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Yesterday we took a look at the challenge which Royal Troon will provide for the players this week, a test which will toughen significantly if the wind really starts to blow.
The course, like so many others, depends on the weather to provide much of its defence and as it stands the forecast is for lots of rain from Friday to Sunday. Strong winds are predicted with gusts of up to 30mph expected to wreak havoc on Saturday. However, it must be remembered that weather on the Scottish coastline is notoriously difficult to accurately predict and is subject to substantial change but for the purposes of our betting preview, we’re going to have to take the forecast at face value and identify our contenders accordingly.
Last year, strong winds and consistent rain forced the final round to be played on Monday when Zach Johnson beat Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a play-off after Jordan Spieth and Jason Day had pushed all three very close. It was a classic edition of the Open Championship and if we are treated to a similar spectacle it will be a thrilling weekend of golf.
The expected weather conditions will mean players with a lower ball flight will have an advantage while, as at St. Andrew’s last year, the winner won’t necessarily be a player with a booming advantage off the tee. Our research highlighted the fact that seven of the last 10 winners were aged 35 or over, while 13 of the previous 16 winners had appeared at the event on a minimum of seven occasions recording at least one top-six finish at the event. Patience and experience have been crucial parts of recent winners’ make-up but some have won without the latter so we won’t automatically rule anyone out who doesn’t adhere to these pointers. Incidentally, the last six winners at Troon have been American and all have won earlier that same season.
The first place to being our assessment of the leading contenders is with world number one Jason Day (8/1). The Australian has been the best player on the planet since picking up his first major at Valhalla last August and underlined it with a dominant win at the Players’ Championship in May. The 28-year-old disappointed slightly at the Masters and US Open, his expected challenge never really igniting although his finishes of eighth and 10th were more than respectable. Day looked set to pick up another WGC title at the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks ago but suffered a late meltdown to open the door for Dustin Johnson.
Day’s record before last year was pretty average at this event – four cuts made but not a single top-30 – but his near-miss at St. Andrew’s demonstrated his increasing mastery of links golf. Don’t be surprised if the US PGA champion is in the thick of it on Sunday.
Aside from the fact it denied our own Shane Lowry, a shot at a first major title, many golf fans will have been delighted that Dustin Johnson (9/1) finally broke his major duck with that commanding win at the US Open. Dusty’s heartbreak at previous majors, especially last year’s US Open which he handed to Jordan Spieth, is well-documented and it will be fascinating to see if the 32-year-old can move his game up another level after ripping that monkey off his back.
Johnson led here at the halfway point last year but the effects of that US Open meltdown wore him down over the weekend and he dropped well off the pace. Dusty could have won at Royal St. George’s in 2011 and has two top-10s and four top-15s in his seven appearances and showed he is in superb form by snatching the WGC Bridgestone with a pair of brilliant 66s at the weekend. To these eyes Johnson is favourite here and his low ball flight will give him an advantage in the strong winds but there is a real worry that after the highs of those two big recent wins, he runs out of steam at the weekend.
Spieth (9/1) is joint-second favourite with Johnson and has an impressive Open record with three cuts from three appearances and that tied-fourth at St. Andrew’s. Despite having an up-and-down season, the Texan has two wins this year and went so close to retaining his Masters title before a late meltdown saw him finish second behind Danny Willett. The scars from the implosion at Augusta were probably healed by his victory at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational just two weeks later but we cannot be sure until he successfully closes out a major again. The 22-year-old failed to mount any kind of challenge at the US open and has struggled with the consistency of his swing this season – which eventually caused his collapse at the Masters – but he is such a competitor and a master at posting a score that he can never be ruled out.
2014 champion Rory McIlroy (10/1) has also been struggling of late with his swing and was still working on correcting it when finishing third at the French Open a fortnight ago. That’s the thing with the Northern Irishman, even when his game is well below its best, he can still force his way into contention and out of 14 tournaments he has entered this calendar year, he has recorded nine top-10 finishes. Those are the kind of struggles most players would bite your arm off for and in winning the Irish Open at The K Club, the 27-year-old produced his finest golf to snatch the victory. However, McIlroy hasn’t always convinced in the wind and his Claret Jug came partially courtesy of favourable tee-times compared to his rivals – that win was only his top-25 finish in seven appearances.
Another player whose low-ball flight will help him is Branden Grace (22/1). The South African has won the Alfred Dunhill Championships twice so knows his way around a links course but surprisingly, his best finish at this event is a tied-20th. However, Grace has made the cut on all five appearances and has steadily improved in the last four so could be finally getting to grips with contending at the Open. A victory at the Heritage in April, a fifth place at the US Open and 10th at Bridgestone indicate he’s in good form and this might be his time to make that leap to become a major champion. Three top-fives in the last five majors show he’s certainly getting closer.
Adam Scott (22/1) should really have won in 2012 before four successive bogeys saw him lose to Ernie Els by a single stroke. The Australian has finished in the top-10 the last four years and will feel his time at the Open has come. A pair of victories in February-March has been followed by steady form over the last couple of months and the 35-year-old will have many supporters.
Sergio Garcia (25/1) and Justin Rose (30/1) will also have lots of support but while the former is something of an Open specialist – nine top-10 finishes – and is in great form, the feeling lingers that he will never win a major. Rose meanwhile has struggled somewhat with a back problem and with only two top-10s in 14 Open outings, we’re happy to leave him off our shortlist.
Rickie Fowler (28/1) is an interesting one. Although the Californian failed to replicate his form of 2014 when he finished top-five in all four majors, he enjoyed some real success in 2015 producing stunning finishes on the final day to pinch the Players and the Scottish Open, as well as winning the Deutsche Bank in September. The 27-year-old missed cuts at both majors this campaign but he has six top-10s for the season, including losing a play-off to Hideki Matsuyama at the Phoenix Open while he showed signs of returning to form last time out with 10th at the Bridgestone.
With a pair of top-five finishes and only one missed cut from six appearances, Fowler has the game to contend here and his price is very tempting.
Henrik Stenson (30/1) will attract some punters owing to his three top-fives at the event while Phil Mickelson’s (35/1) good showing at the Scottish Open might entice some into believing he can pick up his second Open.
Last year’s last two men standing, winner Zach Johnson (45/1) and Louis Oosthuizen (40/1) could have their chances again with the former’s eighth at the US Open and 10th at the Bridgestone showing he’s coming into form. Oosthuizen meanwhile was desperately unlucky not to win his second major last summer, pipped at both Opens. The South African performed well at both majors this year – tied-15 at Augusta and tied-23 at Oakmont – but has missed three cuts in his last seven tournaments. The 2010 champion however, has proven he can win the Open so his 40/1 price appeals.
While Martin Kaymer (50/1) has struggled to record high finishes across the pond, in Europe the German has been on form of late, with his form-line stretching back to April reading 6-5-7-5-13. The two-time major champion has the long game and the putting ability to tackle the challenge of Royal Troon and he seems on the verge of a win, maybe here.
The Irish challenge this year will be led by Shane Lowry (35/1). The Offaly man finished tied-second at Oakmont and will have learned a huge amount about the pressure of contending at the majors. His game would seem right to win this event but he as just one top-10 recorded and also missed the cut last year. The 29-year-old’s defence of the Bridgestone was ended after a disastrous first round before compiling three good rounds to finish the tournament but he missed the cut at Castle Stuart last weekend and the fear is that the disappointment of his final day at the US Open might take him a little longer to recover from.
Two-time winner Padraig Harrington (80/1) led at St. Andrew’s in the early stages of the final round before a lost ball scuppered his challenge and a failure to sink any putts prevented him from crawling his way back into contention. The Dubliner has a mixed record at Royal Troon, fifth in 1997 before missing the cut in 2004. The 44-year-old has come into something resembling form of late, finishing in the top-30 in his last three events and the worse the weather, the better his chances.
Graeme McDowell (66/1) has missed eight cuts so far this season but finished 18th at Oakmont before sharing 10th place last week in Scotland. The 2010 US Open champion has a pair of top-10s from 2012 and 2014 and if becomes a real grind then an on-form McDowell will be right in the mix.
Paul Dunne (200/1), who hit the headlines by leading after 54 holes, the first amateur to do so since 1927, has had a tough season. The Greystones player has missed nine cuts in 16 starts but has enjoyed a couple of top-15 finishes. The youngster is learning all about life as a professional so it will be very difficult for him to repeat last year’s heroics but stranger things have happened.
We will complete our Open preview by listing a few long shots to consider for those looking for value among the fancy prices; these have been picked based on a combination of Open record, current form and price:
Patrick Reed (60/1) – 10th in Scotland, tied-20th last year
Marc Leishman (80/1) – top five in last two Opens, 18th in US Open
Andy Sullivan (80/1) – tied-sixth in Scotland, 5th in France, tied-30th Open 2015
Alex Noren (80/1) – winner in Scotland, tied-ninth at Open in 2012
Chris Wood (90/1) - BMW PGA winner at Wentworth, sixth and 11th on last two starts, Open top five in 2008 & 2009
Nicolas Colsaerts (100/1) – tied-third in Scotland, tied-7th in Open in 2012
To win - Dustin Johnson
Each way - Grace, Fowler and Reed
Long shots - Leishman, Wood and Harrington
All prices correct at time of writing
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