Teeing off this week on the links at Royal Birkdale is the 146th Open Golf Championship, the third major of the golfing year, the oldest and perhaps, the most prestigious of all the four events. Winning the Claret Jug is on a par with donning the Green Jacket at Augusta and it is one of the events that all golfers dream of winning.
This year’s event takes place in England in Southport Lancashire at Royal Birkdale, just north of Liverpool and sandwiched in between two other Open venues, Royal Liverpool at Hoylake on the Wirral Peninsula to the south, while Royal Lytham & St Annes is just a few miles to the north across Morecambe Bay.
Bet365 are offering a fantastic deal for punters on the Open Golf Outright Winner betting market, by stating that they have extended their Each Way betting payouts from the standard 5, up to a more generous 8 places including ties. That means if your player finishes in the top eight of the Open and you have backed them Each Way, you get a payout.
But before we can take a guess at which players will prevail at Royal Birkdale, we need to first understand a bit more about the Open Championship, and in particular about the course upon which over four days of golf, the winner will eventually be crowned.
Royal Birkdale – A firm but fair challenge of links golf
There are a total of ten courses on the Open roster at present, five in Scotland, four in England and one in Northern Ireland. Each offers its own different challenge and a test of links golf, but on some other courses, previous Open Championships have been criticised for being too tough as the Championship Committee has used a number of different tricks to make the course considerably tougher.
While that can be a good idea in somewhat perfect conditions for golf, at the Open, the fact that these are links courses and hugely affected by the wind and weather means that if a course is made too difficult, scoring can be very difficult for golfers. If this occurs, the event can become a war of attrition, rather than a celebration of golf.
However unlike the other nine courses on the roster, Royal Birkdale doesn’t really need any help in being set up as a firm but fair test of golf. The course is rated by professionals as one of the toughest on the Open roster, but also as being one of the fairest. Poor shots are duly punished, but good shots are conversely rewarded.
As such, especially if the prevailing conditions for the Open see wind from the Irish Sea becoming a factor, then Royal Birkdale can present as tough a test in the Open as any other course. The previous two winners of the Open here, Padraig Harrington in 2008 and Mark O’Meara in 1998 won the event with scores of +3 and Even Par respectively.
What does this mean for the field?
The challenge presented by Royal Birkdale is one thing, but the other factor that players need to consider is the weather. While the UK is, at the time of writing, enjoying some rather summery warm weather (for a change), by tee off time on Thursday, temperatures will have dropped, it will be more overcast and the wind is scheduled to blow at between 10 and 20mph on the day.
That may sound worrying, but in truth, that is about par for the course on a links course on the Irish Coast. Certainly the conditions won’t worry the top golfers unduly on Thursday and with showers forecast for Friday and Saturday, that may help soften the fairways and greens up a little, before the final round takes place on Sunday, which is forecast to be mainly dry.
With the weather likely to play only a minor role in proceedings, it will probably be the players that manage their game around the course the best who do well this year. While distance is always a help, accuracy is far more important, particularly from the tee, but also when playing approach shots into the greens, of which many are well protected by some fiendishly difficult bunkers and deep rough.
Keeping the ball on the fairway, but being able to scramble should you get out of position will also be a key attribute in players that do well at The Open, but putting on Royal Birkdale’s lush greens should be a treat as they are rated amongst the best in the UK. That said, they are deceptively tricky with some unusual breaks that require great patience (and ideally experience) if you are to putt well enough to win the event.
In short, my winner for the Open 2017 will be a player who is likely to be long off the tee, but accurate with that, hits a high proportion of greens in regulation and who can hole several of the crucial 10-20 foot putts that players will face for birdies or better, while nailing those 6-10 foot putts for par.
So who will the winner of the Open 2017 be?
Having built up a profile of who we the Open Golf Champion in 2017 will be, it’s time to see which players from the field match up best to this profile. But first let’s give you a list of players that I think will struggle this coming week.
Rory McIlroy’s struggles are well known having missed the last three cuts and his record at the Open, despite being a previous winner, isn’t that great. His accuracy off the tee is a struggle at the moment and I think he is someone best avoided. The same can be said for Aussie duo Adam Scott and Jason Day who are both struggling for a bit of form, while Sergio Garcia, who has gone close in the past, is another whose erratic play, particularly with approaches to the green, could count against him.
As for the winner, then here are my top recommendations:
Dustin Johnson – 14/1 with Bet365 Sport
You can’t look past the current World Number 1, he has enjoyed a stellar 2017 but the only thing missing from his resume for this season is a Major title. His play certainly deserves it and he certainly has the length from the tea, accuracy and putting skill to get the job done. With Johnson though, travelling outside of the US hasn’t brought the best out of him, though I do expect him to go very close if he doesn’t win the event.
Jordan Spieth – 14/1 with Bet365 Sport
Spieth hasn’t enjoyed as much success in his last five Majors as he did the five before that but like Johnson, he has all the attributes required to be the Champion Golfer on Sunday. A long hitter, but usually accurate, it is Spieth’s putting which could be the decisive factor if he is going to be Champion, however he needs to be mentally tough in what could be difficult conditions for him to prevail.
Tommy Fleetwood – 22/1 with Bet365 Sport
Already a promising talent and winner on the European Tour, Tommy Fleetwood came to global attention following his superb US Open performance in June and he has followed that up with another European Tour victory and is arguably, alongside Jon Rahm, the most in form of all European players. He’s long enough off the tee, very accurate with his approaches and putts well, but what gives Fleetwood the edge in my view is that he is a local lad and will have experience of playing Royal Birkdale in a number of conditions, as well as enjoying plenty of local support.
Phil Mickelson – 40/1 with Bet365 Sport
I’ve picked Phil Mickelson because of all the Majors he plays each year, the Open Championship seems to bring out the very best of him. Sure he is erratic at times from the tee, but his ability to craft shots that other players simply don’t see, or don’t have the ability to execute always marks him out as a threat. He’ll need to putt as well as he did when finishing 2nd last year to Henrik Stenson, but I think at 40/1, he is an outstanding choice for at least an Each Way bet with Bet365.
I don’t think any of these four players will be too far away come Sunday at Royal Birkdale, but if I had to put £10 each way on any of these players, my choice would be Phil Mickelson.