2021 British Open Preview: Which Players Have the Right Game to Win at Royal St. George’s?

2021 British Open Preview: Which Players Have the Right Game to Win at Royal St. George’s? article feature image

PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Thomas

It has been two years since the last time an Open Championship has been played. That finally changes this week as the best players in the world travel to Royal St. George's in Sandwich, Kent, England to play in the 149th edition of the tournament.

Royal St. George's has hosted The Open Championship 14 times to date, with the most recent coming in 2011. The course also hosted to 1894 Open Championship and became the first course outside of Scotland to do so. The 140th Open Championship was won by Darren Clarke (-5) who finished three strokes ahead of Dustin Johnson to claim the Claret Jug.

Royal St. George's is a par 70 measuring 7,204 yards, making it the shortest course in a major championship this season. The course is located on the coast and is "links-like" with both cross and greenside bunkering offering protection for the holes.

There are 156 players in the field this week, with the top 70 and ties making it to the weekend. As expected, almost all of the world's top players will be in attendance seeking a highly coveted Claret Jug.

Past Winners at The Open Championship

  • 2019: Shane Lowry (-15)
  • 2018: Francesco Molinari (-8)
  • 2017: Jordan Spieth (-12)
  • 2016: Henrik Stenson (-20)
  • 2015: Zach Johnson (-15)
  • 2014: Rory McIlroy (-17)
  • 2013: Phil Mickelson (-3)
  • 2012: Ernie Els (-7)
  • 2011: Darren Clarke (-5)
  • 2010: Louis Oosthuizen (-16)

6 Key Stats For Royal St. George's

Let's take a look at the six most important metrics at Royal St. George's and determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds. This should give us a good starting point for building out a betting card.

Strokes Gained: Approach

The most important statistic this week is Strokes Gained: Approach. Royal St. George's is a relatively short and strategic course, and golfers with all types of skillsets should be in play. The one statistic that golfer's cannot compete without this week is strong approach play. With deep greenside bunkering and difficult green complexes, a slight misfire on approach can cause significant problems.

Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:

  1. Collin Morikawa (+41.6)(+3500)
  2. Emiliano Grillo (+27.8) (+20000)
  3. Daniel Berger (+26.0) (+6600)
  4. Paul Casey (+25.9) (+4500)
  5. Rory McIlroy (+24.5)(+1800)
Harry How/Getty Images. Pictured: Bryson DeChambeau.

Strokes Gained: Off the Tee

While Royal St. George's isn't the longest course, off the tee will still be very important this week. Distance will be an advantage due to the strategically placed fairway bunkers that require length to carry. Accuracy will also be at a premium as spraying tee shots will have dire consequences.

At many links courses, a wild tee shot may result in being in another fairway. That won't be the case this week, as deep and penal rough should stop the ball before it gets to the next fairway.

Total Strokes Gained: Off the Tee in past 24 rounds:

  1. Bryson DeChambeau (+26.8) (+3300)
  2. Jon Rahm (+20.5) (+800)
  3. Matt Fitzpatrick (+19.6) (+4000)
  4. Dustin Johnson (+19.5) (+2000)
  5. Brooks Koepka (+18.9) (+1800)

Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking 

Royal St. George's is most definitely a ball-striker's course. Usually, the more difficult an event plays, the more emphasis on ball-striking; and I expect this event to be quite difficult.

In the 14 Open Championships at the course, all the winners beside one (Greg Norman 1993; -13) have finished with a winning score of -5 or worse.

Total Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking in past 24 rounds:

  1. Collin Morikawa (+56.7) (+3500)
  2. Brooks Koepka (+40.4)(+1800)
  3. Viktor Hovland (+34.6) (+3000)
  4. Sergio Garcia (+34.4) (+6600)
  5. Daniel Berger (+34.2) (+6600)

Strokes Gained: Around the Green

Around the green play is one of the most important factors of an Open Championship. Links-style golf requires golfers to be creative with their short game and be able to get up and down from unusual positions.

Strokes Gained: Around the Green in past 24 rounds:

  1. Brian Harman (+17.6) (+12500)
  2. Danny Willett (+15.4) (+16000)
  3. Talor Gooch (+14.9) (+35000)
  4. Tony Finau (+14.4) (+5000)
  5. Branden Grace (+14.1) (+6600)
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Sand Saves: Gained

The pot bunkers at Royal St. George's are flat out horrifying. With some of the deepest bunkers golfers will ever play (Hole No. 4 immediately comes to mind), a golfers fate may be decided with one bad shot.

Sand Saves: Gained in past 24 rounds:

  1. Matt Kuchar (+9.1) (+17500)
  2. Cameron Smith (+8.3) (+6600)
  3. Brian Harman (+8.1) (+12500)
  4. Webb Simpson (+7.0) (+7700)
  5. Xander Schauffele (+6.2) (+1800)
Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images. Pictured: Webb Simpson

Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (Windy Conditions)

Wind is always going to be a factor when playing in an Open Championship. Golfers will need to control distance and trajectory while battling a difficult coastal wind.

Total Strokes Tee to Green: Windy Conditions in past 24 rounds:

  1. Jon Rahm (+60.1) (+800)
  2. Dustin Johnson(+53.5) (+2000)
  3. Corey Conners (+50.0) (+12500)
  4. Emiliano Grillo (+49.9) (+20000)
  5. Collin Morikawa (+47.3) (+3500)

Statistical Model

Below, I've reported overall model rankings using a combination of the six key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: APP (24%); SG: OTT (20%);SG: Ball Striking (18%); SG: T2G Windy Conditions (16%) ; SG: ARG (11%)and Sand Saves: Gained (11%).

  1. Justin Thomas (+1800)
  2. Brooks Koepka (+1800)
  3. Jon Rahm (+800)
  4. Paul Casey (+4500)
  5. Jordan Spieth (+1800)
  6. Collin Morikawa (+3500)
  7. Patrick Cantlay (+3500)
  8. Keegan Bradley (+16000)
  9. Viktor Hovland (+3000)
  10. Daniel Berger (+6600)
  11. Patrick Reed (+4000)
  12. Abraham Ancer (+7500)
  13. Corey Conners (+12500)
  14. Rory McIlroy (+1800)
  15. Xander Schauffele (+1800)
  16. Tyrrell Hatton (+3300)
  17. Sergio Garcia (+6600)
  18. Jason Kokrak (+10000)
  19. Shane Lowry (+4000)
  20. Stewart Cink (+14000)

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