The world’s best golfers will be looking to be victorious at golf's oldest major as the 149th Open Championship begins on July 15. We have waited two years for it to return due to the Covid-19 pandemic but it's finally back, with Kent's Royal St George's the host venue. Shane Lowry has been the lucky player to hold the Claret Jug for the past two years, but who will be victorious in 2021? Get expert insight into the odds ahead of the tournament from Sophie Walker.
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Dates: July 15-18, 2021
Venue: Royal St. George's Golf Course, Sandwich, England
Defending champion: Shane Lowry
2021 Open Championship: Location and the course
The 149th edition of The Open Championship is to be held on the southeast coast of England in a small town called Sandwich. Royal St George’s was established in 1887 and has hosted the Open fourteen times. Notable winners around the Laidlaw Purves-designed course are Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle, Harry Vardon, and the most recent winner, Darren Clarke.
The 7,204-yard, par 70 course is ranked 28th in the world by Golf Digest. The links were described as “quirky” by Greg Norman when I interviewed him last week. He mentioned driving it down the centre of the first fairway and seeing the ball bounce at a 90-degree angle left into the thick rough. He made a double bogey from there.
When playing links golf, you need to take the rough with the smooth and this is especially the case around this course.
‘The Shark’ said that one key to playing well around Royal St George’s is handling the doglegs and blind tee shots (which have become fewer thanks to the redesign by McKenzie and Colt). They must have listened to Norman. You have to pick a target in the distance and commit to it.
Distance control with irons is always going to be a feature when playing links courses due to the heavy winds from the sea. There are a few greens where you hit uphill and downhill making strike and decision-making crucial.
When playing links golf, you need to take the rough with the smooth and this is especially the case around this course. When watching the coverage, look out for the bunker on the 4th hole; if a player hits into there, they may never be able to get their ball out. It is 40 feet deep and as infamous as the road hole bunker at the St Andrews Old Course.
2012 Open Championship: What are we looking for in our winner?
When I have asked my colleagues, everyone has replied “Royal St George’s is such a tough place to pick a winner”. Its randomness will frustrate many, and if Bryson de Chambeau thought he was unlucky in the US Open, wait until you see some of the bounces around here.
Darren Clarke won his Claret Jug at Royal St George’s with a -5 total, edging out Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson by three shots. When Norman won in 1993 it was also a strong leaderboard featuring major champions Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer. However, who remembers Ben Curtis? He had never played in a major and never played links golf before managing to win the tournament back in 2003.
Betting on who will be The Open champion is always difficult due to the weather being changeable. Keep an eye on the rainfall in the days before as well - too little rain and the course is brown and fast; too much rain and it is green and soft but the rough is brutal.
The tee times on the draw can also put you behind the eight ball. I played the Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale where only 11 players from one side of the draw made the cut due to the monsoon-like weather, so it’s an important factor for bettors to consider ahead of placing their bets this year.
Looking at past Opens for length statistics certainly also helps bettors, as does looking at past greens in regulation stats (there are no strokes gained stats from any Open played at Royal St George’s). A thought amongst us players is that you need to learn links golf to be successful on this course. Those players who have grown up on a sand belt will have an advantage, e.g. Tommy Fleetwood, or players who have played in many Open Championships and have the added experience to bring to this year’s tournament. Examples of this are Shane Lowry winning on his seventh attempt, and Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson, and Zach Johnson on their 11th.
Links golf gives your swing a battering due to the wind and it requires a lot of thought. You have to plot your way around and be in control, you cannot generally find your best game around one of golf's toughest tests, so I am looking into recent form to help with my decision-making.
2021 Open Championship predictions: Where is the value?
The players to consider
The Californian native hits his 6-iron closer than most of us hit our wedge. He averages 27 feet from 175 - 200 yards. This tops the stats and is vital for tour players to pick up shots on their rivals. Collin has already won a major at last year's US PGA and has been very consistent this year, with seven top-10 finishes and one win at the World Golf Championships. He leads the strokes gained category in approach to the green and is ninth in driving accuracy. His putting is suspect but looking at past winners around Royal St George’s you wouldn’t say they were boss of the moss either.
His Open record is minimal which goes against my experience discussion earlier but his stats are off the chart and in my interview with Greg Norman he picked Morikawa.
Schauffele grew up on the west coast of America and now lives in Las Vegas so he is used to the wind but not so much the cold temperatures. He did finish T2 in The Open at Carnoustie in 2018 and I can assure you it's a little bit warmer in Kent than Scotland.
Schauffele’s game is built for majors with nine top-10 finishes in seventeen tournaments and he is fourth in strokes gained total on the PGA Tour this year. With no weakness in his game, he is 24th in driving, 15th in approach, and 12th in putting. However, one of his strongest attributes, which cannot be measured, is his mind. Schauffele is happy being the underdog - the guy in the shadows behind the big names such as Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau. The angry, argumentative teenager has been replaced with a man who knows his strengths and will pounce on others’ weaknesses.
Garcia’s record is fantastic with 10 top-10 finishes in 20 starts. One of those came in the 2011 Open Championships held at Royal St George’s.
The course is quirky and you need to pick your lines from the tee. There are blind tee shots, OB posts, and doglegs which all require you to pick a target and commit to it. Sergio is one of the best drivers of the ball ever and this season he is third in strokes gained driving. Only Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm sit above him.
He is a truly experienced links golfer who I first saw play and win at the British Boys Amateur Championship in 1997 around a similar course called Saunton Golf club. I believe you either love links golf or hate it. Garcia loves it.
Lewis won the British Boys Amateur Championship at Royal St George’s in 2009, beating his good friend Eddie Pepperell in the final. It’s a new course for most of the field so I feel his experience of playing here will be valuable. He will have seen the different winds, the unlucky bounces, and will know how to manage the conditions. The English man is a rookie on the PGA Tour and has spoken about needing to learn the new venues. He won’t have this problem this week which means he will be more settled and have a firm game plan.
Lewis came 11th when The Open was last played in 2019. What is slightly annoying is that at the point of writing this, Lewis is T1 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic so his odds won’t be as good as when I started my research.
His other notable performances on the European Tour are around courses such as Gullane, Portstewart, and Dundonald Links. Fox has the form in Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland (won a Challenge Tour event). I’m just waiting for him to do the business in England.
Why is Fox so good on the links? It’s his power and ball flight control (he is built like an All Black rugby player). He features inside the top 10 for driving distances annually on tour and a good sign for his Royal St George’s adventure is that the 34-year-old is now putting better than average on tour.
I hope this insight serves you well in deciding who to pick for this year's Open Championship. Like the tournament's name, it is as open as I have ever seen it.