The golfing world’s great and good head to the East Coast of Scotland this week, with Carnoustie taking its place in the Open Championship rotation for the first time since 2007. The Angus based track has been subjected to the same prolonged heat-wave as the rest of the UK, resulting in scorched fairway and burnt greens. Players have been reporting fairways rolling faster than greens and even the shortest hitters rolling drives out over 300 yards so the challenge promises to be somewhat different to that facing players in 2007 and 1999, when competitors were faced with wet and windy conditions in the lead up to and during the tournaments.
While a textbook links test, the course dubbed Car-nasty after the 1999 edition of The Open, which saw Paul Lawrie emerge triumphant from a three man playoff having recorded a score of +7 certainly features a non-classic layout. The standard 9 in, 9 out approach is eschewed for a more meandering course design, resulting in a stiff challenge for players if the wind does blow, as they’ll be required to reassess on every hole. On top of this, despite being a 7,400 yard par 71, the course features just two par 5s and three par 3s, meaning that there are a number of very par 4 holes, though the fact the conditions are so fast will not give any significant advantage to the bombers.
Indeed, given there are over 100 bunkers on the course, and water in play on six of the holes, I would strongly favour a shorter, more cerebral player to emerge victorious this week.
The bunkers here are truly hazardous and there are some that simply will not allow you to advance your ball. The sight of players having to chip out sideways is not uncommon so being well positioned off the tee is crucial, as is the ability to miss in the appropriate areas greenside. The rough is highly penal also, with gorse and fescue awaiting anyone who strays too far offline and out of bounds areas prominent on a number of holes. As is often the case in Open Championship (and major events in general), players are going to get bad breaks and unlucky kicks and having the patience to deal with this will be a more significant asset than the ability to rip it 350 off the tee. Jordan Spieth’s cool processing of the situation on the 13th hole at Birkdale last year was ultimately what propelled him to his victory, whilst poor Jean Van Der Veld’s confused thinking on the 18th here in 1999 was what enabled Paul Lawrie to snatch a win when he’d have been priced up at 1000.00 (if Matchbook had been around then!) moments earlier.
Some players will be familiar with Carnoustie from 2007 (fewer still from 1999), and the layout is likely to be largely similar.
However, it will not be particularly similar to the layout players are given during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship each year, as the tournament organisers make allowances for the fact that that is a Pro-Am event, therefore making the test that much easier. This isn’t to say form from that event should be discounted as it is still indicative of players who play links golf well but you may wish to temper your expectations if you are expecting Tommy Fleetwood to come out and equal his course record this week.
With that said, form at links courses is a huge plus this week and taking a look at prior performances at Open Championships, Scottish Opens, Irish Opens and the Alfred Dunhill links is strongly recommended. You have to go all the way back to Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 to find a winner who had not had a previous top 6 finish in the Open prior to their victory and the vast majority of those winners also had wins or podium finishes at the other events mentioned.
Links golf is very nuanced and it will certainly pay to side with those who have demonstrated an affinity for this type of challenge.
Given this is a major week, you’d expect the cream of the crop to be in attendance and that is certainly the case, with the betting indicating that this is as open a major championship as I can remember.
A glance down the list reveals so fantastically juicy odds available on various players, which strong pedigree but sadly I cannot put them all up here for lack of bandwidth! As such, I am going with a four strong shortlist against the field, all of whom I’d consider links experts.
I will start with a man who is already proving popular amongst punters this week, Sweden’s Alex Noren. The world number 11 has become a prolific winner over the past four years, winning seven events in that timeframe, including the Open de France in his last competitive appearance. He has winning links form in Scotland, taking down the 2016 Scottish Open at CastleStewart and meets the trend of having a prior top 6 at the Open as he finished in that spot last year Birkdale, as well as recording top 10 back in 2012. He’s a very strategic player that plots his way around a course as well as anyone in the world currently and I believe his cool, calm demeanour will give him a strong advantage over more excitable types in the field. Seemingly still on the upgrade despite being 36 years old, his experience should play well here and it make represent his best opportunity of matching countryman Henrik Stenson in securing a major title.
My next selection is world number 18 Marc Leishman. The amiable Aussie was a playoff loser at St Andrews in 2015, following a tie for 5th at Royal Liverpool in 2014 and backed up by a 6th placed finish last year at Birkdale. It appears that his upbringing in the windy tundra down under has position him well for the challenges of links golf and there is no doubt this style of thoughtful negotiation of a course brings out his A game. Whilst he hasn’t won yet this season, he finished top 10 at Augusta showing his major pedigree and enters the week off the back of encouraging tie for 13th at TPC Potomac, home of the Quicken Loans National. He is high on the list of best players not to win a major and an Open Championship would seem the most natural fit for his game. Expect a strong challenge.
Third on my list is a man who has, perhaps understandably, experienced a dip in form following a momentus 12 months which featured his first major title, a marriage and now a first born child – Sergio Garcia. Having come to terms to all of the changes in his life recently, the Spaniard appears to be getting back towards his best as a T12 at the BWM International and a T8 at the Open de France in his two most recent outings demonstrate. However, more than anything it’s his sterling Open Championship record and his history at Carnoustie which mark him down as a must bet. In the 18 Open Championships played this century, Garcia has finished in the top 10 on 10 occasions with five top 5s and a pair of runner ups. One of those runner ups came here back in 2007 when he lead after every round and required just a par at the 72nd hole for victory, ultimately missing an 8ft putt to fall into a playoff which he lost to Padraig Harrington. Although I’m sure that memory remains strong, we should not forget his outstanding all round performance that week, indicating that he is very comfortable with the course and the set up. At a workable price, he should be part of the staking plan as a links specialist.
The final man rounding out our plan is two time Alfred Dunhill Links winner Tyrrell Hatton. Whilst those wins are obviously very encouraging as they show his affinity for links golf, it is Hatton’s recent form on the game’s biggest stages which is highlighting him as a man to watch this week. 44th on his second time around Augusta was a good effort, following hot on the heels of a 3rd placed WGC Mexico finish, but it was his 6th placed at the US Open which really shows that his finding his feet at world level. He’s backed that up with some solid European Tour form, including a tie for 9th at the Scottish Open and looks ready to bring the sort of game which saw him finish 5th at the 2016 Open at Troon. He can be prone to elements of hot-headedness on course when puts aren’t dropping, which could be a concern, but two professional wins in Scotland and a bevy of excellent form in world class fields counters that enough for me.
- Alex Noren – 1.5 points @ 35.00 (lay 3 points @ 6.0)
- Marc Leishman – 1 point @ 46 (lay 4 points @ 7.0)
- Sergio Garcia – 1 point @ 35.00 (lay 3 points @ 6.0)
- Tyrrell Hatton – 1 point @ 46.00 (lay 4 points @ 7.0)