Open Championship Winner

I'll be looking to include a few more experienced types in my staking plan this week and I've been seduced by the current form of Francesco Molinari. The Italian has hit a purple patch in his career and looks set to contend here if he can continue this magnificent run of form.

Forever the one fumbling the bouquet at Wentworth, 2018 was finally the year it all came together and he won comfortably despite a bit of a wobble and scare around that 18th green.

When hot favourite in Italy he almost swept everyone away in the romance of it all by finishing runner up to Olesen who stole a march on the final few holes. He wasn't finished there, an imprssive top 25 in the US Open was followed up by a win at the Quicken Loans then a runner up finish at the John Deere last week to runaway victor Michael Kim. That is form a certain Irishman and former world number one could only dream of. Molinari is in the throws of something special and if a major win is to grace his professional years, this is the most likely time for it to happen.

Bookies are of course aware of this and priced accordingly but as I've said before on major weeks, it is a judgement call at this time. A plodding type is the one we're looking for here and escaping bunkers off the tee. Wentworth is a course that has been renowned for strategic bunkering (sometimes labelled unfair) and few have a better record there than Molinari.

He has plotted his way around the course and contended that event numerous times simply down to his tee to green acumen. The same strategy is required here this week and I think Francesco holds the key to unlock all the doors.

Francesco Molinari - 3pts e/w @ 33/1

I am taking the plunge with Rickie Fowler. With the place terms on offer I think I'd be foolish not to. It was genuine toss up between Fowler or Noren and I've opted for the former. Noren comes here off the back of a super victory at the Paris National and has developed into a player who can win on any track.

With a win around Wentworth and the 3rd placed finish there this year I think that's the ideal blueprint to have tucked away to play well here at Carnoustie this week amidst the conditions. However, the negative for me is that he has missed these last two weeks in Ireland and Scotland.

The conditions players have faced these last two weeks seems like ideal preparation for the fiery links that awaits for the Open. Judging distance off the tee and plotting your way to a good score like Knox in Ireland, and Pepperell in Scotland must be a good tonic for this week.

Noren has missed that opportunity and given the skinny enough odds it is just enough for me to switch allegiance to Fowler. Fowler played the firm and fast links in Scotland last week and resulted in a 6th placed spot and each way returns for readers of this column.

It was almost a lesson in temperament he was giving himself with taking his medicine when in bunkers and playing a shade conservative. It all looked like a plan for this week and with eight years of Open Championship golf under his belt this may just be the time for him to strike.

We know how much he loves the challenge of links golf and this remains his best chance of a major of all four. Just shades selection for me over the Swede.

Rickie Fowler - 3pts e/w @ 18/1

Xander Schauffele's career is still very much in the Spring and he already has a lot to show for it. I chuckled earlier in the week when I read his Tour Championship win at the end of last season was a 'surprise'.

His performances earlier in that season had warranted a lot of respect and to many he was no surprise winner of one of the tours flagship events. Previously that season he had won the Greenbrier and then made the trip to Birkdale for his first Open Championship. That resulted in a top 20 finish with a sparkling round of 65 on day four.

He has bagged two top 6 finishes in the US Open the last two years which shows just how adept he is in big tournaments. Interestingly those two US Open venues have been on the linksy side, especially Shinnecock this year. This season also boasts runner up finishes at Sawgrass and at Phoenix, two of the bigger events on the tour outside the Majors.

He arrives here off a tied 21st placed spot at the Greenbrier on defence of his title. It is easy to forget just what this lad is achieving right now and I've always bracketed him as one of the more strategic golfers. Winning at East Lake proves exactly that.

The putts he holed when winning that week showed how much balls this lad has. Ranked number 24 in the world and playing solid stuff off the back of a top 20 in this event on debut last year. There are currently 42 players in this field priced lower than Schauffele.

Something doesn't add up here and he looks to me as one of the best each-way betting prospects of the week.

Xander Schauffele - 1.5pts e/w @ 110/1

Kevin Na's victory at the Greenbrier a few weeks ago sparked many emotions for the 34 year old who had waited 7 years since his first title to win once again. He broke down when addressing his Korean fans on the television and it was clear just how much this meant to him.

It was welcome for neutrals to see also as Na hasn't always been a fan favourite with accusations of slow and deliberate play hanging over him for a number of years. Many will have warmed to him after that win and who knows where that release could lead to.

There have been plenty of surprise winners of this event down the years and although Na would fit into that bracket, read between the lines and it wouldn't be so surprising. Na has made his last four cuts here at this event and has always been considered one of the more accurate types off the tee and worth siding with on the strategic layouts.

He has assembled some decent results this year with 4th in Fortworth, 6th at Trinity Forest and an impressive runner up to Bubba Watson at the Genesis. He is enough of a plotter off the tee for him to be under my radar this week and it is a bonus to see he lies 4th in the scrambling stats on the PGA Tour this season.

He has 65 top ten finishes on the tour so with the place terms on offer is very interesting, even though I think he deserves more respect than a top 10 finish. The diminutive, fighting American has a big chance of going all the way this week and has been overlooked by the bookmakers.

Kevin Na - 1.5pts e/w @ 150/1

My final pick was a toss up between the two South African's Oosthuizen and Grace and this time I have opted for the latter. I want an experienced South African on my team as they are used to the firm conditions often with wind playing on their home courses growing up.

Oosthuizen had interested me with recent good finishes and topping the scrambling charts in the States. However, his Open form away from St Andrews (1st and 2nd there) is ordinary so I'll opt for Grace who is slightly more consistent making 7 cuts from 7 appearances in this major.

Grace has always been touted as an Open champion and this may just be his opportunity with the test that awaits everyone on the tee boxes. You have to go back 11 months to his last missed cut in any event and he showed just what he can do in a quality field by winning the Nedbank before Christmas.

The links pedigree is there for all to see also. A win at the Alfred Dunhill Links, Runner up Scottish, 6th in 2017 Open and two wins in Qatar where many Open Champions have been successful due to the tricky and often windy conditions.

His stinger irons off the tee were a huge help on way to winning the Heritage in 2016 and the deployment of that same tactic should reap dividends here this week. An unadventurous selection which makes me a shade uneasy as thinking 'outside the box' in these majors often gets you ahead.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned in the introduction I think this Open will be won and lost on the tee boxes, and Grace ranks as one of the best with an iron in his hand. Keegan Bradley was another close to making my staking plan whilst the likes of Fleetwood, Rahm and Leishman were all hard to knock off the shortlist.

Branden Grace - 1pt e/w @ 40/1