Golf expert Ben Coley put up Shane Lowry when he won the 2019 Open Championship — and he's putting his faith in the same player at Royal St George's.
2.5pts e.w. Tyrrell Hatton at 33/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9)
2pts e.w. Shane Lowry at 45/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1.5pts e.w. Tommy Fleetwood at 45/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Sergio Garcia at 66/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)
1pt e.w. Daniel Berger at 66/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Branden Grace at 66/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Rickie Fowler at 80/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
Six majors have taken place since Shane Lowry won the Claret Jug in 2019, and not one of them an Open Championship. The wait is almost over. Raise those yellow flags and let the wind howl as Royal St George's, now a decade removed from its last turn, welcomes almost all of the world's best golfers for the 149th edition of the sport's oldest major.
Seldom does an Open Championship pass by lightly, leaving no discernible footprint. The courses and the conditions and the uniquely archaic way of things all but forbid that. This is the tournament which gave us our second Duel in the Sun in 2016, then something even better a year later. Carnoustie saw the little man from Turin overcome Tiger Woods and everyone else, before Lowry and the whole of Ireland thundered to victory at Portrush.
It's been too long, and it doesn't matter that Sandwich, as Royal St George's is so often referred to, isn't exactly to everyone's taste. This course cannot match the grandeur of St Andrews or boast the fundamental quality of Muirfield. It's probably not been as fair, whatever fair means, as Lytham, Birkdale or Portrush. Some will protest when fairways kick balls sideways, even having been softened. It should be easier for those of us watching to rejoice in ball meeting ground and its journey not ending there.
Luck is a part of all sport, but none more so than golf, an outdoor pursuit where the object is to get a small ball into a hole which is usually hundreds of yards away. Within golf, it is always there, but rarely is luck more apparent than in an Open Championship. And within Open Championships, perhaps Royal St George's, where the 396th-ranked player in the world won in 2003, and where outsider Darren Clarke followed suit in 2011, has been most exposed to luck's influence. Three-quarters of the top 24 when last we were here teed off on Clarke's late-early side of the draw.
This is why some love links golf and others, well, don't. Just last weekend, Matt Fitzpatrick was asked for his view, and summarised it with the word 'unsure'. "I like it when it's fair," he added. "I don't like it when it's unfair; when you can hit a decent shot (and) it doesn't get a bounce." Perhaps one of the reasons why this tournament has so often gone the way of a veteran, like Clarke, like Henrik Stenson, like Phil Mickelson, is that with age comes an acceptance that golf isn't really a sport of fair.
Maybe Royal St George's will be more accommodating towards good shots with so much rain having fallen in July, but it may be that a softer course is needed to compensate for the strong, northerly winds which are forecast along with sunshine and even a welcome bit of heat. Truly, the stage is set for a fantastic, restorative week and one which should reveal a champion who has shown that they can play a very different form of the sport.
All of this is why I can't go near the favourite, Jon Rahm, at 8/1. He's a quite brilliant player, the best in the world even if the rankings have him back in second again, and he's conquered Portstewart and Lahinch already. After dominating at the latter he started well at Portrush, eventually finishing 11th, and in the intervening two years has scaled the highest highs, still relatively early on in what's sure to be a magnificent career.
But when a bounce or a tee-time or a change in the weather can fundamentally alter the course of a round and even a tournament, the safety net of places — 10, 11 and even 12 are available — feels necessary. This is the major most vulnerable to something strange. It is a stark contrast to Torrey Pines, a pure test of execution upon which the best golfer on the planet at the time of the US Opens held there has won. If weight stops horses, linksland can stop golfers.
My approach then is to focus on players with whom we can balance that risk of misfortune with the prospect of genuine improvement for these conditions, this style of golf, and the pick of them has to be SHANE LOWRY.
By his own admission, Lowry hasn't been a prolific champion throughout his career, one which began in earnest when he won the Irish Open as an amateur back in 2009. Since then he's won four times, and here he is just behind Collin Morikawa in the betting, a player who has as many professional wins having joined the paid ranks a decade later.
Any other week, I could not justify their prices being anything but wide apart, but the Open is unique, and Lowry has shown that he has all the tools required to win it. His performance at Portrush was as dominant as we've seen in a major since Rory McIlroy in 2012, and it was not out of the blue: he'd prepared well, had won a big event at a course where coping with breeze is important, and his record on links courses could be traced right back to that rainy dream at Baltray.
Now that he's done it, thus banishing demons of a 2016 US Open which had appeared to be under his control, there's no reason he can't do it again, particularly having produced his best approach-play statistics since 2019 when finishing 23rd in the Irish Open last time. Before Portrush, he'd finished 34th in the same event and while not this time on linksland, the fact he played so well at Mount Juliet underlines the potential for something special now back by the sea.
Fourth at Kiawah Island in May, where he putted poorly, and eighth at Sawgrass in March, Lowry has been hinting all spring that he can peak for this overdue title defence. He will need to do better on the greens, having ranked 60th and 70th in putting across his last two starts, but slower surfaces have often helped him and that's very much a chance worth taking regardless.
That breeze I mentioned, which could be very significant over the first couple of rounds in particular, will be a positive providing he's not unfortunate with the draw. Fantasy National has him tied for first under breezy conditions over the last 50 rounds, second to Dustin Johnson over a hundred, and similarly placed if we measure careers. More than that, anyone who watched him at Portrush will know exactly when and where he's at his most comfortable.
With hands to die for around the greens, Lowry has an ideal game for this and it's that improved approach play which could again make the difference. The greens here at Royal St George's have been especially hard to hit, and while scrambling well could be important, my suspicion is that, like Clarke (2nd), the champion will have ranked highly in greens hit.
Lowry led that category last time and as was the case at Portrush, everything appears to be in place at just the right time. He's had the Claret Jug for two years now, and he may be keeping hold of it for another.
For a while it looked as though a warm-up on links courses either in Ireland, Scotland or both was borderline fundamental to winning an Open, but Francesco Molinari and Zach Johnson have both triumphed having arrived on the flight from Illinois, Lowry had skipped Scotland, and the bottom line should probably be that these professional golfers generally know what works for them.
Still, it was important for TYRRELL HATTON to shake off a frustrating sequence of second at the Palmetto Championship, an event he perhaps should've won, and then a missed cut at the US Open, where he began really strongly but paid the price for a poor second round.
He did exactly that with a staying-on 18th in the Scottish Open and while it would've been even more encouraging to see his approach play really fire, ultimately it looked like an ideal way to prepare for the major which should suit him best.
Some would argue that Hatton's temperament is too volatile for this, but more likely is that it helps make him the player he is and his form screams potential Open winner, from a windswept PGA Tour breakthrough at Bay Hill (where Curtis and Clarke both have excellent records), to victories at Wentworth and Abu Dhabi, and those two Dunhill Links titles which kickstarted his career.
Still in its relative infancy, the Dunhill Links has already been won by Open champions Padraig Harrington and Paul Lawrie, with Lowry, McIlroy, Ernie Els and Chris Wood among the other links specialists to have threatened in a tournament which takes place across the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. It might be a good deal easier than the Open, but it's still links golf, and it very much correlates.
Hatton's suitability for this kind of challenge likely reflects the fact he's capable of laser-like approach play and is exceptional around the greens, skills that saw him see off McIlroy to win in Abu Dhabi. Like Lowry before him, that was probably the best performance of his career (if not quite the highlight), and so often winners of the Open have something like that behind them. Even Clarke had ended a long winless run in a windy event in Spain.
Second at Castle Stuart, fourth at both Royal County Down and Royal Aberdeen plus ninth at Gullane demonstrate once again that he's a potential improver for a pure links test, and we've seen him do it in the Open with top-six finishes at both Troon (2016) and Portrush (2019).
Hatton was a long way off the winner in both renewals, but it's also true that he's a far more accomplished player now, and there had been encouragement in both major starts this year before Torrey Pines took a chunk out of him in round two. Not that his performance there was a surprise: he was a course debutant who has seldom played in California and lacked a little punch from the tee.
Back in England, where his last visit ended in victory at Wentworth, which no doubt is the highlight of his flourishing career, the world number 10 deserves to be considered among the chief threats to the game's elite and with generous place terms on offer, I'm very keen to have him on-side.
Contrary to what appears to be fairly popular belief, Americans can and do play well in the Open. It is simply untrue to suggest that every event on the PGA Tour is a shootout, or that wind is a thing we British know but isn't prevalent in say Florida, Texas or Oklahoma. Here at Royal St George's, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson served it up to Clarke, eight years on from what was plainly a shock victory for rookie Curtis, and the USA has enjoyed more success in the event than any other nation.
Xander Schauffele is the most solid of the lot from a place-only perspective, but double his price and you get to Patrick Cantlay, who has won three times since his Presidents Cup partner last tasted victory and has a broadly similar game which should be no less suited to this kind of challenge.
At 35/1, Cantlay is respected with his 12th place on debut at Carnoustie particularly encouraging, but double that price again and you get to DANIEL BERGER and Harris English, of whom the former is narrowly preferred.
English won that marathon play-off for the Travelers last time and had been third in the US Open before that, prior to which he might've won the Palmetto (albeit about six players, Hatton included, could say the same). His form is as straightforwardly progressive as you're ever likely to see, he's made 13 major cuts in a row, and he's done reasonably well in this including when 15th at Muirfield.
Significantly, that was in 2013, when English won twice. Eight years on and having been close to the edge of golfing extinction and back again, he's an even better player and one who has the tools to cope with Royal St George's, where like Muirfield the routing means players can rarely get comfortable with the wind direction.
That said I just prefer the claims of Berger, whose advantage in approach play (14th versus 86th for the season) could be significant given the strength of the wind and the contoured greens at Royal St George's which brought out the best in Clarke, long one of the best ball-strikers around.
Berger's iron play helped him to seventh at Torrey Pines, where he lacked experience, and his wider form suggests he could be the latest relatively unheralded yet classy American to take to this. It includes a tenacious victory at Pebble Beach and stretches back to a play-off defeat to Harrington in the Honda Classic, always a tough, breezy event and one in which he's gone close again subsequently.
Hailing from Florida, where he grew up playing money games with seasoned professionals at Sawgrass, Berger is an excellent wind player and puts that down to his low ball-flight. Last week, he confessed that he can struggle to hit it as high as he perhaps needed to at a rain-soaked John Deere Classic, and all four of his PGA Tour victories confirm what he would claim: that tougher conditions bring out his best.
So far he's yet to put all this together in an Open, but he was a badly out of form world number 78 on debut, missing seven cuts in eight events during a miserable summer. When he returned in 2017, ranked 20th in the world, he played really well on three of the four days at Birkdale, finishing 27th despite a second-round 76, and he was back down the rankings and not fit when missing the cut on the number at the fearsome Carnoustie.
That uninspiring yet excusable record is why he's 60 or even 70/1 for this having been 28s and 33s for the PGA Championship, but the fact that he ranked fourth in fairways, 19th in greens and 12th in ball-striking at Birkdale adds to my belief that he does have the tools for an Open Championship.
In-form, 16th in the world, a winner in 2021, seventh in the last major to be played and having produced his best ball-striking stats in the final round of a nice enough John Deere Classic spin, he deserves a little more respect. More than that, he's the sort of dogged, mature character who can stick around in what should be a difficult Open.
So too is TOMMY FLEETWOOD and while plainly not at his very best so far this year, when it comes to players capable of finding it now faced with a windy Royal St George's, he's high up the list.
Fleetwood's Open record has improved markedly with experience, a trio of missed cuts followed by 27th at Birkdale, 12th at Carnoustie where he defied another poor start, and second place at Portrush where clearly better than all bar Lowry.
He says it's the most important event there is and one he feels capable of winning, which he's also demonstrated with a pair of top-fours on exposed, US Open courses, and a remarkably strong record in the aforementioned Dunhill Links. No doubt this is in part due to the experience he gathered on links courses as a junior, for all his home course was inland, which includes victory in the Scottish Amateur Stroke Play up at Murcar.
As with Lowry, any other event and it would be hard to justify quotes ranging from 33/1 to 45/1, but this one is different, and his form in it is invaluable. He's thrived under a variety of conditions, from a baked-out Carnoustie where he led the field in greens hit, to a rain-soaked Portrush where nobody scrambled better, and he's seriously underrated around and on the greens.
Right now the problem is with the driver, which is troubling to some degree given that it's long been his strength. However, this is a course where as little as six-iron may be needed off some tees and it could well be that for a player struggling just a little from a technical perspective, a back-to-basics battle with the wind works wonders.
Back in September, when brutal weather at the Scottish Open led Ian Poulter to suggest conditions were the worst he'd seen in his career, Fleetwood meant it when he said 'I loved every minute of it', adding: "It's golf isn't it? Let's face it, with the money we play for these days it does not do any harm does it? It's fine. I'll play in it every day."
That comment referred to heavy rain but there will be plenty who throw the towel in when the combination of that stiff wind and Sandwich's notoriously uneven bounces prove their undoing. Fleetwood, whose attitude is a major asset, won't be one of them and his form is actually quite similar to 2019, when he arrived after a quiet run.
Back then he was 28/1 and popular. Now at 40/1 and change, he's big enough to chance based on some of the strongest links credentials in the field.
That comment would also apply to Adam Scott but he's relying on the putter at the moment and I'm more inclined to back SERGIO GARCIA, whose run of 10 top-10 finishes in his last 20 Open appearances includes two here.
Form which is a decade old and nearly twice that can only be worth so much, but there's no doubt Garcia has demonstrated an ability to compete both here and at most Open venues, and his game has hardly changed.
As with all my selections, the Spaniard ranks particularly highly under windy conditions and it's worth noting that while just outside the world's top 50, he's in a similar spot to when last he played here. In fact back then he was 51st in the world after the BMW International Open, which is exactly where he is now, before ninth place saw him climb a few spots.
This time around he was 17th in Germany following 19th in the US Open and 20th at the Charles Schwab Challenge, so yet again when faced with the prospect of falling outside the top 50 he's produced better golf. That's precisely what happened when he flushed his way to the Sanderson Farms title last year and with the Ryder Cup looming he could well kick on again.
A month ago I would've been extremely concerned by a years-long major malaise, but he kept at it at Torrey Pines for a confidence-boosting top-20 finish, and he's always been at his best in the Open. That his major came at Augusta, a course he doesn't particularly like, is in some ways typical of one of the sport's enigmas.
But while Garcia's close-range putting and career arc make him a punchline for some, he has a remarkably consistent record both in terms of preserving his status in the game, and winning titles. You have to go all the way back to 2010 for the last time he ended a year without one. He's won seven in less than five years.
There is no doubt he's been good at mopping up in Spain or elsewhere in Europe, but this former Masters champion still has world-class form in him, such as when sixth in the Dubai Desert Classic, ninth in the PLAYERS, and reaching the quarter-finals of the Match Play.
Close to that level again and surely inspired by Rahm's success, this habitual Open contender, whose iron play can still be as good as anyone's and whose driving is among the best around, may not be done at this level after all.
Those searching for one at a big price could do worse than Richard Bland, 22nd at Birkdale, a winner at the British Masters recently, and bang in-form. He's not been worse than 15th in his last four European Tour starts and while below that level in the US Open, remember he was the halfway leader and briefly threatened to do something special.
Back in England, perhaps he can cling on for longer and from a trends perspective, a recent champion, who remains in-form, has a lot going for him. So does Stewart Cink, a two-time PGA Tour winner this season and a former winner of this, while Joel Dahmen, Aaron Rai and Takumi Kanaya have it within them to play well.
All of these names would bust established trends but so did Clarke and Curtis, and so might RICKIE FOWLER if he can build on recent promise and perhaps finds himself lit up by the links.
Fowler has been second, fifth, sixth, 14th, 22nd, 28th and 30th in an excellent Open career, missing the cut just once in 10 tries. It's a really strong return and speaks to his fondness for this kind of golf, where his natural flair and artistry can really sing.
Among that bank of form, sixth place came at Portrush and fifth here at Sandwich, where he played in the penultimate group on Sunday, while on his Open debut a year earlier he was 149th after round one and finished 14th behind Louis Oosthuizen. Again, he's so effective under these conditions, having also won a Scottish Open and battled a strong breeze in the Honda Classic.
Why is he 80/1? Because his form has been poor for some time now, a change in coach not yet delivering the results he'd hoped for. However, there have been very definite signs of promise this spring and summer, starting with 17th in Texas after a slow start, continuing (after a couple of blips) with eighth place at the PGA Championship, and extending to 11th and an eye-catching 32nd from three subsequent starts.
There's been plenty of poor golf, too, but his approach play has started to fire, as has the putter having gone back to his old faithful, and around the greens he can always dazzle. Put all that together, and the fact that form at Kiawah Island could be as reliable guide as we have, and there are enough reasons to believe he can again deliver in the major which, alongside the Masters, appears to bring out his best.
If all this reads a little like a preview from five years ago, that's fine. The Open is so often about experience and while the strength among the 20-somethings plus some rain in recent weeks does increase the prospects of a Rahm, Morikawa, Viktor Hovland or Justin Thomas winning, if the wind does arrive as forecast then experience will surely be significant.
That and the absence of what you might call a regulation title are the only real marks against the name of Robert MacIntyre, who I expect to play well, with Joaquin Niemann also overlooked for similar reasons.
Instead, I'll finish off with BRANDEN GRACE.
Here we have a proven seaside golfer whose victories in the Dunhill Links, Qatar Masters and RBC Heritage tell us exactly where he's at his best, a point he demonstrated yet again when producing late heroics to win in Puerto Rico back in the spring.
Now back on the cusp of the world's top 50, Grace has built on that emotional victory by contending at the PGA Championship, where he was fifth before a poor final round, and then finishing fourth and seventh on his last two starts in the US, latterly in the US Open.
Nobody in the field there at Torrey Pines played better than him from tee-to-green and while a little below that level in Scotland, a down-the-leaderboard preparation is no bad thing having worked nicely for Clarke before his triumph here. Grace had missed the cut on his sole previous visit to the Renaissance, and this time ended with a bogey-free 68 to head south with real belief that he can win an Open Championship.
"(I'm) very excited for what's to come. The golf is trending in the right direction, and I'm excited," was his verdict after the US Open, where his approach play was as good as it has been since 2019, and this tough customer is absolutely built for battling a strong breeze and sticking around when others cry enough.
The only player in history to shoot 62 in a men's major, which he did en route to sixth place at Birkdale four years ago, he looks a big player and more likely to give his running than Marc Leishman, whose claims are similar, and who could make it three Australian winners in succession in Europe.
Grace's recent form is stronger and ever since threatening to win the US Open at Chambers Bay back in 2015, he's looked capable of becoming the latest South African to win a major. It's not beyond him to contend in this welcome, overdue renewal, which will surely deliver regardless of the outcome.
Posted at 2000 BST on 12/07/21
We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.