The Open, Royal Birkdale, Southport, Merseyside, UK
Golf’s third major of the year and quite possibly the most awaited tournament in the world, the Open Championship, is back at Royal Birkdale after a gap of nine years. Royal Birkdale will offer a stiff challenge to golfers around the world with scoring set to be particularly difficult.
This Par-70 is just north of 7100 yards and has flat narrow fairways flanked by some serious rough. Landing in the thick stuff brings a lot of luck into play since the lie is completely unpredictable. The course is set by the Irish sea and that means the weather conditions will play a huge part in how the course plays.
Players will be bombarded with swirling winds that can change direction every few minutes. These winds are known to turn into howling gales at a moment’s notice and a little bit of rain is never too far away. The current weather forecast promises a consistently wet Friday and some showers on Sunday with winds remaining around the 11 mph mark for the most of the time.
The bunkers are almost always in play in every hole as well, so players will often find themselves in sand traps having to make some innovative plays. The Royal Birkdale Course will offer no leeway and push players to be at their absolute best. Look for some big names to miss the cut.
Every major golfer around the world who is fit and able will be at the Open this weekend trying etch their name in history. All of the top-50 players in the world will be represented. The Open Championship has been hosted by 14 different courses but only 9 since the 1950’s including St Andrews, Murifield, Toyal Troon and Turnberry. The last time the Open was played at the Royal Birkdale, Padraig Harrington won the tournament, his second successive year, with a score of 3 over par.
The defending champion is Henrik Stenson, while some other previous winners include Zach Johnson (2015), Rory McIlroy (2014), Phil Mickelson (2012) and Ernie Els (2011). This is a course where players will need to be very accurate, avoid mistakes and hit the ball cleanly in order to be able to navigate the difficult conditions. The greens on this course are not the most difficult, although, they will be fast, and so even average putters should be able to get the job done.
Scoring opportunities present themselves on the front nine and then become more difficult on the back nine. The best players will already have a score to hold on the back nine. The trick is to put yourself in a position most often to capitalise and minimise the horror holes.
Stats that Matter
Here is a statistic that does not get discussed a lot in major championships – age. The average age of the last champions at this course is 38.5 and clearly, age is not a disadvantage here. Players that know their game inside out, have some decent course history and the best way to navigate this course are at an advantage.
The Wolf is sticking to three stats categories for this tournament:
– Ball Striking
– Bogey Avoidance
Even though winners here have a solid putting performance, the Wolf believes that the nature of the greens on this course is such that putting stats will even themselves out over the field. Defending champion Henrik Stenson had 25 birdies, 7 bogeys, and 1 eagle last year when he won.
The Open Championship is one of the toughest tournaments in the world because of the nature of the course as well as the packed field. This is why it is almost always a player of pedigree that wins out. That being said, the Wolf recommends going past the usual suspects and avoiding Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlRoy.
Dustin Johnson has come down a notch from the absolute domination he was wreaking, Jon Rahm seems to need a little work on his temperament, Spieth is only just returning to his best while McIlroy is struggling for consistency. At the prices on offer the Wolf does not see real value in any of them.
Rickie Fowler is in excellent form and has the stats to back up his claim but he is also does not get the nod from the Wolf. That honour will go with Hideki Matsuyama at $21.00. Matsuyama is a big tournament player. He finished 11th at the Masters and 2nd at the US Open and his most recent finish was a 14th place at the Irish Open. A very clean striker of the ball, Matsuyama is 5th in Ball Striking, 17th in Scrambling and 7th in Bogey Avoidance. This could be his moment1
The Wolf says there is also some value around for Aussie Adam Scott at $26.00. This has not been Scott’s best year in golf but he did finish 9th at the Masters and seems to be picking up in recent tournaments. The missed cut at the US Open was a surprise although a T35 in a packed Scottish Open last week should help him get acclimatised to the conditions. Scott also has 4 top-10 finishes in the Open Championship in the last 5 years and the game to do well at the Royal Birkdale course. He currently sits 25th in ball striking, 118th in scrambling and 63rd in bogey avoidance.
For the outside pick, the Wolf is going with Matt Kuchar at$51.00. He has the form coming into this tournament with a T9, T12, T4, T16 and T4 in his last 5 tournaments. The last T4 came at the Scottish Open which had most of the big names in golf warming up for the Open and this carries a lot of weight. His stats are not too bad either with 77th in ball Striking, 10th in scrambling and 13th in bogey avoidance. One thing we know about ‘The Kooch’ is that he can hit it straight from sunrise to sunset and his swing rarely falls apart. You will not see a big score on his card and that means we should see him in contention on Sunday.
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