Welcome to Virtual Insanity, where we spend virtual money to try and win virtual money on golf betting. It's that simple!
We started the year with €1000 and the Virtual Insanity tally is at €1085 entering this week's tournament of focus, the Open Championship at Royal St George's in Kent, England.
It's golf's final major of the year and it begins at 6.35am on Thursday in the town of Sandwich.
There are four Irish players in the field, all of whom are past Open champions, 2019 winner Shane Lowry, 2014 champion Rory McIlroy, 2007 and 2008 claret jug recipient Padraig Harrington and 2011 champion Darren Clarke.
Be sure to shop around for each-way value, with Paddy Power and Boylesports offering 1/6 the odds for your pick to get into the top 12, SKY Bet offering 1/5 the odds for your selection to place inside the top 11, Betfair and Betfred going to 10 places and William Hill going to 9 places. Other bookmakers are offering less places, but better odds. I will make the odds and bookmaker recommendation that I believe offers the best value beside each selection.
2021 has produced Japan's first major golf winner in Hideki Matsuyama, who won't play this week after contracting Covid-19 - the oldest major winner in history - as then 50 year old Phil Mickelson won the US PGA - and a new world number one, as Spain's Jon Rahm delivered a barnstorming performance to win the US Open.
Golf's oldest major has been kind to Irish players in recent years, and on the last visit to Royal St George's a decade ago, Darren Clarke claimed his first and only major at the age of 42.
Royal St George's is a par 70, a golf course which is somewhat quirky, undulating in parts, with deep bunkers, thick rough and small greens. The biggest defence of any links course is wind, and when it blows at Royal St George's, it's devilishly tricky. It's forecast to be sunny and breezy this week.
This will be the 15th time the Open has reached Royal St George's. Jack Nicklaus wasn't a fan of the golf course, while Fred Funk once described it as a 400 acre pinball machine. I believe it's a test of patience, because there will be bad breaks. How will American players cope with a test which is alien to target golf in a restricted bubble environment? Some will embrace it, while others will find it a struggle.
Looking back at past winners at Sandwich, there's no real trend. Darren Clarke was a natural links player, while Ben Curtis, the 999/1 no hoper in 2003, was a straight hitter who benefited from Thomas Bjorn's collapse. 1993 winner Greg Norman was one of the best drivers of a golf ball, 1985 champion Sandy Lyle was a brilliant iron player, while 1981 winner Bill Rogers was an excellent ball striker, riding a hot streak.
I don't believe Royal St George's is a course where somebody will find their game this week. I am looking for experienced players when it comes to links golf or players who have shown evidence of a good season.
I am not including the Irish quartet in my selections. Shane Lowry has to deal with the ceremony of being the defending champion and when he played at the 2006 Amateur Championship at Royal St George's, he shot 81. Rory McIlroy has the ability to win and may very well do so, but does he have the consistency? It's hard to back him with confidence at 22/1 after seven years without a major. Padraig Harrington is playing well, but does he have the focus to maintain four great rounds in a Ryder Cup year with all the captaincy distractions? 'Father Time' has probably caught up with Darren Clarke to be competitive on Sunday afternoon.
An unusual stat before we get to the tips. There hasn't been an English winner of the Open Championship since Nick Faldo in 1992.
Our headline selection is Sergio Garcia for €5 each way at 55/1. (1/5 the odds the first 11 places - SKY Bet).
Spain had a major winner last month in Jon Rahm, and I am making his fellow countryman Sergio Garcia the headline tip to win his second major championship. Garcia is now 41, and that 2017 win at the Masters is a low return in major championships for someone of his raw ability. Garcia loves the Open, and in 23 appearances, he has finished in the top ten on 10 occasions. Two of those top tens were at Royal St George's in 2003 and 2011. He's an excellent wind player and a strong driver of the golf ball. He knows how to shape shots and possesses a sharp touch around the greens. As always with Sergio, it's the behaviour of his putter that will determine his chances. He won the Sanderson Farms Championship on the PGA Tour last October and has been in the top 20 on his last three starts, one of which was the US Open. He ticks the boxes in terms of experience and links play, he has the major monkey off his back and I feel he is a value price to lift the claret jug on Sunday.
Our second selection is Tyrrell Hatton for €4 each way at 33/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places - William Hill).
Of all the English players who have a shot at this; Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Justin Rose etc - it's Tyrrell Hatton that I like the most. The 29-year-old has become an elite player, winning six times on the European Tour and once in America. I was very impressed by his win at the European Tour's flagship golf event - the BMW PGA Championship - last October. He closed out the tournament well and I can't seem him choking if in contention. Hatton then went on to beat Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi Championship. He is comfortable in the conditions - his first two European Tour titles came at the Dunhill Links in Scotland and he has two top ten finishes at the Open from eight starts. A tough test is also up his street - his PGA Tour win at Bay Hill last year came in very windy conditions. Hatton, who is precise with his irons, has also displayed recent form, tying for second at the Palmetto Championship on the PGA Tour before closing with a 65 in Scotland last week. His Achilles heel may be his own temperament, but if Hatton can stay patient, he may be in the major circle come Sunday.
Our third selection is Patrick Cantlay for €3 each way at 33/1. (1/5 the odds the first 9 places - William Hill).
A trivia question. Which golfer leads the Fed Ex Cup standings on the PGA Tour? It's American Patrick Cantlay. Time and time again the 29-year-old is underrated. He has two PGA Tour wins this season, one of which was fortuitous at the Memorial Tournament given Jon Rahm's withdrawal. It's Cantlay's pre-pandemic performances though which highlighted for me why he was the best amateur in the world - finishing like a train in Tiger's Masters, then storming home with a 64 to win the Memorial Tournament. Cantlay tied for 12th at Carnoustie in 2018 and his game is rock solid in all compartments. I actually feel his biggest asset is his temperament. He reminds me a little of the 2001 winner David Duval. Don't be surprised if he lifts the claret jug.
Our fourth selection is Joaquin Niemann for €2 each way at 66/1. (1/5 the odds the first 8 places - Bet 365).
Chile's Joaquin Niemann is probably going to win many major championships, given his rate of progression in the game. Now ranked 26th in the world, he has finished second three times on the PGA Tour this season. The most recent second place was at the Rocket Mortgage Classic two weeks ago when he went bogey free for the tournament until the play off. He's playing well and has only missed one cut in 22 starts this season. On his only Open appearance in 2019, he did miss the cut, but can be forgiven for that. What is interesting with big hitting Niemann is his low ball flight. He has the ability to hit these low stinger golf shots in the wind. Only 22 years of age, Joaquin Niemann is one of the bright young sparks of the game and can be a part of the conversation on Sunday.
Our fifth selection is Branden Grace for €2 each way at 66/1. (1/5 the odds the first 7 places - Unibet).
South African Branden Grace holds the major championship low round record, a 62 which came at the Open at Birkdale in 2017. That was his only top ten in this tournament, but he is a proven winner with a liking for windy conditions. 33 year old Grace won both his PGA Tour events at breezy golf courses - the Heritage at Hilton Head and this year's Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach. Grace is back in the form that has seen him win nine times on the European Tour. He posted top tens at the Memorial Tournament and US Open in June. Grace nearly won the US Open at Chambers Bay in 2015, so he knows what final round pressure is like. He hits the ball low and is a past winner of the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland. He ticks a lot of boxes.
Our sixth selection is Robert MacIntyre for €2 each way at 75/1. (1/5 the odds the first 8 places - Bet 365).
Young 24-year-old Scot Robert MacIntyre may not win, but he has made his mark already in the game, with a tie for sixth in Shane Lowry's Open at Royal Portrush and a tie for 12th at this year's Masters. European Tour rookie of the year in 2019, he won his first title in Cyprus last year and is going the right way. Comfortable with links golf, he has played Royal St George's before, finishing in the last 16 at the 2017 Amateur Championship. Happy with his game, he may turn out to be a decent each way play.
Our final selection this week is Sam Burns for €2 each way at 110/1. (1/5 the odds the first 11 places - Sky Bet).
One player who goes under the radar this week is American Sam Burns. The 24-year-old won the Valspar Championship back in May and has posted six top tens on the PGA Tour this season. He withdrew from the US PGA Championship with a back injury, but that seems to have been rectified. He returned to form with a tie for 13th at the Travelers Championship before getting a taste of links golf at the Scottish Open last week. He played his final three rounds in 12 under par. It's his first Open Championship start, but maybe not being scarred by previous experiences could actually stand in his favour. I think he is overpriced.
So that's €40 wagered virtually on this week's Open Championship selections, but please bet less at home! A euro each way is fine!
Please gamble responsibly, never bet more than you can afford, and good luck!