146th Open Championship Preview

07-18-17

The Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale on the Irish Sea for a 10th time to determine this year’s Champion Golfer.

Henrik Stenson looks to join a very exclusive club who have defended the title.

146th Open Championship

 

Royal Birkdale

Southport, Merseyside, United Kingdom

 

Yards: 7,156 per the official scorecard;

Par: 70 (34-36);

Course Architect(s): Fredrick G. Hawtree and J.H. Taylor (1894); Martin Hawtree (1993).

Bunkers: 123

Purse: $10.25 million; over $1.6 million (winner) plus 600 FEC points.

Defending Champion:  Sweden’s Henrik Stenson out-dueled Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon to win his and his country’s first major championship.

Defending Champion (course): Padraig Harrington defended his title in 2008 by defeating Ian Poulter by four shots.

Notes: 156 players; top 70 and ties play the weekend.

Notes II: This will be Royal Birkdale’s 10th time as host.

 

2016-17 PGA Tour Winners

Frys.com: Brendan Steele,

CIMB: Justin Thomas

WGC-HSBC: Hideki Matsuyama

Sanderson Farms: Cody Gribble**

Shriners: Rod Pampling

OHL Mayakoba: Pat Perez

RSM Classic: Mackenzie Hughes**

SBS TOC: Justin Thomas

Sony Open: Justin Thomas

CB Challenge: Hudson Swafford*

Farmers: Jon Rahm*

WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama

AT&T Pebble Beach: Jordan Spieth

Genesis Open: Dustin Johnson

Honda: Rickie Fowler

WGC-MC: Dustin Johnson

Valspar: Adam Hadwin*

Arnold Palmer: Marc Leishman

WGC-Match Play: Dustin Johnson

Shell Houston Open: Russell Henley

Masters: Sergio Garcia

RBC Heritage: Wesley Bryan**

Valero Texas Open: Kevin Chappell*

Zurich Classic: Cameron Smith* & Jonas Blixt

Wells Fargo Championship: Brian Harman

THE PLAYERS: Si Woo Kim

AT&T Byron Nelson: Billy Horschel

Colonial: Kevin Kisner

Memorial: Jason Dufner

FESJC: Daniel Berger

U.S. Open: Brooks Koepka

Travelers: Jordan Spieth

QLN: Kyle Stanley

Greenbrier: Xander Schauffele**

John Deere Classic: Bryson DeChambeau**

*-First-time winner

**-First-time winner AND rookie winner

 

Recent Open Winners

Major champions at this event point to two important trends. See if you can pick them out.

2016: Henrik Stenson, 41, (Royal Troon)

2015: Zach Johnson, 39, (St. Andrews)

2014: Rory McIlroy, 25, (Royal Liverpool)

2013: Phil Mickelson, 43, (Muirfield)

2012: Ernie Els, 42, (Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s)

2011: Darren Clarke, 42, (Royal St. George’s)

2010: Louis Oosthuizen, 27, (St. Andrews)

2009: Stewart Cink, 36, (Turnberry)

2008: Padraig Harrington, 36, (Royal Birkdale)

2007: Padraig Harrington, 35, (Carnoustie)

A quick look suggests that experienced, veteran ball-strikers have the majority rule.

 

Winners at Royal Birkdale

1954: Peter Thomson

1961: Arnold Palmer

1965: Peter Thomson

1971: Lee Trevino

1976: Johnny Miller

1983: Tom Watson

1991: Ian Baker Finch

1998: Mark O’Meara

2008: Padraig Harrington

This list starts off on fire with legends of the game and ends with some interesting guys. Baker-Finch won only twice on the PGA Tour and once in Europe. O’Meara won 16 events on Tour and his last two were the 1998 Masters and 1998 Open Championship. Harrington won three majors in 13 months from the 2007 Open to the 2008 PGA Championship but didn’t win for eight more years on Tour and nine more years in Europe.

Bizarre.

 

The Particulars:

The keys this week for the winner at Royal Birkdale will be:

1.) Drive for dough. With doglegs on more holes than not, this Open venue won’t have the wide fairways that we’ve seen at Troon or St. Andrews. With plenty of fairway bunkers strategically places and grass-covered sea dunes lining the fairways, those who can control trajectory and placement will have plenty of chances to find more GIR than not. Putting is rarely an issue in these events, also evidenced by that list of winners, because the greens are kept at a level that won’t allow the balls to roll off if Mother Nature turns up.

2.) Mental toughness. Nothing like an immeasurable trait but the list of players to win The Open gives us some clues. Players who have usually been around the block once or twice have had the most successes. I’m going to lean on guys who have played THIS EVENT well and tend to thrive from tee-to-green. Knowing how to get it around in less-than-optimum conditions is worth more this week than recent form. Those who have suffered the most should have the most points of reference, also known as experience.

3.) Mental toughness II: They’ll play 14 holes before seeing their first par five. By then they’ll have played 11 par fours and three par threes so those who have the patience on the two inward par fives could prosper. Those who don’t have the patience to navigate and prefer bomb-and-gouge to make it all back up in two holes might be the first ones on the plane home. Johnny Miller used 1-iron all week en route to victory in 1976. The last time Royal Birkdale hosted 10-OVER par was T-5 so taking bogeys and perhaps doubles won’t be the end of the world this week. Find somebody who can properly flight the golf ball and grind out pars as risky behavior this week probably won’t be rewarded unless the wind doesn’t show up.

 

Weather:

I just keep circling back to mental toughness and experience and the forecast forces me into that direction. The good news, as of Monday afternoon, is the wind looks to be prevailing so the course will play as designed. The better news is it looks to be prevailing all four days so they won’t be playing the course differently each day. This will help the field.

The routing of the course is interesting that there aren’t many consecutive holes playing in the same direction. I’ll lean on the experience of those who can handle wind to handle gusts, trajectory and know when and how to miss it.

 

Facts and Figures:

 

  • Most titles: six, Harry Vardon.
  • Multiple winners in the field: two, Harrington and Els.
  • Last to defend: Harrington, 2007-08; only six players in 145 previous events.
  • Of the last 11 winners, eight have resided inside of the OWGR top 30.
  • Debutant winners in the last 40 years: Tom Watson and Ben Curtis.
  • Youngest modern-era winner: Seve Ballesteros, 22, 1979.
  • Oldest modern-era winner: Roberto Di Vincenzo, 44, 1967.
  • Tournament record: 264, Stenson, 2016.
  • Event low round: 63, Stenson (last), 2016.
  • Winners the week before a major: 11, last McIlroy (WGC-BI) 2014 PGA Championship.
  • Winners the week before The Open: two, Lee Trevino, 1971 and Mickelson, 2013.
  • Since the OWGR began in the mid-1980, only EIGHT players outside the top 100 have won majors. Todd Hamilton was No. 56 when he won here in 2004.

 

The Field

 

Favorites

In order of preference for this week and tournament only. Rankings vary week-to-week based on event, course, life, etc.

 

Sergio Garcia: The Masters champion hasn’t rested on his laurels or decided that winning major was the end of his career. I was probably one of many who were on the losing side of the wager that The Open Championship would be where he claimed his first major. Of his 16 weekends, 10 have gone for top 10’s including the last three years. In five events since winning at Augusta he hasn’t MC and all five results are T-30 or better including T-2 in Munich his last time out.

Jordan Spieth: It’s no secret that he prefers the challenges of working the golf ball both directions (see: Colonial) and doesn’t mind a bit of wind. Both of these factors keep him locked in and focused. The last time we saw him he was holing a bunker shot to win the Travelers. The short game travels and when par is an excellent score that comes in very handy.

Rickie Fowler: The hardest thing to do in golf is to win the first major but history is kind to Fowler here. The last seven winners of major championships have been first-timers including Stenson last year. He’s made six cuts in seven tries across the pond that includes a T-5 in 2011 and T-2 in 2014. He had a taste at Augusta and Erin Hills and was T-3 at QLN his last time suggesting all cylinders firing.

Adam Scott: Anytime pounding fairways and greens is required he usually falls right about here and this week isn’t any different. He prepped last week at Dondonald links and got a feel of the coastal winds he and the field will face again this week. With par being an excellent score this week I won’t have to worry about his putter being on fire. His run of four consecutive top 10’s was squashed last year when 20-under was the winning score.

Dustin Johnson: He’s first in SG: Off the Tee, Tee to Green, Total AND leads the Tour in GIR. His record in weather and wind is stout and his ball flight doesn’t seem bothered by the elements. His last seven Opens have included five top 15 finishes so he has plenty of experience. He should perk up at how difficult this place should play and I’d expect him to be firmly in the mix regardless of draw or conditions.

Jon Rahm: His performance on the links the last two weeks in Ireland and Scotland should have gamers of all kinds drooling as he looks to become the eighth consecutive player to win his first major. I’d pump the brakes a bit but the way he powers through the ball and has no problem adapting to brand new tracks I can’t find a reason to knock him this week. After adjusting his temper issues after Erin Hills it seems he’s found a way to channel that energy into positive results with T-10 and a win in his last two. He’s complicated but so is fantasy golf.

Tommy Fleetwood: Speaking of piping hot, add in he’s the local lad and the Hollywood scripts are starting to write themselves. With top 10’s in his last four worldwide including a win on the 2018 Ryder Cup course in Paris, it’s not a surprise why he’s in the mix. His strength is tee-to-green play and he shouldn’t have any issues adapting to whatever weather blows off the Irish Sea. His record in the event is room for pause but I’m not leaving that form on the sideline.

Matt Kuchar: I’m going to load up on him across the board as his game is perfect for Royal Birkdale. He’s one of the few who hits it low anyhow so he won’t be fiddling around with trajectory all week. If this is the hardest of the tracks Kuchar will be in the mix because he’s not required to bomb it, is fairly accurate as he can work it off the tee and has a mint short game. It’s not hard to see why he’s on my radar.

Brandt Snedeker: His history of winning on both coasts in the US hasn’t translated to The Open Championship as he has only made four weekends from eight tries. I don’t question his ability to grind out pars and he should have enough scar tissue built up if he’s in the fight on the weekend. If par is a good score there’s nothing wrong with leaning on a guy who can scramble for his life. He should be overlooked on his record at the event but he was T-9 at Erin Hills and T-14 at Travelers his last two on Tour.

Paul Casey: Terrible record in this event moves him down the list but his ball-striking is rarely an issue. He checks in third GIR and top 50 in fairways.

Hideki Matsuyama: The Japanese is included in the conversation about the best not to win a major. He contended at Augusta (T-11) and couldn’t chase down Brooks Koepka (T-2) at Erin Hills. His very good tee-to-green isn’t bested by many and I liked that he came over early to play the Irish Open for more links reps.

Brooks Koepka: He should probably be higher up the board based on his record in the majors alone. Add to it that he cut his teeth on the Challenge Tour and European Tour and he’ll be one familiar with the weather conditions and course set-up. His dominating U.S. Open can’t give him anything but confidence and he hasn’t played since claiming that title.

Rafael Cabrera-Bello: He’ll be free as a bird this week after picking up his first win since 2012 last week at Dundonald links in a playoff. His bogey-free 64 to close highlighted why he’s one of the best ball-strikers in Europe. Only 11 players have won the week before a major and pulled off the double. I’d rather lean on in-form players who will play their third consecutive event on links courses.

Henrik Stenson: Ironically he gets to defend on the same track that Harrington did in 2008 and that simply alone will drive his price up. With 10 weekends from 12 attempts and half of those going for top 25’s he’s a safe, solid play. Asking or expecting him to defend on his current form will be a stretch but that trusty 3-wood could be the difference.

Phil Mickelson: There was a time a long, long time ago when he absolutely had no idea how to play these tracks. Since 2011 he’s never finished worse than T-22 and that includes his win at Muirfield and a pair of seconds. I like that he declined to play Dundonald links last week to focus on relearning Royal Birkdale. He’s been lightly raced over the last six weeks and should be ready to fire. I love that he’s going with 3-wood and 3-iron in the bag this week instead of driver (for now).

Justin Rose: It’s always surprising to read annually that Nick Faldo is the last Englishman to win The Open (1992). Rose made a name for himself here as low amateur in 1998 (T-4) and has turned into one of the game’s best on difficult course set-ups and this week easily qualifies. He shook off the MC blues from the U.S. Open with T-4 at Portstewart two weeks ago.

Francesco Molinari: If ever a course set up for a guy this one might just be perfect. The strengths of his game are finding fairways (3rd on Tour) and GIR (28th). Unlike Erin Hills (MC) he won’t have to worry about covering 7,800 yards at Royal Birkdale.

 

Supporting Cast

Just missed and should make excellent support staff for deeper games/tickets.

Louis Oosthuizen: The last time he MC was last year’s event at Royal Troon but you’ll do worse than finding a guy who’s well rested and seventh in Strokes Gained: Total. A notorious ball-striker he’s won this event and finished second this decade and will be making his 11th start.

Patrick Reed: I prefer him on the tougher courses where he can highlight his fantastic short game. He’s from Texas so the wind won’t be unfamiliar and he’ll grind with the best of him.

Steve Stricker: He probably should be rated higher as he’s finished T-16 at the first two majors of the year and hasn’t MC in 24 consecutive majors. Straight as an arrow and an excellent putter, he’s probably one of the safest plays this week.

Mark Leishman: Noted wind player and grinder, the Aussie has rattled off six finishes of T-34 or better in his last six weekends. The highlight was T-5 in his last event at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.

Ian Poulter: Went close again last time out in Scotland and made it in this week via qualifier. His all-or-nothing finishes in this event push him one category down but I can’t dispute his solo second here in 2008.

Charl Schwartzel: More proof isn’t required here as the South African gets what it takes to play well in the UK. He’s played the weekend in six of seven attempts this decade and five of those are T-18 or better.

Daniel Berger: There are always exceptions to rules and Berger is this week’s contributor. He’s hit the top five in three of his last four and four of his last eight. His lack of experience on the links is the factor that holds him back this week but he’s playing great.

Brian Harman: The Sea Island resident should be familiar with playing in the breeze. His career year motors on as he’s backed his victory with three top 10’s in his next six appearances.

Andy Sullivan: Quietly has rattled off 10 cuts made in a row with T-20 and T-9 on the links of Ireland and Scotland in his last two. He’s played The Open twice, T-30 in ’15 and T-12 last year.

Padraig Harrington: The Royal Birkdale connection is powerful, I agree, but I think that stings his value. His T-4 last week and four consecutive cuts made worldwide didn’t help him slip into the cracks. It’s interesting that he’s never finished better than T-20 after his back-to-back wins.

Bill Haas: He produced his best finish in a major last year at Royal Troon (T-9). He bested that at Erin Hills with T-5. This man makes par for a living and that translates on difficult tracks.

Kevin Chappell: Some guys I don’t rank high enough and some guys I rank too highly! A top 10 at the Masters and T-23 at Erin Hills plus a win in between allows me some freedom as he takes on only his second Open.

Branden Grace: He’s never missed in six tries at this event and he’s made 14 of 15 cuts in 2017. I’d prefer his chances on 7,800-yard, par-72 but his ball-striking always gives him a shot.

Shane Lowry: Some of his best results as a pro have been on tracks such as Firestone, Oakmont and Wentworth. Those aren’t easy places to win or contend. Toss in his Irish heritage and you’re locked in.

Zach Johnson: The 2015 champ has rattled off 10 in a row in the U.K. and enters the week off of his best finish of the year, T-5, at the JDC. Five of his last six finishes are T-16 or better and he knows it’s “go time” if he’s going to factor in the FEC Playoffs. #Momentum.

Jason Dufner: I bet he wishes he could play on tracks like this every week. He hasn’t MC in the last five years at the Open but he’s MC in three of his last four worldwide starts. The other was his win at Memorial. He won his only major on a difficult, tight Oak Hill layout.

 

Range Jockeys

Long shots, no-names with names, trending, event jockeys and everyone else with a few warts.

Ben An: Formidable ball-striker that ranks in the top 30 in the major strokes gained categories (Off the Tee, Approach and Tee to Green) and has won at Wentworth.

Peter Uihlein: The French Open track where he finished second was/is no joke. He backed that up at Portstewart with T-14 before missing out at Dundonald links. T-33 or better in 11 of his last 14 starts worldwide and plays mainly on the European Tour.

Ryan Fox: What does the Fox say? I’m on fire, people. Check his last six finishes and get back to me including his back-to-back T-4’s at Portstewart and Dundonald. #AllInAllFormats. I’m trying to hide him down here.

Pablo Larrazabal: Belting all-or-nothing form allows me to take a flyer here on the Spaniard who’ll no doubt be inspired by his three countrymen inside the world top 20.

Gary Woodland: Making cuts but not cashing big checks on Tour and he’s also five-for-five across the pond. He’ll have no problem working the ball through the wind and hits plenty of GIR.

Brendan Steele: Similar to Harman, Steele is the midst of a career season on Tour as well. This will be his third Open Championship and hopefully he’ll have learned from his MC’s. He’s in the best shape of his life and his entire bag has been solid all year.

Andrew Johnston: The man, the myth, the legend returns to the scene of the crime where he broke onto the world’s stage last year finishing eighth. He’s been grinding along in the U.S.A but his best finishes have been in Europe.

Matthew Southgate: There’s always an Englishman that pokes his head above the crowd in this event so I’ll go with the guy who was T-2 at Portstewart and T-12 at Troon last year.

Tyrell Hatton: Flusher on zero form but the Englishman has links experience and results in his CV. The deeper his price, the better for players as he’ll be flying under the radar’s radar.

Webb Simpson: I probably should have had him higher up this list because his putting this week won’t be as much of a factor. His short game has been excellent and he’s had enough experience across the pond to handle some breeze. His nice run of form in the States suggests something’s brewing here.

Bryson DeChambeau: Only 11 players have gone on to do the double after winning the week before a major. His confidence is sky high obviously and it was his putting that put him over the top last week. I’ll take a normal week this week where he just pounds fairways and greens.

 

Fades:

Not this week

Rory McIlroy: I went back and forth on this for an hour. If he flips the switch and wins this week I won’t be terribly surprised because he’s that talented. I will be surprised because he hasn’t finished better than T-17 in five events since his last top 10, T-7 at Augusta. He was T-35 at a quirky TPC Sawgrass that doesn’t let you spray it. He MC at Erin Hills with massive fairways. On a 6,800 yard TPC River Highlands he couldn’t crack the top 15. He gets a pass at his own event but I’m not sure I saw anything last week that showed me signs of life. Multiple weather reports show he might also be on the wrong side of the draw (late-early) so if you’re confused or not sure, abandon ship, it’s not against the law. I am.

Jason Day: His best two finishes in this event are his last two trips (T-4 & T-22) but he’s never missed a weekend from six tries. Similarly with Johnson and McIlroy he’s coming off back-to-back MC but he’s had a month to sort it out. His big boy short game saves plenty of shots and can grind but if he’s swinging driver all week, gulp…Fade is always relative but what you’re spending to get him, T-20-something isn’t value.

Bubba Watson: This shouldn’t be a surprise to any pro gamers. I’ve added him for the new eyes I usually gain this time of year. He’s not a fan of moisture on the ball, blind shots, etc. He’s also enduring one of his worst seasons on Tour.

Chris Wood: WD in Paris with a wrist problem will temper some of the nostalgia from 2008 when he was low amateur. I don’t chase injured or returning from injured players. Help yourself.

Danny Willett: He’s WD from three of his last five events worldwide. Simples.

 

Next:

 

Wednesday I’ll present my gaming angles for the week so keep your eyes peeled at @MikeGlasscott and mikeglasscott.com for more information.

 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through Twitter or email me mikeglasscott@gmail.com.

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