Can the stats help predict the winner?


Jon Rahm came perilously close to being the trends pick at the recent US Open so I was slightly kicking myself on one hand but feeling vindicated on the other.

The stipulations in my Torrey Pines preview were:

– Aged 35 or under
– Ranked in world’s top 25
– Played between 3 and 8 US Opens
– Has had a top 25 in a US Open
– Posted a top 3 earlier that season
– Not the defending champion
– Top 12 in one of previous three starts
– Top 10 in one of previous two majors
– Not won a major before
– Has won on American soil

Rahm ticked all those boxes apart from not having a top three earlier this season. That was dubious though, as he’d surely have done that when being forced to withdraw from the Memorial when six clear after three rounds due to a positive Covid test.

The actual pick, Xander Schauffele, finished seventh.

Some of those above criteria I’ll apply again but not all.

For example, despite the trend for new Major winners in recent years, five of the last 10 Open champions had already landed one before.

Another is that experience counts for more in this major than any other.

All of the last 10 US Open winners were 32 or under and seven were in their 20s.

By contrast, seven of the last 10 Open winners were 32 or over and four were in their 40s.

So, after the Open was cancelled in 2020, who is the best statistical fit for Royal St George’s this year?

To help work that out, here’s a look at the last 10 Open champions and how they shaped up at the time of their triumphs:

2019 – Shane Lowry

Best previous Open finish: 9th
Nationality: Irish
Age at time: 32
World ranking at time: 33rd
Last three starts: 34-28-2
Played week before: No
Won that season: Yes

Shane Lowry wins The Open.jpg

2018 – Francesco Molinari

Best previous Open finish: 9th
Nationality: Italian
Age at time: 35
World ranking at time: 15th
Last three starts: 2-1-25
Played week before: Yes
Won that season: Yes

2017 – Jordan Spieth

Best previous Open finish: 4th
Nationality: American
Age at time: 23
World ranking at time: 3rd
Last three starts: 1-35-13
Played week before: No
Won that season: Yes

2016 – Henrik Stenson

Best previous Open finish: 2nd
Nationality: Swedish
Age at time: 40
World ranking at time: 6th
Last three starts: 13-1-WD
Played week before: Yes
Won that season: Yes

2015 – Zach Johnson

Best previous Open finish: 6th
Nationality: American
Age at time: 39
World ranking at time: 25th
Last three starts: 3-6-72
Played week before: Yes
Won that season: No

2014 – Rory McIlroy

Best previous Open finish: 3rd
Nationality: Northern Irish
Age at time: 25
World ranking at time: 8th
Last three starts: 14-MC-23
Played week before: Yes
Won that season: Yes

2013 – Phil Mickelson

Best previous Open finish: 2nd
Nationality: American
Age at time: 43
World ranking at time: 5th
Last three starts: 1-MC-2
Played week before: Yes
Won that season: Yes

Phil Mickelson Claret Jug.jpg

2012 – Ernie Els

Best previous Open finish: Win
Nationality: South African
Age at time: 42
World ranking at time: 40th
Last three starts: 52-9-58
Played week before: Yes
Won that season: No

2011 – Darren Clarke

Best previous Open finish: 2nd
Nationality: Northern Irish
Age at time: 42
World ranking at time: 111th
Last three starts: 66-MC-46
Played week before: Yes
Won that season: Yes

2010 – Louis Oosthuizen

Best previous Open finish: MC
Nationality: South African
Age at time: 27
World ranking at time: 54th
Last three starts: MC-MC-20
Played week before: Yes
Won that season: Yes

Trends of past winners:

Open form

– Nine of the last 10 Open winners had registered a top 10 in the event previously

Nationality

– Three of last 10 Open winners were American
– Three of last 10 Open winners were Irish/Northern Irish
– Two of last 10 Open winners were South African
– Two of last 10 Open winners was from Continental Europe

Age

– Three of last 10 Open winners were in their 30s
– Four of last 10 Open winners were in their 40s
– Three of last 10 Open winners were in their 20s
– Seven of last 10 Open winners were 32 or over

Henrik Stenson 1280x720.jpg

World ranking at the time

– Eight of last 10 Open winners were in the world’s top 40
– Six of last 10 Open winners were in the world’s top 30
– Four of last 10 Open winners were in the world’s top 10

Current form

– Eight of last 10 Open winners had posted a top 15 in one of their previous three starts

Played week before

– Eight of last 10 Open winners had teed it up the week before

Won that season

– Eight of last 10 Open winners had won that season

What we’re looking for

Taking the strongest trends, the ideal fit for an Open champion is as follows:

– Has had a previous top 10 in an Open
– Is 32 or over
– In world’s top 40
– Has a top 15 in one of their previous three starts
– Played the week before
– Has won this season
– Is not the defending champion (10 of last 10 have failed to win the following year)

The top 10 stipulation knocks out an awful lot of the big names. Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Webb Simpson, Daniel Berger and Matt Fitzpatrick have never managed one.

Plenty of those would have been eliminated on age and that requirement strikes a line through Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Tyrrell Hatton and Hideki Matsuyama.

Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed aren’t playing this week (neither is Spieth) which does for them (Koepka is also just 31) while Louis Oosthuizen and Tommy Fleetwood don’t have a win this season.

Stewart Cink (43rd), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (47th) and Branden Grace (61st) are too far down the world rankings although Grace could play his way into it with a big week in Scotland.

Does anyone fit the bill?

Rather conveniently, just one name comes through all those checks and it’s a big gun.

Drumroll… It’s Rory McIlroy – available to back at 16.015/1 on the Exchange.

Rory McIlroy Claret Jug.jpg

The 32-year-old Northern Irishman, who sits 11th in the world rankings, was the winner at Hoylake in 2014 and has four other Open top fives.

He won the Wells Fargo earlier this year, was T7 at the US Open two starts ago and is playing this week in the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club.