This week players from all over the world converge on Northern Ireland in hopes of being crowned Champion Golfer of the Year. The 148th rendition of the world’s oldest Major, The Open Championship (henceforth only referred to as The British), heads to Royal Portrush Golf Club, a course that hasn’t hosted The British since 1951. The Masters is undoubtedly my favorite Major given the history and tradition that comes along with Augusta in April, but in terms of pure entertainment value it doesn’t get any better than The British Open. Starting at 1:30 a.m. ET, 156 golfers will take their turns tackling what looks to be one of the most unique challenges of the year. The best part? WIRE TO WIRE TV coverage, the most of any event all year. This is golf handicapping nirvana considering we spend all year begging to see our longshots actually hit some golf shots. The fact that so many players are in excellent form and the amazing visual experience of that comes from a links course adds to what I’m sure will be an exciting four days. As is always the case with the British Open, weather will be the determining factor in how the course will play. With that said, let’s get into a preview of Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush Golf Club
There is a strong sense of unknown with Royal Portrush. While it hasn’t hosted a British Open since 1951, it was the site of the 2012 Irish Open and this serves as our last viewing of this track in a competitive environment. The problem is that Royal Portrush has undergone somewhat of a face lift since 2012 including two brand new holes and the lengthening of a few tee boxes. What stands now is a Par 71 course that will play up to 7300 yards and while we don’t have an exact read on the course, there are a few traits we can be certain of. First, the greens we normally associate with the British Open are bumpy and not unlike some of the Poa greens seen on the West Coast. Here, the greens are slick and it has been said Royal and Ancient will have them running as fast and firm as possible. Second, it seems as though the fairways are a little wider than normal British fairways but unlike many British tracks the rough looks to be long and penal. Finally, the weather. As with most British Opens, the wind will be the ultimate determining factor in how Royal Portrush plays. This area of the world is well known for strong, unpredictable winds and it isn’t crazy to experience all four seasons in a single day. Depending on the winds Royal Portrush could set up as a bombers paradise or lend itself to short game wizards who are getting up and down from all over. Due to this, the sharpest handicappers will be waiting until a definitive weather report is available before finalizing their card, especially when it comes to head to head betting. Differing wind conditions between early and late tee times can offer an extremely lucrative position as markets tend to be slow to adjust to weather issues, if they adjust at all. In this article I will highlight some positions I have taken prior to a full weather report, but as always check my Twitter feed (@jmazzjd) right up until tee time for my final card.
If you’re stumbling upon my write up for the first time let me say this: while I incorporate many statistics into my model, current form is the most heavily weighted. It just so happens that current form has been a great predictor of success at the British Open over the last 19 years. 13 of the last 19 champions had won a tournament the same season prior to lifting the Claret Jug. To narrow it to more recent trends, five of the past 6 champions had a win in one of their previous 5 starts, with Zach Johnson being the outlier (he just had 3 top 10 finishes in his 5 prior starts).
The next stat I am going to incorporate is Strokes Gained: Ball Striking which combines Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach. I want to highlight players who strike the ball consistently and do not have to rely on a hot putter to keep them in this tournament. Guys who are consistently near the top in SG:BS can win in multiple ways. If the wind is down and it turns into a birdie fest, those will be the players with the most birdie opportunities and if the wind is high solid ball striking allows players to control flight and penetrate that wind in tough conditions.
Finally, I am going to be looking at Strokes Gained: Around The Green and 3 Putt Avoidance. If the winds are up I want to highlight players who can grind out a par if greens become difficult to hit. These players typically thrive in tough conditions as a solid all around short game becomes much more important when birdie opportunities are rare.
Now, onto the PICKS!
Brooks Koepka +1015 (.79u to win 8u): This is simply an auto bet for the foreseeable future as his record in Majors since his US Open triumph in 2017 simply cannot be ignored. He comes in at 17th in my model due to rather poor current form. I believe this is the result of his entire lack of care for regular Tour events and will ignore his last two results. Even with those two less than stellar showings he is 3rd in Ball Striking over his last 24 rounds and 12th in the Stats portion of my model over his last 50 rounds. There are times when you have to deviate slightly from model results and apply some simple logic. Brooks at Majors is one of those times.
Xander Schauffele +2850 (.28u to win 7.8u): There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Xander is going to break through and win a Major, the question is when rather than if. The British could easily be his time. Along with current form, British Open pedigree has been a key component found in winners. Since 2011 every British winner has finished in the top 10 in the British prior to winning. In Xander’s two starts across the pond he has registered 2nd and 20thn place finishes. On top of the requisite pedigree Xander comes in at 11th in my model, propelled by excellent form pretty much all season long including a 3rd at the US Open and 2nd at The Masters. This is the exact type of player I would rather be too early than too late I will gladly back him at his current number.
Adam Scott +3000 (.26u to win 7.8u): Any winning profile that places an emphasis on ball striking will find Adam Scott on the short list. While I’m weary of the fact he hasn’t played since the US Open, the fact that he has gone 9 straight tournaments without losing strokes to the field putting far outweighs any fear of rust. As a long time Tour vet Scott has had plenty of opportunities to develop his British Open Pedigree and his resume includes numerous top 10s. As is always the case when backing Scott, his success will be determined by his flat stick. Four moderately decent days putting will have Scott right in the thick come Sunday and at this number I’ll gladly grab a share.
Henrik Stenson +3250 (.24u to win 7.8u): Stenson’s Strokes Gained: Approach numbers over his last 10 tournaments are reminiscent of peak Tiger. It is unreal. Over his last 5 tournaments alone he has averaged over 5 strokes gained on approach. Check that ball striking box. A 9th at the US Open and a 4th last week at the Scottish Open show his form is excellent as well. Check another. Finally, if you take a look at the Claret Jug you will find Stenson’s name carved into it. Last box checked. Stenson’s number has obviously plummeted since early offerings but anything over 30/1 for a guy who checks every box is exposure I love.
Jason Day +4250 (.19u to win 8u): The plays thus far have been littered with ball strikers and while peak Jason Day would have definitely been included in amongst the greats, Day has been relying on his short game for success for years now. Knowing this, I found it interesting to see Day’s ball striking has been absolutely superb of late, coming in 4th over his last 8 rounds vs the field and 11th his last twelve while at the same time not gaining many strokes on the greens. To me, this is the perfect storm for Day and a lights out putting weekend is just around the corner from someone who is consistently one of the worlds best with the flat stick. A putting performance in line with his career norm coupled with his current ball striking form is the recipe for a win here and getting 40/1+ is excellent value considering Day’s upside.
Justin Thomas +4250 (.19u to win 8u): JT is the perfect example of why it is important to start building your Major cards far before the week of the tournament. This number is ultimately gone due to his solid performance at the Scottish this last week but was readily available two weeks ago when I released the play on my weekly podcast, Fore! Profit. Prior to his injury at The Honda, JT was in the midst of a career best ball striking run while racking up top 10s. He looks to be back in that form considering his performances striking at The Travelers and The Scottish, but has developed some issues with the putter. A guy with JT’s talent is the kind of player who can turn an issue like that around in a week’s time. If you do back him, you’re probably better off not watching him putt 5 footers, but trust in the talent and take a number at a Major that is so high it is likely never seen again.
Bryson Dechambeau +6050 (.13u to win 7.9u): Another number long gone (and released on the Pod), but I have no issues backing him at 30/1+. I know I am in the minority here, but I love Dechambeau’s game and definitely root for him each week. His pedigree cannot be ignored. NCAA Champ, US Amateur Champ and multiple wins worldwide all before 26. The short list of guys who have accomplished all that are basically the Mount Rushmore of golf, Tiger, Jack, Arnie. Why on earth is he 60-1?! I’m guessing it’s because he isn’t popular and thus his value gets depressed. I’m here to take advantage of that. On top of that, he comes in 14th in my model mostly due to a 2nd and 8th in his last two outings stateside. As with Xander, it is a matter of when, not if as to when Bryson cashes a major and this is another spot where I’ll be early rather than late.
Patrick Reed +8550 (.09u to win 7.7u): Poor Patrick Reed. Guy gets no love. Multiple winner on Tour along with a Green Jacket and he is lumped down here with guys who are struggling to keep their card year to year. I’ll gladly take a bite, especially when I see a glimpse of light with his game. Last two starts? Over 12 strokes gained on approach. That is old school Fatty playing! This number is still readily available and is really just a free square. If things get nasty, he can obviously grind with the best of them and he is definitely not afraid of pressure. This is close your eyes and take a number that is simply incorrect territory. I’ll do it, and probably not root for him.
FULL TOURNAMENT HEAD TO HEAD PLAYS
Chez Reavie -1.5 Strokes (-110) over Bubba Watson (3.3u to win 3u): This is what long time followers know as a drone strike. This is a max bet that is rare and has an insane success rate. There isn’t a single redeeming quality to be found with Bubba’s resume leading up to the British. 3 MCs in his last 5 and simply hates playing courses that don’t “fit his eye.” His British record suggests links courses fit into this category as his history across the pond is riddled with missed cuts and lacks a single top 20. Reavie on the other hand has been playing great and checks in at #14 on my model, powered by a win at the Travelers and a 3rd place finish at the US Open. Reavie’s ball striking has been superb and while his British record leaves a lot to be desired (2 missed cuts) he has never had this kind of form prior. This is much more a fade of Bubba who lacks a single box check and I’ll gladly ride the extremely hot form over a player who has no ambitions of being around for the weekend.
Koepka over Rahm (2u at +100), DJ (2u at -105), Rory (1u at +135): BROOKS KOEPKA SHOULD NOT BE A DOG TO A SINGLE PERSON ON THIS EARTH AT A MAJOR! What more does this guy have to prove? My analysis of Brooks is up top, so let’s talk about the three guys who markets currently think are better than Brooks. While strokes gained data for Euro events is hard to come by I can say this, John Rahm is a mediocre iron player. Obviously an elite driver of the golf ball that will inflate his ball striking numbers, Rahm far too often has tournaments where he loses strokes with the irons. This is most exemplified by him checking in at 60th in SG:BS over his last 8 rounds which includes an excellent finish at the US Open. Further, Rahm’s British Open resume leaves much to be desired with a MC, a 44th and a 59th. Comparing this with Koepka’s affinity towards majors and this bet is a no brainer. DJ is elite, there is no other way to look but for whatever reason he hasn’t been able to consistently perform at the British Open. He has consistently come up short to Brooks in majors and there is no reason to think that doesn’t continue here. Rory, on the other hand, has an excellent British record. A win and a whole slew of top 5s, links golf suits Rory’s game. You will also undoubtedly hear about the pre renovation course record Rory holds at Portrush, achieved when he was just 16 years old. Couple all that with absolutely insane form and fading Rory isn’t something one should be super excited about. The problem is that price. I actually have these two rated similarly but that plus number is too juicy to pass on. I also have questions about Rory going back home for this event. He will undoubtedly be the unspoken host of this tournament and I can see distractions, along with immense pressure, being too much for him. Getting my number 1 golfer at plus money is too good to pass up.
Stenson, Scott, Xander -1.5 Strokes (1u each at +100) over Molinari: The reigning Champion Golfer of the Year has been playing golf very badly and fortunately he’s matched up against three guys I obviously love. You can look above for their analysis so let’s break down Mr. Molinari. Mols has made it pretty clear from his comments that he is enjoying family life and the luxuries that come from not only winning the British Open but coming VERY close to a Green Jacket. There is a narrative that the final round with Tiger took it out of Molinari. Since the Masters his putter has completely lost him and his striking has been nothing exciting whatsoever. A 16th at the US Open was entirely the result of some lucky chip ins. He ranks outside the top 30 in every form metric used in my model and is priced with guys I believe will be in contention come Sunday. I was on Molinari here last year but this year he will be a full fade.
The British Open is very unique in that the weather can change at the drop of a dime. Due to this I will be releasing my full card via Twitter (@jmazzjd)Wednesday evening in the hopes of having the best knowledge of possible advantages. As always my DMs are open for any questions and I hope everyone enjoys The 2019 Open Championship!