Monday, July 22, 2013

Thoughts on the British Open

Here is how my British Open picks finished:

Justin Rose: 16/1 (MC)
Phil Mickelson: 16/1 (1st)
Adam Scott: 20/1 (t-3rd)
Dustin Johnson: 33/1 (t-32nd)
Matt Kuchar: 40/1 (t-15th)
Jordan Speith: 125/1 (t-44th)
Robert Karlsson: 150/1 (MC)
Graham DeLaet: 150/1 (t-83rd)
Marc Leishman: 200/1 (MC)

Value Pick: Luke Guthrie 300/1 (MC)

Here are my picks for the Canadian Open:

Matt Kuchar: 18/1
Billy Horschel: 33/1
Chris Kirk: 50/1
Matt Jones: 55/1
Morgan Hoffmann: 55/1
Ryan Palmer: 60/1
Jerry Kelly: 66/1
Nicholas Thompson: 75/1
Cameron Tringale: 100/1

Value Pick: Tom Gillis 150/1

I thought the British Open was one of the more exciting ones to watch in recent memory as we had roughly 10 different players all in contention going into the back nine on Sunday.

One of the issues that tends to ruin the Open for many fans is how the weather can change so drastically and hurt a golfer’s chances just by getting a bad tee time. We didn’t have that here this weekend as the weather was moderately nice for Scotland. The wind was there, but it was blowing about at 12-15 mph and didn’t seem to get above that.

However, the recent weather conditions made it difficult to really appreciate Muirfield. The course resembled some of the courses I grew up playing in Upstate New York during the summer when there is little in the way of irrigation. It looked dry, hard and fast. Outside of the Masters, it’s hard to get a real feel for the any distinctive features of golf holes in the other majors. But I find that to be most difficult at the British Open given the links design and the holes at Muirfield started to all run together.

A big congratulations goes to Mickelson for winning the Open in brilliant fashion, including birdieing 4 of the last 6 holes. I would put that round up there with Charl Schwartzel’s final round heroics at the 2011 Masters where he snuck up on everybody, birdied the last 4 holes and won a heavily contested Green Jacket. From a drama perspective, it was not as beautiful as say Nicklaus’ Augusta victory in 1986. But, I could appreciate it more than Ernie Els’ victory last year as Mickelson ‘won’ the Open instead of having Adam Scott ‘lose’ the Open.

There were a few big things that I took away from the Open.

Mickelson has an entirely better demeanor on the course than Tiger (and most players on Tour)

We’ve seen this all year from Lefty, even at the Masters where he played terribly. He emphatically states his confidence that he can win the tournament after each round. And it seems organic rather than a false sense of confidence. Tiger seems to saunter around the course more, particularly after hitting a bad shot. Phil has entirely more composure which is odd given that Tiger generally strikes it better than Phil. In the end, this allows Phil to hit better shots down the stretch than Tiger.

Tiger is hurt by his conservative play off the tee.

I think the 2008 PGA Championship lost to YE Yang has set a precedent for Tiger. In that final round Tiger played extremely conservative off the tee while Yang continually blasted his driver well past Woods’ 3-wood and 2-iron off the tee. The end result was Yang had much closer approaches. Tiger could hit those longer approaches amazingly close given the distance he was hitting them from, but Yang would continually put them inside Tiger and that’s why he won.

It’s very difficult to play conservatively and be successful on Tour. Tiger can do it because he’s excellent with his 3-wood off the tee and is an excellent long-iron player. He also has a knack for getting hot with the putter from long distance.

But, he’s putting his odds against him when he plays conservatively. And eventually those long putts will not fall because they don’t consistently fall for anybody on Tour, ever. Perhaps his conservative play off the tee this year is due to not trusting his driver. Either way, he needs to be able to pull the driver out of his bag much more often and be able to hit quality shots with the driver. There’s a reason why he’s never won a major when he has not had the lead after the 3rd round.

The Mickelson way works for now.

There has been a debate about Phil Mickelson’s ballstriking skill. As I have stated repeatedly in Pro Golf Synopsis, Phil is a good to excellent irons player. However, he’s a lousy driver of the ball. I have yet to see any other data that can refute that.

I think a major problem for Phil is that his driver doesn’t quite fit him. At the US Open he didn’t carry a driver. Instead he utilized a 43-1/4” 3-wood with a 12° loft. He could hit it up to 300 yards, but the shorter shaft and subsequently heavier club allowed him to hit it off the tee much more effectively than if he had used his 45-1/2” driver. And even in the end, the 3-wood inaccuracies stymied him a bit at Merion.

When Mickelson wins, he wins in spite of his driving. Here’s a look at his current metrics going into Muirfield:

Driving Effectiveness: 155th (out of 190 golfers)

Birdie Zone play: 27th
Safe Zone play: 1st
Danger Zone play: 54th

Short Game Play: 31st
Putts Gained: 11th

And that has been a bit of a dip in performance from the Danger Zone for Mickelson, who usually ranks in the top-20 in the category.

At Muirfield, everybody was hitting a lot of irons off the tees and thus Mickelson was no longer at the disadvantage as he would lose strokes if he had to hit driver, like he did at Bay Hill, Sawgrass and Greenbrier (all courses were driver use is frequent and Phil missed the cut each time). Instead, Mickelson was now at an advantage off the tee because most of the golfers were using long irons and they do not strike the ball with their long irons as well as he does.

It will be interesting to see what happens at Oak Hill in August as having played that course a few times, there’s no way one can get around the course not hitting driver. And the punishment from the rough is severe. Perhaps Phil goes to the 3-wood off the tee again (which may serve him well), but I think he has a long road to hoe to try and get into contention there.


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