Someone, somewhere, was having a good laugh when the draw pitted Brooks Koepka alongside Patrick Cantlay and Hideki Matsuyama.
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Whilst Deki was harshly penalised for slow play at the 2013 Open Championship, there was no love lost between the five-time major champion and Cantlay at this year’s Masters, the recent PGA champion laying into his rival for the length of time taken during the final round.
Playing in the final group with Jon Rahm, and just behind Cantlay and Viktor Hovland, Koepka was continually frustrated with having to wait at almost every hole, saying afterwards, “Yeah, the group in front of us was brutally slow. Jon went to the bathroom like seven times during the round, and we were still waiting.”
Twitter has had much fun with this today, and whilst fascinating, it doesn’t present the best betting opportunity.
I’m interested in a trio of three-balls, both from the early wave. The secret to the group betting is to identify the weak link and make it a match-up, so here goes.
Louis Oosthuizen to win his three-ball
As suggested on the LostForeWords podcast, recent amateur champion Christo Lamprecht is one to monitor closely. The Georgia Tech Senior is a 6-foot 8-inch powerhouse of a man, and used every inch to overcome both his final opponent and the Hillside course just a month ago.
Fascinated by his approach to the bigger stage, he’s a player to keep an eye on when tackling the par-5s this week, even if next year’s US Open at Pinehurst is a better option.
Despite his excellence, the young South African has an enormous task to beat two veterans in Joost Luiten and Louis Oosthuizen, and it’s the latter that makes the most appeal.
Luiten is playing well enough, notching up a handful of fast starts in 2023, matching the amount of early event top-10s from the previous season. However, his record at The Open reads a best of 12th place in eight starts, significantly higher than his next best of 72nd and way ahead of his first round here in 2014 – 81! Indeed, his average finish after the first round is 101st.
The wily Oosthuizen is, of course, a former champion. A win (St. Andrews, 2010) sits alongside a runner-up to give him a huge event advantage, whilst those thinking he is ‘done’ need only look at his bronze medal finish two years ago, when conditions look to be very similar to that expected in the early part of this week.
Current form is hard to gauge given he has played only one non-LIV event in his last 10 starts and, whilst his withdrawal from the Masters is a negative, he has ploughed his trade on the rebel tour, finishing in the top six in two of his last three outings.
That may be good enough in this three-ball, particularly as the 40-year-old has a decent record on the first day of his Open career.
19th after the opening round here in 2019 (70), he has since been 8th in 2015, 20th in 2019, led the field for two rounds in 2021 and was 35th last season at favoured St. Andrews.
The duo have met six times over the years, Oosthuizen leading 4-2, winning both times they have met at the higher level, the WGC Mexico.
Should the much younger Lambrecht need the experience, I’d have Louis slightly odds-on to beat a player with some worrying minus figures on his short-game card.
Ryan Fox to win his three-ball
An hour earlier, Ryan Fox is taken to beat Lucas Herbert and Benny An.
The links specialist has recorded placings of 35th, third and 19th after the first round of the last three Opens, shooting 71 and 68 twice. That should be plenty enough for backers, particularly after a recent run of solid form.
The Kiwi arrives here off five consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour that includes opening rounds of 70 at Augusta, 68 at Oak Hill and 68 at the LACC, the latter events seeing Herbert lose any 18-hole match-up.
Last week’s 12th place after a four-week break is an excellent warm-up to the main event and, as well as beating his Southern Hemisphere rival by two shots after the first round, also 5-2 in career head-to-heads.
That leaves the revived South Korean as the main danger and, after last weekend’s top three, he will also arrive in a confident mood.
Fans will point to his opening 67 at Royal St. George’s, but that was by some way his best-ever opening to this major, averaging a post-first-round position of 70th, some 20 places behind the selection.
Equally, backers might be buoyed by last week’s first-round 61 in Scotland. hard to argue against, but this is a step up, and I can’t help continuing to worry about his poor putting, a factor showing vastly more negative numbers than his rival.
With those concerns and the fact he has not taken part in a major since 2021, Fox should be able to make it 4-0 in head-to-heads.
Taylor Moore to win his three-ball
With an out-of-form and unfit John Daly easy to rule out in the 14.04 group, we are left with Taylor Moore and Danny Willett to fight out the best of the opening 18 holes and it could be argued that the youngest of the trio should be shorter than even money.
It’s a long way down from the 2016 Masters, but the Englishman has struggled badly since throwing away the Fortinet Championship in September last year.
Since then, Willett has played 20 events, missed seven cuts, withdrawn twice, and has a recent best of two mid-50 finishes in the middle of a run of weekends off. It isn’t good.
Okay, he did find something from somewhere when winning the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2021, but at least that came not too long after an 11th at The Belfry, a tournament in his name.
There is simply nothing there. His figures are horrendous. He has little idea where the driver is going and has recorded a series of negative figures for tee-to-green in all events since Augusta.
We shouldn’t need that much to get with the 29-year-old Texan and although his early-season prowess has cooled down, even the poor results are just a fraction out.
Two full seasons on the PGA Tour have seen the former Canadian and Korn Ferry Tour winner post three top-10 finishes and one victory, a come-from-behind win at the Valspar. The places include front page finishes at the Wyndham, Heritage, Farmers and RSM, easily beating his two group-mates on form.
Form since the PGA Championship hasn’t been ideal, but none of the four missed-cuts read badly – just one score of over 72 from eight rounds – and he reminded us of his prowess in Detroit, where a halfway lead resulted in a fourth place finish.
He’s met Willett twice in the past couple of seasons, beating him by two at the 2022 Rocket Mortgage and then by five shots at Congaree. One has gone even more backwards since.
Long enough off the tee to club down on the more strategic holes, he has performed well in his first year of majors. Top-40 at Sawgrass and at the PGA are encouraging signs and he may not even need to do that to beat a pair of rivals that look completely gone at the game.
I’m expecting the top five places to be filled with players from the top 20 of the market, but equally there are always big prices to be had away from the pressures of the trophy.
Jordan Smith top-20 finish
Jordan Smith goes off at around 20/1 for a standard European event, but we can get 14/1 for a top-10 and 5/1 for a top-20, the latter looking real value.
The 30-year-old is a past master in the wind, dominating the short Algarve/Jamega Tour in its day and confirming his love for the region with a win at the Portugal Masters in 2022.
That second victory came five years after his maiden win at Green Eagle, an enormous course that asks for strong overall driving, a factor he continues with today.
Currently in the top-10 for overall performance since May, the two-time desert winner ranks 12th for total driving, eighth for ball-striking, first for greens-in-regulation and 11th in par-5 performance.
Translate that into modern day numbers and we find him continuing to pepper the top 15 for all stats relevant to tee-to-green, an impressive show of consistency throughout 2023.
Jordan hasn’t shown his best in majors since an opening top-10 at the 2017 PGA at Quail Hollow, but a closing 20th at this year’s US Open came courtesy of a 17th rank for tee-to-green, showing just how elite his ball-striking has become.
In an event that will reward strong driving and green-finding, Jordan can come on again for last week’s 12th in Scotland and land the main bet.
Russell Henley top-20 finish
Back up the Englishman with a similar type in Russell Henley, a player that most would find hard to believe has already posted a 4th and 14th in two of the three majors this year.
Plenty is written about Open champions being in form as they arrive on site, and the former Bulldog can use all his experience in the wind to back up a recent run that includes top-20 finishes at The Players, Heritage, Charles Schwab, Memorial and Travelers. All that without his top-five at Augusta and 14th at the LACC.
Four wins on tour comprise victories at the Sony, Honda, Houston and in Mexico – all wind-affected – while he has some sneaky back-form in the majors.
Never one to be considered capable of winning one of these, he was low amateur on his US Open debut at Pebble Beach, and has 11 lifetime top-25 finishes across the four events.
The 34-year-old leads the PGA Tour stats for driving accuracy, is 34th for greens, fifth for proximity, and is an excellent scrambler from the rough.
I’ll trust the run to keep going.