What could happen at the 150th Open Championship?
What could happen at the 150th Open Championship?
On July 14th the world’s oldest golf tournament will celebrate a special milestone at the world’s oldest golf course. The 150th edition of the Open Championship – one of golf’s four majors – will take place at Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland. This will also be the 30th time that it has been held at the historic links, making it the most popular of the competition’s many venues.
There are nine others in the current rotation but not all courses are used equally. This will be the fifth time that St Andrews has hosted the tournament since the turn of the century, having last seen action in 2015. Here we’ve broken down the data from past Open Championships at this venue to reveal clues about how the 2022 event could pan out.
How does the Open Championship work?
The format of the Open Championship has remained fairly stable over time. After the 1891 tournament – coincidentally held at St Andrews – it was expanded from 36 to the current 72 holes, which have been contested over four days since 1966.
Each of the four days sees a full round of 18 holes completed, with a cut taking place at the end of the second day. Of the 156 qualifying players, only the top 70 on the leaderboard – along with any ties – will progress to day three.
At the end of day four, the player with the lowest total number of strokes is awarded the Golf Champion Trophy (commonly known as the Claret Jug). If there is a tie for first place, then a three-hole play-off is used to determine the winner, with sudden death being played if the scores remain level.
What does it take to win the Open Championship?
In 2000, Tiger Woods set a new championship record at St Andrews of 269 strokes, but since then a score in the low 270s has been sufficient to win. Over the last 10 Open Championships held at St Andrews, the average winning score is 276, although the standard has improved from the 1980s onwards.
Regardless of their scores, what recent winners have had in common is a strong start. All of the last six winners have finished the first day with a score of 67 or lower, which four of them were able to repeat on day two. The average winning score has drifted gently upwards across the four days, with four of the last six champions hitting 70 or higher in their final round.
What does a winning scorecard look like?
We can drill down further by looking back at the scorecards of recent Open Championship winners at St Andrews to see which holes they tend to perform well – and badly – on. Beginning with Tiger Woods’ historic low score in 2000 we have 16 full rounds to compare.
Winners have tended to make a slow start, with only two birdies out of a possible 16 on each of the first three holes. The first par five, coincidentally the fifth hole, has usually gone well with more than half of rounds ending under par and nobody needing more than the regulation number of strokes. The front nine has often ended well, with 10 birdies and an eagle making the ninth hole the most successful for recent champions.
Errors tend to be made early on as players settle into a rhythm with three of the five bogeys registered in the front nine taking place on the opening two holes. Anyone making too many mistakes between the third and ninth holes may find themselves losing too much ground as the tournament unfolds.
Turning our attention to the back nine, the infamous 17th hole – referred to as the “Road Hole” and considered by many to be the toughest hole in golf – stands out immediately. In the 16 rounds played by eventual champions since the turn of the century, nobody has managed to better the par of four and half of the attempts have ended with a bogey.
Four of the last nine holes have seen regular overachievements by the ultimate winners in recent years: the 10th, 12th, 14th and 18th have all seen at least half of the last 16 rounds end in a birdie.
Which majors are the best preparation?
While half of the last 10 winners of the Open Championship had won it before, this is only true for one of the last five. John Daly’s win in 1995 – and that of Louis Oosthuizen 20 years later – came in their first ever appearance at St Andrews and with neither having even finished in the top 10 in the tournament previously.
A good performance at a previous Masters Tournament has been the best predictor of success at St Andrews, with seven of the last 10 champions having previously triumphed at Augusta and only one failing to finish in the top three. This is good news for green jacket recipients Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, who are both among the favourites this year.
By comparison, the only players to take the Claret Jug home from St Andrews after a previous US Open win in this period have been golfing legends Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. This could be a bad omen for current favourite Jon Rahm, who has only seen success in the US Open previously.