Open Championship golf betting preview & tips from Ben Coley at Royal Birkdale

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth

Golf expert Ben Coley has selections ranging from 16/1 to 1500/1 for the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

Recommended bets: The Open


3pts win Jordan Spieth at 16/1

2pts e.w. Hideki Matsuyama at 25/1 (1/4 1-6)

1pt e.w. Brian Harman at 150/1 (1/5 1-7)

1pt e.w. Marc Leishman at 50/1 (1/5 1-10)

1pt e.w. Branden Grace at 50/1 (1/4 1-6)

0.50pt e.w. Harry Ellis at 1500/1 (1/5 1-8)

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Two majors down, two to go in a puzzling 2017 and things don't get any easier with the 146th edition of the Open Championship, which returns to Royal Birkdale just north of Liverpool.

It's nine years since Padraig Harrington won his second Claret Jug at this fabulous golf course in three-over, the toughest Open test of the century and first since 1999 to be won with a worse-than-par score.

Ten years earlier, Mark O'Meara took a play-off in front of the bright white clubhouse having carded level-par for 72 holes and while the forecast this week doesn't appear set to make things brutal, there's enough wind and a hint of rain to suggest that it'll be a much sterner test than we've seen elsewhere in recent years.

Just how Henrik Stenson shot 20-under at Troon will forever remain a mystery, but that's now three renewals in a row which have developed into low-scoring shootouts of some description so any Open form analysis comes with a caveat: an altogether different beast awaits in Southport.

Working out just who that will suit is extremely difficult and it's no surprise that they bet 16/1 the field, with a clear favourite yet to emerge as Rickie Fowler joins Jordan Spieth (14/1 with Sky Bet) and Dustin Johnson at the head of the market.

All three have gone close in the Open before and, crucially, have won this year. Three of the last four and five of the last seven Open champions had already collected a trophy of note earlier in the season and there's nothing like winning when it comes to preparing for the events which matter most.

Spieth's second victory of 2017 came on his latest start and he makes by some distance the most appeal of the trio.

It's a shame he hasn't deemed it necessary to play a links warm-up in either Ireland or Scotland, which all bar one champion dating back to Darren Clarke in 2011 has done, but this two-time major winner knows full well what he's doing and will be ready to go on Thursday.

Half a career grand slam and more than one near-miss is some return for a 23-year-old who hasn't yet played in 20 majors, so it's hard to argue with his price - especially considering the problems facing various potential dangers.

Sky Bet special: Any of Spieth/Harman/Ellis/Matsuyama/Grace or Leishman to win - 6/1!

Fowler, for instance, still has to show that he can put the pieces together on Sunday. I'm near certain he'll work it out, but prices around the 16/1 mark look plenty short given that he's still to do it and we don't know he'll take to this particular course.

I ask this as a massive Fowler fan, but how can his chance be considered equal to Spieth's? The latter is a better player who has won more titles both this year and all told, who knows how to close out majors, and Fowler's links preparation shouldn't see them priced next to each other.

We are talking here about an exceptional player in Fowler, but an all-time great in the making in Spieth. Players like him don't come along often. He will win many more majors, quite possibly starting here.

Of course, Fowler being too short doesn't make Spieth a bet, but he's got the right game to win a Claret Jug, as hinted at by four cuts made in as many attempts, including a near-miss at St Andrews in 2015.

Granted, this is a world away from the Old Course but he won a US Open under firm, fast conditions in five-under and has further underlined his suitability to that sort of challenge with two wins in the Australian Open.

Spieth, a vastly underrated shotmaker, certainly has faith in the way his skills shape up for a proper links test.

"I think my game in general over the course of the next hopefully 20 to 30 years out here will show that this style of golf, I think plays to my strengths," he said ahead of a T30 finish at Troon. 

"Does that mean this week it may? I don't know. But I love this style of golf. I feel comfortable playing this style of golf.

"I crave to have that trophy in my possession at some point."

The key for Spieth this week, along with a little luck when it comes to the weather and the odd bounce here and there, will be what he does off the tee. So far this season, there's no doubt the driver has let him down and avoiding cleverly-positioned fairway bunkers is absolutely key at Birkdale.

If he can do that, don't buy into the myth around his so-called reliance on putting.

Sky Bet special: All to make the cut: Spieth/Matsuyama/Grace/Leishman/Harman/Ellis -16/1!

Spieth's biggest weapon right now is his approach shots - he is out in front statistically, and the gap between Spieth and third-ranked Jon Rahm equivalent to the gap between Rahm and 60th-placed Chris Stroud. In other words, Francesco Molinari is doing remarkably well in second, but the rest aren't even close.

Of course, what he does around the greens will likely prove the difference between winning this and going close as he did at St Andrews, where a four-putt in the final round proved so costly. We saw as much at the Travelers, where his long-game powered victory (led the field tee-to-green) but his short-game sealed the deal, with a contender for shot of the year enough to see off Daniel Berger.

That boost arrived just at the right time. Both of Spieth's major wins came on the back of top-three finishes and his form immediately after a win reads 44-1-2-11-1-7-5-57-6-22. That means in 10 chances to go back-to-back, he's managed to do it twice which just goes in the hat with all other numbers which tell you he's always to be considered at prices like 16/1.

It's hard to be confident ahead of an event like the Open, but on a course widely considered among the fairest on the roster, which has produced a world-class roll-of-honour, largely players who had already won majors, the prospects of a top-class winner appear stronger than usual.

The prospects of Spieth appear better than any other player and he gets the vote to show it.

There are only two others at the top of the market who make genuine appeal, despite the obvious claims of Fowler and Rahm in particular, and they're Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama (20/1 Sky Bet).

Scott's Open record is phenomenally good and, let's be honest, he should've won it two, maybe three times already. Most famously, he let a four-shot lead slip at Lytham, but Scott also made mistakes when in position at Muirfield and again at St Andrews two years ago.

My concern, therefore, is that something similar might happen again, especially given that he's been extremely poor around the greens lately. Throw in the fact that he's not looked like winning for quite some time and 28/1 begins to look less tempting.

In contrast, 25/1 (or 22s generally) about Matsuyama looks a bet given the place terms on offer as he's primed to go very well.

The Japanese superstar is ranked second in the world to Johnson, yet he sits eighth in the betting here, despite having produced some of the best major golf of the year with 11th at Augusta followed by second in the US Open, while his final major performance of 2016 (T4) could've been so much more for any kind of cooperation from the putter.

It's not as if there should be concerns as to links golf and his suitability for it, as Matsuyama made an immediate impression in the Open, finishing sixth on debut in 2013 despite a harsh slow-play penalty. As a 21-year-old still finding his way in professional golf, it was an out-of-this-world performance, surrounded as he was by links specialists with bags of experience.

Muirfield was the last really demanding Open test so the fact it represents Matsuyama's best finish is a positive, although he fared well enough in 2014 and 2015 before struggling last year when arriving in no form and carrying an injury.

This time, he comes to the Open with links preparation in the bag courtesy of a top-15 finish in the Irish Open and as one of the most reliable drivers in world golf, there's every hope that he can keep out of trouble and allow his deadly iron play to pick apart the golf course.

As with every player in the field, there is a negative and that's his putting, but Matsuyama can get away with an average week in that regard if at his best from tee-to-green.

Five major top-10s in limited opportunities demonstrate that he's on the brink of a breakthrough and it could well come here.

With two from the front of the market selected already, it's easy enough to look past Phil Mickelson, despite an unmatched record in the Open over the last six years.

Had he not separated from his long-time caddie a few weeks ago, I'd probably have looked to get the 2013 winner on-side, but his new working relationship with brother Tim is in its infancy and it will be a phenomenal effort to end a lengthy winless run here.

Instead, it's worth backing Brian Harman (125/1 Sky Bet) to prove that his runner-up finish in the US Open was no fluke.

The left-hander isn't the biggest nor is he the flashiest, but he was a fine amateur and, thanks to a win earlier this season, now has two PGA Tour titles to his name.

In other words, he shouldn't be underestimated and it's hard to fathom why he'd be such a big price on the back of that US Open effort. Five players looked like they might win that event come the back-nine on Sunday. Four are 40/1 or less. Harman is 150/1.

Now in the world's top 30 and having played really nicely since the spring, Harman is much better than he's being given credit for and there's some evidence that he could really take to this challenge, as he played nicely down the coast at Hoylake on his Open debut three years ago.

Significantly, that came days after he'd won for the first time at the John Deere Classic, so it's perhaps no surprise that he took a little time to get going. However, come the weekend he was able to match champion Rory McIlroy on both days which bodes well for his third try in the event.

Harman's wins have come at the hands of Zach Johnson and Dustin Johnson, two major champions, and the way he steadied himself to hole the winning putt in the Wells Fargo underlines that he's better than most under the gun.

I considered both Russell Henley and Kevin Kisner, who boast similar profiles to Harman, but these three are all roughly the same price even though only one of them has gone close to winning a major.

It basically appears as though Harman's effort at Erin Hills has been completely overlooked and I'm not sure why, so it's worth chancing this dynamite putter to keep up the good work.

Last week's winners are both worthy of respect, especially as it's not so long ago that Mickelson followed victory in the Scottish Open by taking the Open Championship just days later.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello showed up for a while in the same renewal and while yet to make an impact in major company, he's absolutely capable and could now find the confidence to do so.

At 66/1, however, he's alongside players like Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed who still rate a little higher and more interesting is Bryson DeChambeau, whose John Deere win came on the back of a solid run of form.

DeChambeau excelled under links conditions at the Walker Cup and while this is a different kettle of fish, he's a world-class player in the making. I just wonder whether he might do what Harman did and suffer a brief hangover which leaves him with a mountain to climb come the weekend.

I must also reference the fact that an amateur has hit the frame in each of the last two Opens to be held at Birkdale, while it's only two years since Jordan Niebrugge, Ollie Schniederjans, Ashley Chesters and Paul Dunne all finished inside the top 30 at St Andrews, the former sharing sixth.

This year's batch look fairly strong and, while Maverick McNealy is the pick of them in terms of latent talent, he didn't fare too well in the Walker Cup at Lytham. So preference would be for Harry Ellis (750/1 Sky Bet), a promising Englishman who could follow in the footsteps of Chris Wood and Justin Rose by sneaking into the frame at an eye-watering 1500/1. Worth some loose change, surely.

Back to reality and Marc Leishman (45/1) and Branden Grace (45/1) have to come into consideration. In fact, while I wouldn't ordinarily put both up along with two strong fancies, with such value in the place terms I'm prepared to go in this time.

Leishman is a strong links player, who lost a play-off for this two years ago having previously nabbed a place behind Rory at Hoylake.

This year, he arrives with a win under his belt having defied tough conditions and typical Florida winds to land the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an emotional and deserved success.

The Australian has held his form since, finishing fifth last time out, and has all the attributes I like this week: he drives it well, loves testing conditions, thrives by the coast and is sharp around the greens.

As well as a pair of top-five finishes in this he's gone close at Augusta, but his best chance of landing a major title may come at a course which has been so kind to compatriots in the past.

As for Grace, he caught the eye with a couple of good rounds for a top-20 finish in the Scottish Open and looks like he might have timed his run to perfection once again.

The South African has four major places to his name over the last three years, a superb return considering that Augusta National really doesn't suit his game which limits his opportunities, and his preparation this time around has been similar.

He came closest to winning when right there with three to play at Chambers Bay in 2015, which confirmed once again that this former Dunhill Links and Qatar Masters winner is at his best under the type of conditions forecast this week.

Like Matsuyama, he finished inside the top five at last year's PGA Championship despite a poor week on the greens and I'm certain Grace has the ability to rise to the challenge on a course which he should love.

Posted at 1655 BST on 17/07/17.

Open Championship: Related content


Ben Coley's specials preview
Open Championship tee-times
Player-by-player profiles of the whole field
Full Open Championship guide & TV coverage
Player quotes from Royal Birkdale

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