14th July 2015
Paul Casey finished tied third in the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews and is now back to the level of form that took him to a career high number three in the world rankings the previous year. Branden Grace loves links golf and comes to the Open on the back of almost winning the US equivalent. Jordan Spieth is trying to become just the second man to win the first three majors of the year and the achievement is not beyond him especially as Rory McIlroy is not to play.
The Old Course is the most famous and iconic golf course in the world and St Andrews is known as the home of golf. The par is 72 (36-36) but unusually it has just two par 5s and two par 3s. The fairways are very generous so the longer hitters have an advantage. The double greens are very large so quality long putting is needed. The par 4 17th, the dreaded road hole, provides a really severe test. The key to success is to avoid disasters on that hole and to stay out of the cavernous bunkers.
The Open is now in a cycle of going to the Old Course every five years. That may change in the future with more venues joining the rota which means there are now three Open layouts in the north west of England and Northern Ireland is coming back into the mix. The one common feature is that Open is always played on a links golf course, so called because they have been built on areas that link the land and the sea.
The first St Andrews Open took place in 1873 and it was the first course other than Prestwick to stage the oldest major. The Old Course has hosted 28 Opens including eight since 1970. In that spell the champions have included Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the two best golfers to have played the game. Nick Faldo and Severiano Ballesteros are also on the roll of honour so the venue has produced wins for some of the greats. John Daly and Louis Oosthuizen would not be in that category but circumstances gave then their week in the sun in Fife.
The average winning score over this spell is 12 under in a range from 5 to 19 under. Wind and weather can be a factor and scores rise significantly if conditions are not benign. However, the course can be defenceless in a windless Open so avoiding the bunkers is the key to success. In 2000 Woods did not find one bunker, won by eight shots and set a new Open Championship scoring record. In 1995 Daly beat Costantino Rocca in a four hole playoff in an Open beset by poor weather.
Five years ago Casey was in a tie for third place eight shots behind Oosthuizen. He began with three rounds in the 60s but drifted out of contention with a three over par 72 in the final round. He is threatening to win on the US PGA Tour again this season, most recently losing in a playoff to Bubba Watson in the Travelers Championship. Casey seems content off the course and any man with course form who is a big hitter cannot be dismissed next week.
Grace loves links golf and also has form at the venue. He won the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews in 2012 and lost in a playoff to Phil Mickelson for the Scottish Open a year later. He was on the winning score in the US Open on the 16th tee with two birdie holes ahead. Despite driving out of bounds and blowing his chances Grace showed he could compete at the highest level and now looks a future major champion.
Spieth has already won two of the big prizes and is halfway to the unprecedented calendar year Grand Slam. His quest has been made easier due to the bizarre ankle injury suffered by McIlroy playing football with his friends. Some would say the championship has now been devalued but you can only beat who turns up and Spieth could make history leaving Casey and Grace in his wake.
Back next Tuesday.