Odds and Ends: Jordan Spieth can call the Open Troon
PICKING the winner of the Open Championship is by far and away the hardest task of any of the four Majors.
For a start, the field of 156 players has little of the padding of the Masters, where almost half of the 90 or so starters are just happy to be there.
Then there are the weather factors and the luck of the tee-time draw that are a major consideration at the Open but don’t really come into it in largely fine conditions in America.
Colin Montgomerie will get the 145th renewal started on his home course of Royal Troon at 6.35am tomorrow morning, yet the last threeball won’t go off the first tee until 4.16pm.
The same applies on Friday, and even though the forecast for Troon isn’t that bad by Scottish summer standards, you can bet your bottom dollar that some windy and rainy squalls will blow across the Ayrshire course over the first couple of days.
That is why it pays to tread carefully when it come to betting, especially on the favourites. Dustin Johnson and world number one Jason Day are jostling for position at the head of the market, with both available at 9/1 in places, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could be totally out of the running after a few holes, should the weather conspire against them.
That said, Johnson does come in as the hottest man in the game after his maiden Major success at the US Open was backed up with another victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and he could romp away with things, such is the confidence he carries right now.
Day is another man who is impossible to ignore as he has cut a swathe through the game over the past 12 months, going right back to the heartache of another near Major miss at this championship, when he missed a play-off by a shot at St Andrews. That play-off was won by Zach Johnson – ahead of Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen – but the American won’t be the only man in the field this week feeling like the defending champion.
Rory McIlroy, who can be backed at a best-priced 11/1 with Ladbrokes, also collected the Claret Jug the last time he teed it up in an Open, at Hoylake two years ago, and he will have the bit between his teeth after he was forced to sit it out at St Andrews because of an ankle injury picked up playing five-a-side football.
He is clearly another man who could well be a huge factor once again, while the fourth member of the game’s new ‘fab four’, Jordan Spieth, will also be confident of going well.
Indeed, Day, Dustin, McIlroy and Spieth all come in on the back of a top-three finish on their last outing, and in Johnson’s case it was a victory at Firestone.
Day somewhat handed him that title and his followers will be hoping there is no hangover from that, while Spieth eventually shared third there with the Aussie.
Meanwhile, McIlroy battled his way to third in France despite making some changes to his grip and swing, and he sat out the Scottish Open in order to let those alterations bed in further.
Of that quartet, Spieth perhaps comes in further under the radar more than the others, yet he is the one I fancy of the four at 12/1 with Ladbrokes.
Like Day, Spieth missed out on the play-off by just a shot at St Andrews last term as his bid for a Grand Slam came to an end, but that was only his third Open outing and it demonstrated that the demands of links golf are well within his compass.
It helps that he grew up in Dallas and therefore spent his childhood playing in the wind, while the demands of a relatively short course like Troon look to be right up his street.
This is the first time the Open has returned to the venue since 2004, when the unheralded Todd Hamilton won, but the winner there in 1997 was Justin Leonard, a Texan who plotted his way around the course and putted beautifully.
A strategic approach and brilliance on the greens is what Spieth is all about and he is the man to beat in my mind.
Yes, he’s not in the red-hot form of 12 months ago, but it should not be overlooked that he has won twice in 2016, although unless he wins one of the two remaining Majors his year will be remembered for the infamous Augusta meltdown.
Intriguingly, though, the last six winners of the Open at Troon have been Americans and there is a good chance Spieth will keep that run going, so the 12/1 on offer probably does represent value.
THERE are other big contenders outside of the top four in the betting, of course, and I can’t help but be drawn to Adam Scott.
If anyone is due an Open win it has to be the laid-back Australian, who could easily have collected a couple of Claret Jugs at this stage.
He dominated proceedings at Lytham in 2012 before bogeys at each of his last four holes let Ernie Els in to claim victory, while he also led with a handful of holes to play at St Andrews last season before another wobble saw him fall down into a share for 10th.
Those mistakes wouldn’t fill you with confidence, but Scott has proved his Major mettle at the Masters, and there is no getting away from the fact his last four Opens have resulted in a second in 2012, a tie for third at Muirfield in ’13, a share of fifth at Hoylake in 2014 and a 10th last term.
All that leads me to believe it is only a matter of time before he gets his hands on the Claret Jug. It could well be this week, so he has to be worth an each-way bet at 25/1 generally.
Elsewhere, you could make cases for any number of players. Sergio Garcia (28/1, 888sport) has a fine Open record but doesn’t seem to believe he will ever get over the line in a Major, while Phil Mickelson (45/1, Boylesports) comes in on the back of a superb final round at the Scottish Open, while he was third at Troon 12 years ago and will have his backers.
However, my next man is Branden Grace, who failed to get the job done at the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart after being right in the hunt at the halfway stage.
There was enough fine play to back up my thought that he is as good as anyone on a links-style course, and his low ball flight and ability to play shots along the ground will serve him well this week. With three top fives in his last five Majors – most recently in the US Open at Oakmont last month – Grace is knocking hard at the door and is a clear contender at 30/1 with Boylesports.
With all firms paying at least six places, and with Els and Darren Clarke winning Opens in their 40s in recent years, I’ll put up three old-timers at very decent odds who could go well. The first of those is Lee Westwood, who has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts this season after a year in the doldrums.
The Englishman is another nearly-man in Majors, and has played with the eventual champion in the final round of both the Masters and US Open this term, but the fact he has been in the final couple of groups on the big stage bodes well. Westwood has a great record in the Open, dating back to his 10th at Troon in 1997 and a fourth in 2004.
Since then he has been third twice and second at St Andrews in 2010, and while you have to place a bit of faith in his ability to get over the line if he does get in the mix, the 50/1 generally on offer makes him worth an each-way bet, while at 18/1 he is worth a look in the top European market.
I’ll also put up a pair of two-time Open winners in Padraig Harrington and Els. Harrington played very well at times at Castle Stuart on his way to 21st, and while he needs to step up a level or two again, there are signs he is capable of doing that on a tough course like Troon.
The tougher the test the better, and his short game is as good as ever, and with the 125/1 offered by Bet365 based more on his results over the last year than his enduring links abilities, Harrington has to be worth a couple of quid each-way, while the 11/2 offered in places about a top 20 finish also appeals.
Finally, Els seems to have overcome his putting demons, with a recent fifth in the Quicken Loans National sending out good signs, and his long game is still top notch. Second here 12 years ago, it is only four years since the South African took his second Claret Jug at Lytham, and he could just be a factor at 150/1 with Bet Victor.