Golf has really had to take a back seat thus far this summer. Irish eyes were primarily diverted to France, while the rugby team’s glorious (relative) failure in South Africa gathered momentum as the tour proceeded.
Even after the country was left emotionally winded by Antoine Griezmann’s double in Lyon, we looked to the remaining stages of Euro 2016 for our biennial dose of thrilling international football. Sunday’s final of course delivered an appropriately bland denouement to what was a bog-standard tournament but one still could not avert the eyes.
With soccer on its month-long hiatus and the GAA season only finally hitting its straps, the British Open could not have arrived at a better time for a golf season that seems to have passed us by largely unnoticed. Indeed, the biggest talking point of the season thus far has been a swathe of the world’s top golfers pulling out of the Olympics because of the Zika virus. And, because very few golfers give a shit about competing in the Olympics.
The notion that golf should ever return to the Olympics was largely misguided. With a calendar that is already chocked full of tournaments and the season’s endpoint barely identifiable, the decision to allow golf take its place at the Olympian table was risible and driven largely, perhaps entirely, by commercial incentives.
You see, Tiger was around when the PGA and its collective of power-hitting commercial partners decided to cast golf’s net further and deeper into the global consciousness. And, despite a cast of superbly talented golfers today, nobody caught the casual viewer’s eye quite like the aspirational Navy Seal, Tiger Woods.
Even in Tiger’s absence, golf’s ruling bodies thought their professional tour members would be cock-a-hoop at the idea of winning a medal that hasn’t existed for over 100 years at the back end of a gruelling major season. In many ways, and we don’t say this tritely, the zika virus provided the perfect way out for the game’s top players. Rory McIlroy must allow himself the occasional wry smile when he considers the interminable and downright idiotic furore surrounding his nationality status in the games.
McIlroy has again been thrust to the front of the pack over the recent withdrawals, the Down man being the first to display the requisite fortitude and decline his opportunity to appear at what is a meaningless event for golfers. McIlroy very pointedly said in Tuesday’s Guardian that he “didn’t get into golf to try to grow the game.” And, why would he? That’s what the administrators, ad executives and frighteningly expensive PR companies are for. In a Ryder Cup year – a bit of a questionable tournament in itself – why would golfers wreak havoc to their schedule to ingratiate themselves to golf’s commercial arm?
Alas, enough of the rambling diatribe. Instead, let’s cast our eye to Royal Troon and the 2016 Open Championship. Sadly, this year’s tournament will not be accompanied by the unique old-world charm of Peter Alliss. Eighty-five year old, Alliss often brought the self-righteous brigade out in their numbers when he passed admittedly sexist comments, but the man is of a different time and his presence will really be missed this year.
In the week when we saw the departure of John “take each game on its merits” Giles from our sitting rooms, it’s sad to see the last remnants of this insightful, sometimes irreverent punditry disappearing from our screens. Sure, Sky Sports will package a visually impressive broadcast but there’s little pleasure to be gained from seeing these eejits offer four days’ worth of tiresome banalities. Or from listening to Colin Montgomerie for any length of time.
Royal Troon last played host to the Open Championship in 2004, when little-known American, Todd Hamilton, usurped the world’s best to win the Claret Jug in the most unlikely of circumstances. Three of that year’s top five are back this week in Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and the hugely popular, Lee Westwood. Of those three, we’d consider a reinvigorated Westwood but, in any event, we’ll be looking elsewhere.
As usual, we have a run through the favourites –none of whom we’ll be backing – and then on to our value picks in this week’s field. Sadly, next-big-thing, Brooks Koepka has withdrawn from this week’s field so the wait for his guaranteed maiden major victory will have to wait until the end of the month.
Rory McIrloy’s game is coming along nicely but he has yet to set the season alight. The current price of 11/1 is about as good as you’ll get on Hollywood man in major these days, but we’re inclined to hold fire until the US PGA Championship.
History favours the Americans here, so we’ll dispense with Jason Day (9/1), no doubt nursing some ailment, and instead look to the west. Dustin Johnson (9/1) has been knocking relentlessly on the door at major championships since 2010, so he must have been delighted to see the relatively callow Shane Lowry assume the final round lead in last month’s US Open. DJ had been in Lowry’s shoes before and knew the suffocating pressure that accompanied the position. Johnson won with aplomb in Oakmont – even allowing for a slightly confusing penalty – and his subsequent victory at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational means Wayne Gretzky’s reclamation project has clearly found a new level.
Yet, the relatively short 7000 yard Royal Troon course has us leaning instead towards Jordan Spieth (12/1), a man who appeared to be unstoppable 12 months ago. Presuming the Texan has gotten over the most difficult decision in his life – apparently, he’s a “huge believer in Olympic golf” – the 22-year-old has a game ripe for the South Ayrshire track. Spieth’s lack of distance off the tee will be negated by the relatively short course and his scrambling and putting suggest he’ll be in the reckoning come Sunday evening.
It would be foolish, however, to try and brush Spieth’s Amen Corner meltdown from memory, especially as only Dustin Johnson has the proven ability to forget absolutely anything. Spieth’s single-mindedness and poise were widely lauded up until hole 66 of the 2016 Masters. He’s still a very young man but that kind of collapse rarely departs quietly into the night. Still, we’re inclined to think that Spieth’s steeliness will become a hallmark through his career and this weekend offers a perfect opportunity at redemption, particularly as he sails in somewhat under the radar.
Now, to the business end of things, where we combine stats, other peoples’ opinions and the intangible gut feeling to pick a winner for the 2016 Open Championship. And, given that we’ve been absent for a while, we should point out that these selections are all about each-way value.
First, to the honourable mentions:
Sergio Garcia 25/1: This is one we mulled over for quite some time. Garcia has a superb history in the Open. Since 2001, he has a remarkable record of two second place finishes and a further six placings in the top ten. The Spaniard’s form has been very encouraging this year and his iron play has been immaculate all season. Still, for a player who has pissed his pants too many times on the Sunday of a major tournament, these odds are a little prohibitive.
Padraig Harrington 80/1: Definitely our favourite headbanger on tour but at 44 this seems a bridge too far for the three-time major champion.
Marc Leishmann 80/1: Hugely disappointing at the Masters but the big Aussie only fell in a playoff to Zach Johnson last year. Conditions will suit him but current form is a worry, although did tie for 18th at Oakmont.
On, at last, to our picks for the 2016 Open Championship…..
- Andy Sullivan 66/1
Might as well be up front with you on this one from the off – we haven’t heard Andy Sullivan being tipped anywhere. Still, cast a glance over his results and his steady development arc and it’s easy to see the appeal in the Englishman. Tied 23rd at the US Open, Sullivan has finished 6th and 5th in the last fortnight. There’s a glut of young English talent on tour at present – Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood, Masters champion, Danny Willett – not to mention veterans like Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, so Sullivan arrives in Troon with virtually no fanfare. Willett broke down the walls again for English golfers in April and it wouldn’t surprise us to see Sullivan emulate him on Sunday.
- Martin Kaymer 50/1
Since his 2014 resurgence, Kaymer has played some solid if unspectacular golf. However, in recent weeks, he’s shown marked improvement and his 5th in France and 13th in last week’s Scottish Open suggest his game is coming to the boil at just the right time. Also, being a relentlessly proud and competitive German means that Kaymer was actually happy to qualify for the Olympics this week. All in all, a fantastic price for the 31-year-old double major winner.
- Rafa Cabrera-Bello 80/1
Cabrera-Bello is an intriguing prospect and comes to Troon on the back of a hugely impressive and more importantly, consistent season. Third in the WGC World Matchplay Championship, he acquitted himself well in Augusta and Oakmont with finishes of 17th and 32nd . While victory may be a bridge too far this week, the less heralded Spaniard in this week’s field represents excellent each-way value.
- Zach Johnson 45/1
This price really has us puzzled. Johnson the defending champion and two-time major winner appears to have attracted little or no love from punters. Ice-cold under pressure, the Iowan has ignited a heretofore so-so season with tied eighth and tied tenth at the US Open and Bridgestone Invitational respectively. Last year’s victory came on the back of top ten finishes in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Open so there’s no question as to his ability to master links course. Add in the fact that Johnson has God on his bag and that price looks increasingly appealing.
We’ve gone for a more eclectic selection than usual, largely because these major fields throw up such uncertainty. For those who like to be guided by historical trends, it’s worth noting that an American has won the last six renewals of the Open Championship at Royal Troon.
All eyes will be on the ‘Big Four’ and a hotly tipped, Sergio Garcia, but we’re going to go out on a limb for Andy Sullivan. The last few weeks have proven that England is shit at football and voting. English golf has rarely been in better shape though and Sullivan is our pick to make an unlikely breakthrough at Royal Troon.
- Andy Sullivan e/w @ 66/1
- Martin Kaymer e/w @ 501
- Rafa Cabrera-Bello e/w @ 80/1
- Zach Johnson e/w @ 45/1
For anyone having a punt on each way hopefuls Paddy Power are paying 8 places but at 1/5 of the odds.