The third major of 2016 is nearly upon us and it is my job to sift through the field and find the most appealing bets, and my goodness it isn't easy. Royal Troon in Ayrshire is the venue and the weather forecast for the week ahead at the minute looks fairly calm. This will make for an interesting Open.
Troon is a strange one in that an American has won the last six renewals to be played here. It isn't too hard to understand why. Greens here are quite small and Americans are used to hitting a high ball flight in the States with favourable weather. This is no doubt an advantage coming to Troon as the smaller greens are more receptive to a ball coming in from a greater height. Due to record rainfall over the last number of months Troon will play very soft so that may or may not level the playing field between the yanks and the rest of the field. We will have to wait and see how that plays out.
I can remember from my own trip to the Open in 2004 that Troon is very much a tale of two nines. A lot has already been written about that this last week but it certainly is true. The early holes on the front nine are very scoreable and given the fair weather on the horizon it will be imperative to get off to a decent start. There will be plenty 4 under through five holes and if you get off to a slow start on those holes with a harder back 9 to play then you may begin to chase, and that rarely turns out swell at an Open Championship.
I walked six holes with Phil Mickelson on the Friday where he birdied four of them en route to a 66. It certainly is an integral part of contending this week and plenty will find it easy enough early doors.
Troon is an intricate layout, not overly long which means long and short hitters play off almost a level playing field. In 2004 the length of Phil Mick, Tiger, Retief, Love III was mixed with the more accurate games of Hamilton, Ernie, Levet, Verplank and Weir. I certainly prefer an ounce of precision around Troon as Fairway bunkers are an absolute pain in the backside to the pros. Almost every one is a penalty shot and those who steer the ball with a degree of caution I believe will have an advantage over the rest. Length as ever though, plays a huge part in the modern game and it can not be ruled out that a mammoth buster of the ball may just be lifting the Claret Jug come Sunday evening.
I've had a mighty hard task at whittling down a number of potential winners in this Open and even at the time of writing I can be swayed one way then the next as my battle continues to find the best bets. Let's start with Jason Day who has never been close to being on my shortlist. 4th last year at the most suitable Open venue for him St Andrews was his best finish to date in this Championship. Four other made cuts is consistent but not spectacular enough to make me believe this is his time to lift the Claret Jug. Out of the favs he'd be the one I'd oppose the most.
McIlroy arrives here amidst some swing changes and I don't fully believe he is ready for this. His performances all year long have lacked that 'x factor' that the likes of Dusty or Day has. His win at the Irish Open was the highlight of the year but he made hard work of that also. Dustin Johnson, although making my shortlist was one of the first stroked off. He is the best golfer in the world right now in my opinion and has the game to overpower Troon. I could not rule him out striping it all week. However, with decent weather I do believe he will have a hard task in separating himself from the rest.
I'll always be looking for a tougher layout to back Dustin at in a major where his flawless long game can separate him easily from the rest. I don't believe Troon is ideal for that. Sergio Garcia was another I was very close to backing. His form this season has been superb with a win at the Byron Nelson being the highlight. He contested the US Open all the way to the final few holes and is certainly trending towards a big showing in this tournament. The price of 28/1 simply doesn't rock my world though. Even should he post three good number to be in the final groups on Sunday he is far from guaranteed a sufficient enough performance to take the title. A malnourished price in a major Championship is never worth supporting.
One price that can chew on for the next few days is the 12/1 floating about for Golden Child Jordan Spieth. Seven places out there also which results in us having a chunky each way bet. Dustin Johnson may be the hottest thing on spikes right now but without a doubt when we peruse over the history books in twenty years time the most prolific of them all in major Championships will be Jordan Spieth. His form in the last six majors reads WIN-WIN-4-2-2-37. The 37th at Oakmount can easily be forgotten as the venue wasn't to his liking. The sheer length of the course meant he found it hard to keep up.
Troon should be different and Spieth can continue the imperious record the yanks have at this venue. The big question mark surrounds the lads long game. Ball striking can be questionable and for a lot of this year he has been finding trouble off the tee. This is the worry and this is why we see a small bit of juice in his price of 12/1. After a brief period where his putter went cold it is now back better than ever. Analysts can show me any amount of stats as to how many shots he gains on the field while putting but nothing compares to how many he gains on the rest while the pressure is on. Plenty will hole the odd putt but over Saturdays and Sundays when the putts really count in contention he holes them with the regularity a Tiger in his pomp could only dream of.
This will be the armour that carries him in my opinion towards and potentially beyond Tiger's 14 major wins. I believe Troon is the ideal Open fit for Spieth as he is a placer of the ball off the tee primarily. Should his long game not be firing he has the ability to rescue himself with his short game. If his long game is firing then the rest can kiss goodbye to their chances. Of all the Open venues this one suits the American more than the rest. A bit of luck here and there and Spieth may just do the business.
From the headline pick onwards it gets a shade more difficult. There are plenty I like the look of this week. Branden Grace is an obvious choice, but almost too obvious. His career has been on an upwards trajectory for a few years now and this Open seems to be coming at a peak time in his game. His price in and around 30/1 is fair, only fair. I'm making a late decision to swerve Grace and I may live to regret it, let's hope not. He had a below par weekend in Scotland last weekend and along the same lines as why I'm not backing Dustin, I'd prefer a slightly more tougher layout before investing in the South African at somewhat skinny odds.
I believe it will take quite a low score to win here this week and one who is very capable of getting to the desired numbers is Henrik Stenson. There are two real plus points to Stenson this week, that is his current form, and his major form. In the last twelve months Henrik has posted one win, six runner ups, three 3rd placed finishes and four other top tens. Without being as prolific as the top 4 or 5 in the world he has been a model of consistency. His major form is equally as consistent. He pulled out of the US Open a few weeks back at the end of round 2 when it was clear he was going to miss the cut and didn't fancy coming back early on Saturday to complete a few holes.
Apart from that you have to go back to the Masters in 2011 where he last missed the cut in a major. His putting remains an issue but I do believe with his ability to steer the ball and hit an array of high and low iron shots that he has an advantage on the rest. He hasn't contended an awful lot down the stretch on a Sunday but when he has it has usually been at the Open. 3rd in 2008 and 2010 was backed up a runner up spot in 2013 which certainly shows Stenson has the capability to win this major. Most winners in the past have always placed before at this event so that trend is important. Stenson currently lies 6th in the world rankings and given his consistency this last twelve months I believe he is worthy of investment with the terms on offer.
Next on our list is Adam Scott. As ever Adam is lightly races heading into this event so judging his form is always a shade difficult. Recent performances are decent however and his long accurate game must have a chance of contending here around Troon. He is having one of his best years to date with a win at the Honda (incidentally four of the american winners around Troon have won the Honda) followed up by a win at Doral the following week. Those two weeks he had a wicked putting stroke and we'll be hoping for more of the same this week.
Again, should the calm conditions materialise I believe his high ball flight will be an advantage with the small greens. He has followed those two wins with five top 20 finishes in his following eight events so we can assume his form is quite decent heading into the third major of the year.
Scott will be remembered for blowing a hefty lead down the stretch at Lytham a number of years back but his interview straight after that defeat spoke volumes about the lads attitude. I remember noting then that the majors will follow that heartbreak. He didn't need to wait long as he won the green jacket the following spring. Other than runner up spot at Lytham he has posted four other top tens at the Open and clearly likes the links test. His price is only fair and I would've preferred a few points bigger but he is one of the more likely winners this week.
That's three of the more fancied runners dealt with and I'll have smaller bets on three lively outsiders. Hideki Matusyama is still in the infancy of his career but already boasts a proud major record. In fifteen major appearances he has only missed two cuts and posted two top tens in the Matsers, and top tens at both the US and British Opens. He posted a second round best of the day 66 at St Andrews last year during the worst conditions of the event. He clearly has the tools for an Open Championship and he is another whose high ball flight will be advantageous approaching these small targets.
At a tasty price of 66/1 he would have been a larger staked bet for me had his form not been so scrappy lately. CUT-CUT-42 read his last three events although Oakmount wouldn't have suited his game. Previous to that his form read 6-18-7-11-7 and of course he notched a win at the Phoenix in early Feb. He has come a long way in a couple of years and is known as a tee to green expert. Hitting greens will be important all week and we're hoping he can hole a few more putts than usual.
I'm keen to get another Yank on side and I'm tempted by the inflated odds on Matt Kuchar. As you can tell I'm keen to get the high ball hitters on side just Like Justin Leonard was back in 1997. Kuchar has only one top ten posted in the Open but this is his first trip to Troon and I believe it is the venue most likely to yield an Open victory to the consistent American. He has posted 13 top ten finishes in the last twelve months so for each-way backers looking at the amount of places on offer with the firms this week this rates as a decent each-way alternative to the favs. His last six tournaments read 3-3-6-4-46-3.
Oakmount once again can be stroked off that form guide as it was far too long for Matty to contend. This is very useful form coming into this event as most of the winners had posted good results in the lead up to the Open victory. Kuchar finds it hard to win though which means stakes will be kept relatively small for this one.
Finally we'll have a small bet on Rafa Cabrera Bello. Just how much improvement is in this lad is questionable but backing him right now could pay off. He may just have the ability to strike when the iron is hot. He is mega talented and we have seen his game improve a fair bit over the last six months. His firs travels to the States have been quite successful with a third place finish in the Matchplay, a 4th in Houston and a top 20 in the Masters. He definitely has game and a recent 4th at the tough French Open was a noteworthy performance.
A major victory is probably a bit beyond his grasp right now but the Open has a habit of throwing up an odd result or two. This would be a surprise in many peoples books, but not so mine. A speculative bet at 100/1, but under circumstances with the places on offer is a tempting one nonetheless.
Wherever you are watching and if you're lucky enough to attend, I hope you enjoy the Open and fingers crossed we are in the mix come Sunday afternoon.