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Paul Williams has now published his final selections for this year's Open Championship - you can read his full tips and preview here.
The Open Championship stands on a pedestal, shared only with The Masters, as the Major Championship that the players all covet the most. The 2018 Open Championship returns to Carnoustie in Fife, Scotland for the 147th running of the oldest Major Championship. The tournament, which runs from Thursday 19th July to Sunday 22nd July 2018, will feature the most international field of the 4 Majors, with 156 players all striving to lift the Claret Jug. Now into our 9th season, Golf Betting System will be hunting for profit with our Open Championship tips from Paul Williams and Steve Bamford. Golf Betting System has full 2018 coverage with outright market tips, long-shot and alternative market selections, a full range of free course and player statistics, plus of course our famous statistical Predictor Model. You can also listen to our weekly Golf Betting System podcast which is also now available on iTunes.
We move from the Merseyside Irish Sea coastline of Royal Birkdale to another pure links test set on the Fife North Sea coastline in the shape of Carnoustie Golf Links. Quoted as "The most challenging golf links in the world", Carnoustie has a fierce reputation. Naturally as a links golf course it plays as difficult as the conditions dictate, but across 7 editions of the Open Championship here, 4 have been won with scores above par. Tom Watson (1975) and Padraig Harrington (2007) won here though at -9/279 and -7/277 respectively, so if conditions are compliant this won't necessarily be US Open tough though.
It's worth remembering that the Open Championship (or British Open, if you're reading this on the other side of the Atlantic) and links golf in general is very niche - it's a defined golfing specialism which in itself produces the chance of profit from a betting perspective. Mistakes can be costly, however select the right player or player portfolio and the rewards can be good. Golf Betting System's goal is to provide you with informed Open Championship tips, free tournament research tools, insight and information that will help you make educated decisions about which players to back at the 2018 Open Championship.
The Open Championship is always a stern test of any golfer, but Carnoustie is regarded as one of the tougher venues on the Open course rota. If the conditions are poor across Open week then we should expect big scores, but as per links golf in general, low-level breeze and warmer conditions can make the course relent a little. Set on flat land, much of Carnoustie's difficulty is based around its length, plenty of out of bounds, the famous Barry Burn, deep pot bunkers both in the fairway and around the greens, plus green complexes which love to repel approach shots. Since the course became a par 71, there's no better example of how conditions dictate the difficulty than looking at the winning totals: Paul Lawrie in 1999 captured his Open Championship with a +6/290 winning total and both Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia shot -7/277 before entering their multi-hole play off in 2007.
2012 Open Champion Ernie Els has seen all of the event's venues over his long and very successful career and had this to say about Carnoustie back in 2007, "I think Carnoustie is the toughest of the whole lot. It's got length. It's got great bunkering. You've really got to have your wits with you to play this golf course. It's probably the best bunkered course that you'll ever find anywhere in the world."
The Championship Course at Carnoustie has very much evolved over time. Old Tom Morris set out the course in 1867, which is the footprint for the test we see today. James Braid made significant alterations to the course prior to the 1931 Open, which was the first to be hosted at the venue. The course we see today is effectively the same that we saw in 2007 when Padraig Harrington won his first Major Championship. At over 7,400 yards it's the longest of the Open rota courses and that's one of the core constituents of its difficulty. Dependant on wind direction, plenty of the holes play into the wind - or even worse, if a cross-wind plays across the course it becomes a very stern test indeed.
Carnoustie Golf Links - Championship Course, Carnoustie, Fife: Designer: Tom Morris, Alan Robertson, James Braid, 1931, renovation pre-2007 Open; Course Type: Technical, Coastal, Links; Par: 71; Length: 7,402 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 5; Fairways: Fescue, Bentgrass and Ryegrass; Rough: Fescue, with Wavy Hair grass 3.5"; Greens: Bentgrass (50%), Fescue (30%), Annual Meadow grass (20%).
We're in a privileged position this year as Carnoustie will play pretty much as it did back in 2007. At 7,402 yards this is a long golf course, especially as the Carnoustie par-71 only features 2 par-5s. The Championship course also features one of the toughest closing stretches in professional golf. The 248 yard, par-3 named 'Barry Burn' is a flexible and particularly difficult 3-shotter as this video highlights brilliantly. The par-4 17th, named 'Island', is stretching at 461 yards with the Barry Burn in play. But it's the signature closing 18th hole, named 'Home', which sticks long in the memory. The Barry Burn is very much in play across both the drive and the approach shot to the green. At 500 yards in length, it's a beast of a closer and naturally both 1999 and 2007 Open Championships turned amazingly for Van De Velde, Lawrie, Garcia and Harrington on this hole.
The course itself is on flat topography similar in that respect to St Andrews; fairways are much tighter though at 22 yards to 26 yards in width. A number of holes have out of bounds which encroach tightly to fairways and if you miss fairways by a significant amount, thick gorse and unmown 'Wavy Hair' grass up to 2 feet high comes into play. The course though is also defended by deep, well positioned pot bunkers which encroach on fairway landing areas. Wind strength and direction often dictates strategy off the tee and whether they can be taken out of play by the longer hitters. Find a number of them and the only option is to play out sideways.
A rare par-71 format which features 13 par-4s and only 2 par-5s, the famous par-5 6th hole, named 'Hogan's Alley', features a very close out of bounds down the left of the hole. At 578 yards it's reachable in 2 shots downwind, but with a headwind it's a wedge 3rd shot approach for all. The other par-5 14th, named 'Spectacles', gives a little respite at a little over 500 yards from the back tees. However the ingrained difficulty of the Championship course is inherent with the fact that 7 of the 13 par-4s measure over 450 yards, with 6 of them at circa 470 yards or more. In windy conditions, this can turn Carnoustie into an absolute monster.
In general, green complexes themselves which feature a Bentgrass/Fescue grass mix, aren't the most undulating on the Open course rota. A number of them do repel approach shots with contouring channelling balls away from the centre of the green. However others are quite flat and more than receptive if soft. However another feature of Carnoustie is that most holes have plenty of room around the greens with surrounds that are extremely tightly mown, taking approaches into collection areas. Those with an excellent short chipping game have a huge advantage as they can scramble pars.
In all, you get the feeling that if conditions were like-for-like with Birkdale last year, Carnoustie would be a tougher golf course. It's certainly all in front of the players, but its sheer length, bunkering and the Barry Burn, which always features heavily, are quite considerable defences. This is undoubtedly a genuine links test which can be played on the ground on many holes which don't feature bunkers at the front of green complexes. And as with all links golf courses, it will play as difficult as turf conditions and the weather dictate. Tommy Fleetwood is the course record holder with a -8/63, but that was in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship which features amateur-friendly pin positions. Sergio Garcia's opening -5/66 from 2007 does show that even with an Open-tough set-up, the Championship Course does yield birdies - but don't expect the 2018 Open Championship to be a low-scoring affair.
Below are some revealing comments about the course in 2007 from the players:
Padraig Harrington: "There's no question playing last week (at the Irish PGA Championship as opposed to the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond), just getting used to the fact that you could hit 7-iron into the wind and it's only going to go 125 yards. That just doesn't happen in our regular golf. We're used to hitting a 7-iron 180 yards into a slight breeze because it's warm. All of a sudden you go to a links course and that same little breeze is taking 20, 30 yards off the shot. A good example, like I had 162 to the pin on the first playoff hole. And like I know -I've got 7-iron in my hand and I know because of the temperature and it's only - there's hardly a breeze out there, but I know I'm probably going to hit my 7-iron 180 yards. But I know in these conditions I'm doing well, I hit that well to get to pin-high. Just playing last week, definitely you have to spend time to getting used to the different conditions. And obviously chipping and putting, similar sort of thing. I had great pace this week. I had no fear standing over 25-yard, 30-yard, 40-yard putts from off the green. I had no fear. I rolled them up stone dead. Like I had a great week of rolling putts up like on 16 up that bank. I was confident I was going to put that in."
Sergio Garcia (Round 1): "It was possible to shoot a 65(-6). More than anything because it rained. The course is - I said it yesterday, I think, I think it's the best shaped links course I've ever seen. I've never seen a links course where the fairways are so pure and the greens are so good. It's definitely - if you get going and there's not much wind, like it was today, there was a little bit of a breeze and it was a little cool so that didn't make it easier. But at least it felt like it was playable. You could hit a 5-iron and it wasn't going to release 15 yards or something like that, so you could stop it somewhere around the hole. You still have to hit a lot of good shots because there's a lot of good holes on the back nine, 10, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18. So you still have to hit a lot of good shots. But there were some birdie chances out there. I managed to hit some good shots and hole some putts."
Sergio Garcia (Round 3): "15 I hit driver on Thursday and 3-wood yesterday, yeah. 18, I've been hitting driver every day. But the wind was different. The wind was from the left, it was an uncomfortable wind, it wasn't hurting as much. I knew I could rely on my iron play. I could rely on a good, solid 2-iron off the tee and leave myself a 4- or 5-iron to the green, hit a solid shot. Even if I don't hit the green, hit it around the right bunker or maybe in the left trap, and from there I can make four, five at the worst. What you don't want to do is start hitting to these bunkers and get in trouble. So I was very much relying on that. And I don't have any complaints about it."
Tiger Woods: "Well, I've never heard anyone say Carnoustie is easy, even the times I played the Scottish Open here it was more benign than this, and the scores really weren't that low. There are so many holes where you're forced to hit long irons into the greens. Obviously if you miss the ball in any of the pot bunkers off the tee you have to go sideways, if you can. You can't advance it forward. I think that's probably a misconception. If you watch guys play practice rounds you're going to see them hit a lot of long clubs. Granted there are some short holes. It depends on the finish. If the wind is into you coming home, it's all you want on the golf course. Yes, it's extremely fair. It's not like it was in '99. It's probably a little more difficult than it was in the Scottish Opens I played. So it's roughly right in between. And if we have wind like yesterday morning, conditions like that, or any kind of wind on this golf course, it just becomes a lot more difficult than you think. You really do have to hit the ball well here. The greens are extremely subtle, just like all links courses, they're hard to read."
Phil Mickelson: "There certainly are some courses that set up differently than others, even though they might look similar. I really like this golf course or I feel comfortable on this course because of the way a lot of the holes are set up and some of the shot values that we have into the greens. I like a lot of the holes that have bunkers 30 yards short of the green downwind. It's a challenge to carry over them and get the ball stopped on the green. 16 is an example. 15 is another example, and probably the best one is 12. Those are holes where you have to carry the ball and still get it in soft. Even though you're playing a crosswind or downwind you want to bring the ball in high and soft, which is a lot like the shots we hit back in the States. The holes that tend to play into the wind, there seems to be enough room to keep the driver in the fairway and attack some of the greens. What I really like about this course is how much room around the green there is to hit shots and hit chip shots and have a chance to let your short game make pars for you. I think that's my favourite thing about Carnoustie."
Justin Rose: "The third hole was an interesting hole with the wind hard off to the left. They're trying to make you hit it down the left side which brings the creek or the burn into play down the left. With the wind off the left today it was a very interesting hole. It was hard to keep it down the left, and it was bringing those two right-hand bunkers into play. You have to get it close to the bunkers to carry the rough and the moguls in the middle of the fairway. It began to be a tricky hole, what used to be quite a straight forward hole. 6 is a classic - it's a great links par-5, downwind is straight forward. Downwind the landing area becomes much wider. It's a legitimate birdie chance. Into the wind you've got to play it as a three-shot hole. If you hit one bad shot, it's like a chain reaction hole. If you put it out of position on the tee you're looking at six, or have a bad layup you're looking at six, so it's really a par-5.
On 17 and 18 that's the main holes where I think the back tee on 18 the Barry Burn just cuts in a little bit on the right side, probably about say 260. So into the wind, which on Monday was into the wind, that burn is going to cut in more so than it has in the previous years where you've been driving it down to where the bunkers are. 17, it's an interesting hole because whether it's into the wind or downwind you're placing your drive in a very similar situation, in a similar spot on the fairway. Because the burn cuts across the fairway. So it really - it limits the way you can play the 17th hole in my mind, which is a good thing. It's a good strategic hole. There's no way to get it out without dropping it."
Ernie Els: "I think Carnoustie is the toughest of the whole lot. It's got length. It's got great bunkering. You've really got to have your wits with you to play this golf course. It's probably the best bunkered course that you'll ever find anywhere in the world. I think this one and Lytham are really well bunkered, but this golf course has the length, as I say. And it seems like the wind always blows here. I'm staying at St. Andrews this week, I was at St. Andrews this morning, and the flags were -- there was no wind. You come out here and it's blowing. So it seems like this course, with the weather conditions and the way that the layout is, it's a very demanding layout. You've got to play every shot in the bag. Every links shot you can think of you get tested here. It's got everything."
Carnoustie - home of the 2018 Open Championship.
Power with Touch Around the Greens
Let's take the final skill statistics from Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Andres Romero from the latest 2007 Open Championship held at Carnoustie. This gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Naturally these statistics have to be taken in the context that the 2007 Open at Carnoustie was actually very fair from a weather perspective. Thursday was played on a rain-softened golf course and with wind strength which allowed pretty good scoring to take place - in all, 25 players shot below the par of 71. Stronger winds on Friday curtailed the scoring, but despite the cold temperatures, Carnoustie didn't really show its teeth. 1999 had seen Paul Lawrie triumph with a winning score of +6/290, but despite final hole tribulations for both Padraig Harrington and long-term leader Sergio Garcia who famously saw his 8-footer for the victory lip out, both recorded -7/277 scores to make the playoff.
Based on 2007, Carnoustie certainly favoured the longer hitters. That makes sense as the Carnoustie Links played to a stretching 7,421 yard, par 71. The top 3 finishers of Harrington, Garcia and Romero were all in the top 12 for Driving Distance. The other distinctive statistic that shines through is that the three players also ranked 1st (Harrington), 6th (Garcia) and 16th (Romero) for scrambling on the week. On a course where the best players were missing 18-20 greens over the tournament, missing them in the right spots and scrambling to make par was actually far more important than a hot putter.
Statistics don't always highlight the full story and indeed a detailed look at the results history of Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and the three best American finishers here across 1999 and 2007 - namely Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink and Hunter Mahan - is worthy of research.
The links history of winner Padraig Harrington needs little explanation. Harrington had already finished 5th twice at Open Championships, namely at Royal Troon in 1997 and at Muirfield in 2002, prior to arriving at Carnoustie. He'd also won the Dunhill Links Championship twice in 2002 and 2006, so had played the venue course a good number of times. Harrington had already finished in the top-10 in 7 Major Championships and his US Open haul included 5th at Pebble Beach (2000), 8th at Bethpage Black (2002), 10th at Olympia Fields (2003) and 5th at Winged Foot (2006). Padraig has also finished 5th at Augusta in 2002.
Sergio Garcia's Open Championship record prior to arriving in Scotland was exceptional, despite the obvious lack of a victory. 9th at Royal Lytham in 2001, 8th at Muirfield in 2002, 10th at Royal St Georges in 2003, 5th at St Andrews in 2005 and 5th at Hoylake in 2006 is consistent brilliance. Sergio had finished in the top-10 in 11 Major Championships with the US Open producing 4th at Bethpage Black (2002) and 3rd at Pinehurst Number 2 (2005). Sergio had also finished 8th (2002) and 4th (2004) at Augusta.
A link to Metropolitan Golf - golf played around the suburbs of New York City - is also something that's shared between Harrington and Garcia. From a Major Championship perspective, both had finished in the top-8 at the Bethpage Black-hosted US Open in 2002, but the link goes much deeper than that. New York's PGA Tour stop-off is the Northern Trust Open, which these days tours a number of Metropolitan golf clubs. However up until 2007 the tournament was always played at Westchester Country Club. Sergio Garcia finished 3rd (2000), 1st (2001), 4th (2003) at Westchester before capturing his 2nd title there in 2004, beating none other than Padraig Harrington. The Irishman though took solace from his near miss by capturing the Buick Classic as it was called then 12 months later, beating Jim Furyk into the runner-up spot. Others who have a strong Westchester record include Ernie Els, K.J. Choi, the aforementioned Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink and Justin Leonard - all of whom finished in the top 10 across 1999 and 2007 Carnoustie Open Championships. Naturally the Westchester link is a little elderly these days, but a track record of results in the Metropolitan area can only be a good thing for potential 2018 Open candidates.
Looking at the likes of Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink and Hunter Mahan also uncovers other great correlating course form links. Naturally Leonard can be linked to Troon (1997 Winner) and Turnberry (2009 8th) when it comes to Open Championship venues. Cink won the Turnberry Open Championship in 2009 and Hunter Mahan went on to have a top-10 finish at Muirfield in 2013. But there are also some PGA Tour venues which can be interlinked across these 3 players from the United States, plus Padraig, Sergio and Jim Furyk, the latter of whom finished in the top-10 across both the 1999 and 2007 Carnoustie Open renewals.
Travelers Championship - TPC River Highlands
RBC Heritage - Harbor Town Golf Links
WGC Bridgestone Invitational - Firestone South
Will World Number 1 Dustin Johnson Win At Carnoustie?
Tempted to get on the World Number 1, Dustin Johnson (at the time of writing) at the Open Championship? Well here's a word of warning for all those tempted to jump on. No World Number 1 since 2000, apart from Tiger Woods (who else), has won The Open. OWGR No.1 Johnson is in great nick currently with a top-10 at the Memorial Tournament, a win at the FedEx St Jude Classic and a 3rd place at the Shinnecock Hills-hosted US Open which could have been so much better. Add to that the fact that his Open Championship record is strong and he's sure to be a short price. For the record, Jordan Spieth was 3rd when he won last year at Royal Birkdale last year, whilst Henrik Stenson was 6th, Zach Johnson was 25th, McIlroy was 8th and Mickelson was 5th in the OWGR at Muirfield in 2013. The previous 5 winners in Els, Harrington, Cink, Oosthuizen and Clarke were all ranked outside of the World’s top 10 when triumphing.
|Open Winner||World Golf Rank|
Recent Form Is Key
Jordan Spieth's fast-finishing win at Royal Birkdale in 2017 adds even more gravitas to the fact that in-form players are the guys to follow at the Open Championship. It makes sense that those who are struggling with their games are unlikely to find form on a tough links course and in the last 6 champions, namely 'Golden Child', 'Ice Man', 'Z-Money', 'Rors', 'Lefty' and the 'Big Easy', we can see a pattern that's easy to extrapolate.
Jordan Spieth flew into the northwest of England fresh from his 10th PGA Tour victory which he'd racked-up at TPC River Highlands when clinching the Travelers Championship in a spectacular play-off victory over Daniel Berger. Spieth had never previously played at the Travelers, but made short shrift of the River Highlands course shooting -7/63 in Round 1 to take control of the tournament from the very outset. From there he held off the attentions of Boo Weekley, Troy Merritt and finally fellow 'Bro Group' member Berger to win the title at 10/1. In Strokes Gained parlance he was 7th for Approach, 2nd for Around The Green and 1st for Tee to Green, whilst he wasn't bad with the putter finishing 3rd for Putts per GIR.
Henrik Stenson arrived in Ayrshire fresh from a free-wheeling 13th at the Scottish Open played at Caste Stuart. 76 in Round 1 was then followed by rounds of 69-66-70. However a fortnight prior to the Scottish Open, Stenson had won the BMW International Open at Gut Larchenoff with a -17/271 total. His performance in Germany and his 3-shot winning margin was made even more impressive by the fact that he topped Driving Accuracy, Total Driving, Greens in Regulation and All-Round categories. He was also 2nd for Scrambling. Henrik had also finished 4th at Bro Hoff Slot in June. All of this made him very backable especially as his Open record contained finishes of 2nd (Muirfield 2013), 3rd (Birkdale 2008) and 3rd (St Andrews 2010). 30/1 was a cracking price to land.
Zach arrived at Edinburgh airport on the charter flight direct from Silvis, Illinois where he'd just finished a single shot behind Jordan Spieth at the John Deere Classic. 5th at Las Colinas and 6th at TPC River Highlands in preceding PGA Tour outings highlighted a player at the top of his game, so even now the fact that he was available at 110/1 to win at St Andrews is jaw-dropping!
Rory had won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, a track which had always been his nemesis, until his closing 66 destroyed the field. He then limbered up with a free-rolling 14th at Royal Aberdeen the week before triumphing in Cheshire, where a horrible 78 on Friday was surrounded by rounds of 64, 67 and 68. Rory was 18/1 second favourite prior to the tournament.
Phil Mickelson had already won at TPC Scottsdale and finished 2nd on the tough tests of Merion (US Open) and TPC Southwind before he touched down in Scotland. Arriving at Castle Stuart the week before The Open, Phil was a 20/1 shot to win the Scottish Open, which he duly did, before travelling down the east coast to Muirfield, where he shot an incredible -5/66 on Sunday to win by 3 shots from Henrik Stenson, again at a healthy 20/1.
Ernie Els was available at 45/1 prior to Royal Lytham in 2012 and quite rightly I tipped him up as a great Top-20 bet in my Open Longshots column that year. With 4 top-5 finishes (Fancourt, Copperhead, Bay Hill and New Orleans) plus a 7th at Wentworth and 9th at the US Open just prior to the Open, he had huge momentum and was in the right place at the right time when Adam Scott collapsed over the closing 4 holes. It's fact that Ernie was the latest in a long line of form players to triumph at the British Open.
12 Champions from the last 18 renewals (67%) had won a tournament in the same season prior to triumphing at The Open: Tiger Woods (00, 05, 06), Ernie Els (02), Todd Hamilton (04), Padraig Harrington (07), Louis Oosthuizen (10), Darren Clarke (11), Phil Mickelson (13), Rory McIlroy (14) and Jordan Spieth (17). Current form - and recent wining form - shouldn't be underestimated in this event.
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