An Open at Royal St George’s summons up a mix of memories for punters.
Some were on 2011 winner Darren Clarke at huge prices while others recall the bad beat that was Thomas Bjorn losing to Ben Curtis in 2003 when three up with four to play.
Clarke and Curtis were ranked 111th and 396th respectively which hints at Royal St George’s being a quirky course where anyone can win. Player quotes often refer to the random bounces, fuelling the idea of luck being a bigger factor at the Sandwich course than at other Open venues.
So are punters who thrive on logic and predictability in for a tough week on the Kent coast?
Quite possibly, but we can at least try and solve the puzzle and I’ll start by looking at the world rankings of past top 10 finishers there. Does that help us?
2011: Darren Clarke 111th, Phil Mickelson 6th, Dustin Johnson 12th, Thomas Bjorn 80th, Chad Campbell 196th, Anthony Kim 73rd, Rickie Fowler 52nd, Raphael Jacquelin 78th, Sergio Garcia 53rd, Simon Dyson 74th, Davis Love III 114th
Joint runners-up Mickelson and Johnson were both in the top 12 in the rankings although no-one else from that top 10 ranked inside the world’s top 50.
2003: Ben Curtis 396th, Thomas Bjorn 49th, Vijay Singh 6th, Davis Love III 4th, Tiger Woods 1st, Brian Davis 99th, Freddie Jacobson 40th, Nick Faldo 65th, Kenny Perry 8th, Gary Evans 97th, Sergio Garcia 15th, Retief Goosen 12th, Hennie Otto 200th, Phillip Price 45th
For a supposedly freaky year, there were a lot of leading players in the top 10. Tiger (1st), Love (4th), Singh (6th), Perry (8th), Goosen (12th) and Garcia (15th). Three others were in the top 50.
1993: Greg Norman 4th, Nick Faldo 1st, Bernhard Langer 2nd, Corey Pavin 15th, Peter Senior 30th, Ernie Els 31st, Paul Lawrie 311th, Nick Price 3rd, Fred Couples 5th, Wayne Grady 82nd, Scott Simpson 71st
All of the world’s top five – in order Faldo, Langer, Price, Norman and Couples – finished in the top 10.
This is all quite encouraging. Apart from Mickelson in the PGA Championship at Kiawah, 37 of the last 38 major winners were ranked in the world’s top 50 at the time. In other words, it feels like that’s where we should search and probably at the upper end of it.
The player with the biggest discrepancy between world ranking and price is Harris English and he definitely gets my attention at 70/1.
The 31-year-old World No.12 is a two-time winner this season although you wouldn’t know it given his price.
English’s first win was by the coast (Sentry Tournament of Champions) in Hawaii and his second (Travelers Championship) came on his latest start. Before that June triumph he’d finished third at the US Open so he has form figures of 1-3 heading to Sandwich.
In that respect he reminds me of Francesco Molinari who was the form horse (2-1-25-2-1) heading to Carnoustie where he held of Tiger et al to win at 25/1.
Like English, Molinari wasn’t really thought of a classic Open type; the Italian had form in the event of MC-36-40-15-9-39-MC-MC-13-MC.
English has made four of his five Open cuts with a best of tied 15th at Muirfield in 2013: not amazing but certainly promising.
Living/playing at Sea Island could also add a few percent to his chances given that fellow residents include 2015 Open winner Zach Johnson, 2017 runner-up Matt Kuchar and Davis Love III (top 10 in both starts at Royal St George’s).
Speaking at the Travelers, he said: “I feel like I’m excited about where my game is just coming off a three-week stretch. Really contended at every single tournament this last three weeks.
“Was bummed how I finished at Palmetto (14th). I feel like I was in a really good spot and just didn’t hit the shots coming down the stretch and missed some putts. Kind of hurt a little bit, but I came back and finished well at the US Open (3rd) last week and came into this week came with a lot of confidence.”
With back-to-back top fours in the US Open, it’s no wonder he says, “I feel like I’m a really good grinder on the golf course. I never really get out of it.”
He’s made 17 of his 20 cuts in majors and his last five include a third, a fourth and two others of tied 21st or better.
I’m hoping he’ll be this year’s Molinari although we get the benefit of being nearly three times the price. Take that 70/1.
The player in the top 10 of the world rankings who seems obvious value has to be Patrick Reed at 33/1.
It’s very easy to build a strong case for the American as he’s ticking boxes left, right and centre.
For starters, he’s very good at majors. After a bunch of top 25s he won the 2018 Masters before finishing fourth in the US Open soon after.
And starting with a solo 10th in the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, his major finishes show 10-10-13-13-8-7-19. Yep, that’ll be seven straight top 20s, with three of those top 10s.
That taps into Reed’s ability to thrive when the best fields assemble and it’s backed up further by two WGC wins.
Delving a bit more into his form on this side of the Atlantic, he’s finished tied 28th or better in four of his last five Opens. And his last two starts in England show a third and a fourth at Wentworth.
Perhaps his love affair with England started way back when he won the Junior Open at Heswall in 2006.
Current form? Since fifth at Memorial he’s added T19 at the US Open and followed it with T25 in the Travelers Championship and T32 at the Rocket Mortgage, the latter two events probably not quite getting his competitive juices flowing enough.
Creativity around the greens is a strong suit and that makes him a good candidate to do well in an Open when seeing different shots is much more of a demand than it is on your bog-standard PGA Tour track.
Reed has finished 5th and 11th for Scrambling in the last two Opens while he topped the Putting Average stats at Troon in 2016 – a good sign given that slower greens can bamboozle some American players.
In my 10-year trends preview, I noted that eight of the last 10 Open winners had played the week before.
That’s not ideal news for English and Reed.
However, if I’d written a three-year-trends preview it would have spat out the result that two of the last three didn’t: Shane Lowry in 2019 and Jordan Spieth in 2017. So, to quote Brent, where’s your cut off point?
However, I do fancy having a Scottish Open player in the staking plan and the one I like is World No. 19 Scottie Scheffler at 40/1.
I’m seeing Scheffler as a more in-form Tony Finau. He may not win (yet!) but while we wait the American is racking up big finishes in majors.
The Low Amateur in the 2017 US Open, he finished T19 on his Masters debut in 2020 after taking fourth place in the PGA Championship.
As for 2021, he’s been getting better in each major with T18 at Augusta, T8 in the PGA and T7 in the US Open. That all adds up to three top 10s and two other top 20s in his last five majors.
This will be his first start in an Open but if Ben Curtis can…
More seriously, I like the way he spoke at the Scottish Open. This was after his opening round which contained two birdies and three bogeys.
“I really like it. I like how firm it is. I like how you have to hit a bunch of different shots. My caddie gives me the number and I try to find slopes around the pin and go from there.
“I feel like I can always find a shot that I’m comfortable with. I feel like in the States, grain dictates a lot of what you have to do around the green and here, there’s virtually no grain. You can kind of skip it or flop it or do whatever you like.”
He’s a fast learner and showed that in rounds two and three at the Renaissance Club by playing them bogey-free in 12-under. Scheffler eventually finished T12.
Throw in a third at Memorial as well and Scheffler has bags of confidence and is a very fair bet to crash the top 10 and maybe more.
At the very front end, Jon Rahm looks short at 7/1 even though he obviously has a big chance.
I’d respect Dustin Johnson given what he did here in 2011 and I also like his fellow 18/1 shots Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele.
But with 10 each-way slots available I prefer to look further down the betting and a trio of Americans – English, Reed and Scheffler – it is.
I haven’t got a great theory why US players do so well in Opens but, quite simply, they do!