Not that I ever mention this more than 11 times a day but I once caddied in the Open Championship (Ross Drummond, 1996, since you ask). The experience gives me a unique insight into the sense of occasion confronting anyone taking part in a truly world-class sporting event like an Open, which is to say it’s big and it’s scary and I spent the entire week wandering around the fairways in a state of catatonic fear.
One can only wonder what it must be like for those required to actually hit golf shots. Since then I’ve always had massive respect for the 154 players who rock up at the Open venue each year, ready to grapple with golf’s most pressurized occasion.
It takes a lot to compete in a major championship. But it takes even more to win one of the damn things. Here’s a few contenders.
There might be a Claret Jug at the Open but there are no mugs. Everyone in the field has got talent. But who has the particular gifts of imagination and verve required for the Old Course, which more often than not identifies one of the very best players in the world at that time – if not the best – as the Open winner.
History suggests the list of potential winners stretches to no more than 20 names found at the top of the World Golf Rankings from Jordan Spieth to Sergio Garcia, from Dustin Johnston to Adam Scott.
TIP: The Top 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings. Open C’ship Odds here
The last two weeks have marked an unusual period in the gilded life of young Jordan Spieth (above), who has never before known what it was like to get bad press. That changed when he announced he would be competing in the John Deere Classic (which he subsequently won) rather than travelling to St Andrews to prepare for what could be an historic week.
Not many would swap a tilt at the record books for the delights of Wisconsin but Spieth loyally stuck by a tournament that stuck by him when he was just starting out in the professional game. But at what cost?
The Open itself, answer the critics. The Old Course offers a masterclass in strategy, demanding local knowledge and experience more than any other course in the world. Only a fool would turn up there expecting to win after just a couple of practice rounds, as Spieth will do this week.
But has there ever been a golfer so good, so young, who has shown such maturity or such an instinct the game?
In a technical sense Spieth does not dominate in any specific area of golf except in the one that counts more than any other – the ability to think his way around a golf course and to score.
TIP: Jordan Spieth 6/1
A 7297-yards the Old Course is short by modern standards (last month’s US Open was played on a Chambler Bay course that was almost 8000 yards long) but over the years it has favoured those players who were able to hit the ball far enough to reduce some of the course’s more notorious bunkers to irrelevance.
John Daly won here in his pomp back in 1995, likewise Tiger Woods in 2000 and 2005. Louis Oosthuizen, winner the last time the Open was played in St Andrews five years ago, may be short in stature but he is startlingly long with a driver in his hand.
This week’s field is stuffed with bombers: from Bubba Watson to Brooks Koepka – but there is no-one in the field with the raw, effortless power of Dustin Johnson.
DJ is long and he is straight, a gunslinger in golfer’s clothing. For him, the par 72 of the Old Course is a nominal figure on a scorecard.
He has the power to reach three or four greens off the tee and two of the par fives in two blows. He will be playing a par 68. That is one hell of an advantage.
TIP: Dustin Johnson 11/1
TIger Woods (above) brought new dimensions to the concept of being being aloof and remote. He is a hard man to like. But if you you can’t like the man, how about the story?
This week marks a homecoming of sorts for Woods, who has a sincere (for once) love of the Old Course.
My favourite course in the world, he tells anyone who will listen.
No wonder he loves it. He has won twice at the home of the golf, imperiously on both occasions. But he arrives this year as a diminished figure, a golfer way more likely to miss the cut than to trouble the engraver. His form for the last year has been wretched, with the gloom lifting only slightly after a 31st place finish in his last PGA Tour event.
How far has he fallen, that such a mediocre performance (by his own past glittering standards) should be deemed cause for celebration? The answer is that Tiger Woods has fallen very far indeed.
On the bright side, at least Woods has written the first act of a classic redemption play. The question is can be complete the story on golf’s greatest stage, his home from golfing home. At what will likely be long odds, it might be worth a punt on him doing exactly that.
TIP: Tiger Woods 35/1
Poor Ross Drummond never stood a chance in the ‘96 Open, burdened as he was by the brick-load weight of my non-existent caddying skills. He missed the cut, needless to say.
But let’s suspend reality for a few sentences and imagine he had been blessed with a proper caddy, a Peter Coleman, say, who caddied with bravery and judgment for Bernhard Langer for years or, even better, Steve Williams.
Coleman and Williams are the kind of bagmen who make a difference, who elevate the mediocre to the good, and the good to the great; who turn a top 20 finished into a top-10 and a top-five into a victory.
If this sounds fanciful then contrast Adam Scott’s woeful few opening months to the 2015 season with his top-three finish at last month’s US Open.
What changed was Steve Williams, begged out of retirement by a desperate Scott. Williams made a difference at Chambers Bay and he could make a difference this week.
Tip: Adam Scott 20/1
There is always a local heroes who emerges from the pack, who surf the swelling wave of hometown pride. There is something about the home of golf that brings out the prideful best of those who call Scotland home. Who will it be this year?
The name Marc Warren springs immediately to mind – always a talented player but who has only in recent times found the true path towards the upper echelons of the world rankings. He finished fourth at the Scottish Open on Sunday. It would come as no surprise if he produced a similar performance this week.
Tip: Marc Warren 150/1
CLASS, TEMPERAMENT, EXPERIENCE, FORM. THE FULL PACKAGE.
Step forward Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open winner at St Andrews.
The South African is widely acknowledged by his peers as having the best swing on tour, a smooth, unbreakable motion perfectly suited for the pressure of a major championship.
His temperament, too, is tungsten strong. Nothing phases Louis, who responds to success and adversity with the same easy groove of a jazz man at play.
He is in form (he outplayed the field over the last 54 holes of the US Open and would have won but for a sloppy opening round in the company of Tiger Woods) and he loves the golf course. Obviously.
There are many great players in this 2015 Open but there can only be one winner. Why not Louis?
Your winner: Louis Oosthuizen 22/1
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