The Open Championship 2016 Preview

The third and most iconic golf tournament in the world - The Open Championship - is hosted by Royal Troon Golf Club for the 2016 event. The 145th edition is the oldest international championship in professional golf, where each player will be competing to be crowned the “Champion Golfer of the Year” and lift the symbolic Claret Jug.

Royal Troon G.C. - located on the West coast of Scotland – will be hosting The Open for the eighth time. A traditional style links course with some of the most picturesque landscape on The Open rota will set the scene for the 156 individual field that will each have to tackle the famous par-3 8th hole, the “Postage Stamp”. It was last played there in 2004, when Todd Hamilton surprised the world of golf and beat Ernie Else in a playoff.

The Stats Zone recently analysed whether form during The Scottish Open serves as a predictor for The Open. It was concluded that players ranked inside the world’s top 20 who played last week’s Scottish Open were more likely to contend, regardless of finishing position. Additionally, for players ranked outside the top 20, a strong showing at the Scottish does serve as a fair predictor for Open Championship form. Furthermore, big names within the game who may be past their best in terms of world ranking could still have a chance of winning The Open if they participated in The Scottish Open.

Therefore, we will assess players who fall into the above categories and evaluate their chances of lifting the iconic Claret Jug.

The Draw

Tee times for any player during The Open Championship play a major role in their chances of being champion, more so than any other tournament within the game. Being on the wrong side of the draw really could be the difference between winning and missing the cut - luck will be a significant factor.

Each of the 156 field will tee off from the first hole, meaning tee times stretch from 06:35 to 16:16. With Scottish weather in mind, playing conditions could vary from calm bright sunshine to gale-force wind and rain. With Royal Troon being a traditional links layout - whereby the front nine holes play away from the clubhouse and the back nine towards - players could play all 18 holes either into or down wind, making the course a very different challenge.

With many of the world’s best players being in their 20’s and not having always qualified for The Open Championship since 2011, this has resulted in varying outcomes, which is evident with players such as Spieth, Reed, Koepka, Matsuyama, Lowry, Knox and Kisner. Some individuals have no more than three appearances each at The Open and it could be suggested these players are still in the process of learning links golf.

Adam Scott has the lowest average finish during The Open since 2011 at 9th place, with three top five finishes and a top 10 in the last five Opens. Notably, the highest average finish within the top 10 is also the second highest world ranking, that being Danny Willett (ranked 9th).

Zach Johnson has the lowest average finish (16th) within the world rankings between 11 and 20, with two top 10’s and one victory. Again, the highest finishing average (100th) is also the highest ranked (20th) golfer - J.B. Holmes. Significantly, the overall average finish position for the top 10 (43rd) and top 11 to 21 (47th) is virtually the same, demonstrating that players ranked inside the top 20 are of similar skill level.

Charl Schwartzel and Phil Mickelson have the lowest average finish of 38th position within the world rankings between 21 and 30, and are also the two lowest ranked players within this category. Significantly, of the three world ranking groups, 21 to 30 has the highest overall average position of 67th, which is 20 places above the other two classes. This further suggests that the higher up the world ranking a player is; the less likely they are to win The Open Championship.

Of the nine top 30 players who played in last week’s Scottish Open, seven placed within the top 30, suggesting their games are prepared for the challenges of links golf, potentially putting them in contention to lift the Claret Jug.

Nevertheless, J.B. Holmes (ranked 20th) missed the halfway cut (position 136th) by some margin, and with an average finishing position of 100th in The Open since 2011, this suggests his game and skill set do not suit links golf. Shane Lowry, who won The Irish Open as an amateur and was brought up on links courses, had a poor showing in The Scottish, missing the halfway cut (placing 109th). Ranked 26th in the world, his form last week does not serve as a strong predictor for a good finish during The Open.

As expected, players ranked inside the top 10 had the lowest average finish for The 2016 Scottish Open, at 21st. Conversely, players ranked 11 to 20 in the world average 73rd position compared to 38th for players 21 to 30. Furthermore, players ranked inside the top 20 also ranked higher at 47th compared to outside the top 20 at 38th. This does suggest that players ranked between 21 to 30 could be ones to look out for during Open week.

The table shows the current world’s top 30 players’ scoring in relation to par and the difference between the winning score, along with any missed cuts (MC). Notably, D. Johnson, Fowler, Scott, Garcia, Furyk and Mickelson are the only six players in the top 30 who have played in each of the last five Opens, and have missed a maximum of one halfway cut each.

The data overall shows that there is little to choose between the world’s top 30 players, with on average players ranked 11 to 20 shooting the best score (two under). However, as highlighted previously, the six players with the best scoring averages have the best opportunity for success at Royal Troon, and have either won or come very close in the past.

Each player has averaged under par since 2011, and has been in contention to win during this time frame.

Of the six players, only Mickelson has played The Scottish Open consistently the week before The Open, which famously worked wonders when he won both back-to-back during 2013. Fowler’s only appearance in the event came in 2015 when he took victory, but he failed to replicate that form during The Open, which possibly resulted in him skipping the event again this year.

World’s top 20 – did not play the Scottish Open

· D. Johnson, Scott, Garcia and Furyk have not played The Scottish Open since 2011, which has clearly had no negative effect on their preparations and will be factors during the back nine come Sunday afternoon.

World’s top 20 – did play the Scottish Open

· Brendan Grace has a fine record around links courses and was in contention again after two rounds last week, only to fall away to 29th position. However, this may be the extra preparation required to make sure the same mistakes are not made.

Ranked outside top 20 – played well at The Scottish Open

· Phil Mickelson knows how to win The Open, and with a finish of 21st last week he could have made the minor tweaks in his game required to be crowned “The Champion Golfer” once again.

· Russell Knox sneaked to a top 10 finish last week and will be a crowd favourite; his form has been good all season and another top 10 will be within reach.

· Cabrera Bello has been consistent all season on the European tour, and this was the case again at The Scottish Open (28th); a top 20 at The Open is a strong possibility.

Big names within the game (ranked outside top 30) – did play at The Scottish Open

· Padraig Harrington was born to play links golf and has slowly been rediscovering the form that brought him back-to-back Open Championships. He placed 21st last week, and if the wind blows for everyone, he could be there or there about.

· Graham McDowell has contended in Open Championships in the past and won the U.S. Open around a burnt-out Pebble Beach. A strong showing last week of 10th placed demonstrated that his game suits links, and he knows how to tackle them.

· Martin Kaymer has been playing good golf for a while now without being mentioned. He knows how to win majors and when his game is on, he is as good as anyone in the game. 13th position last week further demonstrates this, which puts him in a strong position to contend for a third major.