (12 rounds)
Bryce Molder -21 3.94 average (30 rounds)
Kevin Kisner -20 3.94 average (32 rounds)
Jordan Spieth -18 3.94 average (26 rounds)
Brandt Snedeker -16 3.94 average (24 rounds)
Steve Bowditch -18 3.95 average (35 rounds)
Kerry Kelly -13 3.95 average (24 rounds)
John Peterson -13 3.95 average (23 rounds)
Shawn Stefani -11 3.95 average (20 rounds)
Justin Rose -9 3.95 average (18 rounds)
Sergio Garcia -8 3.95 average (16 rounds)
Will Wilcox -9 3.95 average (14 rounds)
Is There an Angle In?
The last five winners have all played in the Scottish Open the week before and that's not in the least bit surprising. There are no travel issues or time changes to overcome and now that the Scottish is played on a links course (since 2011) it makes for a perfect preparatory outing.
In stark contrast, the only winner in the last 24 years to have played in the States the week before winning is Todd Hamilton, who finished 59th at the John Deere Classic before edging out Ernie Els in a playoff at Troon 11 years ago. A number of winners took the week off having played in the old Western Open (now rebranded as the BMW Championship and moved in the schedule) and Nick Price won at Turnberry in 1994, two weeks after winning the Western Open, but significantly, he'd taken a week off in between.
In addition to Hamilton in 2004, Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship a week after losing a playoff at the now defunct New England Classic so it can be done but the difference between the two prep events is vast and I'd definitely favour those that played at Gullane over those that played Deere Run - a big negative for favourite, Jordan Spieth.
Look to players with previous form in links events. Look at the Scottish Open over the last five years, the Irish Open in 2012 (Royal Portrush) and 2015 (Royal County Down), previous Open Championships, and the Dunhill Links Championship, which is staged each autumn over three links courses, including St Andrews. And make sure you check out this great piece by Dave Tindall, in which he's painstakingly stripped out recent form at the two other venues used in the Alfred Dunhill.
And finally, it's a bit leftfield as it's not a links course as such but the Qatar Masters, played at Doha Golf Club, produces leaderboards jam-packed with links specialists year after year so anyone with a decent bank of form there may be worthy of interest.
A victory in the last 12 months is a very strong pointer. Only three winners this century, Ben Curtis, Stewart Cink and Ernie Els, hadn't won on either the PGA Tour or the European Tour in the twelve months prior to winning the Open.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Rory McIlroy may have become just the third man in history to win three of the four majors at the age of 25 when he took the title last year but this is still the major where veterans perform best.
Robert Karlsson got to within three of the lead at one stage last year and Jim Furyk finished fourth. The three winners before Rory were all in their 40s and who will ever forget how close Tom Watson came to winning in 2009, or even Greg Norman a year earlier.
Experience counts for plenty and I would think very carefully before backing a first timer or anyone with only one or two Opens under their belts.
The aforementioned Lema was winning on debut in 1964 but only the great Ben Hogan, in 1953, had won on debut in the 30 years previous. Watson, a real Open specialist, was successful with his first attempt in 1975 but the only debutant to win since then is Curtis in 2003.
Since the turn of the century, 12 of the 15 winners have played in at least six Open Championships AND finished inside the top-six at least once in the event previously. The three that didn't fit that criteria, Curtis, Hamilton and Oosthuizen were all huge outsiders so if you are going to back someone without a top-six finish previously or/and at least six Open starts, make sure they're a big price.
Outsiders are worth chancing. Rory was obviously well-fancied last year, as was Phil Mickelson in 2013, but Ernie Els was a 55.054/1 shot in 2012 and three winners before him were all matched before the off at - at least 300.0299/1.
While watching the coverage, you'll invariably hear the commentators say on several occasions that there's a long way to go and that there's plenty of time to make up lost ground or that anyone that makes the weekend can still win - words to that effect. Those with long memories may recall Paul Lawrie's miraculous win at Carnoustie in 1999 from ten shots back with a round to go but that was a freak result of monumental proportions and I can't stress enough how important a fast start is.
I've looked at every post Second World War Open staged at St Andrews and every winner has been up with the pace from the get-go...
1946 - Sam Snead - tied 4th and two off the lead
1955 - Peter Thompson - tied 10th and two off the lead
1957 - Bobby Locke - tied 4th and two off the lead
1960 - Kel Nagle - tied 2nd and two off the lead
1964 - Tony Lema - tied 5th and two off the lead
1970 - Jack Nicklaus - tied 8th and three off the lead
1978 - Jack Nicklaus - tied 13th and three off the lead
1984 - Seve Ballesteros - tied 5th and two off the lead
1990 - Nick Faldo - 3rd and one off the lead
1995 - John Daly - tied for the lead
2000 - Tiger Woods - tied 2nd and one off the lead
2005 - Tiger Woods - lead by a stroke
2010 - Louis Oosthuizen - 2nd and two off the lead
So in the 13 post war Opens at St Andrews, Jack Nicklaus is the only man to win having trailed by more than two strokes after round one and he's the only winner to be outside the top-ten. A sluggish start won't do here, and that's usually the case at any Open venue.
Rory led wire-to-wire 12 months ago and only one winner, Harrington in 2008, in the ten years that preceded Rory's win was outside the top-ten after round one so a fast start is absolutely essential.
Not every winner has been hard on the pace though, and what a fast start does more than anything is allow for an almost obligatory blip. We've seen quite a bit of final round drama of late with three of the last six coming from off the pace after falling back a bit following a fast start. Lefty was five adrift through three rounds two years ago and Ernie Els in 2012 and Harrington in 2007, both rallied to win having trailed by as many as six strokes through 54 holes.
We've not seen any such dramatic comebacks at St Andrews though. If the weather isn't too bad, expect some separation. In truth, the last three Opens here have been largely dull affairs. Oosty assumed control to lead by five at halfway and he went on to win by seven five years ago and Tiger Woods did much the same thing in 2000 - leading by three at halfway and winning by eight before winning wire-to-wire by four strokes five years later. If we want to see an exciting Championship at St Andrews, the chances are, we'll need the wind to blow - as it did in 1995.
The wind did blow hard in 2010 but only in spells. Rory McIlroy held a handsome first round lead after a scintillating opening 63, but he was blown off course completely late on Friday when he shot 80. The strange thing about that renewal was when the wind blew because there wasn't a clear morning - afternoon bias with the scoring differential between morning and afternoon tee times over the first two days being less than a stroke at 0.41.
Louis's afternoon round on Thursday was really a late morning start (11:52) and he was out so early on Friday (06:41) that he missed all the bad weather and shot 67. Rory, on the other hand, had what looked a more favourable draw before the off of 08:20 on day one and 13:31 on day two but was battered by the high winds on Friday.
The draw is very important and can be the difference between winning and losing as it most certainly was five years ago and as it was again last year when those drawn early-late enjoyed an advantage that averaged out at 3.41 strokes.
If you plan to bet in-running, remember that the scoring section is between holes 5 and 10, concentrate on the leaders from early on, and keep a really close eye on the weather.
Less than a fortnight ago, this year's Open Championship was set to be billed as a possible duel between defending champion and world number one, Rory McIlroy, and Grand Slam-chasing world number two, Jordan Spieth, but with Rory injuring his ankle playing football, he becomes the first Open Champion not to defend since Ben Hogan fully 61 years ago. And I think having his main rival absent may actually prove to be a bit of a negative for Spieth.
At just 21-years-old, young Jordan is attempting to win his third straight major, to keep alive the incredible dream of winning all four majors in the same calendar year. That feat has never been achieved in the modern era and having Rory present to absorb media attention and pressure, would have been beneficial.
I also think he's made a very big mistake playing in the John Deere Classic. As highlighted earlier, playing in the States the week before has proved a handicap over the years and I'd have much preferred his chances had he played in the Scottish Open, or not at all.
It's perhaps dangerous to pay too much heed to stats when it comes to Spieth though - he certainly blew them all out of the water at The Masters - but this will be just his third Open, having finished 44th in 2013 and 36th last year, and this will be the first time he's played St Andrews. I recognise that the cream has risen to the top in previous Championships here, but all things considered, there are just too many negatives to make Spieth value at a single-figure price.
And at the prices, I don't like the second favourite either. The last time we saw Dustin Johnson he was three-putting away yet another chance to win his first major and I'm very surprised he hasn't played anywhere since that horror showon the 18th green at Chambers Bay. An outing somewhere - anywhere! - to get that out of his system may have been beneficial and that's just one reason why I've turned my nose up him at the price.
The big-hitter has just the right game for this year's venue and he has a solid bank of Open Championship form. Since he finished 14th here in 2010, he's finished inside the top-12 in three of his next four Opens. He had a great chance to win at Royal St Georges in 2011 but went out of bounds on the par 5 14th, just as he looked like the biggest danger to eventual winner, Darren Clarke.
In total he's had at least four great chances to win his first major and he's come up short every time. And although we'll all remember how he failed on the 18th at Chambers Bay, that was actually the second time he blew that one. He traded at just 1.664/6 as he made the turn in round four when seemingly taking control but as soon as he looked likely to win, he bogeyed three holes in four. I'm not saying he'll never win a major, although I do have my doubts, but I do think he's too short given he never wins by a wide margin and that the major monkey on his back is growing bigger and bigger.
After two rounds at Gullane Justin Rose is putting up a very respectable title defence at the Scottish Open and he will be a popular pick but his Open record really is poor. Since finishing fourth at Royal Birkdale in 1998 as an amateur, Rose has played in the event 12 times without making one top-ten. He has finished runner-up at the Dunhill Links (in 2007) but in his only Open appearance here (2010) he missed the cut.
Adam Scott famously threw away the 2012 Championship before winning the Masters the following spring. He'll be buoyed by having Steve Williams back on the bag and by his tied 4th in the US Open last time out. He's finished inside the top-five in each of his last three Opens but in his major appearances at St Andrews he missed the cut in 2000, finished 34th in 2005 and 27th in 2010. Four Alfred Dunhill appearances have yielded a solitary top-ten so his St Andrews form isn't great.
If you do want to back Scott, don't be put off by the fact he hasn't played since his tied 4th at Chambers Bay - the Aussie enjoys playing a light schedule and is more than capable of playing well when fresh.
Henrik Stenson has missed five cuts in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship but I wouldn't give that too much credence. The long pro-am rounds may have a lot to do with that record and he clearly loves St Andrews. He finished third behind Louis Oosthuizen five years ago and he has finished inside the top-8 in three ADLCs. My big concern with Henrik is whether he can hold his nerve to become the first ever Swede to win a major. For all that he has a great chance he is just a bit too short in the betting.
And you can certainly say the same of the 2010 winner. Louis played the last three rounds at Chambers Bay in 66, 66 and 67 to finish second after an opening 77 and if he plays like that, the others won't see him for dust, but he's since missed the cut at the Travelers and finished 73rd at the Greenbrier. With the constant threat of injury surrounding the South African, I'm happy to overlook him at the price.
I'm going to be concentrating most of my efforts in running but I've still managed to back eight players before the off- although six of them are at huge prices.
I backed Martin Kaymer last week when he moved in to contention at the Open de France, where for the first time in months, he showed some really good form. The affable German describes St Andrews as his favourite course and the huge greens play to his strengths as he's a terrific lag putter. It was his putting prowess, often from off the green, that won him the US Open at Pinehurst in 2014.
If the wind gets up, Kaymer has the game to cope and if it's a relatively benign week, he's more than capable of making plenty of birdies. I was more than happy to take 55.054/1 about him last week but anything around 40.039/1 still represents value.
I've set out the case for Brandt Snedeker in the each-way column and I've backed him on the exchange at 65.064/1 but after that it's outsiders all the way.
I backed Branden Grace to win the aforementioned Qatar Masters back in February and as he was winning there I backed him each-way here at 125/1 so after his brilliant effort at the US Open, where he finished 4th, I'm clutching quite a nice voucher. He's a former winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he led all the way, and he was second to Phil Mickelson in the Scottish Open two years ago. He's also a winner at the Fancourt Links in South Africa and if he can find some form, I fancy he could go really well.
I'm not at all sure whether Tommy Fleetwood is ready to win a major but with his fantastic course form he might make for a great trading vehicle. And like the remainder of my picks, he was backed more than a week ago.
Geoff Ogilvy was in reasonable form at the US Open last time out and he ticks lots of boxes. A winner within the last 12 months (won the Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour), a major winner already (2006 US Open), a top-six finish in one of 11 Open Championship appearances (5th here in 2005) and to top it all, he's another who claims St Andrews is his favourite course.
Thongchai Jaidee's best finish in an Open Championship is just tied 13th but he's a great links and wind exponent and given how well he's playing this year, I was more than happy to take a small chance on him at 400.0399/1.
Having not played brilliantly since I backed them, I don't hold out too many hopes for either of my last two picks - Thomas Bjorn and Mikko Ilonen - but they're both multiple winners and fantastic links players so I'm more than happy to have them onside at what are quite frankly ridiculous prices.
Martin Kaymer @ 55.054/1
Brandt Snedeker @ 65.064/1
Branden Grace @ 125/1 (each-way)
Tommy Fleetwood @ 160.0159/1
Geoff Ogilvy @ 300.0299/1
Thongchai Jaidee @ 400.0399/1
Thomas Bjorn @ 400.0399/1
Mikko Ilonen @ 650.0649/1
I'll be back in the next few days with a look at some of the side markets, as well as a preview of the brand new Barbasol Championship on the PGA Tour, which also starts on Thursday, and I'll kick off the In-Play Blog on Thursday evening.
* You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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