The 2017 Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale in Merseyside for the first time since 2008 when Padraig Harrington won.
Birkdale is in the dunes on the Irish Sea coastline, a tough tee-to-green challenge. If the prevailing wind is unkind, Royal Birkdale becomes a nasty challenge with Mark O’Meara (1998) and Harrington winning with scores of Even Par (280) and +3 (283) respectively in the last two Opens hosted there.
Birkdale is a course where scores are possible if conditions allow. From a driving perspective, the course has with no blind tee-shots (mainly elevated tees) and the statistics from 2008 suggest that missing fairways by a small margin offers little penalty. Fairways are flat and the real trouble from off the tee is hitting fairway bunkers which are penal. Green complexes are flat and quality approach shots get rewarded with makeable putts. However if the wind blows….
Henrik Stenson’s win at Royal Troon last year yet again confirmed that in-form players should be followed at the Open. It makes sense that those who are struggling with their games are unlikely to find them on a links course. 11 Champions from the last 17 Opens (65%) had won a tournament in the same season prior to winning it
Birkdale has seen some surprise finishers at the top end. Amateurs have been placed in the last two Birkdale Opens. Justin Rose made his first impression in 1998. So too Chris Wood in 2008, in the same year 53 year-old Greg Norman played in the final group and finished third.
My aim here isn’t to offer a name at the head of the betting but to offer a selection at a price, where the player looks under-rated in the betting market.
Swedish golfer Alex Noren is one name I kept coming back to. When he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth recently it was his ninth win on the European Tour, four of which came in a 10-event stretch from July to November last year.
Fellow countryman Henrik Stenson finished third at Wentworth and said afterwards of Noren
“It would be hard to say that you can’t see a major for him in the future if he keeps on playing like that,”
That win was his fifth victory in 22 starts and in this period nobody on any major tour has won more events. I like the fact that he wins (obviously) having spent a decade backing golfers that should but don’t (Lee Westwood, come out now).
One particular part of his game that I like, especially if the wind gets up, is his excellent short game and scrambling skills.
Now the world number 8, we find him in the Open betting generally available at 50-1 in the lower reaches of the top 20. Why is that?
Well at 50-1 we can’t have everything going for us and Noren lacks successful experience at the back end of majors including missed cuts at both the US Open and the Masters this year. Going back a couple of years he missed 7 out of 8 majors during 2014 and 2015 after a wrist injury.
However look a little closer and you find that Noren finished in the top 20 in 2008 at Birkdale, having gone into the weekend in the top 10. He also finished top 10 at Lytham in 2012 and won last years Scottish open on the links at Castle Stuart the week before the Troon Open.
I think he is definitely one for the portfolio here. At the time of writing each way terms are 1/4 6 places with Betfred and Sportingbet. Of course any player can be on the wrong end of weather or an unfavourable draw in a major too and we are four or five days away from being able to factor that in.