For the 10th time in its history, the Royal Birkdale Golf Club will host the British Open Championship, the third golfing major of the season, and the 146th running of the prestigious R&A tournament, with participating golfers all hoping they will be the next person to hoist the Claret Jug aloft in triumph.
FantasySports.co.uk previews the upcoming tournament, which tees off on Thursday July 20th, 2017, and gives some insight and predictions as to who may prevail come Sunday July 23rd.
The British Open – ROYAL BIRKDALE – THE COURSE
Royal Birkdale is a picturesque links golf course situated on the West Coast of England, in Southport, Merseyside. Known for its tight, weaving fairways that cut through imposing sand dunes, the par 70 (34 out, 36 in) course demands precision over power, especially with the winds gusting in from the Irish Sea. It is known as a fair test for the golfers – plenty of straight forward golf that rewards good course management and ball placement – but the weather gives the course teeth.
The first hole is widely regarded as one of the most difficult opening holes in British Open history and has been the second hardest hole on the course in each of the last two times The Open has been held at Royal Birkdale, in 1998 and 2008. Out of bounds down the right and an approach shot to a green partly obscured by a huge mound and fiercely protected by bunkers on the left and right, it is the far from ideal hole golfers want to settle themselves down with thousands of onlookers at the tee and situated in a huge grandstand behind the green.
One of the difficulties the golfers will face is that they will play to all points of the compass early on, with very few consecutive holes on the course playing the same direction.
The views from the tees are normally quite wide giving good visualisation to the shot ahead – avoiding the fairway bunkers is the key to the tee shots. Whilst the fairways are tight, they are relatively flat, and there is no real penalty for finishing in the first cut of rough. Green complexes are flat and quality approach shots get rewarded with makeable putts, although they are notoriously fast.
The British Open – PAST WINNERS – KEY STATS AND CLUES
An indication of how much the weather plays a part to the severity of the course is shown by comparing the winning scores of the last three British Open tournaments played at Royal Birkdale. The most recent two had foul weather across the tournaments, whilst the 1991 event the conditions were much more benign :
2008 : Padraig Harrington 283 (+3)
2000 : Mark O’Meara 280 (E)
1991 : Ian Baker-Finch 272 (-8)
The conditions in 2008 and 2000 very much played into links specialists hands – the rain and wind played havoc with shots, and runner up in 2008 Ian Poulter (finishing on +7 after 72 holes) had a Greens in Regulation of just 59.7% – yet this was still 7th best amongst the field. So if the wind does blow, look for players who scramble well. Current leaders on the two major tours in this area are :
European Tour : 1st Ashley Hall (78.95), 2nd Alex Noren (77.42), 3rd Matt Ford (75.00), 4th Ryan McCarthy (73.08), 5th Bernd Wiesberger (72.55)
US PGA Tour : 1st Charles Howell III (66.14), 2nd Chad Campbell (65.85), 3rd Webb Simpson (65.67), 4th Ian Poulter (65.56), 5th John Huh (65.29)
One bad omen for current World Number 1 Dustin Johnson fans is that no top ranked player has won the Open Championship since 2000 apart from Tiger Woods. However, a player inside the World Top 20 has won the Open 10 times in 17 tournaments, and inside the top 10 on 8 of these occasions.
Form is also a big key to the Open. 11 out of the last 17 champions had all won a tournament in the season they won the Open.
The British Open – VERDICT
Whilst its clear that Dustin Johnson will go off a short price favourite, we can overlook the World Number 1 and take two against the field that tick our boxes.
Firstly, we like Sergio Garcia. After finally breaking his Major titles duck at Augusta earlier this year, it would be no surprise to see Sergio pick up another major in quick succession. Garcia is a shot maker, can craft his way around a course, and lies an impressive 10th in the Scrambling stats that could play such a huge part if the weather is a factor. If not, then we still have a player who lies second in Greens in Regulation and Average Score (68.75) on the 2017 European tour. Yes, his putting can be shaky, but if he can maintain his current 1.695 average (10th overall), that could be enough to see that famous smile come Sunday night. Garcia is currently ranked 5th in the World.
Secondly, we look to Rickie Fowler as a tip to go very well at Royal Birkdale. Fowler, the World number 9 is currently in fine form, finishing T3 and T5 in his last two starts, and has finished in the top 10 an impressive 7 times from 14 events played, only missing the cut on 2 occasions. Again, he scores well in the key stats categories, in the top 10 on the US PGA Tour of both the scrambling and putting average, and in the top 25 of GIR. He also leads the average score category.
Finally, and as a final marker to both players, its worth remembering these both chased home 2014 Open winner Rory McIlroy when the Open was held at the Royal Liverpool club….another links course just, literally, down the road from Royal Birkdale.
*All stats correct at time of writing*