Open Championship – Old Course, St. Andrews 16th – 19th July 2015
According to all-time leading major winner, Jack Nicklaus, “if a golfer is going to be remembered, he must win at St. Andrews.” Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the two greatest of all-time have conquered the storied Old Course twice. This week Jordan Spieth has the chance to join some rarefied air with a maiden victory on perhaps the most famous golf course in the world. Victory for Spieth in Scotland would see him match Ben Hogan as the only other winner of the first three majors of the year while simultaneously leap-frogging the unfortunately sidelined Rory McIlroy at the summit of their game. All this at the Home of Golf, St Andrews, a course that possesses a palpable sense of magic for golf fans the world over.
McIlroy’s now well-documented ankle ligament injury brought about as the result of a game of five-a-side soccer –as it is actually often referred to in Ireland- came at an incredibly inopportune time for the County Down man. Obviously, injury is never greeted enthusiastically but to do so just a fortnight before attempting to defend the Open championship with a fast charging Spieth in the rearview must be particularly jarring. The Texan is on a seemingly unstoppable surge at present and next Sunday we could well see him add the penultimate leg of the yet to be accomplished quest of winning all four majors within the calendar year.
Fans of generic American courses probably won’t agree but for us The Open Championship –always played at a links course- is the finest of all the majors. And there is no more impressive setting for a tournament than the fabled St. Andrews Links near Fife on Scotland’s eastern coast. Links golf has a certain rawness and elemental magic to it, something which parkland courses, for all their serene beauty, can rarely offer. Augusta National admittedly proffers a different, more sedate kind of charm. A true links is a wild beast, often largely dependent on the whims of both the elements and the ocean. If the wind starts to blow then players are faced with the type of challenges they rarely encounter on the regular Tour.
St Andrews though is not quite as punishing as the likes of Carnoustie or Royal Birkdale, the scenes of Padraig Harrington’s famous, dual triumphs. The Old Course’s expansive fairways invariably allow for Uzi-like waywardness off the tee, but those who do end up in the rough will pay for their sins. The key to mastering the venerable, Old Course –which has seen a number of alterations since Louis Oosthuizen destroyed the field when the Open was last staged at St Andrews in 2010- is forming a strategy to avoid the multitudinous bunkers while negotiating the sprawling double-greens. Even casual fans will be familiar with the ominous ‘Hell Bunker’ on the fourteenth and the ‘Road Hole Bunker’ on the approach to the penultimate green. Patience is key and learning when to kowtow to the wind and when to ride it equally important. Of course, last year’s champion is a frustrated observer so there are probably the guts of forty players who will fancy their chances. Tiger thinks his game is in a pretty good place, but two good rounds do not a rejuvenated championship golfer make. As ever we will have a look at the favourites before moving a little further down the market for some value.
The unflappable Jordan Spieth (6/1) unsurprisingly tops the betting market following McIlroy’s ill-timed injury. The Texan is still proving somewhat of an anomaly to experts and the ever-burgeoning community of statistics devotees. For anyone who cares to examine Spieth’s stats here they are. And, for those who don’t here’s a brief synopsis. A distinctly average driver of the ball, Spieth is almost as likely to find the rough as the fairway. From the rough however he proves exceptionally accurate which we find somewhat confusing. How does he miss fairways with alarming regularity yet show unerring accuracy when shooting from the less favourable rough? In any event, the world number-two really makes the step up to the elite class as a result of his superb putting, incidentally the area in which McIlroy’s game seems to flag the most. The twenty-one-year-old doesn’t smash it like McIlroy or unstoppable-era Woods, but he has a phenomenal ability to scramble, almost peerless putting and the unflappable composure -of which there is no known statistical measure- possessed of true champions. This week though, Spieth’s lack of familiarity with links courses counts against him and he is of no interest at that price. Still he was relatively unfamiliar –caddy knowledge aside- with the obscure, otherworldliness of Chambers Bay and he still excelled there. Amongst Spieth’s many talents is his ability to plot his way around pretty much any course -or golfing intelligence as you will hear mentioned umpteen times this week- which makes him impossible to rule out. Still, prohibitive at that price.
Of more interest of the short prices is Dustin Johnson (12/1) who so agonisingly threw away the U.S. Open last month. Johnson is a fine links player but until he proves he can do it on the Sunday of a major championship we’re more than willing to look elsewhere. And so, on to our deeply considered picks.
Rickie Fowler (16/1)
True, Fowler is too short at that price after last week’s victory in the Scottish Open but that victory in itself makes the affable Californian difficult to ignore. Fowler has really matured in the last couple of seasons, performing fantastically well at the majors – his Chambers Bay nightmare aside- since engaging the services of veteran swing coach, Butch Harmon. Second in Hoylake to the imperious McIlroy last year we would have fancied Fowler’s chances of going one better this year even before the ill-fated game of five-a-side. Even at this shortened price we’ll give Fowler the nod over Spieth- whose inexperience surely has to tell one of these days- particularly as Fowler was only bettered last year, as mentioned, by a near untouchable McIlroy.
Shane Lowry (40/1)
On the back of last year’s tied ninth in Hoylake and a similarly fantastic showing at Chambers Bay, we feel the time has come for Shane Lowry to stake his claim to a maiden major championship. The Offaly man’s jolly demeanour belies genuine grit and he certainly isn’t the type who will be phased when the wind begins to blow with real intent. No stranger to a visit from the red mist Lowry seems to have curtailed his habit of trying to win back dropped shots immediately through naked aggression and sometimes poor decision making. Already possessed of a fantastic short game, if the rest clicks then we’re very confident that the Claret Jug can make its fifth journey to this island since 2007 and it’s first ever to the midlands.
Brooks Koepka (50/1)
You may recall that we’ve been on this European Tour alumni’s bandwagon for a while now and after a solid 19th in Chambers Bay and tied 22nd in Aberdeen last week, there’s little question that Koepka is ready for the challenge of St Andrews. Again the accommodating width of the fairways will suit the American’s occasionally scatter-gun driving. Some of the younger Americans become a little disheartened by the dual threat of howling winds and occasionally hellish rough but the well-travelled Koepka has seen this all before. If the putter gets hot, Koepka will almost certainly be in the thick of it come Sunday evening.
Victor Dubuisson (66/1)
The longest odds of all of our picks, Dubuisson merits, what we believe to be well-founded attention this week. An introspective, attention shy type Dubuisson is shrouded in a relative veil of mystery, a pleasant rarity in a modern sportsperson. A proven performer at major tournaments the Frenchman tied for ninth in last year’s renewal of the Open. Further, after an injury laden season the world number thirty-seven has happened upon some timely form with top twenty finishes in each of his last three events. Dubuisson’s phenomenal ability to scramble –likened to Seve Ballesteros by no less than Nick Faldo- is highlighted by this truly ridiculous shot in the 2014 WGC Accenture Match Play final against Jason Day. Being a Frenchman, his temperament is almost lazily questioned –shyness nowadays equating to media unfriendly- but a confident Ryder Cup debut suggests Dubuisson can more than handle the pressure. Given past performance and recent form this looks far too big a price.
So, as with the U.S. Open we’re looking to the youngsters to step up to the plate in Scotland. And with rain threatening to appear on Sunday the new breed’s power and length will become ever more prominent. Whatever the outcome, by Sunday evening someone will have joined a very elite group of champions at the nigh-on sacred Home of Golf. We’ll stick with Rickie Fowler to confirm his ascendancy to the top table of world golf but don’t be surprised if Victor Dubuisson usurps him.
2015 Open Championships Picks
- Rickie Fowler e/w @ 16/1
- Shane Lowry e/w @ 40/1
- Brooks Koepka e/w @ 50/1
- Victor Dubuisson e/w @ 66/1
- Eddie Pepperrell Top 10 @ 16/1