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Wednesday, 17 July 2019
General view of the 7th tee during a practice round   (Getty Images)
General view of the 7th tee during a practice round (Getty Images)
The European Tour has just finished two oustanding weeks of links golf at Lahinch in Ireland and The Renaissance Club in Scotland but who has the edge at Royal Portrush?

We asked leading golf statistician Justin Ray, Head of Content at 15th Club, to delve a little deeper in analysing the field and potential front runners for The 148th Open. 

Who are the links form horses coming into The Open at Royal Portrush?


Over the last ten years, there are 177 different players with ten or more rounds on links style European Tour courses. The best three players in that group – in terms of strokes gained per round – are Adam Scott (2.64), Henrik Stenson (2.59) and Sergio Garcia (2.45). Some other notable players on that list include Rickie Fowler (ranked 5th), Justin Rose (7th) and Rory McIlroy (8th).

In terms of players who over-perform on links courses compared to other setups on the Tour, notable players include Eddie Pepperell (1.23 strokes gained more per round on links), Tommy Fleetwood (0.60 better) and Tyrrell Hatton (0.57 better).

Stenson is particularly intriguing to me this week, coming off three consecutive top-ten finishes including a tie for fourth at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.

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How significant is playing competitively on links courses good preparation for The Open?


There’s certainly evidence to suggest playing in the Scottish Open can benefit players. Six of the last nine Open Champions teed it up in the Scottish the previous week. That includes Phil Mickelson in 2013, who won both events in tremendous fashion. Just two years ago, Rafa Cabrera Bello won the Scottish, then finished tied for fourth at The Open. Getting some links reps in does seem to benefit the world’s best.

It’s been 68 years since The Open was last played at Portrush but are there any indicators of players to watch based on recent Dubai Duty Free Irish Opens, including 2012 on the Dunluce Links here at Royal Portrush and other recent links editions at Baltray, Co. Down, Portstewart, Ballyliffin, Lahinch.?

You can’t ignore what Jon Rahm has done in the Irish Open in recent years, winning two of the last three. He’s a combined 52-under-par in the Irish Open the last three years, 17 strokes better than any other player. Andy Sullivan, at -35, is closest to him in that stretch.

I don’t take a great deal of stock in player performance at Portrush back in 2012. It was seven years ago, and several changes were made to the course in terms of setup for this year’s Open. It can give us a couple of trends to look at course-wise, but I think performance across all links courses will prove to be more telling as we try to predict what might happen this week.

Who of the Irish contingent looks to have the game and knowledge to tame Royal Portrush?

Rory McIlroy famously shot 61 at Royal Portrush when he was just 16 years old. There’s nothing from his performance this season to suggest he wouldn’t be in form at The Open, either – he’s already picked up two big wins in North America in 2019, the U.S. Players Championship and the Canadian Open.

Over the last five years, McIlroy has the best cumulative score to par of anyone in The Open, at 32-under. He has 16 rounds in the 60s at this championship over the last ten years, also best during that span. McIlroy currently ranks second in our 15th Club Performance Index, trailing only American Dustin Johnson.

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What sort of player has the game to come out on top over a course widely recognised as one of the finest tests of golf in the world? What attributes are we looking for?


Our data is telling us that missing the fairways this week at Royal Portrush should be a bit more penalizing than we typically see week-to-week on the European Tour. Scrambling is also going to be critical this week – making fewer mistakes is going to be a truer indicator of success than making tons of birdies. Links events tend to be less of a putting contest and more rewarding of great ball-striking, too.

The Open tends to value experience more than the other three major championships. Since 2011, the average age of an Open winner is about 36 years old. That’s five years older than the average of any of the other three majors during that span. Four Open champions since 2011 have been age 40 or older. Contending players at The Open know when to take chances, and when to play it safe.

This year The Open will be the final Major of the year for the first time. Who are the leading 2019 Major players coming into this week?

This discussion, as you might expect, begins with Mr. Brooks Koepka. Koepka has finished either first or second in each of the season’s first three majors – the first player to do that since Tiger Woods in 2005. Koepka is 30 strokes under par in the majors this year, 13 better than anyone else (Dustin Johnson is second, at -17). Going back even further, Koepka is a combined 64-under-par in the majors since the beginning of 2017 – that’s 35 strokes better than his nearest competitor in that span, Rickie Fowler.

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After Brooks (-30) and DJ (-17), the next-best scores to par this year in the major championships belong to Xander Schauffele (-16), Gary Woodland (-15), Patrick Cantlay (-14) and Rahm (-12).

 

    

Find out more about 15th Club here: https://www.15thclub.com/#home

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1LOWRY, ShaneIRL18-15
2FLEETWOOD, TommyENG18-9
3FINAU, TonyUSA18-7
T4WESTWOOD, LeeENG18-6
T4KOEPKA, BrooksUSA18-6
T6MACINTYRE, RobertSCO18-5

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