Henrik Stenson EW The Open Championship
The 143rd Open Championship takes place this week at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake. This traditional British links last played host to the Open Championship in 2006, when Tiger Woods produced a truly magnificent display of strategic quality golf to beat Chris Di Marco by two shots, most notable for the fact he only hit one driver over the 72 holes. The 7,258yd Par 72 layout played very fast and short in 2006, due to sun baked fairways, but can provide a stiff test; particularly if the wind blows. The fairway bunkers are extremely penal, and must be avoided at all costs, but the 18 under winning score of Tiger Woods in 2006 indicates good scores can be made in the right conditions. The Par 5s around Hoylake could well prove decisive this week, as they offer great chances of birdies and eagles. With warm humid conditions forecast, the course should play dry and fast again, so expect a low scoring renewal, and with little real wind forecast during the four days, draw bias should not be such a factor this year.
From a punting angle, this is a really open betting heat, and with juicy enhanced place odds on offer to tempt us punters, there seems plenty of value to be had this week.
My main fancy is Henrik Stenson, who continues in a rich vein of form, with recent form stats of 5-7-5-4-2. He has plenty of Open Championship form, having finished runner up to Phil Mickelson at Muirfield last year, and also finishing Tied 3rd in both 2008 and 2010, and he proved with his memorable Fed Ex/Race to Dubai double last year (including winning both end of season finales), that he is very much a man for the big occasion. Although he only finished Tied 48th in the 2006 renewal, he is a much better golfer now, and I have always thought this event offered the mercurial Swede the best chance of a Major victory. I see no reason to change my opinion at this late stage, so a decent bet is advised.
I have to include Graeme McDowell in my staking plan this week, as he comes here off the back of a great victory in the Alstom Open De France a couple of weeks ago. He has an impeccable links pedigree, having won the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, and by the fact he was brought up playing the classic links track Royal Portrush will hold him in good stead. He led the 2006 renewal with an opening round of 66, before slipping down the field, but this gritty competitor is ideally equipped to deal with this type of test. If conditions do get tough, the better the chance G-Mac will have, as he proved once again at the very difficult Le Golf National track that he is a fantastic scrapper, with a huge heart. His best previous finish in this event was a Tied 5th in 2012, but I expect a really bold show from this proven winner.
An outsider with a definite each way shout is the veteran Argentinian Angel Cabrera, who recently emerged from a spell in the wilderness, with a great recent victory at the Greenbrier Classic. His ball striking was sublime on the final day, and this two time Major winner proved last year he is still well capable of mixing it in this type of company, with a play off defeat at the Masters, and also by a prominent showing in this event (Tied 11th). He has good course form, having finished 7th here in 2006, and the omens look good this week for the 44 year old where the last three winners of this great event being in their 40s.
In the Top American market, I fancy Rickie Fowler to go well, particularly after such a solid prep outing on the Royal Aberdeen links last week. He finished Tied 8th after a last round 65, which included 10 birdies, and he has made no secret of the fact he loves the challenge of links golf. His Tied 5th place finish in this event in 2011 confirms he has the game to handle this type of test, and his previous Major form this year is also impressive, having finished Tied 2nd in the US Open, and Tied 5th at Augusta. He looks solid each way value at around the 16s mark.
Henrik Stenson 16-1 E/W (7 places) Paddy Power
Graeme McDowell 33/1 E/W (6 Places) Ladbrokes
Angel Cabrera 75-1 75/1 E/W (7 Places) bet365
Rickie Fowler 16-1 E/W (4 Places) Top American Paddy Power