Nick Bonfield looks at recent Open winners' results prior to the Championship and analyses the role of form in predicting the eventual victor.

Is Form A Pre-Requisite To Open Championship Success?

The Open Championship is notoriously difficult to win, but is it beneficial to come into the event in good form, or do winners tend to enter the tournament under the radar? Is there a trend we can identify to help us predict who might fare well at this year’s event?

Well, as you might imagine, given the inherently unpredictable nature of links golf, there’s been a huge difference in winners’ pre-tournament form over the past ten years.

I’ve looked back over the figures from the last decade and some of the noteworthy findings are as follows…

Only three players came into the tournament off the back of top-ten finishes in their previous tournament: Tiger Woods in 2005, Zach Johnson in 2015 and Phil Mickelson in 2013. Mickelson won the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart that year.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are more recent winners who have come into The Open after an inauspicious performance the previous week than those who have built genuine momentum before the tournament.

While the the aforementioned three players and Rory McIlroy (T14 at 2014 Scottish Open) and Padraig Harrington (T17 at the European Open in 2008) have done well the week before The Open, the other five winners over the last ten years haven’t.

Stewart Cink, who lofted the Claret Jug in 2009, missed the cut at the Travelers Championship and entered the tournament never having recorded a top ten in the Open Championship.

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Padraig Harrington’s two performances before The Open in 2007 were a tie for 51st and a tie for 92nd and he hadn’t made a cut at the year’s third Major since 2003, while Ernie Els’ tie for 52nd at the 2012 Scottish Open gave no indication he was about to hold aloft golf’s most coveted prize.

But arguably the two most surprising winners of the last decade were Darren Clarke and Louis Oosthuizen.

Before his triumph at St Andrews in 2010, Louis Oosthuizen had finished T68, 156th and T98. Amazingly, he’d also never made a cut in the Open Championship.

Clarke, meanwhile, hadn’t finished higher than 46th since May, and hadn’t recorded a top 10 in the nine previous years before his victory in 2011. It’s a funny old game.

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Henrik Stenson before the 2016 Open Championship was in very good form with a win just a few weeks beforehand.

Ahead of the 149th Open this year, Jon Rahm seems to be the man with the most form in the field.

Tell that to Min Woo Lee, however, who won The Scottish Open last week at The Renaissance Club in a dramatic playoff. Could he do what Phil did in 2013?

But what does all this mean? Sometimes in golf, we read too much into form, especially at The Open. It’s such an inspirational event and so many variables come into play that fortunes can change on a lucky bounce and mindsets can shift in an instant.

So when you’re looking at who to back, don’t discount anyone based on form alone. The winner of the 2021 Open is just as likely to be someone who isn’t playing great golf in the lead-up as someone who is setting the world on fire.