top of page

The Open Championship 2023 – Preview and Betting Tips

The last time the Open was played at Royal Liverpool in 2014, Rory McIlroy shot -17 across the four rounds to prevail by two shots from Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler and pick up his first Claret Jug, before adding a PGA championship at Valhalla later a month later. Fast forward nine years and it is McIlroy who finds himself the hot favourite, but not for reasons we might have predicted back then.



The world of golf has sailed headfirst into a storm since leaving the shores of the Wirral that year: Tiger’s comeback to win the Masters, an existential crisis over big-hitters, a Netflix series and, over the past year, a mass exodus from the PGA tour to the new Saudi-backed LIV tour. The one thing that hasn’t happened in that time? McIlroy winning a major. Ironically, of the three protagonists at Hoylake that year, only Garcia – who we once thought allergic to majors – has won one since. Yet following a switch to LIV, he has now failed to qualify for this for the first time in 25 years. His nickname is El Nino, after all.


To the consternation of those who deem it pedestrian, golf has arguably been the most dramatic sport to follow in the last decade. July 2023 has arrived and talks of a PGA-LIV merger mean that the political schism is being loosely sewn back together, for the time being at least. But things don’t look like calming down.


Royal Liverpool


Hoylake has traditionally been one of the easier layouts on the Open rota. Before McIlroy’s winning total of -17 in 2014, Woods shot -18 to triumph in the previous renewal in 2006. It is a flat track with relatively few hillsides, but this also means that there are few areas for the ball to rebound or catch a bank. Once a shot is wayward it tends to stay that way and one needs to land their ball short of the green to avoid it kicking on too far, especially in dry conditions.


The course has undergone some significant alterations in the buildup to the 151st Open, including:


  • Rerouting: the 17th and 18th for the members will play as the 1st and 2nd for this tournament.

  • ‘Little Eye’: a brand-new, formidable par-3 which will play as the 17th. 140 yards in length, the infinity green is elevated above the tee, guarded by bunkers and with a steep drop-off on all sides. It could play in many different ways depending on the weather. John Heggarty, the head pro, said that he has hit everything from a 5-iron to a gap wedge. Missing the green here will make it very difficult to make par indeed.

  • Par-5 changes: the 15th and the 18th have both been made harder. The 15th (which McIlroy eagled in 2014) has been extended to an enormous 620 yards, while on the 18th the tee has been tucked away 50 yards further back and the out of bounds area has encroached the fairway by 20 yards.

  • Par 71 (from 72): despite these changes, par for the course has dropped from 72 to 71. This is because the 10th hole has changed from a par-5 to a par-4 as part of the renovation project.


2014 played a lot softer than 2006 and, like any Open Championship, much will depend on the conditions. Yet bearing in mind the changes that have been made, as well as some of the other characteristics of the course – deep fairway bunkers, quick-drying ground and extensive out of bounds areas – the winner will surely rank up among the top for accuracy off the tee. There are 6 holes in which there is an instant shot penalty for going out of bounds, while the fairway bunkers have been adjusted for 2023 distances.


In 2006, Woods employed a conservative tee-to-green approach, only using his driver once through the whole tournament. He laid up short of bunkers off the tee, hitting 48/56 fairways in the process which ranked top across the whole field. Though 2014 played a lot softer, both McIlroy and Phil Mickelson cited the importance of their 2-iron that week. Mickelson made a particularly interesting point, stating that the bone-dry conditions in 2006 stopped some players from being able to stop the ball with a mid-iron, forcing them to take on the fairway bunkers. In 2014, it was easier to make a conservative move off the tee and set up the approach. Though there is rain forecast, the lack of irrigation systems at Hoylake mean it will never play really soft. Either way, being conservative off the tee and aggressive on the approach should pay dividends.


Recent form and Open pedigree


Recent form is perhaps the most important factor coming into any Open Championship. Almost every winner in the last decade were at (or near) the top of their game when July arrived. Even Ernie Els had finished 7th at Wentworth and 9th at the US Open before going on to triumph at Royal Lytham in 2012. A player struggling for form more generally is unlikely to find it on a links course.


Given the victories of Collin Morikawa (on debut in 2021) and Cameron Smith (who arrived at St. Andrew’s last year with Open form of MC-78-20-33), one could argue that form and talent is beginning to override Open experience. But I would argue that these are anomalies, the former in particular. In fact, look beyond Smith’s finishing positions and he was 5th after 36 holes at Portrush and 9th after 54 holes at Sandwich. Prior to 2021, 14 of the previous 17 winners had at least one top-10 in an Open Championship before winning. 8 of the last 17 had a top-3.


It is particularly enlightening to compare the 2006 and 2014 renewals at this course. Though they played hard and soft respectively, the similarity of the leaderboards is striking. Jim Furyk (4th and 4th), Sergio Garcia (5th and 2nd) and Adam Scott (8th and 5th) all finished in the top-10 on both their starts at Hoylake. Furyk hadn’t finished better than T-34 in an Open between 2008-14. Meanwhile, Angel Cabrera, who otherwise had a pretty dismal Open record, finished 7th in 2006 and T-19 in 2014. Not only were the leaderboards similar, it is worth noting the types of players which were on them. Furyk, Garcia, the Molinari brothers… a pinpoint approach game is a huge asset here. Yet this comes alongside knowledge of the course. As has been mentioned, the perfect landing area is often short of the green. Though raw talent looks better equipped than ever to triumph at the Open, I believe Royal Liverpool will continue to favour those who know how to play it.


The key contenders


Despite his 3,264-day major drought, Rory McIlroy (7/1) returns to the scene of his Open victory as favourite. It might seem like home-crowd excitement, hope that a return to familiar hunting grounds can finish a full circle and put an end to his perennial frustrations. But amid the nostalgia, the case is increasingly fuelled by evidence, the most compelling of which was presented to us just last week. He put together some outstanding golf to win the Scottish Open, crowned by a thrilling birdie-birdie finish to deny Scotsman Robert MacIntyre by just one shot. The excitement reached fever pitch as he hit an extraordinary 2-iron approach to the 18th green, prompting Andrew Coltart to say that “We’ve waited nine years, I don’t think we’ll be waiting ten”. The stars seem to be well and truly aligned but it is now in the hands of the golfing gods. He came into the Masters in similarly fine form and we all know how that week transpired. At 7/1 I’d rather watch in hope than expectation.


So dreamlike is McIlroy’s return that it is easy to forget that he shares a tenancy on cloud nine with two others – Scottie Scheffler (15/2)and Jon Rahm (12/1). The world’s top-3 have been in such outstanding form that they have put a huge distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. McIlroy has recorded ten top-10 finishes this year (including two wins), Rahm has won four tournaments this calendar year (including the Masters) and Scheffler, the world no.1, has been operating in another stratosphere altogether.


Aside from a 2nd in a slightly underrepresented Mexico Open, Rahm’s form has (ever so slightly) tailed off since his win at Augusta, most recently missing a cut at the Travellers. This doesn’t particularly surprise me – for a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, he was always going to be reluctant to take his green jacket off. More than concerns over his form, I fear that his blistering game and demeanour might need diluting at Hoylake. He likes to take on par-5s and ranks 1st on the PGA tour for total eagles and holes-per-eagle, while his aggressive and accurate approach game is reflected by impressive stats on approaches between 150-275 yards. However, this seems to depend on him finding fairways, which might not be so easy here. Indeed, while he ranks 2nd in fairway proximity, he ranks 84th for rough proximity and his driving accuracy rank of 99th doesn’t fill me with confidence. That said, if the course plays soft, he cannot be overlooked. I made the mistake of doing so back in April.


Of the three, Scheffler strikes me as the best value. No matter the course or occasion, he looks like challenging every week he plays. The numbers are scary – his worst finish since October 2022 (19 tournaments ago) is T-12 and his last seven finishes have been 3-4-3-3-3-2-5. He finished 8th at Royal St George’s in 2021 and 21st last year. The only concern might be his (relative) lack of links experience, but as Wimbledon proved last week, that doesn’t tend to deter the world’s very best. He warmed up for this nicely with a T-3 at the Scottish Open and odds of 15/2 are about right.


Last year’s champion, Cameron Smith (16/1), left St Andrew’s in July with rumours circulating over a move to LIV golf. The rumours proved to be true, with Smith defecting at the end of August. His lighter tour schedule has not dented the quality of golf, though – a 4thplace finish at the US Open followed a T-9 at the USPGA and, most recently, he won the LIV tour event in London. Irrespective of the context, Smith returns to defend the Claret Jug at the top of his game and it would be folly to write him off. Viktor Hovland (20/1) also seems to have worked out a formula for performing at the big events: his last four finishes in majors read 19-2-7-4. I was all over him for the Masters where he took a first-round lead and was three shots adrift after R3 before a final round 74 left him tied for 7th. He was then T-2 with Scheffler in the USPGA, where he shot a final round 68 only to find one better in Koepka.


Brooks Koepka (20/1) ended a (relative) drought of his own earlier this year as he won his first major since 2019 in the USPGA. Coupled with a T-2 in the Masters and a T-17 in the US Open, his arrival at the final major of the year seems ominous. His major pedigree is outstanding. Between 2017 and 2021, Koepka earned top-10 finishes in 12 out of the 17 he played in (as well as a T-11 and T-13), winning 4 titles in the process and going 2-1-2-4 in 2019. Following a blip in 2022 when transitioning to the LIV tour, he has already re-emerged as a key figure in the big tournaments and may well do so again.


Tyrell Hatton (22/1) has been ticking along nicely this season without necessarily setting the world alight and looked in fine fettle at the Scottish Open last week where he carded a second round 62 and finished T-6. He has registered eight top-10 finishes in 2023. His record in majors generally leaves a lot to be desired, particularly since the pandemic, but there have been signs that on a going week he can compete at the Open. His record in this event is quietly solid with T5, T6 and T11 finishes in 2016, 2019 and 2022 respectively, while he clearly relishes the challenges presented by links golf, having won the Alfred Dunhill twice (and finished second twice). Though mercurial, his putting is right up there with the best on tour and if the rest of his game is firing he could be in contention come Sunday. My only concern would be whether he has the temperament to win this.


Former champions Jordan Spieth (30/1) and Colin Morikawa (30/1) also find themselves near the top of the betting, though perhaps at a higher price than we might be accustomed to. Spieth’s Open record is impeccable, having never missed a cut and with 4 top-10s in his last 5 appearances. His form this year has been sporadic, though, and while he may contend I don’t see him winning. Though he lost to Fowler in a playoff two weeks ago, Morikawa is without a win in 18 months and it is puzzling that he chose to miss the Scottish Open last week, which he cited as instrumental in his 2021 preparation. His putter was on fire that week and with otherwise poor links form, I think he could struggle this week.


Selections


There is depth at the top of the market and it would hardly be a surprise if the winner came from those already mentioned. Scheffler, Hovland and Hatton appeal but at the prices I am siding with the following:


Rickie Fowler 22/1

Having been lost for so long, Fowler is another player who looks to be coming full circle as we return to Hoylake, where he was 2nd in 2014. He won the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the beginning of the month to end a 1,610-day drought, during which he finished 125th in the 2022 FedEx Cup and almost lost his tour card. He expressed his relief at being back in the winner’s circle: “I’m obviously going to soak this one in and celebrate a bit… it’s been a long road”. It hasn’t come out of nowhere though. Since dropping to outside the world’s top-150 in 2022 (the first time since his rookie season), he has enjoyed a resurgent 2023 with eight top-10s. climbing to world no. 23 in the process. He has previously expressed his love for links golf and his experience of the course will be invaluable. It will be an extraordinary feat to win here after what he’s been through but amid McIlroy-mania he comes here slightly under the radar, which I think will suit him. He ranks 8th for strokes-gained tee-to-green and 7th for approach.


Tommy Fleetwood 25/1

The local man from the Wirral would be a popular winner of this and finds himself shorter than he usually would be. He was the subject of much media coverage in 2017 when the championship was held at Royal Birkdale, a course just 3 miles from the place of his birth and where he used to sneak onto the 5th hole to hit shots during the members’ happy hour. Hoylake is not quite as close to home, which might play in his favour. Indeed, Fleetwood explained the intensity of being the poster boy in 2017 by saying “I got the chills each time I walked onto the 1st tee… I felt really emotional”. Despite arriving in a very strong vein of form, the intoxication may have got to him as he finished T-27. The spotlight will be dimmer this year, but still bright enough to spark him. His Open record is solid (2nd in 2019 and T-4 in 2022) and, coming off the back of a 2nd in the Canadian Open T-5 in the US Open and T-6 in the Scottish Open, I think he could have a massive week. His caddie, Ian Finnis, knows this course extremely well.


Xander Schauffele 28/1

Schauffele is a master at making the weekend wherever he plays: he ranks top on the PGA tour for consecutive cuts and his last missed cut was at the 2022 Masters. He is yet to win on tour this year but has quietly played himself into form with 5 top-10s in his last 9 tournaments, including an opening round 62 at the US Open. I like the fact that he went close at Carnoustie in 2018, a tournament which was played on very dry, hard ground after a heatwave in Scotland. Among those at the top of the leaderboard were the likes of Molinari, Rose, Kisner and Kuchar, none of whom are long off the tee but all of whom are deadly accurate. Xander seems to have the restraint needed in his game to succeed here. He went into the final round in a three-way lead but found trouble at the 5th, which led to a series of errors and took the wind out his sails. He still managed to finish tied for 2nd and, with a few more years under his belt and given a bit more luck, he certainly has what it takes to go one better.


Dustin Johnson 30/1

DJ has had an inconsistent year and as a result you can get him at 30s, which seems rather big for a player who always seems to contend at the Open and is hitting form at the right time. Despite a slow start to the season, he struck the ball beautifully at LACC, ranking 5th in strokes-gained tee-to-green, while his LIV performances have also improved with a win at Tulsa and top-10s at Valderrama and Centurion. He seems to like Hoylake, too. Like Lowry, he shot the course record of 65 here in 2014 when he was T-12. He was inside the top-5 before the final two holes that year and with the course likely to play similarly this week he’ll be able to employ similar tactics.


Shane Lowry 33/1

Even if his numbers this season aren’t spectacular, the 2019 champion is trending in the right direction. Though he hasn’t broken the top-10 since the Honda Classic in February, 5 of his last 6 appearances have been top-20s and he looks to be approaching the crest of a wave after changing caddie early in the season. At the Travellers he mentioned how his game is where he wants it to be and how he hoped it would fall into place ‘at the right time’. There’s no better time than here. There are more reasons to back Lowry. Firstly, he is one of the best links golfers around, with wins in the Open and the Irish Open, as well as consistently strong performances in the Scottish Open and Alfred Dunhill. Last week he went into the final round of the Scottish Open right in contention before bogeying the first two on the way to 73. Secondly, Hoylake is the scene of his first ever top-10 in a major (despite a bad draw and a second round 75) and he shares the course record (65). Finally – and most importantly – his short game last week was excellent. If he can find his historically strong tee-to-green game, he could well win a second Open championship.


Justin Rose 50/1

Despite his age, Rose has been playing some great golf of late. He has broken back into the top-30 this season for the first time since 2020, with a win at Pebble Beach and a string of top-10 finishes. Such form is simply a bonus for a man who boasts a highly consistent record in the majors. The reason I am siding with him here, though, is because I think his game nowadays is perfectly suited to Hoylake. He is not the longest hitter, ranking 173rd on the PGA tour for driving distance. But as we’ve said, that might be a blessing in disguise here and the rest of his game puts him among the very best. He ranks 29th for driving accuracy percentage and can lay up short of the fairway bunkers if he chooses. From there, Rose boasts one of the finest approach games around, ranking 17th for strokes-gained approach alongside typically solid numbers for scrambling and putting. Oh, and if he does happen to find the bunkers, he ranks 1st on the whole tour for sand save percentage. The Open – and this course in particular – presents an opportunity to those who lack distance off the tee. Like Schauffele, Rose’s best Open finish came at Carnoustie in 2018. He finished 23rd at this venue in 2014 and, with age and guile, has all the weapons needed to score even better.


Suggested bets:


Rickie Fowler 22/1

2pts each way (1-12), Betway


Shane Lowry 33/1

2pts each way (1-12), Betway


Tommy Fleetwood 25/1

1.5pt each way (1-8), Boylesports


Dustin Johnson 30/1

1pt each way (1-8), Bet365


Xander Schauffele 28/1

1pt each way (1-8), Boylesports


Justin Rose 50/1

0.5pt each way (1-8), Bet365


All 1/5 place terms. Prices correct as of 18th July.

60 views

Recent Posts

See All

Share:

5Sporting Agenda Social Share buttons.pn
3Sporting Agenda Social Share buttons.pn
4Sporting Agenda Social Share buttons.pn
2Sporting Agenda Social Share buttons.pn
1Sporting Agenda Social Share buttons.pn
Copied!
bottom of page