THE OPEN is about to tee off and once again the race for the Claret Jug is wide open.
Windy conditions are predicted on Thursday and Sunday so the chances of many could be blown away before they've really got going.
The Royal Birkdale track is tight and tough and it's going to take a an accurate and not necessary long player to win this one.
Bookies always tread carefully where Woods is concerned but the 36-year-old hasn’t been at his best in Majors in recent years and he's one I'll leave alone unless he's seriously in the mix come Friday.
To be honest I wouldn't advise too many bets until the weekend because any of the top men could miss the cut. A lot depends on who gets the best draw but anyone whose game is slightly off will struggler.
Lee Westwood is second favourite at 12-1 with Ladbrokes and others and while I'd love to see him win a Major the longer the wait goes on the tougher the challenge for him becomes, especially on home soil. He should, however, finish well up the field and I like 4-5 from Paddy Power for a top-20 place.
Rory McIlroy is 22-1 at William Hill and others and although the Irishman has a Major to his name he has missed four cuts in his last six outings and that's not great form to take to Lytham.
Much more consistent is of course world No.1 Luke Donald who put together four steady rounds at the Scottish Open last week. However, like Westie there is anxiety over his record in Majors and he doesn't look comfortable in this event.
However, he is usually straight off the tee and putts well so if he can play his usual game he must go close and 20-1 (various) is a fair price.
By contrast Padraig Harrington is a big fan of The Open having carded back-to-back victories in 2007 and 2008. He is also in decent form with top-10 finishes in his last couple of Majors so will have backers at 20-1 with Ladbrokes.
Dustin Johnson was runner-up last year and Boylesports’ 50-1 shot can lead an American while South African Ernie Els has finished second and third in previous Opens at Royal Lytham and is a 45-1 (various) chance.
It will be an emotional tournament with tributes paid to the late, great Seve Ballesteros who won The Open twice at Lytham.
Once he did it from the car park and yesterday I watched Alvaro Quiros being banned from using his driver on the range in case he hit the ball over the fence.
It got me thinking how fitting it would be if Quiros or even Sergio Garcia or Miguel Angel Jimenez lifted the Claret Jug in the shadow of Seve's most memorable triumph.
Quiros is one of the longest drivers on Tour – and sometimes a bit wayward – but if he controls his aggression he can score well anywhere. I'm having a little dabble on him at 250-1 at Skybet and Els and saving the rest of my bets for Friday night.
Remember when doing each-way bets dead-heat rules apply and this could reduce your winnings by a lot. For example you could easily have half a dozen extra players earning a place and remember some firms are going each-way on top seven.
I've seen a few top-20 tips and two players I'd add to this list are Garcia at 11-8 (various) and Thomas Bjorn, a steady player with a superb Open record, at 10-3 with William Hill and Coral.
Westwood top 20
(4-5, Paddy Power)
Bjorn top 20
(10-3, Coral, William Hill)