The players lucky enough to feature at the historic Royal St. Georges, the first-ever venue of the famous Open Championship, have one final chance to bag themselves a major in 2021. Many have tried already this season, but few have fulfilled their dreams of etching their name into the history of the sport.
Who will reign victorious at what is likely to be a windswept links course on England’s Kent coast?
While last week marked an opportunity for some of those players outside of the highest echelons of elite golf to claim a title at the John Deere Classic, this week will be as tough as it gets. Not only is Royal St. Georges a fearsome monster that tests every facet of a players game, particularly their ability to manipulate the ball according to conditions, but there’s no shortage of high-end talent in the field this week, as all the best players in the world have flocked to the small coastal town of Sandwich in south-east England.
What’s needed at Royal St. George’s?
Last week in Illinois, attacking, aggressive play was the order of all four days, but that’s not going to be the case this week.
We’re talking about a links course in its truest sense. On an open, expansive coastal track, players will find little shelter from the breeze zipping in off the English Channel, while the rough areas are vast and unforgiving, as are the sand traps, some of which would strike fear into the heart of even the hardiest, most seasoned pros. To use John Daly’s phrase, those who simply “grip it and rip it” will be in for a frustrating few days.
Scrambling and short games are going to be imperative at St. George’s. If you can scramble and get up and down, then you’ve got a chance of taming the beast, though that’s not all that’s needed to do well. When the Open was last hosted at this venue, many players noted the importance of opting for a steady approach and being able to play with control.
Strokes gained: tee-to-green is very much in play this week, perhaps even more so than normal, as links course demands accuracy and the ability to manipulate the ball between tee and green. Ball striking will also be more important than usual, as we’re looking at a tough course, and it’s no secret that the tougher the course, the more important ball-striking is.
The truest ball strikers in the game, those who generally rank well when it comes to strokes gained: ball-striking, should find themselves with a slight advantage, though they will of course have to excel in other areas too.
Time to put what we know about the course into action and find some viable bets. Below are a handful of players that stand out as being worthy of sportsbook support.
Xander Schauffele +2000
Xander is yet to win a major, but make no mistake about it, he’s a major player. The 27-year-old comes into this tournament as the third favorite behind recent US Open winner Jon Rahm and the man who not that long ago was churning major wins out all over the place, Brooks Koepka. And there’s good reason for this, as Schauffele is very much a player for the big occasion. He’s put together a run of nine top-ten finished in majors since 2017, finishing second at this tournament back in 2018.
We saw in Scotland last week, where he finished in a tie for tenth at -14, that Xander relishes a links test, while his putting, which is excellent, makes him a real standout candidate. It’s also extremely difficult to ignore someone who is not only currently the third-best player on the PGA Tour when it comes to strokes gained: total, but also the third-best in terms of scoring average.
Putting was key when the Open Championship was last held here, and it will be again. Therefore, it’s just as well that Xander ranks seventh on the PGA Tour for strokes gained putting, while the fact that he sits as the third-best PGA Tour player in this line-up for sand saves is another big plus. Staying out of the bunkers all week is not something that is likely to happen for many this week, and we’re not just talking about run-of-the-mill sand traps either, so someone who knows all about saving strokes from the sand should have an edge.
Plenty of players will be popular in the betting this week, but if you’re looking for a man who loves to get himself up there in the big tournaments, then look no further than Xander, who really shouldn’t be without a major victory for too much longer. At odds of +2000 bet on Schauffele to break his duck at Royal St. George’s this week.
Top 20 Finish
Christian Bezuidenhout +275
Three-time European Tour winner Christian Bezuidenhout is another player for whom a major victory has proved elusive so far, but that’s not to say that his time won’t come. After all, it’s still early days and there have been plenty of promising signs. It’s been a strong campaign for the South African, who for a long time played superbly at the incredibly difficult and extremely windy Kiawah Island in the PGA Championship earlier in the season, before eventually finishing T30. That form bodes well ahead of this event, as do his efforts when finishing -8 at the Scottish Open last week.
The 27-year-old hasn’t exactly made a habit of really challenging for victory, though he’s delivered a steady performance time and time again, finishing inside the top 40 in all but two of 13 events this season, and he’s often been just one or two shots away from a top 10/top 20 finish.
What’s also likable about the South African is the fact that he ranks very highly among European Tour players in this field when it comes to scrambling. On a tough track like Royal St. George’s, scrambling will be critical, and man can Bezuidenhout, who is the fifth-best European Tour scrambler in this field, scramble. In addition, he ranks second for sand saves and tenth for strokes gained: tee-to-green.
All in all, Christian has laid solid foundations over the last couple of seasons, making the cut in each of his last five majors, finishing inside the top 40 in three of those, including his last two. After making steady progress, the steady South African is fancied to play himself into the top 20 this week and punters can profit by betting on him to do just that.