England’s Richard Bland ended the two-year wait for an Open Championship when he led a 156-strong field with the opening tee shot on Thursday at Royal St. George’s.
Shane Lowry arrives in Kent as the defending champion, after he won the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush in 2019 with a six-shot victory. He’s been paired up with tournament favorite Jon Rahm and South African Louis Oosthuizen in a strong group. If there’s one thing that Royal St. George’s has taught us, however, you should be wary of backing favorites.
Predicting who will lift the Claret Jug on Sunday is about as easy as keeping your eyes on the ball on one of this course’s rolling fairways. Tiger Woods is the only world No. 1 to win The Open this century, and since 2000 the average position ranking of winners is 41.
Here’s a look at surprise winners at Royal St. George’s, why this course has become the home of outsiders, and how this could influence your British Open betting choices.
Prominent PGA Tour names grace the winners’ list at Royal St. George’s, among them Harry Vardon (1899, 1911), Walter Hagen (1922, 1928), Bobby Locke (1949), and Greg Norman (1993).
However, some serious long shots have also won in Kent and the last two winners were the most surprising of the lot: Ben Curtis and Darren Clarke.
In 2003, Curtis was ranked 396th in the world and clinched the Claret Jug in his first appearance in a major. He was a PGA Tour rookie, and after spending the year outside the 1,000 world ranking, he only moved inside the top 500 two weeks before The Open Championship. He beat Thomas Bjorn and Vijay Singh to the trophy by one shot.
Darren Clarke turned 42 in 2011 and while he was far from a rookie, he was supposed to be well past his prime. He was kept on his toes by favorites, among them Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, over the four days, but Clark held steady and won his first major after 54 attempts over more than 20 years.
Tough Breaks for Favorites
While the long-shot winners at Royal St. George’s have undoubtedly deserved their triumph, famously tough breaks for tournament favorites set the stage.
It was on this course that Tiger Woods lost the first ball of his professional career. His opening tee shot in the 2003 Open landed in the right rough and despite assistance from the crowd and marshalls, it was never found. Woods found the rough again on his reload en route to a triple-bogey 7. Ultimately, he finished two shots behind Curtis.
It was also at Royal St. George’s in 2011 when Johnson misfired with a 2-iron from 250 yards out on the 14th in the final four. A penalty stroke, drop, and four shots later, and Johnson recorded a double-bogey, which pushed Clarke’s lead back to four strokes.
The average age of the winner of The Open since 2011 is 35.7, higher than any other major. There have been only five players in their 40’s that have won a major since 2011, and four of those won The Open.
Players at Royal St. George’s need a combination of skill, creativity, imagination, and maturity to handle the wind, the course, and the competition.
Distance Isn’t Everything
Unlike other majors, driving distance is not among the biggest deciding factors at Royal St. George’s. The average driving distance rank of the last 10 winners entering the tournament was 24th.
This par-70 course is shorter than most at 7,189 yards. A player’s ability to scramble well and get creative on the ups and downs around the green is more important than distance. Keep an eye on players’ scrambling stats for this season as you bet on The Open.
Quality Ball Striking
While distance isn’t the biggest factor on this links-style course, there are some humongous bunkers to fly off the tee. Ball striking is critically important on a more difficult course, and this can certainly be classified as one of the most difficult Open courses.
Players must get over bunkers and dunes on the fairway and hit their shots well enough to avoid the impenetrable rough on the side of the fairways and the penal rough on the edges of the greens. The fact that Greg Norman is the only player to have won at Royal St. George’s with a score better than -5 tells you something about the accuracy needed for this course.
Keep an eye on players averaging above 72% of greens in regulation (GIR) this season.
Defense is Unlikely
The Claret Jug is one of the hardest trophies to defend. That’s not to say that Shane Lowry can’t win at Royal St. George’s, but successful Open defenses have been all too rare in modern times. Only five players have managed to retain their title since 1960 and only two of those have been this century. Padraig Harrington (2008) and Woods (2006) were the last two golfers to successfully defend their title.
The good news for Lowry is his 2019 title was also captured on a links course at Royal Portrush, and this could put him in good stead for everything that Royal St. George’s throws his way.
Whether there’s another upset on the cards this year remains to be seen. It’s the mystery and magic about this occasion at Royal St. George’s that makes this year’s British Open such an exciting one.
Bet on the British Open
Golf has been one of the most popular games for centuries and this comes down to the fact that it needs both skill and a healthy helping of good fortune. This is even more true on links courses, where the bounce and bustle of the ball are unpredictable. With firm, undulating fairways, grueling hazards, and punishing winds, links courses provide the ultimate test on how to balance luck and ability.
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