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Open Championship betting preview: Shane can make it two

Open Championship betting preview: Shane can make it two

Matt Cooper is at Royal Liverpool GC for the final major championship of 2023

THE Claret Jug quest of Rory McIlroy – who as a small boy chipped golf balls into his mother’s washing machine on Northern Irish television – has always had a Roald Dahl-like flavour to it. There are trials and challenges, heroes and villains, ordeals and goals, comedy and tragedy (of a golfing kind, at least).

Take how he made his Open entrance at Carnoustie in 2007 as an 18-year-old, carding a 68 to end the first round in third place, and on Sunday he was standing behind the final green, watching Sergio Garcia’s own stymied pursuit of Open glory.

Three years later he thrashed a brilliant 63, the lowest-ever opening round in the championship’s history, to open up a two-shot lead over the field in St Andrews. By the end of the week he had maintained an oft-quoted record of never having carded a round in the 70s on the Old Course but unfortunately not quite as planned: his closing trio of scores (80-69-68) left him in third.

From Saturday in 2011 to Saturday in 2013 he failed to break 73 in seven of his eight tournament laps, a stuttering prelude to a stunning victory at Royal Liverpool in 2014 that almost no-one could have predicted. Equally baffling is that within weeks he had added a fourth major championship win to his CV and yet he has been stuck on that tally ever since.

His defence never happened (he injured himself playing five-a-side football with friends) and when the tournament returned to his homeland, to Royal Portrush in 2019, he contrived to hit his opening tee shot out of bounds and not even a sensational second round of 65 could get him a weekend tee time.

Last year he cruised around the Old Course in the third round to grab a share of the lead but was denied by the remarkable putting of Cameron Smith. In victory, great shots are magnified, in defeat they are often forgotten – one such example is McIlroy’s approach to the 17th green in the final round.

One of the toughest tests in golf, undertaken with the weight of enormous pressure upon his shoulders, the blow was clean, straight and quite simply sensational, finding the heart of a green very few found all day, but no birdie followed. Not for the first time he had made the impossible look simple and the simple look impossible.

And now he returns to Royal Liverpool, scene of that one Open triumph, fuelled by a fine victory in last week’s Scottish Open. How will this tale end? Is he nearing the prize? Or is his fate written by a malign author who has penned another pratfall or more agonising defeat?

His game is unquestionably a great fit for the Royal Liverpool test. It’s not just the fact that he and Tiger Woods have won there which highlights that elite ball-striking is key. Take note, also, that Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk finished top five in both 2006 and 2014.

Two factors make me wary of backing him, however (with money, at least – I’ll be clutching an emotional betting slip). The first is that if you backed McIlroy with a £1 coin in each of his major championship starts you’d be £6 down. He just doesn’t win them often enough for a fellow priced 10/1 and shorter. The second is the new par-3 17th hole. It’s a treacherous test, demanding absolute accuracy in the 125-150 yards range and that’s not McIlroy’s strong point (he ranks 145th this year).

Royal Liverpool also boasts extremely penal bunkers and that puts me off Scottie Scheffler who has never ranked top 100 in a season for sand saves. He is, of course, elite from tee-to-green. He needs to be to avoid the traps. Jon Rahm also misses out. He’s played the Open six times. In three of them he was outside the cut line after 18 holes and in two of them he closed with a 75. Instead, we’ll look elsewhere.

Each Way – Shane Lowry at 28/1

Yes, it’s true that the Irishman crops up a lot in this column ahead of majors but we all have our problems. And frankly I’m not sure Shane is one. True, since 2019 he hasn’t actually won another major but he’s finished top 25 in nine of the last 11. He was T12th in his delayed defence of the Claret Jug and T21st last year when he said: “It shows you where I am that I’m p***ed off at finishing T21st. Would have been happy five or six years ago, but not any more. I love these weeks. It’s what I get out of bed in the morning for.” Back in 2014 he landed a first Open top 10 in Hoylake and he did so from the worst side of the draw. He’s been superb tee-to-green this year but had a cold putter and middle rounds of 64-65 last week in Scotland hinted it’s warming up.

Each Way – Viktor Hovland at 20/1

The Norwegian shared the first round lead in this year’s Masters, shared the halfway lead in May’s PGA Championship and shared the 54-hole lead in last year’s Open. Is this time to end the week on top after 72 holes (and hopefully not sharing the honours)? It might be. He plays well in wind, he plays well near the sea, he was a fine winner of the Memorial last month and he carded a second round 63 last week in Scotland.

Each Way – Brian Harman at 90/1

I’ve got a funny feeling about this week. The Ashes might overwhelm the Open. The only way the sport might maintain any kind of relevance might be if the man lifting the Claret Jug bears an uncanny resemblance to Ricky ‘Punter’ Ponting. Okay, that’s a bit of blarney. More to the point, I do have a hunch about the left-hander. He finished top 30 at Royal Liverpool on his Open debut in 2014, had a top 20 in 2021 and was sixth last year. This season he has played his best golf on blustery tracks that haven’t penalised him for lack of length. He was second at the end of last month and third heading into the final round last week.




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Matt Cooper
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