Royal Birkdale, Southport, England
Par 70, 7156 yards
Its Open Championship week and promises to be filled with a mixed bag of weather and plenty of drama. Royal Birkdale was established in 1889 and underwent a huge redesign in 1922 by Fred Hawtree and JH Taylor to create the current layout. It gained it “Royal” status in 1951 and has been on the Open rota since 1954 when it hosted the Open Championship for the first time. Peter Thompson was the first man to win here and he went on to win a further five Open Championships. He returned to Birkdale in 1965 to win his fifth and final title. This course has been one of the most regular venues for the Open along with Royal Lytham and St Andrews.
It last took place here in 2008 when Irishman Padraig Harrington won on a score of 283 (+3) beating his closest challenger Englishman Ian Poulter by four shots in total. From what we can tell, it was a tough, testing track back in 2008 and demanded accurate driving, GIR and most importantly a good touch on and around the greens. 2017 will be the tenth time Royal Birkdale will be hosting The Open.
Birkdale has a total of 12 par 4’s, four par 3’s and two par fives and like many links courses, can play either very difficult or fairly straight forward depending on weather conditions. It is a very spectator friendly course with high dunes spread around the golf course offering some great viewing points. Traditionally with all links courses, keeping the ball in the fairway and avoiding the challenging rough will be extremely advantageous. Judging from the 2008 Open driving accuracy, GIR, scrambling and hot putter are a must if players are going to contend here.
The Aussie arrives in Birkdale on the back of a respectable T35 in Scotland and looks nicely warmed up coming into this week. He has been in great form over the last couple of months with three top 10’s in his last six starts. Scott had a good week in Augusta finishing T9, which included two rounds in the 60’s. He followed that with a T6 at the Players Championship in Sawgrass, a T31 at Memorial and a T10 at the FedEx St Jude Classic which included an impressive second round 64.
Scott has a great record at The Open Championship over the last few years with four top 10’s in his last five appearances. He finished second to Ernie Els at Lytham & St Annes in 2012 and followed that with a third place finish in Muirfield in 2013, fifth in Hoylake in 2014 and a T10 in St Andrews in 2015.
Statswise Scott ticks a few boxes here ranking 33rd in GIR, 23rd in driving distance averaging a little over 300 yards of the tee, and first in par 3 scoring. Given his Open pedigree and decent current form, Scott has to be well fancied this week.
After a sensational performance in Augusta beating Justin Rose in a playoff, I don’t think anyone would begrudge the Spaniard a major especially after coming oh so close so many times. He’s one player that jumps off the page in terms of Open Championship form. He has an impressive 10 top 10 finishes in the Open over the last few years and came close to winning in 2007 when he was denied victory by Padraig Harrington in a playoff in Carnoustie.
His results over the last few years have been particularly impressive with three top 6’s in his last three Open starts. He finished second in Hoylake in 2014 and followed that with a sixth place finish in St Andrews in 2015 and a fifth in Troon last year.
After victory at The Masters, Sergio kept up his good form with a T30 at The Players, T20 at the Byron Nelson, T12 in Colonial, T21 at the US Open and T2 at the BMW International Open in Germany.
Statswise he is averaging just under 300 yards off the tee and ranks 30th in driving accuracy, sixth in GIR, third in SGTTG and 17th in par 4 scoring. Sergio seems to be a different man since winning in Augusta and has to be respected here especially with great performances in the Open over the last few years.
Its hard not to back Stenson after last years final round performance in Troon. We saw two heavyweights of the game with Stenson and Mickelson going toe to toe in the final round and it turned out to be one of the best final rounds in major championship history. Stenson was on fire from the get go and ended up carding, what turned out to be an unbelievable 63, winning by three from Mickelson who shot a none-too shabby 65.
The Swedes form in this event is excellent over the last ten years or so. He has three top three finishes including a win last year. He played well in Birkdale in 2008 finishing third and followed that with a T13 in Turnberry in 2009, third in St Andrews in 2010, second in Muirfield in 2013 and a superb win last year in Troon.
Stenson has been back showing some good form over the last couple of months finishing T3 at the BMW PGA in Wenworth, T16 at the Players Championship in Sawgrass, T26 at The Nordea Masters, T10 at the BMW International Open and a respectable T26 last week in Scotland, which included a final round 68. Stenson is hitting just under 75% of greens in regulation ranking 21st and ranks eighth in driving accuracy. He seems to be warming up nicely coming into this week and could be one to watch here.
The in-form Swede is in superb form over the last year or so and when it comes to links courses, Noren has to be on the shortlist. He won the Scottish Open in Castlestuart in 2016 and went on to win four more times winning the European Masters, The British Masters, The Nedbank Challenge and the BMW PGA Championship. It’s also worth mentioning Noren was runner up to Anthony Wall at the Paul Lawrie Matchplay in 2016 in Archerfield Links in Scotland. He has also played well at the Alfred Dunhill Links over the last few years finishing T11 in 2016 and solo third in 2012.
Since winning the PGA in Wentworth, Noren went on to finish T15 at the Nordea Masters, tenth at The Players Championship and T10 at the Open De France. He hasn’t the best record in the Majors but Alex played well here in Birkdale in 2008 finishing T19. He also had a good week at the 2012 Open Championship finishing T9 at Lytham and St Annes. With a great links record and great current form, the world number nine could be another huge danger man here.
The 2008 champion has bounced back well after an elbow injury and looks to be back playing some good golf again. The Irishman played excellent last time the Open was held here in Birkdale and shot a superb final round 67 to beat Ian Poulter by four and lift the Claret Jug. Harrington played well last week in Scotland holding the 36 hole lead after shooting 67,68 in the first two rounds. The weather got the better of him on Saturday which resulted in a disappointing 79 but he bounced back with a final round 66 to finish T4. He has had a couple of good results over the last few weeks finishing T17 at the Travelers at the end of June shooting three rounds in the 60’s.
He has two Open Championships under his belt, the first one coming at Carnoustie in 2007 where he beat Sergio Garcia in a playoff and the second here in Birkdale in 2008. He also finished T20 in St Andrews in 2015 and T36 last year in Troon. He seems to be in a good place with his game and he’s the only one in the field that knows what its like to win here in Birkdale. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him floating around the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
I thought Poulter looked great value considering he’s back playing some good golf lately. As I mentioned above Poulter finished runner up to Harrington in 2008 on this course and has some good results at The Open over the last few years. He finished ninth in 2012 at Lytham and St Annes and followed that with a third place finish in 2013 in Muirfield.
He had a good week at the RBC Heritage in Harbour Town finishing T11 posting 11 under in total. Poulter then tee’d it up in Sawgrass and played solid throughout the week and putted very well finishing T2. He travelled to Scotland last week and finished T9 at the Scottish Open finishing seven under par in total. After a decent performance in Scotland and a runner up finish here in 2008, Poulter could be worth a small punt here this week.
Final Selections –
Adam Scott 28/1 1pt EW
Henrik Stenson 25/1 1 pt EW
Sergio Garcia 18/1 1 pt EW
Alex Noren 40/1 0.5pts EW
Padraig Harrington 50/1 0.5pts EW
Ian Poulter 70/1 0.5pts EW
Total staked = 9 pts
*Most bookies paying seven places (PP paying 8)*
Good luck and enjoy the golf,
Follow me on Twitter @DoublebogeyDB6
Like me on Facebook www.facebook.com/doublebogey6