Open Championship 2015

Open Championship 2015 – As the Dust Settles

Zach Johnson victorious with an assist from the Bible, while McIlroy is missed but not that much.

In a continuation of a summer of unseasonably high winds, the Open Championship saw a Monday conclusion for only the second time since 1860 –the other being 1988 – with Zach Johnson picking up a second major victory, eight years subsequent to his maiden success at Augusta. A devout Christian, Johnson relied on a biblical verse –Psalms 24:17 as it happens- to provide focus and calm throughout his final day’s play, right up until Louis Oosthuizen’s putt rolled by the cup on the twenty-second and final green of Monday’s play to give Johnson a deserved if unexpected win. Truly though, it was Johnson’s terrific handling of inclement conditions allied with an extremely fluent putter which led to victory for one of the world’s tidiest –in a sporting context- and most consistent players over the last three years. In the early afternoon, the leaderboard was an unsettled jumble of names with the top five positions in constant rotation particularly as the front nine holes were negotiated. The elements do not aid a player around the entirety of a links course however, and through the back nine the wind at St. Andrews bore its teeth, putting a defiant halt to any highfalutin notions of a course record.

Jordan Spieth, discarded by history, for now at least, by just a few inches was valiant in defeat, while his playing partner, Jason Day -after four seconds at majors in serious nearly-man mode- was left to rue some pretty ordinary iron play on his way back as he too missed the playoff by a shot. Without dwelling on Spieth –particularly in a week where he tied for fourth- it is hard to ignore the nervelessness and resilience that are to forefront of his game, not to mention his phenomenal putting, which will assuredly lead to many more successes at major championships. Spieth’s achievements will, and indeed already have demanded endless attention, so it would be remiss, and frankly ignorant to ignore the Champion Golfer of the Year, Zach Johnson. Humble and earnest, the archetypal mid-westerner, the thirty-nine year old was philosophical in noting that his patience this week garnered the ultimate prize after he missed out on a playoff with Spieth and Tom Willis just a week earlier at the John Deere Classic.

It was somewhat interesting that Johnson was led to say that it was the Bible that provided him with patience, while also acknowledging that his management of the course and superb putting were equally important in getting him over the line. Sportspeople, Americans in particular, are well known for crediting a large chunk of their ability and prowess to God –in their preferred form- while often overlooking the fact that it was their immense skill, dedication and ability which probably lead them to success. And, Zach Johnson is as god-fearing a man as the state of Iowa has produced. Putting your beliefs or lack thereof aside, Johnson’s reliance on the bible’s teachings is no more preposterous or unusual than attending a sports psychologist. The benefits of psychology to sportspeople are unquestioned, but if Johnson has found solace and direction in a book –as many others have- then why not?

Testing the general attitude after Monday’s final round, it was difficult to say that there was excitement surrounding the American’s victory. It goes without saying that, as a two-time major winner, the thirty-nine-year-old is an immensely talented golfer. Nonetheless, colourful characters are far more appealing and it is unfortunate –purely from a superficial aspect- that Johnson’s blandness is, oxymoronically, his standout characteristic. One suspects he could not care less but with so many romantic (Paul Dunne, Padraig Harrington) and historic (Jordan Spieth) possibilities available the Open Championship 2015 ended on somewhat of an anti-climax, although in the context of a three-way four-hole playoff that may be a hard point to sell.

A quick word on Rory McIlroy. While any tournament is the lesser for his absence, it is fantastic to see that golf does not rely on his presence in the same manner it used on Tiger Woods in the 2000s. For many reasons –none more obvious than Tiger breaking down the stuffy, antiquated, interminably white door of golf for minority competitors- Woods was a unique, once in a generation player whose impact was farther reaching than perhaps any sportsman before or since. Woods broke down barriers and made golf cool, accessible and appealing for quite literally millions of people. McIlroy does have remarkable box office draw however, as proven by the global adulation garnered on him after last year’s double major triumph. Still, his loss has undoubtedly been tempered by the earlier than expected arrival of Jordan Spieth as a true player but also by the more pronounced depth in the field. In any event, McIlroy’s absence proved comprehensively that the show goes on, while also whetting the appetite for his and Spieth’s countless, future showdowns.

The recent dominance by McIlroy and Spieth has made many of us overly expectant that virtually every major in the foreseeable future will be a two man argument. While they are undoubtedly the two best golfers in the world, they are not the best every week as proven so clearly by Zach Johnson. Spieth and McIlroy may eventually take each other to different planes of brilliance –as Federer and Nadal once did- but the chasing pack are not going to step aside and wilfully admire their exploits. This week the elder empire struck back. And, with thanks to an impeccable putter and some reassuring scripture, the thirty-nine-year-old Zach Johnson railed, ever so politely, against those who say golf is becoming the exclusive preserve of young men.


Open Championship 2015

Open Championship 2015 – Preview

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 Favourites

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

  1. Rickie Fowler e/w @ 16/1
  2. Shane Lowry e/w @ 40/1
  3. Brooks Koepka e/w @ 50/1
  4. Victor Dubuisson e/w @ 66/1
  5. Eddie Pepperrell Top 10 @ 16/1