Rickie to Light up Lytham

  • By: Dave Tindall
  • Last Updated: July 17 2012, 21:45 BST

Rickie Fowler: Has impressed at his previous two Opens

RECOMMENDED BETS

1.5pts e.w. Rickie Fowler at 40/1 (BetVictor, 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Ben Curtis at 100/1 (BetVictor, 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Jason Dufner at 50/1 (BetVictor, 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1.5pts e.w. Justin Rose at 33/1 (BetVictor, 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Hunter Mahan at 50/1 (BetVictor, 1,2,3,4,5,6)


Although the miserable British summer has been a pain in the backside, at least it has given us a clearly defined strategy for picking the winner of The Open.

Long and thick rough has sprouted up everywhere on golf courses in the UK and, after watching practice rounds at Lytham and Open qualifying at St Annes Old Links, it's abundantly clear that to be holding approach shots on the greens and getting the ball to bite near flags, you need to be hitting from the fairway.

So my team for Lytham is made up of quality ball-strikers who have had their ball under control during this 2012 season.

It seemed an awful long way from his native California when Rickie Fowler turned up for the third round of the 2011 Open at Royal St George's wearing a large pair of mitts.

And yet, despite the cold, driving rain and fierce winds, young Rickie produced one of the best Open rounds in modern history - a two-under 68 that lifted him from tied 19th to tied third.

"It was awesome out there," said Fowler. "I love links golf. I love the variety and the options you get on the course. There's so many ways you can play one shot, and I feel like I can hit different shots and I like to hit different shots, and it's just the way I grew up learning how to play the game."

Although he slipped back to tied fifth on the final day, Fowler still made a huge impression and went into many pundits' notebooks as a man who could be a perennial challenger in Open Championships.

It came on the back of a tied 14th on debut at St Andrews in 2010 when he recovered splendidly from a potentially confidence-shattering 79 on day one. In fact, so well did Fowler play from Friday to Sunday that he shot lower than anyone in the field over the final 54 holes.

Having sandwiched a thrilling Ryder Cup debut in between those two events, Fowler has already tasted life in the fast lane and come through with flying colours.

What makes him such an enticing prospect this year is that he arrives at Lytham as a recent winner who is hitting the ball much, much straighter.

Fowler was starting to gain a reputation for spitting the bit in the final round but it all came together at Quail Hollow in May when a closing 69 put him into a play-off where he held his nerve to defeat Rory McIlroy and DA Points.

A week later, his confidence flowing, the 23-year-old finished runner-up in The Players Championship to make it a win and a second in two of the best fields outside of the majors.

He's jumped over 100 places - 157th to 51st - in the Driving Accuracy stats this year while his 10th place in Scrambling from under 30 yards is testament to his excellence around the greens.

Since the world rankings started in 1985, the three Lytham winners - Seve, Tom Lehman and David Duval - were all current, past or future world number ones.

Fowler has the potential to join that latter category so let's back him at 40/1.

Ben Curtis is still known to the vast majority as the guy who ripped up the Open formbook by winning the Claret Jug on his very first major start in 2003.

True, he's disappeared for much of the nine years since but the American did win twice on the PGA Tour in 2006 and earlier this year ended a six-year win drought by capturing the Texas Open.

That victory, achieved with a winning score of -9 (not too many regular tour events are won with single digits under par), shows that Curtis is a man who can grind it out and he also did that in The Players Championship at Sawgrass two starts later when joint runner-up.

Add in a fifth at Quail Hollow and the 35-year-old from Ohio is having a cracking season, those results currently putting him in the top 15 of the US Money List.

Stats-wise he also looks to have the tools to succeed on an Open course where avoiding the thick rough is likely to be key.

Curtis is third in Driving Accuracy and sixth in Greens In Regulation, while he's also third in Strokes Gained - Putting so is rolling the ball on the greens just about as well as anyone.

He's also fourth in Par-Four Performance and 142nd in Par Five so the fact that Lytham is a par 70 with just two longer holes also plays into his hands.

You can also add his wonderfully calm temperament to the mix. He's number one in Bounce Back this year (the percentage a player is over par on one hole but under par on the next).

Curtis also tops the stats for Scrambling under 30 yards and that is another vital skill given that balls will run off the shaved greens (Lee Westwood is dead last in that category by the way although his solution is not missing the green in the first place!).

One other big thing to remember with Curtis is that his Open form doesn't begin and end with one great week at Royal St George's in 2003.

He was also tied eighth at Carnoustie in 2007 while a year later he was tied seventh at Royal Birkdale. Three of his top four performances in majors have come in the Open Championship so this is clearly the major to follow him in.

He's cooled off a little in recent starts but given his pedigree and stats he's a cracking each-way bet at 100/1.

Jason Dufner has had his ball on a string for most of 2012 and it's given him the foundation to go on and become of the year's great success stories.

Nearly winning the 2011 USPGA - he was five clear on the back nine - suggested we weren't looking at a journeyman anymore but it's this season where he's shown his true class.

To begin with there were a series of good finishes where the only thing stopping him from winning was the fact that he hadn't done it before.

Dufner was the first-round leader in the Phoenix, the Cadillac and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. And he was the halfway leader in the Transitions Championship and again two starts later at The Masters.

The problem was he kept going backwards on the weekend.

It seemed just a matter of time though and, lo and behold, shortly after topping the round two leaderboard at Augusta, he turned a halfway lead into a first ever Tour victory by capturing the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Two tournaments on and he was lifting the Byron Nelson trophy too before almost making it a hat-trick when losing a play-off at the Crowne Plaza.

A slight concern for Dufner backers is that he's only played once since then and that was a month ago.

However, that produced a fourth place in the US Open and having recently got married, the recharging of the golf batteries has probably done him good.

Dufner is 16th in Driving Accuracy, sixth in Greens In Regulation and third in the All-Around ranking,

In the majors he's finished fifth and second in the last two USPGAs and, as already stated, fourth in the US Open and led The Masters at halfway. That's hugely impressive in anybody's book.

Two missed cuts out of two in the Open Championship isn't ideal but the new, improved Dufner is a completely different animal and there is a strong sense that the set-up at Lytham will really suit him this year.

On the form he's shown this year, 50/1 is a steal.

Justin Rose first made his name in this tournament as a 17-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale when finishing tied fourth.

Bizarrely, that remains his best finish in the majors but only just after tied fifths in The Masters and US Open.

In truth, Rose has now built a nice body of form in the majors and that includes two decent efforts this year - an eighth at Augusta and a tied 21st at Olympic Club.

Having turned himself into a regular winner on the US Tour, perhaps something he doesn't quite get enough credit for, Rose is now ready to make the next step.

His four US victories include a victory in March's WGC-Cadillac Championship which means, like so many recent Open winners, he goes into the event with the added confidence of a recent win under his belt.

Rose's last two appearances on European soil have produced a runners-up finish to Luke Donald at Wentworth and a ninth place in France last time out.

That was the perfect warm-up in many ways - not good enough to ruin his price and also prompting him to make a few minor tweaks.

Rose has done that after a good session with Sean Foley and looks to be peaking perfectly for a huge challenge in the tournament where he made his name.

Despite the troubles he suffered early in his career, Rose played in the 2001 Open at Lytham and was a decent tied 30th. That adds a few more percentage points of confidence so have a decent bet on Justin at 33/1.

For the final spot I've toyed with the idea of Raphael Jacquelin, Ross Fisher, Bo Van Pelt and Nick Watney at big prices and, at the front of the market, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, after he was pushed out to 25s.

But when you look at the current trends and the idea of picking great ball-strikers, there's one obvious name that jumps out at the prices - Hunter Mahan at 50s.

Americans have won the first two majors of 2012 and the last two Opens at Lytham and all four were Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup players. The last 15 majors have also been won by 15 different golfers with the last nine going to first time-winners. Also, 11 of the last 15 Opens were won by a player with a previous win earlier that season.

Fowler fits those trends and so would fellow Californian Mahan.

Take a look at the ball-striking stats and you'll find Mahan ranked first. And after two wins earlier this season he's rounding right into top form again after an 11th at the Travelers and an eighth at the AT&T on his last two starts.

Mahan was ranked third and first respectively for Driving Accuracy in those two events and first and second in Greens In Regulation. In other words, he's striping it.

His Open record is patchy but it does include a sixth place at Carnoustie in 2007 and that forms part of a sequence of 10 top-20 finishes in the majors since the 2007 US Open.

Mahan is a better player around the greens than he once was (147th in Scrambling from under 30 yards in 2010, 65th this year) but his trademark is hitting fairways and greens and that looks such a big asset this week.

With four US Tour wins since early 2010 he's ready to make the leap to major champion.

All five picks are joint best price with BetVictor so, as they're giving money back if any of Westwood, Poulter, Donald or Garcia win, they're the best place to strike your bets.

  • Preview posted at 2145 BST on 17/07/2012.