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2018 Open Championship – Risers and Fallers

2018 Open Championship - Risers and Fallers

For those of you regular readers who are expecting my normal weekly tournament preview, here’s my thorough, deep analysis of the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run…

Bet on Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker.

And with that, I hope you enjoyed my 2018 John Deere Classic preview.

All jokes aside, there’s just not much to say about that event this week. It already struggles to attract big names as it sits one week before a major, but this year’s field is incredibly weak. With only 24 World Ranking Points awarded to the winner and a strength of the field at a dismal 99, it’s by far the weakest non-opposite PGA Tour event of the season.

Instead, with the third major of the season right on the doorstep, it’s time as gamblers to start preparing for the 2018 Open Championship and begin to formulate which horses to put bets on.

Next week, we here at The Sports Gambling Podcast will be giving a full preview of what to expect at Carnoustie, from a breakdown of the course and what it plans to throw at the world’s best to our picks for winners and props so you can make a nice profit on the event. But before you do so, it’s important to get a look at the field from 10,000 feet to see which golfers are peaking and which ones are fading into the tournament.

At the U.S. Open, we took a look at Strokes Gained Tee to Green stats from the Masters through the Memorial. That showed roughly a two-month sample size of a golfer’s recent form, and along with comparing it to his season long stats, it revealed who was rising and who was struggling. For this edition, we’re setting the parameters from The Players Championship through the Greenbrier. That’s approximately two months of data and removes any April tournaments that may not be representative of the current health of a players game.

As before, this analysis only captures PGA Tour results and excludes results from the European Tour, as only cumulative Strokes Gained stats are maintained on that circuit. Additionally, only players with at least three starts on the PGA Tour are included here, so most European Tour players won’t show up. Luckily, I recorded Strokes Gained ranks from the European Tour on the eve of the U.S. Open, so for anyone who’s primarily played across the pond over the last month we can estimate their form simply by comparing their current ranking to their ranking four weeks ago.

Let’s take a look at Top 10 and Bottom 10 golfers over the last two months with odds 60/1 or better to win the Open Championship (aka the favorites).

strokes-gained-tee-to-green

No surprise that both Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson are well out ahead of all the favorites in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green since the Players Championship. Rose blitzed the field at Colonial and DJ cruised to an easy win at the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic, and each was tremendous tee-to-green at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. The problem, however, is that neither of them have played since then. Has the lay-off cooled them off? We’ll find out the state of Justin Rose’s game this week when he plays the Scottish Open for a nice tune up to the Open Championship. But for anyone who likes Dustin Johnson, though, they’ll be going in fairly blind on his form.

The only thing more impressive about Francesco Molinari’s recent form is the fact that he’s highly ranked on this list without the aide of some strong results on the European Tour. After the Players Championship, Molinari won the BMW Championship (the Euro Tour’s premier event) and followed that up by finishing 2nd against a very strong field at the Italian Open. If those were included, he very well may top this list.

Molinari is the hottest player on the planet right now with two wins in his last four starts, but in a head scratching move, he opted to play in the John Deere Classic this week instead of a tune-up at the Scottish Open. It’s puzzling since he played the Quicken Loans National because he was in danger of losing his PGA Tour card, but by winning that event he secured his full-time status. While we’ve seen players who play the John Deere hop on the plane and play well at the Open, it’s a bit of a buzzkill we won’t see him on a links course against other big names this weekend.

And there’s The Big Cat! It’s getting harder and harder for Tiger Woods’ haters to say he’s not close to winning a golf tournament when he’s not only playing elite golf tee-to-green, but he’s matching a small sample size to his season long statistics as well. A lot of the internet golf community is pointing to The Open as Tiger’s best chance to capture a major in 2018 because he won’t have to rely on his driver and because The Open tends to favor more patient and experienced players. I’m not ready to commit to that yet for two reasons.

Number One – Tiger historically struggles on slow greens, and Carnoustie generally aims to keep its green speeds between 10-11 on the stimpmeter.

Number Two – as we’ll discuss in more detail next week, Carnoustie is completely baked out right now. While he’ll rely more heavily on his trademarked stinger iron off the tee, it’s going to be very difficult for players to control the golf ball once it hits the ground because of how far it’ll run out on the fairways. And Carnoustie is a type of course that even the so-called “safe” shot off the tee can quickly turn disastrous with the positioning of hazards and bottle necked fairways. Any low shot that’s even a fraction off the desired target line could very well find its way into a pot bunker or the burn. Like it was at the U.S. Open, it might be another week where Tiger fails to live up to lofty expectations.

Other quick notes:

  • Rory McIlroy has been awesome tee-to-green on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour over the last two months. The problem, however, is that he just doesn’t seem to perform well on firm-and-fast conditions like Carnoustie is setting up to be. Unless Scotland starts getting serious rainfall to slow down the fairways and lengthen the course, bettors may want to fade him next week.
  • For people like me with high hopes for Henrik Stenson, news came out this week that he’s battling an elbow injury that forced him from this week’s Scottish Open and will put his appearance at The Open Championship in doubt. I’m already in the hole with a 30/1 bet placed months ago on him to win the Open, but for everyone else, it’s best to watch the news ticker.
  • U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka and fellow contenders Tony Finau and Patrick Reed are all deserving to be on this list based on their fantastic play over the last two months (and all of 2018). There’s every reason to believe they can post strong finishes at Carnoustie next week as well. Finau has been solid in his two appearances at The Open by posting a pair of Top 30’s. Reed has a pair of Top 20 finishes in four starts at the Open and relishes performing well in front of the European patrons with his affinity for the Ryder Cup. And Brooks Koepka is a tremendous links player in both majors and from his experience as a member on the European Tour. Koepka has a pair of Top 10’s in his last two starts at The Open Championship, and he can draw good memories on what to expect at Carnoustie from his good finishes at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, of which Carnoustie is part of the rotation along with St. Andrews and Kingsbarn. None of them should be discounted from following up their success at Shinnecock Hills with another strong finish.
  • Like Rose and DJ, Adam Scott appears on this list solely on his performances pre-U.S. Open and won’t have a start worldwide since mid-June when he heads to Carnoustie. Nevertheless, if Adam Scott’s woods and irons cooperate next week then he could be in for yet another strong Open Championship performance. He’s had several close calls to an Open Championship victory, including at Muirfield in 2013 that was played in similar tough, firm and fast conditions that are expected next week. He’ll definitely be on my radar when looking at matchup or Top 10 props next week.

Even though Branden Grace, Russell Knox, Jon Rahm, Marc Leishman, Jason Day and Matt Kuchar all appear on this list, their Strokes Gained averages since The Players Championship are still more than respectable and they shouldn’t immediately be discounted ahead of the Open Championship. Grace, Leishman, and Kuchar all have tremendous success at links golf courses because of their consistency, patience, and tremendous short games and are more than capable of posting a strong finish next week.

Jason Day will have to strike his approach shots much better if he has any hope of winning the Open Championship. But like Tiger, his driving iron is a tremendous weapon in his bag and if he’s striking that club well he could certainly come out with a victory. And both Jon Rahm and Russell Knox have played tremendous golf on the European Tour the last two weeks, and that isn’t included in this data. Their form is very strong heading into Carnoustie.

Instead, most of my concerns are with the four golfers at the bottom of this list:

Hideki Matsuyama continues to be a bit of a forgotten man on the PGA Tour. Last August he was on the cusp of taking his career to the next level when he won the WGC Bridgestone and held a share of the lead at the PGA Championship in the final round. Since then it’s been a whole bunch of “meh”. While he posted a Top 20 finish at the U.S. Open, I’ll admit that I can’t remember seeing him on the coverage at all over the weekend.

There is a bit of hope for him though – in his last two tournaments he’s averaged a very respectable 1.74 Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green, so it’s quite possible he’s emerged from his funk and has fully recovered from the early season wrist injury that hampered him. He’ll tee it up at the Scottish Open for the first time since Shinnecock Hills, and if he shows some sparks it may be time to reconsider him as a legitimate contender at Carnoustie.

Jordan Spieth is a complete mess right now, but let’s start with a bit of good news – Spieth has recorded positive Strokes Gained Putting over his last three tournaments, which was the area of his game that’s severely hampered him in 2018. The bad news, though, is that the area he’s been better than everyone over the last 18 months has gone completely to hell. Over his last three events Spieth has lost about 1.5 strokes tee-to-green to the field.

Is it possible that he’s focused so much on righting his putter that he’s let his performance with other clubs slip? Spieth has taken a few weeks off in preparation for the Open Championship, so hopefully, he’s figured things out in the interim to get ready to defend his title at Carnoustie.

The attention Phil Mickelson has received over the last month has been his desecration for the rules of golf and his bank account. It’s a good thing the media is buzzing about that because otherwise, they’d be talking about how poor his play has been of late. His ranking on the list is still a little unfair as it includes his disastrous performance at TPC Sawgrass, but he’s now put in two uninspired performances in a row at Shinnecock Hills and the Greenbrier.

His problems continue to be off the tee where he’s lost strokes to the field in four of his last five events, and if he’s setting himself up poorly off the tee at Carnoustie it’ll be a very short tournament for him. But before we immediately exclude him as a contender next week, his game was in a very similar situation before his epic dual with Henrik Stenson at 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon. It would be a very Phil thing to put aside all this controversy and end up winning the Open Championship next week. If he gives any signs of life at the Scottish Open this weekend, the momentum for that storyline will surely build.

There hasn’t been a player much worse than Sergio Garcia over the last few months. In his last five starts in the United States, he’s missed four cuts. But it’s not as bad as it appears to be. This data above does not include his last two starts on the European Tour, which were very solid. Sergio finished T12 at the BMW Championship and 8th at the French Open, which is a tremendous turnaround to his recent performances.

While we don’t have his tournament-only performances, we can see in his season-long rankings over the last month on the European Tour that his ballstriking is heating up. He’s risen from 90th to 39th in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green and 167th to 109th in Strokes Gained on Approach since the U.S. Open on the European Tour. Sergio will be one of the more fascinating conundrums for bettors next week between his notoriously strong success at the Open Championship (including his near miss at Carnoustie in 2007) and his up and down play over the last few months.

Lastly, here’s the Top 10 and Bottom 10 golfers in Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green since the Players Championship with odds greater than 60/1 (aka longshots and sleepers):

I’m really digging Ryan Moore as a sleeper at Carnoustie next week. Moore has been absolute nails off the tee and on his approach shots over the last two months and if that makes it over to Scotland he could very well wind up near the Top 10. His issue lately and all season has been with his putter, which is completely ice cold. As noted last week in the Greenbrier preview, though, he tends to putt better on slower surfaces and as mentioned previously the greens run slow at Carnoustie. I’m hoping that he puts up another solid ballstriking performance at TPC Deere Run but still remains under the radar so he continues to hang around 200/1 for the Open.

Peter Uihleinrookie season on the PGA Tour got off to a slow start but things have turned around quite nicely for him. Uihlein has posted solid finishes of late primarily on the strength of his approach shots, as on the PGA Tour he’s gained about 3/4 strokes on approach over the field in the last two months. Like Koepka, Uihlein got his start to his career on the European Tour, so he’s very comfortable across the Atlantic and on links courses. Uihlein has a Top 10 at the Scottish Open and 2nd place finishes at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship as notable European Tour finishes in his career. His form is peaking and bears watching next week in props and in DraftKings.

Most of the players on the Bottom 10 list should not come as a surprise, and I don’t have high expectations for most of them next week. The exception to that is Brandt Snedeker. Snedeker appears to be the victim of one terrible performance at TPC Sawgrass as the reason why he’s included on the naughty list. If you exclude that performance, however, he actually would vault all the way up to the Top 10 list! Though 2018 hasn’t been a very good year for him, Snedeker should not be ignored from anyone’s radar because he has actually been striking the ball better of late and he has a pretty good track record at Open Championship venues. Despite his appearance on the Bottom 10 list, he’s one to keep an eye on next week.

*****

Again, all this shows is who’s playing well and who isn’t as we head into the Open Championship. Some of the guys who are struggling might be targets to bet on based on course fit. Others who have played great might be candidates to go the opposite way. But before you decide, having a firm comprehension of which players are peaking or struggling could save you from making a poor decision.

Golf analyst for SportsGamblingPodcast.com, providing insight on news and betting tips for the PGA Tour, as well as commentary and banter on the World of Sports. Follow him on Twitter @SteveSchirmer

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