The Open returns to what appears to be a changed St Andrews, Tiger Woods who won here in 2000 and 2005 claims to have "not recognised" the old course when he arrived as it was so green, but I doubt it is going to play too differently and if the high gusty wind arrives as forecast on Friday, it will show a different side to the benign links which newcomers might be fooled into thinking it has become. Late afternoon on Friday looks like being very testing indeed and those out on course after 13.00 could and it has to said that the weather can change very quickly in this part of the world, be at a big disadvantage. That includes Snedeker, Bubba, Westwood, Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Day, Woods and Oosthuizen ( who have won the last three Opens at St Andrews between them) and the wonder boy of golf ,Jordan Spieth.
That is not to say they they cannot win, the wind might not arrive or could even come early (!), but it is forecast to be late in the day, pretty strong and gusty and if it does, these guys will find it tough, last year, you might remember, our selection Adam Scott was "robbed" by the weather and was one of only two who finished in the top 25 from the "wrong" side of the draw, which was on that that occasion ( late Thursday/early Friday).
Big name players, or those with solid Open form who currently look to be on the better side of the draw include Adam Scott, Kaymer, Mickelson, Stenson, Kuchar, Rose, Fowler, Furyk and Casey.
Betting pre tournament as we are, I could only consider those players going out earlyish on Friday and I would also need them to have good solid links form and be in decent shape form wise. Spieth is the best player on the planet right now and by some way, but having arrived only on Monday and never having hit a shot at the course before then and on the wrong side of the draw, he could not enter my calculations at such low odds.
I am going to start with Adam Scott, I was incredibly bullish about his chances last year when I wrote .............
"The course at Hoylake is little changed from the one Tiger Woods played irons off the tee for 71 holes to win in 2006. It took a then course record round from Graeme McDowell to keep him off the top of the leaderboard on day 1, but he was in front for the next three days to record a famous and very emotional win, it being his first major title after the passing of his father. Given recent history it is hard to see a repeat, but with Tiger, you can never say never.
The course will not be as bone dry this week, infact, it is said to be lush, but that could quickly change. However, the rough will surely be more penal and the fairways slower. it will be a real test and a "proper" Open course, which means to win, your all round game will have to be in very good shape with no chinks and only a champion will win this.
At first glance you might feel you will also have to be very good on the Par 5's. Tiger was -14 for those 16 holes without a driver in 2006, but I do not feel that will be as vital ( it will help though) this time round and a key stat that many people have highlighted is Par 4 scoring and the last six Open winners have all been ranked first or second come the end of the weekend .
So, I am looking for a "champion" , one who can play Open links style golf, is well prepared and who is very good at Par 4 scoring. My, not very original choice, is Adam Scott, the world number ranked player. he is certainly a champion, already has a Masters to his name and should have 3-4 more slams, he blew a huge winning chance in the Open in 2012 leading by four with a round to play, but he has since won his major, which relieves the pressure and he followed up that second to Ernie Els two years ago, with a third place last year. He played here in 2006 and finished in tie for 8th, failure to post one really low round (sub 68), which all the top seven golfers did, cost him dear. He has a links win to his name and it came at Gleneagles ( I know it is not by the sea btw) by a whopping ten strokes and he could post something equally sensational if everything clicked.
He is ranked T2nd for P4 scoring on Tour which I think is his highest ever and he is also #1 on the Par 5's, so far so good ! He has played ten US Tour events this year, been top 25 in 9, top 14 in eight and top ten in 6, it is almost inconvievable he will not contend this week and I feel he has given himself the very best possibility to do so.
Very much a big time player now with his game and schedule focused around the majors, he has finished top 10 in 8 of the last 14 slams , that alone suggests he has a 57% chance (odds 1.75) of finishing top 10, without considering any other factors in his favour.
He bypassed the Scottish Open last week and arrived at Royal Liverpool a week ago and played the course ( a full 18 holes at least four times) and I doubt any one will have better knowledge of the layout and how the course is likely to play. That meant all the hard work was done early and he has been able to sit back a bit and really work on fine tuning his game over the last day or two.
In interview yesterday he said :"I'm playing some of my best golf at the moment and I don't know how long that's going to last so I've got to try to take advantage and win all the events that I'd really love to win - and this is certainly one of them."I've given myself a couple of opportunities and haven't done it. I think maybe the third time you have to do it or it might not come back around."I think Lytham was the proving to me that I've got what it takes to win.
"It was obviously not the finish there but that gave me a lot of confidence not just about playing well in majors but also (that I) had the game to win an Open Championship."I'm playing some of the best golf of my life at the moment so I should really be taking advantage of it and stepping up this week and putting myself in with a good chance."
"It's very hard to adjust (to links golf) in the short space of time we have and that's why I find it valuable coming up the week before, because I feel I need to give myself a good week of really understanding."A lot of it is feel and you need a bit of time and you need to play to do that.
"You won't find that on the range because you're not really paying attention to how far the ball is going on the range."I've played Royal Aberdeen before and I know it's a great track but the way I see it, and it might be wrong, but why play that links when you can play this one?"I feel like I can come out here and learn the golf course I'm trying to perform on."
He gave up six strokes to Tiger on those Par 5's in 2006, that is unlikely this time round, to Woods, or anyone else and I will be disappointed an an awful lot poorer if he doesn't go close.
The Australian has been very profitable for me in the past, so I am not really betting with my money, but I have bet him strongly this week ."
Usually, I can forget about losers in an instant and that was actually a winner as I put him up to win and finish top 10 and he was T5th, but, and I promise this is the last time I will mention it, from the other side of the draw he wins by 3-4 strokes and I do not care how well Rory McIlroy played and it still irritates me if I think about it and I wish there was a way that all golfers could play in the same conditions, but until that indoor course (!) in China is built, that is not possible. However, after the first two days it is less of an issue as the leading contenders are playing in a fairly narrow time band. Not a classic 2015 for Scott by any means, he has struggled with his game and by trying to switch to the traditional putter and to life without coach Steve Williams (more of both later) , but in his last two starts, and the Australian plays a very limited schedule anyway based solely around majors and WGC.big events, he has shown signs that it is all coming together. Scott shot 66-66 on Friday/Saturday at the Colonial for a top 25 finish and then a Sunday 64 at the US Open for a share of 4th spot.
He has gone back to the broom handled putter for as long as rules will allow and has accepted Steve Williams back onto the bag, the pair had split amicably only because the Kiwi wanted to spend more time with his family and only caddy for the big events, which Scott originally declined, but they are working out something to suit both and the hugely experienced Williams, who carried the bag for Tiger Woods in 13 of his 14 major wins, including two here at St Andrews, is going to be invaluable this week and I would suggest that he knows the course better than all but a (small) handful of golfers taking part this week and add that to Scott's expertise and Open form and (hopefully) good draw and Adam Scott HAS to go close.
Williams, who is a very plain speaker has been telling Scott every day that there is no "bloody" reason why he cannot win this week, the pair see saving par as being key and have been seen holing hundreds of putts from 6-8 feet in practice. Like last year at Hoylake, Scott arrived very early and has played the course as much (more ?) than anyone in build up. St Andrews is a funny par 72 in that there are 14 par 4's and you have to play them well, Scott was only six shots adrift of 3rd here in 2010 and had bogies at 13 par 4's which is why they have been focusing on saving par in practice this week. Scott is a more complete player now, better anyway on Par 4's (see last year's notes) and now a major champion. Scott has finished top 10 in 10 of his last 18 majors and top 15 in 14 of those and I think his odds are just great this week.
Adam Scott to win outright 21.0-26.0 general quote.....there is 25.0 on Betfair for huge liquidity.
Adam Scott to finish top 10 2.875-3.25 general quote.
I must admit I was very keen on the chances of Louis Oosthuizen, who I bigged up on the final day of the US Open when he played well and he won here really very easily in 2010, but on his side of the draw it will be tough if the wind blows. I might get involved properly with him over the weekend if he survives that, but he was going to form a major part of my pre tournament betting before I saw the weather forecast, so just to "stop" him running away with this early, I will suggest Louis Oosthuizen to win outright at a general 26.0 .
Rickie Fowler served us well at the Scottish Open on Sunday and once again proved his liking for this style of golf............"I was quite surprised to see Rickie Fowler priced at 5.0 + having made him circa 4.0 in my 100% ( non profit margin) book he is one of the few really world class players on the top ten of the leaderboard and the closest to the top. His win at the Players Championship this year was something very special and a performance you will not see most seasons, he has shown a love for links golf finishing top five in two of the last four Opens and shooting 68-65 over the weekend in this event last year. He knows that a good result here will not hinder his chances next week, with good friend Phil Mickelson ( despite a minor spate last year) having won both in 2013 and probably needs the confidence boost of another victory to take into the major, with consistency being hard to come by for Fowler this season. That certainly wasn't the case last year, with a top 5 finish in all four majors, he lost out narrowly in the last two after doing final day battle with Rory McIlroy who took both and whilst the gentlemanly Fowler would never say so, at least subconsciously, he must have got a minor boost from the news of the Ulsterman's injury this last week. He has to go close this afternoon."
He closed out the tournament very well, looked incredibly relaxed and happy in post round interviews, but focused on St Andrews and the absence of McIlroy ( see above) is bigger for him than anyone else, having been edged out by Rory twice last year and the young american is on the "right" side of the draw. Fowler came here in 2010 as a 21 yo and finished T14th after an opening round 79, 16 shots worse than McIlroy and it says so much about him that he made the cut, let alone posted a big finish, he is twice the player now, has been top five in two of the last four Opens and with Spieth, Bubba, Dustin, Tiger, Snedeker etc on the other side of the draw, I certainly see him as the most likely US contender. I am very keen on this bet............
Rickie Fowler to be Top American golfer 8.50-10.0 general quote......1/4 odds four places, decent profit if he is in the top four US finishers and it is very difficult for me to see him out of contention.