The Open 2019: The Opta facts behind the world's oldest major

By Sports Desk July 15, 2019

The 148th Open Championship begins at Royal Portrush on Thursday as the world's best golfers battle it out for the Claret Jug.

For just the second time in the storied history of the tournament, the sport's oldest major will be staged in Northern Ireland, the home of 2014 champion Rory McIlroy.

And that is not the only interesting piece of trivia behind The Open, as these facts from Opta prove.

 

- Northern Ireland's tally of six major wins is more than any other European country since the turn of the century – Rory McIlroy (4), Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke (one each).

Francesco Molinari – victorious at Carnoustie last year – is looking to become the first player to win back to back Opens since Padraig Harrington in 2007 and 2008.

- Brooks Koepka is 30 under par in the 2019 majors,13 shots better than any other player (Dustin Johnson -17).

- Rory McIlroy's last four Open participations have seen him finish in the top five.

- Since the start of 2018, Jon Rahm has either finished in the Top 10 (four times) or missed the cut (three times) at majors.

- Tiger Woods last won the Claret Jug in 2006 at Hoylake – if he were to win at Portrush, it would be the longest gap between two Open victories.

Jordan Spieth has led (outright or share) at the end of five of the last eight rounds at The Open.

- Only Brooks Koepka (three) has had more top-three finishes in this year's majors than Xander Schauffele (two), who finished in a tie for second at Carnoustie in 2018.

- Only one of the last 23 majors has been won by a player from outside Europe or the United States: Australia's Jason Day (2015 US PGA Championship).

- Nick Faldo is the last English player to win The Open, that victory coming 27 years ago in 1992 at Muirfield.

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  • Lazio come up short, Milan scrape into Europe - Stats Perform AI completes Serie A season Lazio come up short, Milan scrape into Europe - Stats Perform AI completes Serie A season

    Much of the world has been forced to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, with most professional sport consequently on hold for the foreseeable future.

    With the outbreak occurring at a particularly inopportune moment for top-level football in Europe, the situation has bred uncertainty across most leagues – including Italy's Serie A.

    Once normality returns, should finishing the season be the priority, regardless of the impact it might have on future campaigns?

    At the moment, concluding the 2019-20 campaign appears the most likely option. However, even with Euro 2020 pushed back by 12 months, clubs and leagues are still having to work to tight schedules, with UEFA requesting seasons finish by the end of June.

    Other views have been aired, with Italian Footballers' Association (AIC) president Damiano Tommasi suggesting the 2019-20 season could already be over, but while the debate rages on during the hiatus, the Stats Perform AI team have crunched the numbers behind the scenes.

    With all 20 teams having either 12 or 13 league matches still to play, their goal was to simulate how the rest of the season would pan out if the games were played now to produce a predicted 2019-20 table.

    The statistical model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

    Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

    The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

    All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

    The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

    Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

    JUVENTUS ARE CHAMPIONS... AGAIN

    The results in our model see Juventus retain the Scudetto, accumulating 87 points.

    Undoubtedly the story of the season in Italy has been the rise of Lazio, who have mounted a genuine title challenge and went into the forced hiatus just one point adrift of the summit.

    With Ciro Immobile's goals and Luis Alberto's creativity in midfield, Simone Inzaghi's men have excelled and delighted neutrals with their entertaining football.

    But, in our model, Juventus see them off in the title race, with Maurizio Sarri picking up where Massimiliano Allegri left off last term and guiding them to a ninth successive Serie A title.

    However, their points haul is their worst since getting the same amount in 2014-15.

    INTER SETTLE FOR THIRD

    For much of the first half of the season, Inter looked destined to push Juve all the way in the title race.

    Under Antonio Conte and with Romelu Lukaku leading the attack following his move from Manchester United, Inter appeared invigorated.

    But their form since the turn of the year has dipped, leaving them nine points off the top when the season was put on hold, though they had a game in hand.

    In the simulation they did not recover to overtake either of the top two, finishing third on 79 points. 

    Nevertheless, this would still represent an improvement on last season, when they only amassed 69 points and finished fourth.

    MILAN SCRAPE EUROPA LEAGUE PLACE

    It has been a difficult few years for Milan, and this season has not been much better.

    Stefano Pioli's appointment as coach late last year has seen them improve somewhat, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic's arrival also giving the team a boost.

    But there remains a lot to fix with the Rossoneri, with the squad lacking in quality and the hierarchy at odds with each other.

    The simulation has Milan finishing seventh and that would be enough to scrape a Europa League spot, as the other three teams left in the Coppa Italia semi-finals with them are all predicted to end the season higher than Pioli's men in Serie A, therefore qualifying for Europe already.

    Roma and Napoli take fifth and sixth, with Atalanta rounding off the Champions League spots in our model thanks to a five-point advantage over the Giallorossi.

    SAMPDORIA AVOID THE DROP, RIVALS GENOA NOT SO LUCKY

    Only one of the current bottom three escapes relegation in the simulation, with Lecce preserving their top-flight status at the expense of Genoa.

    Il Grifone and bitter rivals Sampdoria sit just above the drop zone in reality, but our predicted table sees Genoa drop to Serie B for the first time since 2006-07 – last season they only guaranteed their survival on the final day.

    The model has Genoa eventually reaching 36 points, but Samp and Lecce manage to climb to 41, giving them both a healthy five-point cushion.

    Brescia unsurprisingly prop up the predicted table, given they are nine points from safety in the real standings. Our AI team give Brescia a 1.8 per cent chance of avoiding relegation.

    Also going down in our predicted table are SPAL, whose haul of 29 points - one more than Brescia in this experiment - leaves them well adrift of safety.

  • Next Generation – 'One-in-a-million' Pedri is Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial Next Generation – 'One-in-a-million' Pedri is Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial

    'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s. 

    The snowfall that hit Madrid in February 2018 initially appeared worse than it was, with the seas of white that engulfed fields, pitches and gardens in Spain's capital clearing quicker than one might've expected.

    It was enough to cause Real Madrid to cancel their training for the day on February 5, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo an unexpected day off on his birthday – though daily sports publication AS were particularly critical of the club for essentially shutting down with a crucial Champions League tie with Paris Saint-Germain little more than a week away.

    As it happened, Madrid went on to claim a third successive European crown, so the issue of a day off almost certainly won't have been raised again. However, it was this snowfall that proved a major disruption to the trial of a kid from the Canary Islands who was "about to sign", according to his father.

    Pedri, 15 at the time, did not join Real Madrid. While he may have been shown the cold shoulder amid the snowfall, the midfielder subsequently signed with local side Las Palmas… And then Barcelona came calling.

    Made for Barca

    A diminutive, but effortlessly silky midfielder, it's little wonder Pedri will end up at Barca. "I have that Barca DNA," he said to EFE in his first major interview after his move was confirmed. "My desire is to resemble [Andres] Iniesta. I have always said he is my idol and he'll remain that until I die."

    Pedri's rise has been impressive. In a little over a year, he progressed through the Juvenil A, B and Division de Honor teams in Las Palmas' academy before being introduced into the first-team picture just last year for pre-season.

    He's now an undisputed starter at 17 – he initially didn't expect to even reach the Division de Honor team in 2019-20.

    Las Palmas had been cautious about showing him off too early, aware that such a talent would immediately attract offers. Instead, they reportedly waited until they had him secured to a professional contract with a €30million release clause and then promised they'd sell him to an interested party straight away.

    Barca made their move in September. An initial €5m could become €25m should Pedri meet certain criteria at Camp Nou – and at this point, few would bet against him making a lasting impression in Catalonia.

    Once again Real Madrid were left frustrated, with a second attempt to sign Pedri coming too late – not that they would have necessarily been successful otherwise, as the teenager's father is the president of a local Barcelona supporters' club, which his grandfather founded.

    "Barca DNA" indeed.

    "One in a million"

    Pepe Mel was the coach who put his faith in Pedri last year, the experienced tactician clearly stunned by the youngster's abilities.

    "Look at this boy, because he's one in a million and he doesn't know it," Mel said at the time. "He will define a new era in Spanish football."

    A bold prediction of one so young, but Pedri has taken to first-team football with immense comfort, his performances in La Segunda this season suggesting he's ready for LaLiga straight away and that Mel's foretelling might be on the money.

    It had been expected that Pedri would spend another season on loan in the second tier with Las Palmas, or move to Barca's B team if they get promoted to the Segunda.

    But now he is attracting loan interest from LaLiga clubs and appears set for a chance to impress first-team coaching staff in pre-season, whenever the coronavirus pandemic permits that period to be.

    Shouldering the burden

    While he possesses the skillset to play virtually anywhere across the midfield, by his own admission Pedri is most effective in the centre where he can take the game to the opposition, exploit gaps in defences and dazzle with his close dribbling.

    Despite his age, Pedri has been a key player for Las Palmas this season, scoring three goals and setting up another four. Six of those goal involvements came in the first 10 matches of the campaign, highlighting there has been a bit of a dip in terms of overall productivity – though he's still proven effective.

    Despite missing a chunk of the season to take part in the Under-17 World Cup in October and November, Pedri has played more league matches ( 26 ) than anyone else for Las Palmas this term and his 52 chances created is unmatched among team-mates. Only eight players in the entire league have produced more key passes.

    Nineteen Segunda players have attempted more dribbles than Pedri's 83, but only two of them can improve on his 57 per cent completion rate.

    And of 1,014 attempted passes, 80 per cent have found a team-mate. While by no means a startling statistic, context is key – many of those with better records on the face of it are central defenders or players operating in less-congested areas of the pitch than Pedri.

    What's clear is, Pedri's already operating at a very high level for a 17-year-old. With many of Barca's midfield options aging, seemingly on their way out or unconvincing, an opportunity could present itself for him sooner rather than later. 

    Snow may have prevented a move to Madrid two years ago, but Pedri can surely look forward to many frosty receptions in Clasico contests during the 2020s.

  • McIlroy and Koepka 'too nice' to have a rivalry like Woods and Mickelson - DiMarco McIlroy and Koepka 'too nice' to have a rivalry like Woods and Mickelson - DiMarco

    Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka are "too nice" to engage in the sort of rivalry that once existed between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, says Chris DiMarco.

    Back in October, Koepka, winner of four majors between the 2017 U.S. Open and 2019 US PGA Championship and ranked number one in the world, dismissed the notion of McIlroy being one of his nearest challengers for golf's biggest prizes.

    "I've been out here for, what, five years. Rory hasn't won a major since I've been on the PGA Tour. So I just don't view it as a rivalry," Koepka said.

    McIlroy took a diplomatic approach in his reply, saying Koepka had not said anything out of turn and the pair are good friends.

    "I love Brooks, he's a great guy," McIlroy said of the comments."He's obviously super-competitive, like we all are. I can see where he's coming from.

    "I think if you take what Brooks said out of context then it can become this big thing that it's become. But Brooks and I are good, we're good friends."

    McIlroy then recorded seven consecutive finishes inside the top five to return to the summit of the rankings prior to the suspension of the PGA and European Tours as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

    But DiMarco believes there is too much talent in the game now for two players to engage in a genuine rivalry such as the one Woods and Mickelson – where he said there was once a "genuine dislike" – had during the 2000s.

    "The problem is both those guys are so nice, like literally to everybody," DiMarco told Stats Perform.

    "So, it just seems if there is a rivalry between them it's almost kind of made up. They kind of live in the same area, it's almost like they talked to each other and said, 'let's just kind of jab back and forth with each other and make a rivalry'. They're too nice. 

    "There's really in all honesty just too many great players right now. Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson there's too many – Rickie Fowler – for two people to just kind of make themselves higher than anyone else, I don't think it's going to happen anymore. 

    "Obviously, Rory and Brooks over the last two years have probably been the best two but Dustin Johnson has been up there, Jon Rahm was looking like he could be number one here with a win a couple of weeks ago.

    "There are a lot of hungry players out there and you're never going to see a rivalry kind of like you saw with Tiger and Phil, that's what people wanted to see because there was a genuine dislike for each other. 

    "Now they're friendly, so now it's a little bit different, but back then there was a genuine dislike for each other, and they were clearly the number one and number two player in the world for many years so that rivalry you want to see. 

    "I think these kids nowadays are just nice, and that's great, I love it, I always played as a nice guy too."

    However, DiMarco does feel there is one player who would happily play the role of villain against either McIlroy or Koepka.

    "I think the one guy who is probably a disliked guy out there on our Tour or the regular Tour is Patrick Reed," DiMarco added.

    "If he ever makes it to number one then there's that guy people would love to hate again, he relishes in that, he loves being in that position, loves it when people give him crap. 

    "If you could get a guy like Brooks Koepka – or Rory McIlroy – and Patrick Reed who maintain that level for so long, then you certainly have your true villain in Patrick Reed and your true good guy in one of those other guys."

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