The 2019 Open Championship preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
Hi Ho it’s off to Portrush we go! It may not come as a huge surprise that the 148th Open returns to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951. The significance of this is of no real concern to us since if we are being frank its just another Open rota course. Not long but almost reverentially well regarded this purely subjective view of the course as one of the world’s best is totally at odds with our remit – to objectively find a winner. Rory is the narrative here and as the premier golfer of his generation – (for how long given Koepkas’ rise?) – he will dominate the headlines until such time as he can’t conceivably win.
The lead up events have been links courses in name only. Benign conditions have not helped at either the Irish or Scottish but the pace of the greens at the Scottish Open were so slow as to have Rory lamenting them as a serious test. He skipped Ireland probably because he didn’t want to shoot his homecoming bolt too early. Bearing in mind Rory’s comments you could be forgiven for totally ignoring the two links lead up events.
The reality is Opens occasionally produce shocks yes – but class players usually emerge. Winners of events leading up to the Open and those ranked in the top 50 are a solid starting point. Nevertheless there is no set formula and as always we will entertain the progressive player concept – one who wins and then whose credentials were there to see.
The course will play up to 7,344 yards, 516 more than in 1951 which makes the 1951 event look mighty tough to me with those ole feathery balls and hickory shafts. Not heavily bunkered but still always to be avoided the defence is classic links – hard rolling fairways, rough, and some epic slopes. Ground control and spin control will be paramount which will please Tiger. The weather is predicted to include all four seasons and lets hope we get gales thrown into the mix.
Take this from last year about Rory:
An interesting stat emerged last week around top ten finishes since 2012 across all tours.
A pretty impressive list with umpteen world wide regular tour wins and 9 Majors. Yet McIIroy heads this by some way. In relative terms Rory outperforms the ultra consistent Rose – 2nd on this list – by 11.5%. Dustbin by 14.7% and Spieth by 20.2%.
Leaving aside Rory accounts for 4 of these 9 majors this stat illustrates once again that Rory is the premier player of his generation.
Rory proceeded to finish 2nd at Carnoustie and has since had 2 wins and 11 top tens this season thus further illustrating his leading role at the top table of the game. He has earned favouritism and has a 61 around here (changes made since) at 16. Rory is a player who usually ups his game when in contention and if the hype doesn’t eat him you could see him in the mix.
Koepka has some very ordinary PGA Tour form of late but is the form major player with finishes that read 1,2,1,2. Having a local caddie has been presented as some sort of 3 shot rails run. Why I’ll never know since there is more than one local caddie and the players will be armed to the teeth with information. He has two top tens in five Open attempts and is clearly a better player than he was.
Rahm won the Irish for the second time in three years but has almost no Open form to go on.
Stenson is never on my radar but is the leading tee to green player.
Molinari has stalled since he came unstuck at the 12th on Sunday at the Masters and while impressive last year it felt like more of the last man standing and I can’t see that being enough this time around.
Tiger is taking the light campaign approach, which suggests either he’s saving himself the strains of 72 hole tournament golf or he feels he can hone his game off the circuit. His game looks solid enough to me and while he may be rusty he will love the much more nuanced and subtle challenges of this course as opposed to the brutal PGA. Plus he lead at one point last year and then won at Augusta. Not bad.
Cantlay has broken into the big time with his win at the Memorial and is super consistent if staggeringly boring to watch. A first up 12th last year was excellent but we have yet to see him play in wind – proper wind.
Dustbin has arrived early and played with another local.. McDowell…so he knows where all the holes are. His form is solid and awesome if you take Koepka out of it. A runners up and two top tens in his last ten attempts seems a little shy of par for such a talent.
Fleetwood, Rickie, Scott and Rose all have major form but nothing that lights my fire at the prices. I’m tempted by the stable runners Im, Grillo and Niemann but we’ll stick to our strategy with this lot.
Tony Finau 1pt win at 120 BF
Xander Schauffele 1pt win at 30 BF
Tyrrell Hatton 1pt win at 120 BF
Tony Finau (from our Masters preview) heads our list only because he’s the shortest price.
Last week I wrote that he never wins.
This week I suspect he can.
On debut last year he made a name for himself with his ankle snap in the par three event and then went on to finish an impressive 10th.
Leave aside his early exit from the match play and his week-to-week form is hardly awful.
Ranked 15th in the world with a season scoring average of 68.86 Finau has the game for Augusta being long and hitting plenty of greens. He makes 4.5 birdies a round and only lets his game down with moderate play around the greens and a middling putter.
No doubt finding his feet last year he opened with a 68, muddled it round on Friday and Saturday, and came home hard on the steel on Sunday for 66. Not many players shoot 7 under on their debuts at August and not many can boast a 50% strike rate shooting under 70. Spurious as these “stats” may appear I’m more inclined to think he just has the game to thrive at Augusta. He’s only won once on tour but you don’t get to 15th in the OWGR’s without consistent performances.
He looks, much like our next candidate, a value proposition against those ahead of him in the market. (from our US Open preview) Except this isn’t Augusta and he certainly had his chances so why pick him again? Finau has one tour win and that was not a top draw event. He also could have easily won at Augusta where he conspired to let Tiger in finishing 5th in the process – though not alone there. All good stuff then. It gets worse though as he then promptly missed the cut backing up at the Zurich Classic despite opening with a 63. A calamitous final round 79 at Bethpage Black saw him finish down the field before a runners up to Kevin Na and then another missed cut at the Memorial all add up to a massive Masters hangover. I have no idea which Tony the F will turn up but I do know he’s improving for the experience and has the game. Is he capable of producing the goods? At 64/1 I’m prepared to speculate.
Finua hasn’t yet delivered but he’s now north of three figures and after 3 missed cuts he posted a promising 23rd at the 3M. Not the best prep but a sign perhaps of a return to form. What really grabs my attention aside from his obvious potential and his OWGR of 17th is his impressive Open form 18th, 27th and 9th last year. He clearly has the game to win anywhere and were he in any sort of consistent recent form he’d be a lot shorter than 120.
Xander Schauffele (from our Masters preview) comes back to Augusta off the back of a debut 50th when we were on. Last year was more about his undoubted talent being able to shine and buck the first up challenge.
Going off at 100/1 he never got to grips with the place opening with a 71 and then a killer 78 on the Friday. Surprise – player shoots +6 at Augusta.
Rory is 23 under for his last 20 rounds including two 77’s. Augusta can eat you. Since last year Schauffele has gone on to great heights and showed a big time temperament at the majors. Long, with the ability to hit it in high, and not afraid to go low, he’s ranked 10th on the OWGR’s and 3rd in the Fed Ex with two wins already this season.
Statistically the man appears to have no weaknesses with an across the board main category positive rank including 21st in putting and 4th in strokes gained overall.
Like Finau he’d hardly come across as a surprise winner with the underlying strengths so evident in his game. (from our US Open preview) Like Finau, Schauffele conspired to not quite get the job done at Augusta. Unlike Finau he’s a proven multiple winner and major event performer. His post Masters form is solid peaking at the Memorial where he posted a 7 under for T14. Schauffele is a big time player and while nowhere near his Augusta price we’ll take 31/1.
Schauffele has been a stable favourite for some time now and has longed looked a major winner in waiting. To me he’s a much shorter chance than his odds which is perplexing but that’ll do us. He comes here with just two Open’s behind him – a first up 20th and 2nd last year. A player with a major trajectory and 29/1.
Tyrrell Hatton (from our Masters preview) represents a stark departure from the logic around previous two selections…but bear with me. Hatton has all sorts of demons but so what? Bubba, Sergio – the game is littered with the unhinged who win.
Granted Hatton’s form is nothing to write home about coming of a shocking 81 at the Valspar after an opening 69…and yet….and yet. Lets consider his two appearances at Augusta. He opened his account in 2017 with an 80 followed by a 78 and a flight out of Georgia. Back for more in 2018 he posted 74,75,73 and 70. This boy is getting the hang of the place!
Hatton’s form is ordinary to say the least. He looks out of sorts and has missed four of his last eight cuts.
I’m not clinging to the progressive nature of his six rounds at the venue other than to point out he may have genuinely learnt how to play the place. Where I’m hanging my hat is his putting – or rather his potential for great putting.
For a man who once led the PGA Tour in the category he’s gone spectacularly backwards this season languishing as he does in 143rd place in the strokes gained putting category.
Anyone who has seen him play has witnessed the volcanic nature of his game and that extends to his putting. It’s a leap of faith that he’ll find both his tee to green game and his stroke at Augusta but that leap comes with odds of 269/1. (from our US Open preview)
Hatton failed to make any impact at Augusta nor at Bethpage Black. He has since however found a T8 and T33 which, while nice, on the face of it doesn’t look to cut it here. He also comes here having never played the place but his tee to green game is not too shabby. Where he has been let down is his putting and once again I’ll stick my neck out and say that he’s more than capable of a massive week on the greens having once lead the tour in putting. At 279/1 he’s just the sort of left field candidate that could surprise.
Hatton’s form is all over the place but that does include some great play not least which was I thought a 69 / 60 at Pebble. A 14th last week in the Scottish Open at 17 under where his putter fired is a great sign. If his putter turns up at Portrush he’s in the mix. Shorter than some of the big prices we have taken in the past he’s nonetheless worthy of inclusion at 120.