The oldest and most iconic golf major returns to Sandwich, Kent in July, as the 149th Open Championship rolls into Royal St. George’s Golf Club. It’s the first time that this course has staged the Open in a decade, when lovable Northern Irishman Darren Clarke scooped a life-changing victory on the Kentish south coast by six clear shots.
As one of the fairer links courses in the UK, the list of potential winners of the 2021 Open Championship is longer than it would be at other links courses. However, it’s still a stiff examination of any player’s ball-striking and course management. Royal St. George’s boasts a magnificent relationship with the Open Championship. It’s been a winning course for many multiple major winners, with the likes of Tony Jacklin, Gary Player, Sandy Lyle and Greg Norman all prevailing here through the years.
Royal St. George’s: A venue for leftfield champions of late
However, the last two Open Championships at Royal St. George’s have resulted in shock results, with two leftfield winners. In the 2003 Open, 26-year-old Ben Curtis was largely unfancied by many tipsters and pundits alike. The American only qualified for the event based on finishing 13th at the Western Open a fortnight beforehand, which was the best position in his professional career to date. Yet Curtis would go on to create a piece of Open history, winning the first major he’d ever played in.
It was a slightly different yet equally remarkable story when the Open rolled into Royal St. George’s again in 2011. Likeable Northern Irishman Darren Clarke was a 42-year-old with many years of experience on the professional tour. The closest he had come to winning a major championship prior to 2011 was a ninth-placed finish at the PGA Championship in 2000.
It’s all about Greens In Regulation here
It’s clear that winners at Royal St. George’s need to be hitting Greens In Regulation (GIR) with consummate ease. The backbone of Darren Clarke’s success in 2011 was founded upon hitting those greens and keeping his short game simple. Clarke was the second-best player in GIR figures. His American competitors, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, were third and sixth respectively in the GIR rankings, which eventually saw them fall away in the crucial fourth round.
Johnson will no doubt be on the minds of many golf bettors and tipsters in the coming months, as the world number-one returns to Sandwich to try and crack Royal St. George’s once and for all. Johnson’s consistency has certainly improved in the last decade. He won both the US Open and Masters in 2016 and 2020 respectively. Aged 36, Johnson is now in the prime of his career. It’s no surprise to see him the 10/1 outright pre-tournament favourite with 888sport, whose online casino is also offering ways to boost your bankroll with £88 in free money upon sign-up.
Johnson came within a whisker of pipping Darren Clarke in 2011. Had it not been for his double-bogey on the 14th Johnson could already have an Open Championship under his belt. Another steady and consistent links player to consider is Lee Westwood, who has been in scintillating form in recent months. The Englishman is entering the back end of his career on the European and PGA circuits at the age of 47, but finished second in the recent Players Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational to prove there is still plenty of life in the old dog yet.
With very few links tournaments to use as a basis for recent form, it’s possible to look overseas at some of the events with links-style courses. Both the Dubai Desert Classic and the Qatar Masters are both windswept events that require inch-perfect precision off the tee and fairways. World number 34 Christiaan Bezuidenhout is one to consider. He finished second in both events and has featured just once in the Open Championship before at Portrush in 2019.
As the first English golf course to stage the Open Championship back in 1894, Royal St. George’s carries significant prestige in these parts. With all 18 holes facing in different directions, the background and conditions of every hole is ever-changing with the weather and wind. Consistency rather than yardage is the order of the day.