Monday 17 December 2018

10 outside bets to keep your eye on at Carnoustie this week

Branden Grace's game is suited to links golf
Branden Grace's game is suited to links golf

Daniel Zeqiri

Finding an Open Championship winner can be like trying to bottle lightning, with 156 of the best players in the world exposed to the vagaries and variables of links golf.

All eyes will be on Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and of course Tiger Woods, but what of those less heralded names dreaming of being named Champion Golfer of the Year come Sunday?

Nine of the last 11 major championships have produced first-time major winners, and the firm conditions at Carnoustie could open the tournament up to different styles of player.

Ben Curtis at Royal St Georges in 2003 and Todd Hamilton in at Royal Troon in 2004 were notable upsets, but Stewart Cink, Darren Clarke and Zach Johnson are other recent winners at big prices.

Some bookmakers are offering 10 places on each-way bets this week, and here are 10 players it could pay to keep an eye on.

Alex Noren (Sweden)

Can a player with six European Tour victories since the start of 2016 - more than anyone on tour - really be classed as an outsider? Perhaps not, but if you are a casual golf fan who only tunes in to watch the Open and the Ryder Cup, the name Alex Noren could well be unfamiliar.

The Swede keeps a low profile but is a relentlessly consistent ball-striker who hits all-but every shot with a controlled fade. Noren plays well on difficult courses, finishing third at the BMW Championship at Wentworth and winning last month at the French Open at Le Golf National. The Versailles course is not strictly a links layout, but is protected by some of the same features: exposure to wind, knee-high rough and running fairways.

Noren's biggest problem at Carnoustie might be avoiding a wrist injury when hitting off the hardened, parched turf. He has an exceptionally steep angle of attack, and his wedge shots sometimes appear to remove a cubic foot of sod.

Odds: 25/1

Tyrell Hatton (England)

The first of a few Englishman to feature in this list, Hatton is a two-time winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links of which one round is played at Carnoustie. Links golf in chilly late October is an entirely different proposition, however Hatton's T-6 finish at the US Open allays any fears about adapting to the firm conditions. Finished fifth in his last Open appearance in 2016. Wears his heart on his sleeve, and is the type of imaginative feel player who could thrive.

Odds: 30/1

Branden Grace (South Africa)

Grace shot the first 62 in men's major championship history in the third-round of last year's Open at Birkdale, and his low, penetrating ball-fight suits seaside golf. His maiden victory in America came at the Heritage at Hilton Head Island on the South Carolina coast, and the South African had a share of 10th after 54 holes at the fiendishly difficult Shinnecock Hills - the Long Island classic that hosted this year's US Open.

Odds: 35/1

Marc Leishman (Australia)

Paired with McIlroy in the first two rounds, Leishman has three top-six finishes in the last four Open appearances and lost a three-way play-off in 2015 at St Andrews. It has been 25 years since an Australian won the Open - when Greg Norman stormed to victory at Royal St Georges.

The post-round routine of the modern Tour player tends to involve Yoga mats and Acai berries - but Leishman promises to stick to his regime of a few beers ('nothing too excessive') and fish and chip dinners.

Odds: 45/1

Tony Finau (USA)

The big-hitting American has come up big in both majors this year with a T-10 finish at the Masters and a fifth at the US Open. Hit the headlines at Augusta when he appeared to dislocate his ankle celebrating a hole-in-one in the par-three tournament before popping it back in himself. A wildcard choice given that length off the tee will not be an issue for any player at Carnoustie, but capable of reeling off birdies if he finds a hot streak.

Odds: 66/1

Ian Poulter (England)

Poulter has been rejuvenated in 2018, winning his first strokeplay event on American soil at the Houston Open to qualify for the Masters in dramatic fashion. Has a second and a third to his name at the Open, and has not missed a cut on the European Tour since January. Shot four rounds in the 60s at the Scottish Open, without threatening to win. A prominent member at Gullane publicly calling him an 'a---hole' should provide some motivation.

Odds: 80/1

Xander Schauffele (USA)

The promising 24-year-old blows hot and cold: three top-sixes were interspersed by three missed cuts earlier in the summer, but two of those fine finishes came at the Players Championship and the US Open. Lack of links experience is a worry on his maiden Open appearance - there is probably better value elsewhere.

Odds: 90/1

Chris Wood (England)

The tall Bristolian finished fifth and tied-third in his first two Open appearances in 2008 and 2009, but struggled to recreate that form in future championships. Wood did record a commendable T-14 finish at Royal Birkdale last year however, and although he missed the cut at the Scottish Open his form this season has been solid.

Runner-up at the French Open was the standout result, and the conditions at Carnoustie are similarly bouncy to those at Birkdale 10 years ago. A big price for a player with fine, though distant, links pedigree.

Odds: 100/1

Matthew Southgate (England)

Southgate made a run through the field in the final round of last year's Open, shooting rounds of 67 and 65 on the weekend, and finished T-12 in 2016 at Troon. Would be quite the story: Southgate survived testicular cancer in 2015, undergoing surgery during the Open he was due to play in at St Andrews. Battled back to regain his tour card through Q-school and qualified for the last two Opens via the 36-hole final qualifying event.

Odds: 100/1

Alexander Bjork (Sweden)

Has recored three consecutive top-20 finishes at the French, Irish and Scottish Open - three of the European tours most prestigious events and all part of the Rolex Series. Notably, the Irish and Scottish are played on links courses as players warm-up for the third major of the year. Won the Volvo China Open and was tipped for Ryder Cup contention by Sam Torrance earlier this year.

Odds: 150/1

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