Former Talksport man Charlie McCann examines the field for The Open and gives us his thoughts about the contenders at St George’s.
The Open Championship was last held at St George’s in 2003 when little-known Ben Curtis, playing in his first Major let alone first Open Championship, won by a shot from Vijay Singh and Thomas Bjorn.
Bjorn was three shots clear of Curtis on the 15th tee but a bogey was followed by a double on the 16th when he famously took three shots to get out of a green-side bunker. Now tied with Curtis the Dane dropped another shot on 17 and couldn’t get the necessary birdie at 18 to force a play-off.
What changes will the players who teed up eight years ago face in 2011? Well the course will be 100 yards longer at 7211 yards but will play as a par 70 with the 4th hole now an extremely demanding 495 yard par 4 rather than a 497 yard par 5.
Given less than 30% of the drives finished on the 1st fairway during the 2003 event the landing area has been widened by 12 yards as has the 17th and 18th. Tiger Woods lost his ball on the 1st hole in 2003 and shot a triple bogey 7; when you consider the former World Number 1 was two shots adrift of Curtis at the end it was a very costly opening hole.
Royal St George’s is not everyone’s cup of tea; Jack Nicklaus described it as his least favourite Open venue with its deep bunkers, undulations and hazards not clearly visible from the tee but it is a quintessentially British links course and some of the greats of the game Vardon, Hagen, Cotton, Locke and Norman are amongst the winners of the Claret Jug at the first English course to host the Championship. The Club will host the tournament for the 14th time later in the month.
The betting for the 2011 Open Championship with is led by the recent US Open Champion Rory McIlroy at 6/1. The genial Irishman has not been off our TV screens since his 8-shot victory at Congressional but it has not been with a golf club in his hand. I wonder if the talented McIlroy will bring his A game to Kent as he copes with the increased media attention that come with being a Major Champion, and one that could easily have been half way to the Grand Slam had it not been for his final round collapse at the Masters.
World number 2 Lee Westwood is next best at 9/1; Westwood has finished runner up and third in the last two Open Championships’ and his long game continues to excel; but he failed to make the cut at St George’s in 2003 (shot 76, 75) and there remains the nagging doubt that he doesn’t hole his fair share of putts especially when push comes to shove to become a Major winner
World Number 1 Luke Donald (16/1 with ) finished fifth at Turnberry in 2009 and finished just outside the top 10 last year. His play-off defeat of Westwood at Wentworth in the PGA Championship took him to the top of the rankings, but he will need to drive the ball better than he has on occasions if he is to challenge next week.
At the time of writing it is unsure if three-time Open Champion and 14-time Major winner Tiger Woods (16/1) will tee up in Kent as he continues to struggle with injury. Lest we forget Woods tied for 4th in the Masters back in April although we have only seen him play nine subsequent holes as he withdrew after an opening six-over par 42 at Sawgrass in the Players’ Championship the following month.
Woods will surely bounce back at some time but until he confirms his participation he makes no appeal as a betting medium. I can see punters waiting to see how Tiger looks on the opening holes to see his demeanour as well as his game before supporting the former world number 1.
Europeans Martin Kaymer (16s) and Sergio Garcia (20s) will have their supporters and the latter has returned to something like his best form in recent months. Garcia still can’t believe he didn’t win the Open at Carnoustie in 2007 when after taking a three-shot lead into the final day he lost in a play-off to Padraig Harrington despite the Irishman taking a double-bogey at the 72nd hole. Par for Garcia would have given him the title but a bogey five meant a play-off which Harrington duly won.
In the year of the death of his friend and mentor Severiano Ballesteros it would be fitting if Garcia could win the Claret Jug at St George’s; will this be the year when his putter finally behaves itself for all four rounds?
Woods apart, the American challenge is led by Phil Mickelson (33/1) but Leftie has only one top-ten Open finish to his name and that was back in 2004 when he finished a shot off the play-off eventually won by little-known Todd Hamilton.
Dual winner on the PGA Tour in 2011 Nick Watney (28/1) shot an 81 in last year’s final round of the PGA Championship when in the 54-hole lead, but similar to McIlroy that experience looks to have had a positive effect and his weekend 62, 66 in the AT&T sees him go into the Open Championship on the back of a win. Watney has played in the Open Championship on three occasions and his finishing positions of 32nd, 27th and 7th last year gives further evidence that he is clearly coming to terms with links golf and one to watch in Kent.
The sporting selection, however, is a more experienced American Steve Stricker (40/1) who won the Memorial at Muirhead Village last month becoming the first player in the history of the event to play all 4 rounds in the 60s. Stricker has two top 10 finishes in the Open at Birkdale in 2008 and Carnoustie 12 months earlier and although not the longest of hitters he hits a high percentage of greens in regulation and, if he has a good week on the greens, he gets the nod in what promises to be another wonderful week of golf.
Luck will always play its part especially in links golf; Nicklaus did not enjoy the undulations of St George’s where a bad bounce can take what appears a good shot off line into the deep bunkers or unforgiving rough. Patience will certainly be a virtue on the Kent coast but who will hold the Claret Jug aloft on Sunday week?
We will be betting in-running throughout the tournament and don’t forget our offer if your pre-tournament selection has a hole-in-one during the 72 holes we will pay you out as a winner.
Open Championship: are betting ¼ odds first 6 on the event.
R McIlroy 6/1
L Westwood 9/1
L Donald 16/1
T Woods 16/1
M Kaymer 16/1
S Garcia 20/1
N Watney 28/1
G McDowell 28/1
P Mickelson 33/1
J Day 33/1
C Schwartzel 33/1
I Poulter 33/1
For all your sporting odds this weekend check out