THE good and the great of golf turn up at Royal Troon this week for the 145th Open Championship.
The golf club has hosted this competition eight times, the first being in 1923, and it hasn’t got any easier since then.
Signature hole is the Postage Stamp and although the par three is only 123 yards it is surrounded by five bunkers. You’ve got to land on the green to make sure you get your par because anywhere else and you could be indeep trouble. Even Tiger Woods was caught there with a six after taking two to get out a bunker and then three-putted in 1997.
Anyway down to business. I think this is going to be one of the hardest Opens to pick a winner. The top four in the world at the moment have all won tournaments in the last two or three months – Jason Day (The Players), two in a row for Dustin Johnson (US Open and WGC-Bridgestone), Jordan Spieth (Dean & Deluca) and Rory McIlroy (Irish Open). You would think therefore one of the aforementioned is going to win this Claret Jug. Or are they?
Well, I think one of them will and those of you who read this piece regularly will not need no guesses on who that might be.
The big question for me is whether Dustin Johnson will go for it in five of the first six holes. Depending on the wind he can reach the first three holes (par 4s) from the tee and the fourth and sixth par fives are easily reachable in two for the big man.
Johnson was in with a chance in 2011 but hit his second out of bounds on 14 in the last round. Last year at St Andrews he tore the Old Lady apart on the first day with a seven-under 65, followed that up with a 69.
Unfortunately it began to unravel on the final three holes of Saturday when he bogeyed them all. On the Sunday it was much the same with another 75 to round off his weekend.
That was when he seemed to be scared of winning a Major but with that elusive win under his belt his confidence is sky high and with wins in his last two outings a success here is a real possibility.
I think long and straight off the tee is going to be important but so are scrambling and putting so here are DJ’s stats. Driving distance 312.5 yards (2nd), driving accuracy 56.8% (146th), scrambling 59.57% (77th), putts per round 28.46 (24th). Johnson’s driving accuracy over the last four tournaments averages over 60 per cent so it has improved significantly.
What of the challengers? El Nino is blowing in from the west and he could at last win that elusive Major. There are not many golfers in better form than Sergio Garcia, in fact probably only Johnson.
He has four top-five finishes in his last five outings including a win at the Byron Nelson and a T5 at the US Open. Also in his last two Opens he has finished T2 and T6. He’s another whose stats have improved over the last couple of months. DD 299.4 (27th), DA 59.65 (100th), Scrambling 56.02% (152nd) and PPR 29.76 (187th).
Henrik Stenson has had three top-three finishes in The Open over the years and with the form he is in he can pick up the Claret Jug this year. After a disastrous 76 in the first round of the Scottish Open last week Stenson hit back with 69 66 70 to finish T13 – this followed a great win in the BMW International Open by three shots two weeks before.
His stats stand up for Troon: DD 291.3 (78th) DA 69.21% (11th) – i n Europe his DA is 76.2% 1st – Scrambling 54.91% (163rd) – in Europe 60.6% 15th – and PPR 29.76 (187th).
Played twice in The Open, missed the cut once and T20 last year at St Andrews and form not that great, so why I am picking Patrick Reed? Good question but there is so much to Reed’s game including a superb short game I just have a feeling he could come good here at Troon.
After a disastrous first-round 75 at Castle Stuart last week he finished off with a couple of 67s for a T10 finish. His stats look quite solid for Troon and they give me hope of a top-five finish. DD 295.4 (48th), DA 57.42% (140th), Scrambling 64.88% (8th) and PPR 28.57 (36th).
And finally can a Scot win The Open in Scotland? I would like to think so and that man is Russell Knox (I know, you thought I was going to say Colin Montgomerie).
Knox is fifth in the FedEx rankings and is having a great year in the States. He won the WGC HSBC Champions at the beginning of the season and was second at the RBC Heritage. He also managed a second at the Irish Ope and has decent stats – DD 285 yards (139th), DA 67.41% (16th), Scrambling 62.16% (31st), PPR 29.56 (173rd).
3pts win Dustin Johnson (William Hill, 9-1)
1.5pts ew Sergio Garcia (Betway, 25-1)
1.5pts ew Henrik Stenson (Coral, 30-1)
1.5pts ew Patrick Reed (888Sport, 70-1)
1.5pts ew Russell Knox (Betfred, 100-1)