The home of golf is back on the Open Championship rotation and St. Andrews is the venue where everyone wants the win that little bit more. The big news ahead of this year's renewal is the withdrawal of world No.1 Rory McIlroy due to injury. Jordan Spieth - 6.00 - takes over as favourite and the 21-year-old - fresh off another win at the John Deere Classic - can wrestle that number one spot in the official world golf rankings off Rory with another success on the Old Course.
A very competitive market is now shaping up and personally I think there's a lot of value available in the upper echelon for the specific type of test St. Andrews offers. Louis Oosthuizen - 23.00 - won here back in 2010 and Paul Casey - 34.00 - was the man paired with him on final day Sunday. Both those guys have been playing well lately and have seen money. Rickie Fowler - 19.00 - continues to shorten after his Scottish Open success while Tiger Woods - 36.00 - can never be written off, but there are a few Europeans who are not being given enough respect here in my opinion. One such man is Sergio Garcia who owns a supremely strong Open Championship record.
Looking back at the Open Championship leaderboard from ST. Andrews in 2010, there's a strong bias towards big hitters and the best ball strikers. Only two Americans featured while 6 of the top 10 players were from Europe. 5 players share the course record (62) at the home of golf: Paul Casey, Victor Dubuisson, George Coetzee, Tommy Fleetwood and Louis Oosthuizen, all of whom can send it out there.
The course - Old Course at St. Andrews
One of the oldest tracks in the world, St. Andrews plays 7,305 yards long to a par of 72, comprising generous landing areas, large undulating double greens and deep pot bunkers. There are three potentially drivable par 4s (depending on the wind) and it's the elements that are the only real defence of the course here *. Back in 2010 one half of the field had a distinct advantage as a 40-50 yard equating gale got up at one stage, even delaying play for a short period. In benign conditions the track can be taken apart, especially by the bigger hitters. Rory McIlroy led with a 63 after round 1 in 2010. Premium will be on length from the tee, top ball striking (if the wind gets up), and putting average / lag putting should prove key to success.
* Early weather reports do indicate a bias towards the early / late starters but as always they are subject to fluctuation
Three from the pack
Henrik Stenson - 23.00 or 5.50 - is a regular feature on Open Championship leaderboards. The Swede owns a 50% top 3 Open Championship strike rate in his last six appearances. He chased down Phil Mickelson in 2013 and at the last St. Andrews renewal, Stenson recorded one of those top 3 finishes. Henrik leads (1st) the ball striking stat on the PGA Tour and ranks 2nd in total driving despite using the Driver sparingly. He is a fine links exponent with everything but a major Championship under his belt. With a 2nd place finish last time out at the BMW International Open, he is arguably the man to beat this week.
The aforementioned Sergio Garcia is a standout out price for me now relative to the market leaders at 41.00 or 9.00. The Spaniard has been extremely close to winning this Championship, pipped by Padraig Harrington, and it's undoubtedly the major he's most likely to win. Not many have a better Open Championship record than the man who's notched no less than 8 top 10s in the tournament. He's been runner up twice, including last year to Rory McIlroy. Sergio was 14th back at ST. Andrews in 2010 and is renowned for his ball striking skills and tee to green play. He is a specialist in the wind with his control of the golf ball and Garcia is ranked 4th in strokes gained: tee to green on the PGA Tour in 2015.
Martin Kaymer - 41.00 or 9.00 - is another of the Europeans not been given the respect he deserves. Talk about horses for courses and Martin probably fits the criteria at St. Andrews the most and he has the form here to back it up. The German lost out in a playoff at the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2008 but then went on to lift the silverware and fulfill a dream in the 2010 renewal, closing with a 66. That same year, Kaymer was bang in contention here at the Open Championship after 54 holes only to slip to a Sunday 74 and a share of 7th place. The multiple major winner will use his putter from distance as he did so efficiently at Pinehurst en route to a US Open 36 hole scoring record and ultimately his 2nd major. Maybe he'll bring out that "super iron" again to deal with the wind. The German warmed up with a 4th place in France.
Victor Dubuisson - 81.00 or 17.00 - is one of those holding the course record here at the Old Course and Victor has been rounding into form nicely after a slow start to the season. The big hitter is showing progressive 20-12-10 figures. The Frenchman was T5 at the Alfred Dunhill Links is 2012 where he posted the 62 in the opening round. Dubuisson was T9 in last year's Open Championship and has shown he has what it takes in big events, recording a couple of top 3s in the DP World Tour championship, a win at the Turkish Airlines and a runner up in the WGC World Matchplay
Ross Fisher's quote of 201.0 or 41.00 this week is a baffling one for me. Fisher has Open Championship pedigree having led through 58 holes by two strokes at Turnberry in 2009 before a quad bogey scuppered his chances. He also has links form with a win at the KLM Open and home pedigree too with wins in Ireland at Killarney and at the London Club in England. Again it's horses for courses and Ross Fisher - who closed with a 65 at St. Andrews in 2008 to get into an Alfred Dunhill Links Championship playoff with Robert Karlsson and Kaymer, has all the attributes to go well around the Old Course. Ross finished T37 here in 2010 but carded two rounds of 68 in the process. The Englishman surprisingly comes into theevent completely off the radar given he's showing progressive form of 35-11-7 from the Irish Open, BMW PGA championship and Scottish Open, two of those, strong links tests.
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