The Open Championship begins today at Royal Troon, a course very close to my own heart having grown up only 20 minutes away on the Ayrshire coast and having played the course many times. I am really looking forward to seeing the top players in the world compete for the oldest Major on a real old style course. Royal Troon is not long in modern terms but like all coastal courses relies on Mother Nature and deep penal bunkers to defend herself. The rough will be tough too and the course in general is slightly softer than in previous years due to significant rainfall over the winter and spring time but listening to the players who have completed practice rounds over the weekend “tough but fair” seems to be the considered opinion.
Royal Troon is a slightly odd composition as the first four holes (arguably 6 of the first 7 even) conceivably are all good birdie opportunities depending on a favourable wind and an attacking mentality. Scores will be made for sure on the front nine and in calm conditions or a slightly southerly breeze I would not be surprised to see a few scores in the very low 30s recorded on the front 9… the back 9 though is a different animal and anyone with a low score on the outward half will be compelled to play more conservatively as they try to protect their score on holes 10 through 15 with the tee shot on 11 perhaps being the most intimidating shot in golf- the train tracks are to the right, gorse bushes are in front of you and to the left and away in the distance if you peer very hard there is a small piece of land that is the fairway…only just visible!
The 11th Tee at Royal Troon
Where hole 11 is long and tough, hole 8 is the shortest hole on any of the Open venue courses measuring a mere 123 yards on the card but like so many good par 3s- the 12th at Augusta and the 17th at TPC Sawgrass are comparable- if you offered any player four par 3s over the week they would be delighted. Known as the Postage Stamp hole, the 8th at Royal Troon is perched up on a fairly high part of the course and is mightily exposed to any breeze from the Firth of Clyde to the west and is defended by 5 cavernous bunkers all of which are to be avoided if par is to be saved.
View from the 8th Tee at Royal Troon
The last 6 Opens at Royal Troon have been won by American players with perhaps the last Open Championship at Royal Troon in 2004 providing one of the biggest shocks ever seen at a Major when Todd Hamilton defeated Ernie Els in a playoff to clinch his only Major victory. Why do Americans tend to prevail at Troon and will they prevail in 2016 are the unanswered questions… Playing in Texas and parts of Florida can often provide testing windy conditions and when the greens are as good as they are at the likes of Troon it often helps the best putters which in 2004 Hamilton was and in 1997 the Champion Justin Leonard certainly was. Interestingly both had won previously on the PGA Tour in the season they won at Troon….as had Mark Calcavecchia who had won here in 1997 so there has to be some element of form to consider when trying to predict a winner. Dustin Johnson is undoubtedly the player in the best current form- he has won the past two tournaments that he has played in- The US Open and the World Golf Championship at Firestone so hard to argue with those stats, the World Number 1 is Australian Jason Day who has won three times already this year and but for a very poor opening day at the US Open would have certainly challenged Johnson for that title. He is a Major Champion, long from the tee, chips and putts well and left his 15 foot putt on the final hole of the Open last year 2 inches short to get into the play off so again hard to disregard his credentials. Rory McIlroy won the Open in 2014 and missed out last year due to injury so in his mind is defending his Open Championship and on his day is the most complete player in the field. But for me Royal Troon sets up well for Jordan Spieth- he is the best putter in the world, he has won this year already and will still be hurting from his final round in the Masters where he allowed a four stroke lead to slip. He also finished one shot outside the play off at St Andrews last year despite never having played the course before and playing in the worst conditions of the week. The meticulous Spieth opted to travel over to Troon earlier than normal this year by not playing on the PGA Tour last week to ensure his preparations are perfect and in my opinion could be the one to watch this week.
From an Irish perspective Padraig Harrington is a two time Open Champion and played fairly well last week at the Scottish Open and he lead after 58 holes of last year’s Championship so if conditions are tough Padraig could thrive, Shane Lowry has the belief and the short game to contend if things go his way and Graeme McDowell played reasonably well in the Scottish Open having had a tough star to the year. Paul Dunne qualified once again and will look to replicate his form from St Andrews where he led the field as an amateur for 54 holes of the tournament.
Colin Montgomerie also came through the very difficult Qualifying process to play at Troon where he will now have the honour of playing the first shot of the Championship at 6.35am this morning. Monty has great affiliation to Royal Troon- his father was the Secretary there for many years and none of the field will know the course as well as 53 year old Montgomerie who, with a calm day on Thursday morning followed by a windy afternoon, could set a good first day target for a few players. He can still compete on a shorter course such as Troon and would be a proud to play all four rounds at his home Club for the final time having played his first ever golf shot as a child on the Portland course at Royal Troon.
Jordan Spieth may be my favourite for the week out of the top ranked players but others to look out for might be:
Branden Grace– South African who has played well in a few Majors recently and excellent low ball flight to combat the wind
Andy Sullivan-young English golfer who would have watched his buddy Danny Willet win the Masters earlier this year and thought “if he can win won so can I”. Sullivan is a very aggressive player but one of the best putters on the European Tour and has a very positive on course mental attitude also
David Lingmerth– Swedish PGA Tour player who is one of the best iron players on Tour, a good competitor and would have played some Links golf as an amateur
For the first time in history the golf will be covered by a non-terrestrial broadcaster and I for one am ok with that- the coverage, while it may be interrupted with advertising, will be round the clock and with excellent analysis and post round interviews. I look forward to watching the opening groups tee off and still being able to watch the highlights when I come home later in the evening. I would encourage all players, aspiring Champions and avid club golfers to watch if they can, learn from the best and be a part of the oldest golf tournament in history. The Open began in 1860 at the course next door to Royal Troon- Prestwick Golf Club when the players played 3 rounds of 12 holes and the winner received “The Challenge Belt”. 156 years later the Claret Jug is now the prize but the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year” remains intact.
Enjoy the show…!