Since Todd Hamilton won the last Open Championship to be held at Royal Troon in 2004, the 11 subsequent winners of the claret jug break down as follows: 5 Americans, 4 Europeans, 2 South Africans.
All that suggests another European victory is very much on the cards in Scotland this week although a flick through the record books at Royal Troon reveals that there is some serious history to overcome.
The Ayrshire links has staged six Open Championships since 1950 and all have been won by a visiting American – Arnold Palmer in 1962, Tom Weiskopf in 1973, Tom Watson in 1982, Mark Calcavecchia in 1989, Justin Leonard in 1997 and Hamilton in 2004.
All six had won on the PGA TOUR earlier that season (yes, even Hamilton) so in-form, confident Americans clearly thrive on the classic links of Royal Troon.
The four European winners of the Open Championship since 2004 were all Irishmen (Rory 2014, Darren Clarke 2011 and Padraig Harrington 2007/2008) so also bear that in mind when playing fantasy games this week.
Paul Lawrie (1999) was the last Scotsman to triumph, Nick Faldo (1992) the last Englishman while you have to go back to Seve in 1988 to find the last champion golfer of the year from Continental Europe.
Let’s get some lists going:
Top Five In Last Five Opens
That’s 12 entries for the USA, with Australia next best on 6.
Winning Scores and Stats in most recent Open at Royal Troon
2004 Open Championship
1 Todd Hamilton (DD: 10, DA: 25, GIR: 19, Scr: 11, PA: 14, AA: 13)
2 Ernie Els (DD: 4, DA: 10, GIR: 6, Scr: 9, PA: 5, AA: 1)
3 Phil Mickelson (DD: 15, 14: 33, GIR: 24, Scr: 1, PA: 21, AA: 3)
4 Lee Westwood (DD: 5, DA: 33, GIR: 11, Scr: 43, PA: 2, AA: 16)
5= Thomas Levet (DD: 14, DA: 2, GIR: 6, Scr: 9, PA: 26, AA: 2)
5= Davis Love (DD: 9, DA: 10, GIR: 13, Scr: 12, PA: 23, AA: 4)
Notes: The top seven on the leaderboard in 2004 all ranked in the top 15 for Driving Distance. The week’s longest driver, Tiger Woods, finished T9. Six of the leading seven finishers were in the top 12 for Scrambling.
Royal Troon, like many classic links, is nine holes out and away from the 1st tee and nine back to the clubhouse. The front nine, which mostly runs out along the coast, is the scoring nine and splits will be particularly exaggerated if the prevailing winds are on show. Those helping north-westerlies, if strong, could allow players to drive some of the short opening par 4s but, coming home, they’re into the face so it’s a case of hanging on. In those circumstances a round of par 71 might be 33 out and 38 back. The yardage is modest at 7,190 but no-one managed to better 67 in 2004 when Todd Hamilton ousted Ernie Els in a play-off after both had shot 10-under 274. In 1997, Justin Leonard closed with a superb 65 to finish on 12-under and win by three. This will be the ninth Open to be held at Royal Troon.
Firstly, don’t be too reliant on this snapshot (taken at on Monday morning UK time). The Troon weather can switch quickly.
Thursday: A mix of sunshine and cloud with temps peaking at 60 degrees around 4pm. Winds are around 11mph but will switch throughout the day from W in the morning to WSW in the afternoon.
Friday: Rain is in the forecast all day, probability levels ranging from 50-60%. Winds are up a little to between 12-15mph but could gust at up to 24mph in the late afternoon while temps are steady in the high 50s. Winds are the set to be S or SSW which will make the tough back nine easier.
Saturday: Again, winds will be of the atypical SW variety which will make the front nine trickier but help coming home. There’s a chance it could really blow and gusts are forecast between 25-27mph from 10am to 4pm although 14-16mph is the prediction. It should be cloudy with a chance of rain late in the day. Temps could climb into the early 60s.
Sunday: A slightly chillier day with a 40% chance of rain from 1pm although the sun should come out for the final groups. The winds are set to blow from the south at 1pm but switch to WSW for the later starters. Speedwise, they’re set at 13-14mph with possible gusts over 20mph.
Summary: Where are the prevailing winds?! Those who practiced in them might be thrown a little off course.
This preview will now focus on the European challenge but also feature Americans/Internationals available for the European Tour Fantasy game.
The Leading Contenders
After a rather frosty relationship with the Open (a third in 2010 his only top 20 in six starts) and complaints about having to change his game for one week of the year, McIlroy got it done at Hoylake in 2014 when playing some of the best golf of his career (he went on to win the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship on his next two starts). An injury sustained whilst playing football prevented him from defending at St. Andrews last year so he should be chomping at the bit to tee it up at Royal Troon. His last two starts on European soil show a win in his home Irish Open and a third place at the Open de France.
This has always looked Sergio’s best chance of winning a major and how many times must he have replayed in his head the 8ft putt he had to win at Carnoustie in 2007? That is one of nine top 10s in this event so he’s been gold for gamers and will be an automatic pick for most this week. There is a warning though: he didn’t play at Royal Troon in 1997 and in 2004 he missed the cut, the only blob in a series of six Open top 10s from 2001 to 2007. His often fragile self-confidence should be high after a win at the Byron Nelson and top fives in the U.S. Open and BMW International Open.
No male Swedish golfer has even won a major but Stenson has given it a good go in this event. He was runner-up at Muirfield in 2013 and also took T3 at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and again at St. Andrews in 2010. He didn’t play at Troon in 2004. Stenson has topped the Driving Accuracy stats on his last three starts in Europe and that helped him win the BMW International Open in Germany last month. He was T13 in the Scottish Open after fighting back from an opening 76 while he popped over to Troon to play two practice rounds before that.
Rose revealed to Sky Sports that he’d been playing a series of practice rounds at Royal Troon last week and had experienced “a couple of different winds” so that prep should help his cause. Injuries have hampered him recently and he certainly looked short of sharpness when missing the cut in the U.S. Open and then finishing a modest T46 at Firestone. The Englishman finished T6 at St. Andrews last year but it’s still an amazing stat that his best Open finish remains T4 in 1998 when he was an amateur. In 12 Open starts between 1998 and last year, he didn’t manage a top 10.
The German has a solid enough Open record; he’s 7-for-8 and has made the top 12 in three of his last six with a best of T7 at St. Andrews in 2010. Ahead of his debut at Royal Troon, Kaymer has enjoyed a run of 5-7-5-13 on European soil, the latest a T13 in the Scottish Open on Sunday. He’ll need to putt better than he did at Castle Stuart but it would come as no surprise to find him in the mix on Sunday afternoon.
After his near-miss in the U.S. Open (four clear after 54 holes before finishing second), Lowry has appeared to suffer a hangover with T36 at Firestone and MC in the Scottish Open (77-73). He’ll hope a return to the major stage will get his juices flowing again and, without doubt, he has a great game for links golf. Twice top six in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, he was also T9 in the 2014 Open at Hoylake. He’ll be a risky play this week but the upside could be significant if it all clicks.
At last, a European contender who has some past form at Royal Troon. Westwood’s solo fourth place in the 2004 event was his best Open performance at the time, beating the T10 he managed at…. Royal Troon in 1997. Clearly it’s a course on which he thrives. Since then, the Englishman has posted a second at St. Andrews in 2010 and T3s at nearby Turnberry in 2009 and at Muirfield in 2013. In other words, all five of his Open top 10s have come on Scottish rather than his home English soil. He’s been a prominent figure in this year’s majors with T2 at Augusta National and T32 in the U.S. Open after sitting fourth after 54 holes. He was T11 in France last time.
Masters hero Willett probably first marked himself down as a future major champion in this event at St. Andrews 12 months ago. He opened 66-69 to sit second at halfway and battled on in the gusting winds to post T6. Also T15 at Muirfield in 2013, the worry for managers this week is that he appears to be suffering a dip since capturing the green jacket. Willett has missed three of six cuts since The Masters and two of those were on his most recent starts in Germany and France.
A three-time winner on the European Tour last year, Sullivan went flat for a spell but is now very much on an upward curve again. A run of three top 25s (including T23 at the U.S. Open) was the platform and he’s since kicked on with T5 at the Open de France and T6 in last week’s Scottish Open. His only Open appearance came at St. Andrews last year where he finished a creditable T30. A confidence player, he’s very capable of making a big impact this week.
It’s still hard to get a handle on G-Mac’s up-and-down season as he trades missed cuts with top 20s but T10 in the Scottish Open on Sunday is a big positive, especially as he did everything pretty well (3rd in the All-Around). He grew up playing links golf and won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 so coastal air = comfort zone. In the Open Championship, he’s cracked the top 10 in two of the last four (T5 at Royal Lytham in 2012 and T9 at Hoylake in 2014) while he missed the cut on his tournament debut at Royal Troon in 2004.
The Next Rung
The Sheffield youngster won the Silver Medal for finishing as low amateur (T44) on his Open debut at Muirfield in 2013. He didn’t qualify for the last two so this is his first as a pro. He arrives as a two-time European Tour winner, the last of those coming at the Nordea Masters only last month. But before we paint too rosy a picture, he’s missed five of his last eight worldwide cuts and is 0-for-2 in July after halfway exits in the Open de France and Scottish Open so he represents risk.
As usual, let’s note first that Casey doesn’t have European Tour membership so isn’t available for the official Fantasy game. As for other formats/bettors, his Open form is patchy and inconsistent. The highs are T3 at St. Andrews in 2010 and T7 at Royal Birkdale in 2008 but he hasn’t made the top 45 in any of his last four claret jug bids. A T16 at Firestone last time represented a return to form after missed cuts in the U.S. Open and Memorial. T4 at Augusta National earlier this year.
Phil Mickelson won the Open at Muirfield the week after winning the Scottish at Castle Stuart so Noren will be hoping history can repeat itself after his victory on the Inverness links on Sunday. It was a fine display of front-running from the Swede and followed his T8 in the Open de France. Majors form? He’s only made five cuts in 12 starts but his two best efforts were in this event – T9 at Royal Lytham in 2012 and T19 at Royal Birkdale in 2008.
A WD at the Scottish Open due to a neck injury has to cast a certain doubt over Wood’s challenge although his decision to pull out was more precautionary. If gamers are prepared to accept the risk, they could be handsomely rewarded. He came to prominence in this event when T5 (low amateur) in 2008 and followed it with T3 as a pro at Turnberry 12 months later. He’s only played in three since and added T23 at Hoylake in 2014. Wood has taken a big jump up the world rankings in recent times and slots in at 22nd right now thanks to the big points he accrued when landing the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May. He’s finished 6-23-11 since.
The US-based Scot will have plenty of local support again and he responded to it well when closing with a 67 to post T10 in last week’s Scottish Open. Also runner-up in the Irish Open and T10 in the 2015 Scottish Open, Knox clearly enjoys playing this side of the pond while T23 in last month’s U.S. Open is another good sign. He missed the cut on his Open debut at St. Andrews last year but it’s fair to expect much better from him this time.
The Belgian punched his ticket to Royal Troon at the 11th hour after grabbing one of the four spots on offer by finishing T3 at the Scottish Open on Sunday after coming home in 30. It was his third top three in seven starts while he’s hung up three other top 25s during that consistent run. Colsaerts has only played in three Opens, the first of which ended MC at Royal Troon in 2004. He returned after a seven-year gap to finish T7 at Royal Lytham in 2012 while he didn’t make the weekend at Muirfield in 2014. Focus on this plus points this week and he’s an attractive proposition.
Whatever his form, the two-time Open champion (Royal Birkdale 2008, Carnoustie 2009) always deserves respect in this event. He’s missed three cuts since then but delivered another top 20 at St. Andrews last year and heads to Scotland showing some decent form again. After a top 10 in the ISPS Handa Global Cup in Japan, he’s posted T30 in the Open de France and T21 in the Scottish Open. One other plus is that if you rewind all the way back to 1997 you’ll find him finishing T5 in that summer’s Open at Royal Troon. He missed the cut in 2004.
After T17 on his Masters debut and a career-best T32 in the U.S. Open, RCB will want to continue his stellar season by beating his previous high of T21 in this event. That came at Muirfield in 2013 and is one of three cuts he’s made in four Open starts. His five top fours in 2016 include third at the WGC-Dell Match Play and solo fourth in the Open de France two starts ago. The Spaniard shot 70-68 on the weekend to claim T21 in the Scottish Open last week.
Surprisingly, the Italian has never cracked the code for success in the majors and has just two top 10s in 27 starts. At least the best of them was T9 in the 2013 Open at Muirfield while he produced other decent efforts at Turnberry (T13) in 2009 and Hoylake (T15) in 2014. His main appeal this week is current form which consists of second place at the Open de France on his last start and T8 in the Quicken Loans before that.
The former World No. 1 missed the cut at Royal Troon in 2004 but has recorded a couple of Open top 5s since then with T5s at Turnberry in 2009 and Royal Lytham in 2012. Add in T11 (2010) and T12 (2015) at St. Andrews and this has become his best major. He’ll hope the good vibes will spark him back to action after T45s in Scotland and France and no top 25s in his last eight starts.
With Open form of T64-MC-T68, it’s hard to work up too much enthusiasm for the Austrian although he has some decent form on other links courses, including a top five in the last edition of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland. He also owns four top 15s in his last four starts on European soil so shouldn’t be lacking belief.
The Italian whizzkid won two European Tour events as a 17-year-old and the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, aged 20, before a dramatic slide down the world rankings. He entered last week’s Scottish Open as the World No. 596 but, building on some recent hints, took T3 to land his first top five in two years. Is he back? With two Open top 20s already (T13 as an amateur in 2009 and T19 in 2014), gamers may well be inclined to say he is.
Non-Europeans eligible for the European Tour Fantasy game
Grace produced a confusing performance in Scotland last week. Fancied to challenge for the title, he justified expectations for 36 holes by cruising into T4 at the midpoint but couldn’t get out of second gear on the weekend and ended T29. However, T10 at Firestone and T5 at the U.S. Open before that suggests he’s still worthy of a pick this week, especially as he’s 5-for-5 in the Open Championship, including T20 at St. Andrews last year.
A winner (2010) and a play-off loser (2015) in his two Opens at St. Andrews, Oosthuizen now needs to show he can do it away from the Home of Golf. His other seven appearances have yielded very little with T19 at Royal Lytham in 2012 his only other finish inside the top 35. Is another big performance brewing after some promising signs in his last two starts (T23 U.S. Open, T21 WGC-Bridgestone)?
Americans have won the last six Opens at Royal Troon so it could be a smart move to cash in on Reed’s availability for the European Tour Fantasy game. He disappointed in the U.S. Open (MC) but played some decent golf to take T20 at St. Andrews in 2015 and, in Scotland last week, he came back from an opening 75 to shoot 70-67-67 and finish T10 at Castle Stuart.
The South African has a consistent record in this event with four top 15s in the last six years although his T7 at Hoylake was the only top 10. It means his only top five in a major remains his Masters triumph in 2011. A winner on both the PGA and European Tours this year, Schwartzel has connected top 25s on his last five worldwide starts, the most recent T7 at Firestone.
It would be remiss of me not to mention double Open champ Ernie Els. A winner at Muirfield in 2002 and again at Royal Lytham in 2012, the 2004 edition at Royal Troon was one of the ones that got away as he walked off the course stunned after a play-off loss to Todd Hamilton. Els was also T10 at Royal Troon in 1997 and has 13 Open top 10s in his career. After four missed cuts between May and June, he hit back with a top five at the Quicken Loans on his last start so does ‘The Big Easy’ have something up his sleeve again?
Who’s On The Team?
Nicolas Colsaerts could be an interesting wildcard after securing his spot on Sunday.
I’ll reveal my full six-man line-up for the European Tour Fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
He has the game, but Shane Lowry may still be trying to shake off his U.S. Open collapse.