We’re just days away from the final major of the year, and several players have an opportunity to add the Claret Jug to their storybook careers this weekend during the British Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.
Brooks Koepka (10/1 odds), the world’s top-ranked golfer and a majors machine, can add a new feather to his cap and claim his first British Open title.
Rory McIlroy (8/1) can win his sixth major championship on a course where he shot a course-record 61 at the age of 16.
And, of course, Tiger Woods (18/1) can continue one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of sports with a fourth win at this tournament.
And if you’re the gambling type, there are wagers to be made that can make an immensely intriguing weekend even more exciting.
For those of you with a few bucks to spare on the tournament, we’ve enlisted the help of Justin Ray, Head of Content for the golf analytics company 15th Club, to help us better understand Royal Portrush as a golf course and the British Open as a unique major championship.
Which metric means the most when forecasting success at Royal Portrush?
Royal Portrush Golf Club, located on the northern-most coast of Northern Island, will provide viewers spectacular views, but it hasn’t offered bettors, or even golfers, much of a look at its links setup in recent years.
The course hosted the Irish Open in 2012 but has undergone significant changes since with a handful of added bunkers and entirely new seventh and eighth holes, among other major alterations.
However, in comparing Royal Portrush to other courses on the European Tour, Ray believes this par-71 beast provides some serious challenges.
“Portrush should play as more penalizing than normal when players miss fairways and greens,” Ray told Omnisport. “And while not every links course plays exactly the same, typically the same themes arise – scrambling ability is critical, and avoiding bogeys is more important than racking up birdies.”
The top of the PGA Tour leaderboard in scrambling isn’t exactly a “who’s who” of the game, but the name at the top – Patrick Cantlay (25/1) – has flirted with elite status this season and claimed into the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings in June with a win at The Memorial.
Other marquee names in the top 20 in scrambling include Webb Simpson (100/1), Matt Kuchar (30/1), Tommy Fleetwood (25/1), Francesco Molinari (20/1), Marc Leishman (60/1) and Justin Rose (20/1).
|Player||Scrambling %||PGA Tour rank|
Which metric means the least when forecasting success on this course?
While one can certainly lose this golf tournament on the greens, it likely won’t be won with a putter, according to Ray.
“Links golf tends to be less of a putting contest than normal,” he said. “Statistics like putts per green in regulation and strokes gained putting typically hold a little less weight on this type of golf course. Some of the best players on links-style courses over the last decade include Henrik Stenson (30/1), Jon Rahm (16/1) and Adam Scott (30/1) – players whose ball-striking is typically stronger than their putting acumen.”
Among the golfers Ray mentioned, Rahm has gotten the most attention leading up to this tournament after finishing in the top three in his last three starts. He certainly fits the bill as a player who plays well off the tee and to the green, but doesn’t necessarily fare as well once he makes it to the short grass.
Jon Rahm’s PGA Tour ranks
|Strokes gained||2019 rank||2018 rank|
|Around the green||62nd||52nd|
Which of the biggest names has a game best suited for Royal Portrush?
When it comes to majors, the discussion should always begin (and usually ends) with Koepka. His cumulative score of 64 under par in majors over the last three years is 35 shots better than any other player.
But according to Ray, Koepka’s game isn’t immune to adverse weather conditions.
“The ultimate question regarding Koepka, and any other power player, is whether or not the wind will give Portrush what it needs to defend itself this week,” Ray said. “The extremely low scores we saw at the Scottish Open were largely because of docile weather conditions. More of that, and we’ll likely see players who can overpower par 4s and 5s turn The Open into a birdie-fest.”
However, one number to keep in mind won’t be found on any stat sheet or scorecard, but on a birth certificate.
“One thing that has been valuable in The Open in recent years compared to the other major championships is experience,” Ray pointed out. “Since 2011, the average winner at The Open is 36.1 years old, nearly five years older than the winner of any other major in that span. Four winners have been 40 or older during that stretch – the other three majors combined have had only one winner age 40 or older.”
Age of British Open winners
Are there any quirky factors to keep in mind before the boys take the course?
Koepka caught a small of amount of flak ahead of the PGA Championship when he said majors were the “easiest to win” because there are only “maybe 35” players he has to worry about beating on a given major weekend.
Well, he’s not entirely wrong.
The last 31 majors have been won by players ranked in the top 50 in the world, but Ray said “this championship has a wide-open feel to it, largely because of the collective unknown of the golf course.”
“That trait can be exacerbated if we see some wind and rain,” Ray added. “Regardless, this should be one of the most exciting atmospheres for an Open in some time.”
Another trend that could be bucked this weekend is the 37-year drought for an American Grand Slam as a U.S.-born player has won the first three majors of the year (Woods, Koepka and Gary Woodland).
The last time the United States held all four majors was 1982 when Craig Stadler won the Masters, Raymond Floyd won the PGA Championship and Tom Watson won the U.S. Open and British Open.
Who’s someone we’re not talking about who could surprise us and be near the top of the leaderboard Sunday?
If there’s one thing we know from our preparation for this tournament, it’s that we don’t know much.
The course and conditions are complete wild cards, which means we’re destined for a wild-card contender.
“One European Tour veteran who I like this week is Rafa Cabrera Bello,” Ray said. “He’s coming off three consecutive top-10 finishes and has had success on links courses in the past, including a win at the Scottish Open a couple of years ago. He finished tied for fourth two years ago at Royal Birkdale, too.”
Cabrera Bello, 35, has longshot odds at 80/1, so a $10 flyer on the Spaniard to win would net a cool $800.
Ray also tabbed 41-year-old Kuchar as a potential play in the third tier of favorites at 30/1 odds.
“Kuchar is arguably having the best season of his career, and has finished in the top 10 each of the last two years at The Open,” Ray said. “Both players (Kuchar and Cabrera Bello) would fit the ‘experience-pays’ model and I think are good bets to at least finish in the top 10.”
Full 2019 British Open odds
|Rafael CABRERA BELLO||80/1|
|Erik VAN ROOYEN||125/1|
|Byeong Hun AN||200/1|
|Charles HOWELL III||250/1|
|Si Woo KIM||300/1|
|Miguel Angel JIMENEZ||500/1|
Odds via VegasInsider.com. Odds updated July 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
15th Club describes itself as a “passionate team of golf professionals, data experts and software engineers” that provides comprehensive data for professional golfers, brands and media outlets. Follow Justin Ray on Twitter here.