The Open Championship Tournament Preview

2021 Open Championship Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Royal St. George’s Before Tee Off

Folks, blokes, soak this one in. After being spoiled with 2 US Opens, 2 Masters and a PGA Championship in the 2020-2021 Season, we now head to Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England for the 6th and final Major of the year, The 2021 Open Championship.

I love The Open. Links golf is golf in its purest form, and it rewards thoughtful, strategic, creative play over bombing & gouging, making a win accessible to a majority of the field who qualify, unlike the rest of the Majors. Unfortunately as much as I love watching this event, plans have gotten in the way over the last few years. Obviously the 2020 Open never happened, in 2019 I was in a destination wedding in Seattle and missed pretty much all of Shane Lowry’s victory, and in 2018 I was randomly in Finland for yet another destination wedding, missing the entirety of Francesco Molinari’s run. I do still love the coverage of The Open and everything that comes with it despite having not really watched since 2017, but regardless, it’s never been my favorite Major to bet. The reasons for that include the randomness of weather and its effect on certain waves versus others, the absence of any historical ShotLink/Strokes Gained data to model off of, and that fact that Links golf is an entirely different animal than anything we see State-side on the PGA Tour. We don’t have pot bunkers! We don’t have fescue! Burns?! Fuck no we don’t have any burns! As far as I’m concerned, this tournament is completely model-proof. Why should I care if a player has good Prox 200+ stats L12 rounds if his last few rounds were played on TPC Deere Run, Detroit Golf Club, and TPC River Highlands? They’re all easy treelined courses with rough and completely different greens complexes. With that said, the furthest extent I think we can use modeling this week is really to identify players who are coming into this week in good overall form and rate out well SG: TOT at past Open Championship venues.

With the weather playing a greater role here historically than any other event on the schedule, we’ve often seen players on the raw end of the wave splits get an unfair disadvantage, weathering heavy rain and gale force winds while other are able to capitalize on more modest conditions after the worst blows over. Weather is always nearly impossible handicap for a tournament, and especially as I sit here on Sunday four days out still from tee off at a coastal track like Royal St. George’s, I won’t begin to speculate what to expect from the weather in this preview. The most I can say however, is that the current forecast calls for very moderate weather conditions for the week, with no rain expected after Thursday morning and winds not projected to exceed 18 MPH. Again, four days is a lot of time for a weather forecast to change, especially right on the coast in this region, so we’ll need to keep an eye out on the forecast through Wednesday, especially for DFS purposes, before locking a player pool.

Scoring at Royal St. George’s has historically been more difficult than any other Open track in the rotation. How much of that to credit to inclement weather is difficult to say, but in any case, regardless of how the weather shakes out, it would be hard to envision a winner pushing beyond single digits under par. The fast, undulating fairways leave many good drives unrewarded, deep fairway pot bunkers will force lateral punch outs for players who find them, and fescue/OB hazards are looming closely for any narrow misses on tee shots or approaches. Players are going to need to be patient and calm in uncomfortable situations throughout their 4 days here in order to find any sustained success, as The Open Championship is very much a marathon of obstacles to overcome.

In typical Major fashion, it’s a loaded week of content ahead so in addition to this Preview, here’s what you can also look out for from me this week:

  • Tuesday (AM) – Blood, Sweat, & Tiers: Breaking down the Highest Upside Bet, Best DFS Value, Dark Horse, and Fade within each pricing tier
  • Tuesday (AM) – Hittin Buckets Open Championship Breakdown Podcast
  • Tuesday (9:30 PM) – Live Stream Open Championship Breakdown with Chris Euksuzian
  • Wednesday (AM) – Prop, Lock, & Drop It: My 5 favorite Prop Bets with full insights and rationale
  • Wednesday (PM) – Final Thoughts: A full recap of my approach, strategy, and final placed bets for the 2021 Open Championship

Taking a reprieve from the usual course stat correlations and model deep dives, preparation for this week’s Open Championship will instead require more historical trend analysis to project the types of players who have typically found success on the Open links. Generally speaking, that means an emphasis on experience (historical success) in Opens or Euro links tracks, good recent form, the ability to Scramble and avoid 3-putts, and a track record for scoring well in difficult/windy/wet conditions. Here’s a look at everything you can expect profiling success at Royal St. George’s for the 2021 Open Championship.

Royal St. George’s Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,204
  • Par: 70 (4x 3’s / 12x 4’s / 2x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bent / Fescue blend
  • Architect: Laidlaw Purvis
  • Comp Courses: Royal Portrush, Carnoustie, Royal Birkdale, Royal Troon, St Andrews, Royal Liverpool, Muirfield, Royal Lytham & St Annes, The Renaissance Club

7,204 yards is not especially long on paper, but packed into a Par 70, it’s going to play significantly longer than the 7,200 yard courses we’re used to seeing on the PGA Tour. The Par 3s can be treacherous with two playing at about 240 yards and 5 of the Par 4s set up at over 450 yards. The Par 5s look gettable on paper, but if conditions are anything but calm, OBs and unplayable lies loom for players who want to get aggressive and go for the green in two (look no further than Dustin Johnson’s double in the final round of the 2011 Open).

There is absolutely nothing on the PGA Tour that compares to a challenging Open Championship links course like Royal St. George’s. The only “Links” course in rotation on the PGA Tour schedule was Trinity Forest, which hosted the AT&T Byron Nelson in 2018 and 2019, but that offered no resistance to the field as a pure birdie fest and was quickly sunset off the Tour rotation as a result, so there’s really nothing we can gather from historical performance there as it relates to finding repeatable success at Royal St. George’s. The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island is probably the closest comp you could use from the PGA Tour, as a difficult scoring, weather-impacted, Links-style course, but the stark difference in distance (playing over 7,800 yards) and drastically different elevated greens structures make Kiawah a far cry from what we’ll actually see in Sandwich this week. Whistling Straits and Chambers Bay also offered similarities to Open conditions, but if you’re looking that far back, you’re likely best to just stick to actual Open Championship results in your research.

So instead, we’ll need to reference historical performance at other Open Championship venues, or links courses on the European Tour such as the Scottish Open, Irish Open, and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. While we don’t necessarily have the luxury of ShotLink data to pull from on these courses, just looking at total performance, it’s clear that Tyrrell Hatton has been the best Links player outside of the Opens, with finishes of T15, T3, 1st, and 1st in his last 4 appearances at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Victor Perez is the reigning champions at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, winning on the Old Course at St Andrews in September 2019. Perez will be another player to watch in the value range this week, popping up with T4 finishes this season at THE PLAYERS and the WGC Dell Match Play, and ranking out 3rd in the field SG: APP at last week’s Scottish Open.

Finding Success at Past Open Championships

Taking a page out of the great Dave Tindall’s book, the best way to forecast success at The Open is not through stat modeling, but rather following the trends. As it turns out, the trends of winners at The Open over the past 10 contests have followed a logical, sustained pattern in many regards. It’s of course important to be a great player if you want to win a Major; 8 of the last 10 winners have ranked inside the OWGR Top 40. 8 of the last 10 winners have also fired a T15 finish in one of their 3 previous starts coming in, meaning this is once again not a get-right event. You need to be trending up coming into play. The list of players inside the Top 40 with a T15 finish in one of their last 3 starts, including the John Deere Classic or Scottish Open includes: Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Harris English, Louis Oosthuizen, Viktor Hovland, Daniel Berger, Scottie Scheffler, Paul Casey, Abraham Ancer, Jordan Spieth, Matt Fitzpatrick, Jason Kokrak, Joaquin Niemann, Sam Burns, Ryan Palmer, and Adam Scott. Some notables in the Top 40 who have not finished T15 in recent starts include Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, and Tony Finau.

What I’ve found most interesting as far as historical trends go, is this little tidbit:

I like this stat because it makes sense conceptually. A Links course at The Open is entirely different than anything you’re going to see on the PGA Tour, and between the difference in layout, conditions, and complications of adjusting to over-seas travel, going out and winning outside the United States has always been a great indicator. Even Zach Johnson, who did not win a non-PGA Tour event before his Open win in 2015, still had two PGA Tour wins in the prior 2014 season, so every single Open Champion over the last decade has had a professional win in the same season or season prior.

In short, you’ll want to target players this week who experienced success at past Open Championships, have tested the waters successfully in non-PGA Tour events over the past 2 seasons, and come into the week with a combination of good recent form and good recent results inside the Top 15 over the past month.

Key Stats

  • Recent Form (SG: T2G)
  • SG: OTT / Driving Accuracy
  • Bogey or Worse Avoidance
  • Scrambling Gained
  • 3-Putt Avoidance
  • SG: BS (High Winds)
  • Open History

Stats To Avoid

  • All of them, if you choose

As I said in the beginning, it’s a model-free week for me, really just leaning on historical success, recent form, and all around feel for the type of player profile who’s had success at past Open Championships. If we just wanted to look at Event History + Recent Form, there are just 7 players who rate out Top 30 in SG: TOT at Open Championships and SG: TOT L36: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Reed, Stewart Cink, Patrick Cantlay, and Brooks Koepka. The list of players who rate out Top 20 in both includes just Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth. And if we were to zoom in to just Open History over the last 3 contests, Tyrrell Hatton and Charley Hoffman can also be added to the list of players who fall inside the Top 30 of each.

While I’m not feeding any stats into a model this week, the type of player I’m looking for comes in with good recent form, can control the ball off the tee and mitigate misses in the right places, avoids blowup holes, can scramble well around the green, lag putts well on large greens to avoid 3 putts, and is solid ball striking in windy conditions. Again, I don’t think you can feed this into a model, because success at a windy Corales Championship is not at all translatable to finding success at Royal St. Georges. Nor is scrambling at the Valspar Championship any indication of the wedge expertise needed to navigate through the fescue that lurks around these greens. To combat the absence of data to go off of, it will be as important as ever this week to pay attention to press/media coverage and listen to players who are notably comfortable playing in Links conditions.

Interlude

Taking the time that would have otherwise gone towwards building out my model, I’ve instead decided in the spirit of The Open’s host town, to come up with as many Sandwich-themed puns as possible from the players in this field.

  • Dan Burger
  • Bernd Cheese-burger
  • Grillo-ed Cheese
  • Bacon Egg & Chez
  • Casey-dilla
  • Tuna Finau
  • PB & JT
  • Roast Spieth
  • Poult Pork
  • Phil Cheesesteak
  • Rahmbazo
  • Bao Burns
  • CT Panini
  • Sausage & Pepperell
  • Moli Cristo
  • Bobby Big Mac
  • Bryson DeCh-Ham-beau

I encourage you to randomly tweet me additional sandwich puns I’ve missed as the week progresses.

Spotlight: Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson looks on during British Open - ABC News (Australian  Broadcasting Corporation)

As always with a Major Championship, there’s no shortage of players, narratives, and storylines to highlight. We know that #ItsComingHome to England, exciting for prominent Links players like Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Justin Rose, and Ian Poulter. Shane Lowry relinquishes the Claret Jug after holding it for 2 years. Jon Rahm had books questioning if they should just list him at even odds after jumping out to a hot start at last week’s Scottish Open. And Jordan Spieth, who was one of my first bets of the week, will be amongst the most popular plays of the week as he looks to pick up his second win at The Open since his win at Royal Birkdale in 2016.

But no, rather than take the easy way out, I’m focused on another player who’s popped in every stat I’ve looked for this week, and despite that, is still flying under the radar early on, and that’s Dustin Johnson. Unlike a majority of the top names this week, DJ has experience at Royal St. George’s, where he was the odds on favorite to win going into his Sunday final pairing with Darren Clarke in 2011. It was a wayward OB approach on the back nine that took DJ out of contention then, but he still went on to finish runner up that week.

Johnson is a man of few words, so you’re not going to hear him go into detail explaining his course strategy and shot shaping ability, but it’s absolutely all in the bag for the man who was World #1 several weeks ago. I mean seriously, if you just browse through the TaylorMade YouTube Channel, he is better than the world’s best in any random shot shaping mini-challenge thrown his way. He can stripe it lefty, he can cut or draw any club in the bag on command, he’s a wizard with his wedges. Nothing incredibly shocking for someone with as decorated a career as he’s had, but when we talk about needing to be prepared for the randomness of weather, elements, and suspect lies all around the course, you want an experienced player like DJ who can reach into his bag of tricks to recover when it’s inevitably needed. After the 2011 Open at Royal St. George’s, DJ spoke about this being a course that requires feel rather than going off of pure yardages and numbers, and that’s where he’s always been most comfortable even over the decade that’s followed. He’s not accounting for differences in slope, air density, wind, bounce, etc. when he’s pulling a club out of the bag, he just knows a general distance the ball needs to go, and feels it out from there. In an event that throws more variables at you than any other, that comfortability to play off of feel will be a huge advantage over a majority of the less experienced players in the field.

I’m a fervent believer that over time, every golfer regresses to their own mean playing ability, and DJ’s mean playing ability is still arguably the best in the world. Since the Masters in April, DJ has been in a “slump” by his standards, with 4 T25s to go along with 2 MCs and a T48 in that span. But this is still the same player who over the last calendar year has 4 wins on the PGA Tour, and 5 total wins if you throw in his victory at the Saudi International 5 months ago in February. That win at the Saudi is crucial from a trends standpoint, as everyone aside from Zach Johnson who’s won The Open since 2010 had registered a non-PGA Tour within the past 2 seasons prior to claiming the Claret Jug.

He has the game and experience to win The Open, and with 4 finishes of T12 or better over his career at this event, there’s plenty of room for upside as DJ returns to the site of his best previous Open finish.

Closing Thoughts Ahead of The 2021 Open Championship

Shane Lowry shines in historic year for Irish golf - The Irish News

It’s a vulnerable feeling going into a tournament, let alone the last Major Championship of the year, without the aid of any Strokes Gained data modeling, but if there’s nothing State-side that accurately simulates what we’ll see at this week’s event, then I certainly won’t be making any betting or DFS decisions based on the numbers any models are going to spit back out at me. So instead, just like Dustin Johnson, we are going to ignore the numbers, take a look down the board, and just make some picks off of good old fashioned feel. What could go wrong!

I’ll be expanding on some of my favorite value players later this week, but one player who’s really jumped out to me as a fit through the limited research I’ve been able to pull for is Matt Jones. He checks the box as a Tour Winner this season back at the Honda Classic, and the formula he used to prevail at PGA National, another ~7,200 yard Par 70 that plays longer than the scorecard suggests and emphasizes mitigated mistakes off the tee, is his comfortability hitting varying flighted approach shots to manage the gusting wind. That’s a skill he picked up playing Links golf in his Australian home growing up, and that experience has made him a fairly reliable player at Opens in the past, making it through the cut in 3 of his last 4 appearances. The short game specialist has been in good form in 2021 and has great upside to pop up the leaderboard once again at Royal St. Geroge’s.

With all the course fit profiles in mind this week, I’m leaning early towards the below player pool, broken out by projected pricing/odds tier.

As it currently stands, I have placed outright bets on Jordan Spieth and Louis Oosthuizen over the last couple weeks to go along with some Futures I place towards the end of last year on Joaquin Niemann, Gary Woodland, Francesco Molinari, and Marc Leishman. There’s a 99% chance I add Dustin Johnson to the card once odds adjust this week, and that may do it when all is said and done.

We’ve got a long week of content ahead, but I’m really looking forward to actually watching 4 rounds of The Open Championship for the first time since 2017. Thanks for reading along, best of luck out there!

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