Bet on long hitters to go the distance
By Stephanie Wei under British Open

The Open Championship is usually the toughest major to pick the correct winner or top finishers, but it’s more or less easier when it’s played at the Old Course. It’s no secret that the Old Course at St Andrews favors bombers — just look at the most recent past champions: Louis Oosthuizen, Tiger Woods and John Daly.

The longer hitters can avoid trouble off the tee since they can carry those pesky pot bunkers lining the fairways. This year it’s an even greater advantage because conditions are softer than usual as it’s been a rainy summer in Scotland. Great lag putting is also important since the greens are so large. Players who don’t hit a lot of greens in regulation aren’t affected as much because, once again, the greens are massive.

The key stats to look at if you’re going to use them to help with your picks and/or bets — at least for PGA Tour players — are driving distance and approach putts.

Then, there’s the draw. No other outcome of a tournament is impacted as much as the draw from the first two rounds because of how much the elements play a factor and impact the conditions. (Just ask Tiger Woods in 2002 and Rory McIlroy in 2010, or even Adam Scott last year.) The weather can drastically change several times throughout the day. If you’re on the wrong side of it, you’re screwed, and if you’re on the good side, then, lucky you and hopefully those players take advantage of it.

At the 2010 Open here, Zach Johnson played in early in the second round. As you may recall, the weather became extremely ugly in the afternoon, with really strong winds and heavy rain. Balls were even rolling off greens. It was arguably unplayable — and they eventually did halt play for a bit. Well, Zach missed a five-footer on the 18th hole and was kicking himself. He was well outside the cut line when he finished and recalls being around a tie for 100th. By the end of the day, he had made the cut by at least 10 players.

“I’ve been thinking about this question a lot,” said Zach when I asked him about the draw. “This is probably my favorite tournament to play. It has been for years. Just because it’s so different than we have in the States. It’s probably my favorite golf to play.

“One of the most unfortunate and fortunate things about this tournament is the draw. In 2010 I was on the good side of it, so you can get it. The forecast can say you’re on the good side of it, but then you’re on the bad side — you just never know. That’s the unfortunate side, but the fortunate side is that you could get the good side and if you take advantage of it, you never know.”

I never fully trust the forecasted weather in Scotland, but the R&A’s meteorologist at the Open is usually pretty accurate. Again, it can alter at any time, and I tend not to count on the forecast until the actual day (or even hour!). On Thursday the conditions are supposed to be calm and sunny in the morning, with the clouds rolling in during the afternoon, along with the wind picking up to 20mph and gusts up to 25mph.

On Friday we’re supposed to get proper Open weather, which, depending on how you see it, that’s not necessarily a good thing (unless you’re watching on TV in the comforts of your home or a pub), especially for the players teeing off in the afternoon. As of now, the forecast calls for heavy rain in the early hours and may linger into the start of play.

Then, it’s supposed to become brighter during the morning, but with further showers possible throughout the day. Now, here’s the really bad news: Winds are forecast to strengthen and change in direction throughout the day. Initially, it’s supposed to blow 15-20 before it turns in the afternoon and picks up to 25mph, with gusts of 30-40mph. There’s a low risk of gusts exceeding 40mph at times, particularly late afternoon and evening.

That said, it appears like the players who drew late-early tee times in the first two rounds will have quite the advantage. BUT YOU NEVER KNOW. Still, it doesn’t hurt to check the draw before placing your bets or making your picks.

Betting expert Dave Tindall wrote two excellent previews over at Betfair and Rotoworld, which are very informative and definitely must-reads.

In Tindall’s Betfair preview, he takes a look at the recent trends of past winners, honing down on Open form, nationality, age, world ranking, form that season, and form at that year’s majors.

What we’re looking for?
Taking the strongest trends, the ideal fit for an Open champion is as follows:
– Has had a previous top 6 in an Open
– In world’s top 50
– Has won this season
– Had had top 10 in either 2015 Masters/US Open
– Is top 30 in Driving Distance on either Tour

There are two players who fit the bill: Both were favorites at the U.S. Open, as well, and one almost won it. Yep, my top pick is…

Dustin Johnson: I’ve liked him from the start. He was my favorite at Chambers Bay and he delivered (which probably means he’ll fail me this time because I actually have money on the line). DJ obviously hits it forever, ranking first on the PGA Tour in driving distance. He’s T13 in approach putting. Some might think he’s still reeling from the disappointment at the U.S. Open, but if so, then you clearly don’t know him very well. I’ve always felt like he doesn’t have that much scar tissue because he doesn’t dwell on the past for long. He’s shown that he can shake off letdowns rather easily. He also has a good record at the Open. He finished T14 at St Andrews in 2010, second place in 2011 (where he was in the mix until he knocked it out of bounds on no. 14 Sunday), a T9 at Lytham in 2012, and T12 at Hoylake last year.

The other player who also meets all the trend requirements?

Justin Rose: Rose barely passes the test — and only does thanks to that famous T4 debut as an amateur at the 1997 Open Championship. Since then, he hasn’t notched a top 10. However, he finished T12 in 2007 and T13 in 2009. However, the Englishman captured the 2014 Scottish Open at a links course, Royal Aberdeen, and put up a decent title defense at Gullane last week before he drifting toward the bottom of the back over the weekend. I’m not backing him, but it sounds like a fair number are.

My other favorites:

Adam Scott: He’s flying nicely under the radar, despite finishing top five in the last three Opens and notching a top four at the U.S. Open last month. He’s ranked third in driving distance on the PGA Tour this year. While he hasn’t won this season, he has the advantage of having Steve Williams back on the bag. Williams, of course, has fond memories of St Andrews with Tiger Woods’ victories in 2000 and 2005. He’s a poor lag putter, but we’ll just disregard that…

Rickie Fowler: Fresh off his win at the Scottish Open last week, Fowler is a sure favorite (and I wish I would’ve bet on him before Sunday), as he’s looking to pull a Phil Mickelson in 2013 by winning these two events in consecutive weeks. He finished T2 at last year’s Open, is ranked 10th in the world and also won the Players Championship. He’s a great wind player and arguably one of the top five links player in world golf.

Henrik Stenson: Expect Stenson to be in the mix. He’s notched three top-3s in his last six starts at the Open. Following the U.S. Open, he finished second at the European Tour’s BMW International Open. He hits it a mile. In fact, his 3W is longer than most other’s drivers. He ranks lower than he should in driving distance at T59, but that’s deceiving since he uses his 3W rather often off the tee.

Jason Day: He may not win, but he hits it long and he’s an incredible scrambler. He’s also a gutsy player and doesn’t let the elements impact him mentally. He has a lot of fight, as we saw at the U.S. Open.

Jordan Spieth: His odds aren’t good since he’s the favorite, so I am probably not putting real money on him, but I like him every week. I also can’t write a “picks column” without mentioning his name. The only concern obviously is his preparation — he will have completely different wind directions than he did in the practice rounds.  He also has the supposed “bad” side of the draw, though he won’t let the elements hinder him mentally. [Update: I ended up placing a bet on him last minute. Yay.]

LONGER SHOTS (good bets for a top 10 finish)

Matt Kuchar: He’s a good scrambler and gets the most out of his game. He has a low ball flight, which is advantageous in the wind and he finished T2 at the Scottish Open last week. He also has great odds at 50/1. He may not win, but not a bad “each way” (top 6) bet.

Jimmy Walker: He hits it a long ways, and while driving accuracy might be his nemesis, he doesn’t need to be perfect off the tee at the Old Course. He’s ranked first in strokes gained putting.

Branden Grace: He obviously played well at the U.S. Open and he’s had some success at the Dunhill Links, which has two rounds contested at the Old Course. He hits it a long ways and he has Louis Oosthuizen’s former caddie — the one he won with at St Andrews in 2010 — on his bag.

Zach Johnson: He hits a draw, which means he’s always hitting away from the trouble. He’s a good grinder and a strong putter. He played well last week at the John Deere Classic and he’s had some good finishes at the Open.

Ryan Palmer: He’s a good wind player, hits it a long ways and putts well.

Tommy Fleetwood: He’s in form, with a T10 finish last week at the Scottish Open and T11 at the BMW International Open. He’s played very well on the Old Course during the Dunhill Links.

Brendon Todd: He’s a strong putter and in decent form with T15 and T6 finishes in his last two starts.

Shane Lowry: He finished T9 at last month’s U.S. Open. He’s also had success at the Dunhill Links, finishing sixth and third in the last two years. He placed T9 at last year’s Open Championship.

Thomas Aiken: Total long shot, but whatever, the South African is a good links player and strong putter with a great attitude.