Eight years ago, the sun beamed down on Royal Liverpool, creating crisp fairways and golden greens. After the recent downpours across Merseyside, the course is back to a much more visually pleasing lush green, and is set-up to be a links course to favour the better ball-strikers.
Tiger Woods landed his third claret jug the last time it made an appearance in Hoylake back in 2006, and the American was a whole lot shorter than the current 25/1 on offer for him this time around. I strolled past Tiger this morning (Royal Liverpool is fifteen minutes from my house), and he looks as stern an concentrated as I have seen in a long time. His practice rounds have been coming together nicely, yet even to make the cut would be a fair achievement given his recent injury troubles. He is an interesting proposition in the ‘back-to-lay’ sense however, as any early indication he is finding a bit of form will mean his odds will plummet, and he will become a false price. Punters love to steam into Woods, and he often goes off shorter than he should, so backing him at his price now may not be too soft, as he is likely to drop shorter at some point of his opening round.
However, there are plenty of others who take the eye in this competitive field. The Open has been held in Hoylake 11 times throughout history, however you have to go back to 1967, for the last time before the 2006 Championships. This means it is slightly tricky for punters who like to follow certain trends, so for this reason, certain statistics have to be left out and you have to take the chance with attributes of the golfers that will suit the course.
I was fortunate enough to visit the course recently, and the tweaks that have been made since 2006 are slight, but the key factor this week will be avoiding the tricky fairway bunkers that will spell disaster for many players. This means we have to side with tacticians, and brilliant ball-strikers.
Graeme McDowell led the field after the opening round back in 2006, following a masterful 66. He slipped away as the week went on, but the Irishman went into the tournament in poor form, which could have been to blame for his failure to maintain his early impressive play. This time he heads to Merseyside in a buoyant mood, following a fair showing in the Irish Championship, and a win in the French Open. He has a solid record on links courses, and he strikes the ball better than most, which is key, along with a fantastic driving accuracy. He is currently trading at 30/1, which is very fair, considering most firms are playing at least the first six places, with seven and eight also being offered with certain bookmakers. His mental strength is vital, after learning from his previous mistakes he seems to be at ease, and growing in confidence as opposed to the stress he felt in majors gone by. This could well be his time, and his is the main selection for the week.
It is easy to forget Jordan Spieth is only 20 years old. The Texan has been making waves since he burst onto the scene, and he came very close to landing his first major, when finishing runner-up in the Masters. He is part of the up-and-coming youth that are not fazed by pressure, as shown in his latest few outings. He is a confident young man who possesses plenty of raw, natural talent. He’s not a stranger to links golf and possesses the ability to perform well on any course, in any conditions. He is a tremendous ball striker, and is gritty enough to stick around come Sunday afternoon. The 50/1 on offer is large, and it should be taken before she shortens up before Thursday morning.
The final selection is Paul Casey, who will be out to show everyone his true talent after failing to perform to the best of his ability in recent times, due to injury troubles preventing the Englishman from stringing together much form. He has begun to put together big performances and his play has been impressing many in recent weeks. He is in with a real shout of being one of the Wildcard picks for the European Ryder Cup side, and will be aiming for a big performance to ensure he is top of the list in captain Paul McGinley’s mind. The home advantage may pay dividends, and his iron play will give him a real chance of a big performance at Royal Liverpool. His tough mental attitude will put him in a strong position from the off, and he looks a tad overpriced at 66/1 with many firms.
Selections (all with firms playing at least six places);
Graeme McDowell @ 30/1
Jordan Spieth @ 50/1
Paul Casey @ 66/1