The 147th edition of the British Open Championship is nearly here, bringing with it the promise of high drama, world class talent and perhaps, a new Major Champion.
Nestled in the Eastern district of Angus in Scotland, Carnoustie is as far removed from the subtropical climates of Florida and Georgia as it gets. So many of the world’s top golfers have played the majority of their golf in the Southern United States, where the predictability of the weather, firm ground and moderate winds all combine to create the perfect conditions for golf.
Carnoustie (or Car-nasty as it is sometimes called) is a whole different ball game. The Scottish course is often regarded as the toughest links course in the world and so many of the game’s greatest players have fallen victim to its snares and traps.
In 1999, as a fresh faced 19 year old, Sergio Garcia was reduced to tears and sought comfort in the arms of his mother after carding a disastrous opening round of 89. And eight years later, the Spaniard was in a position to win the Open and with his first ever Major title, only to see his Championship winning putt skirt around the hole and trickle off to the right. Garcia would be forced into a playoff which he famously lost by a stroke to Padraig Harrington.
Even more infamously, Carnoustie was the site of perhaps the greatest ever collapse that the game of golf has ever witnessed.
The name Jean van de Velde has become synonymous with epic failure after the Frenchman’s incredible blow out at the 18th hole at Carnoustie.
Van de Velde went to the 18th holding a three shot lead and even a double bogey would have been enough for him to win the Major. The headstrong Frenchman managed to launch his second shot at the grandstand and watched as it bounced back into deep rough. His next shot saw him enter the Barry Burn stream that dissects the 18th fairway from the green. He ended up in the stream, pants rolled above the ankles, attempting to extract his ball from a few feet of water.
Van De Velde threw away his lead, was forced into a play-off and promptly lost out to Paul Lawrie.
Carnoustie coaxes you into thinking you’ve got a handle on it and then destroys your score in one fell swoop.
The fescue grows deep and wide on either side of impossibly narrow fairways. Sand traps pockmark the landscape like Venus Fly Traps, patiently awaiting its prey. These yawning sinkholes are so vast that the player’s view of the green can be entirely hidden from him.
The land undulates towards the sea, from which cool winds whip up from nowhere, swirling indistinctly this way and that so that a player can only speculate on wind direction at any given time.
Aside from the infamously difficult 18th hole, hole six is also a massive challenge. The out of bounds line forms the entire left side margin of the hole so that any misjudged tee shot could see you losing a shot.
Holes 15-18 are set up in such a way that you end up playing the wind differently each hole as you tee off from different directions. So even a player who has put together a nice score on the front nine might find themselves squandering a lead when it comes to seeing out their round.
It’s a course that generally rewards the player with the best short game. In 2007, when Harrington prevailed, his short game was on fire. Around Carnoustie a driver might only be required on seven or eight occasions.
With the heat wave that has hit Europe over the past month or so, Carnoustie is untypically firm and the grass has that burned brown look to it. So we can expect the distances hit to be higher than they would normally be at the famous links course. Whether or not that will help or hinder the players will have to be determined on Thursday. The numerous bunkers could be waiting for any shots that roll on more than expected.
So, in conclusion, the winner of the Open Championship will most likely be someone who can think his way around a challenging course, play a superb short game and be bold enough to take some risks from time to time.
With that in mind here are a few of our best picks to win the Open:
NAP: Rickie Fowler (Best Odds 18/1)
World Ranking: 7th
Best Finish at Open: T2 (2014)
Major Wins: 0
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Now that Sergio Garcia has put his Major hoodoo behind him, Fowler has become the greatest player never to have won a major.
But as with Garcia, that particular record is likely to end at some point and in the form that the American is currently in, all the evidence suggests that that time is fast approaching.
Fowler has finished in the top 20 in his last four tournaments and has a good record at the Open Championship, having only missed the cut on one previous occasion.
While his bottle can be questioned having lost leads on the final day of tournaments in the past, I don’t think anyone can deny that his natural ability will eventually see him become a Major Champion. And Carnoustie might just be a course that he can handle better than others.
Fowler has always enjoyed links golf and it would not be a surprise to see him stride down the 18th fairway on Sunday, all decked out in orange, with a putt to win the Open.
NB: Patrick Reed (Best Odds 40/1)
World Ranking: 12th
Best Finish at Open: T12 (2016)
Major wins: 1
Reed’s masterful domination of the field at the Masters earlier in the year bore all the trademarks of a serial major winner. He followed it up with a tremendous effort in a messy US Open by finishing in 4th place. It’s time to get on the Reed bandwagon.
Forget what happened at Hazeltine. Reed is a true golf great and really should be a lower price given what he has already achieved this season and the potential that he possesses.
He is an unashamedly hard competitor and in winning the Masters he demonstrated incredible mental fortitude. And that might just stand to him if he is in the hunt on Sunday.
There is no obvious weak spot in his game and given his red hot form this season, it seems highly likely that he will take another giant step forward in his career at Carnoustie.
LONG SHOT: Thorbjorn Olesen (Best Odds 100/1)
World Ranking: 64th
Best Finish at Open: T9th (2012)
Major Wins: 0
Thornbjorn (which means Thunderbear by the way) Olesen is not the most reliable of golfers as he tends to be either very good, or very bad.
Too often the Dane has struggled with his driving game to allow him to compete for the bigger tournaments. But there can be no doubting his ability.
When he is on form, Olesen is one of the most watchable golfers in the world. He plays quick and brave, with a short game that can be devastating.
Finishing with a share of sixth place in the Irish Open last week, Olesen showed significant signs of improvement, as if his game is slowly getting around to where he wants it to be. More assurance with his putter and Olesen could be an interesting contender for this Open Championship, at long odds.