Spieth to recapture old magic in St Andrews return


Best bets
2.5pts each-way Jordan Spieth @ 16/1
2pts each-way Rory McIlroy @ 10/1
1pt each-way Louis Oosthuizen @ 40/1
1pt each-way Dustin Johnson @ 33/1
0.5pt each-way Tyrrell Hatton @ 40/1
0.5pt each-way Will Zalatoris @ 25/1
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We’re paying EIGHT places at the Open Championship!

It’s here, it’s finally here. The Open. Not the British Open. THE Open. In the auld grey toon of St. Andrews. The Special One. Even more special as it’s the 150th anniversary Open. Beyond special that Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, both dual winners of the Claret Jug, both legends, are in town too.

The wounded Tiger there for what might be his final playing Open on the timeless old links he calls “the greatest in the world”. As he won two of his three Opens at this golfing Mecca, he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Nicklaus, at 82 has come yet again to this gnarled and gorgeous Fife university town to be inducted as Honorary Citizen of St Andrews. To remind those who are still wet behind the ears, the Bear won as many Opens there as the Tiger. And 18 Majors overall, a record that should stand for ever.

A genius can never totally be discounted but Woods is stuck on 15 with no obvious prospect of augmenting that figure this weekend. He’s a respectful 66/1 to produce another miracle but even putting a 1 in front of that quote wouldn’t tempt me.

Even so, with the Fife weather set fair for the week, little wind and no big hills to climb, Fitzdares’ 8/15  to make the cut is a more realistic avenue if you feel a pressing need to get involved.

Only Tiger himself knows whether that’s value, he alone knows what is still within his capabilities. But one thing’s for sure: the most competitive sportsman in the world is not here just to make up the numbers.

It will be a relief not to have the words ‘Saudi, ‘LIV’ and ‘money’, hogging the headlines this week. Instead it’s the actual golf that will be the hot topic in those crowded St Andrews bars. Due deference will be paid to Fitzpatrick’s US Open triumph but whether that will inspire a first British triumph at the home of golf since Nick Faldo’s 32 years ago, only the next four days will tell.

The R&A must be dreading the idea of handing over the Claret Jug to one of the LIV breakaways and it’s perfectly feasible with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and their latest recruit Paul Casey in the line-up. Purely on course form, Oosthuizen, the 2010 champion and 2015 runner-up, has to have a big shout although he is not quite the force he was. His fifth at LIV Portland will have put him spot-on for this return to a links of such indelible memories.

This outstanding putter conquered those huge undulating double greens when getting the best of the draw during some grim weather in 2010. He romped home by seven for what has been his lone Major gain. Five years later he almost repeated the feat but Zach Johnson just trumped him and Marc Leishman in a Monday playoff, flooding having forced the Championship into an extra day.

If the flat stick is still working, it is not hard to imagine him challenging for a third time but I don’t expect him to beat Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, both with history at the Old Course but without yet Oosthuizen’s happy ending. I hope by late Sunday afternoon that will change.

In 2015 Spieth arrived as the hottest golfer on the planet. Not only had he won the first two Majors and was on Slam alert but he was also attempting three tournaments wins in a row, having won at Deere Run the previous week.

He was under much media pressure but still played a blinder to finish only a shot out of the playoff. In those days Jordan was a magical putter and although that skill has partially deserted him, the improvement in straightness and length in his driving compensates to a degree.

No American understands links golf better than the 2017 Open champion and although he faded in the last few holes of the Scottish, there was more than enough to give potential backers encouragement.

Because he tore a ligament in an unwise football kick-about shortly before that Open and had to miss it, McIlroy’s experience of St Andrews, at least in championship terms, is limited to just 2010 when as a tousle-haired 21-year-old only the weather gods defeated him.

Getting the worst of the draw in a repeatedly rain-delayed second round, he followed a trailblazing 63 with a mistake-riddled 80, yet still bounced back to grab a share of third behind runaway winner Oosthuizen. Never comfortable as a high-ball hitter when fierce winds rush to the defence of a course, he should not have that to worry about this week as the forecast is for nothing more than a gentle summer breeze.

Low scores and 400-yard drives are being predicted and as there are six drivable par fours for mighty hitters like Rory. The problem is there are so many of these days. When shrewdies alighted on John Daly as the bet in 1995 on account of his length off the tee, the Wild Thing was the only one who could launch it past 300 yards.

Even with wild weather which produced a playoff-making score of only six under, Daly’s extra power was able to take him over those fairway pot bunkers and out of harm’s way. And he was always a good putter.

Today there are 88 golfers on the PGA Tour alone who blow it past the 300-marker so St Andrews, at 7325 yards par 72 and the easiest of the Open links without wind to protect it, looks there for the taking. But she’s a canny old lady and will be plotting revenge. She has plenty of tools for the job, particularly on the back nine where the short 11th, the tough 12th, the Hell Bunker 16th and that great card-wrecker, the cruel 17th, the most feared golf hole on the Open roster.

That was the scenario that occupied Japanese star Tommy Nakajima for a long time, much of it spent in the cavernous Road Hole bunker that cost him a nine. His exploits on a hole that was a cumulative 133 OVER par in 1978 rang round the world in the same year that Ryder Cup Brit Brian Barnes putted from the green INTO that bunker.

Six years later, legendary Tom Watson, on an Open hat-trick, wrong-clubbed his second there and allowed Ballesteros in. Seve birdied 18. Watson, beaten by two, was never to win another. As this is the tenth and probably final time I’ll have previewed a St Andrews Open we had better go out on a winner. Heart says Rory, head says Spieth. The Texan is not under pressure this time around and is in fair current form having won at Heritage – tenth at the Scottish didn’t fairly reflect how well he was swinging.

McIlroy seems to be in the best place he’s been all year and if only the concentration would match the divine ability, he might easily end a Majors drought that has lasted since 2014. Three times a Major runner-up and three more top-eights from just eight attempts – that’s Will Zalatoris for you. A big-occasion golfer yet to actually win anywhere. Will didn’t get past the 15th in round one on his Open bow last year before having to quit with a back wrenched while extricating himself from Royal St George’s tangly rough.

Despite his dreary 2022 form I’m backing Tyrrell Hatton on account of his two Dunhill Links victories. Half of that tournament is played on the Old Course though in vastly different conditions. He says his mate Fitzpatrick has inspired him. Now let’s see it!

Jon Rahm did nothing at the Scottish or in his previous few starts to suggest he was the next Open champion, while Scottie Scheffler and Justin Thomas, to everyone’s surprise, had a bad week at the office in North Berwick.

Patrick Cantlay hasn’t yet been forgiven for letting us down badly at the Travelers. Fourth place at the Scottish was a reminder of his huge talent but it is his pal and Zurich-winnng playing partner Xander Schauffele who looks the form pick among the American raiders.

He made it three in a row on Sunday if you count his win at the all-star JP McManus pro-am but a fourth will be something else. There was a sensational field in Ireland for that 36-holer at the start of last week but how many took it seriously is hard to know. St Andrews is a whole different ball game.

A win for LIV headline act DJ won’t go down well but he is a definite threat. He would have finished top-five at St Andrews in 2010 but for going haywire down the closing stretch – and he played great golf on two the three days at the LIV Portland.

Fitzpatrick himself can’t be ruled out. A good sixth at the Scottish, but links golf not his favourite and he is yet to post anything better than 20th at The Open. Justin Rose or Adam Scott could a strike a blow for the over-40s but if the weather is as benign as they say it will be, it becomes a bit of lottery probably decided by who owns the hottest putter.


Best bets
2pts win Padraig Harrington, Top Senior @ 21/10
2pts win Robert MacIntyre, Top Left-hander @ 6/4
2pts Jamie Donaldson, 7:08am @ 15/8
1pt Padraig Harrington, 2:48pm @ 2/1
1pt Ernie Els, 2:26pm @ 23/10
1pt Max Homa, 2:59pm @ 15/8
0.5pts three ball accumulator @ 80/1
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Get up to a 25% bonus on winning 2 & 3-ball accumulators! T&Cs apply. 

If you like to be up at sparrow’s fart to watch the first tee shot of The Open just after 6.30am as I shall be doing, you will also want to get involved with the plethora of day-to-day punting opportunities produced by Fitzdares’ overworked golfing traders.

There are plenty of marquee pairings in the first-round at a benign St Andrews and fans of the favourite, Rory McIlroy, you won’t have too long to wait to see their hero hopefully on the way to emulating the day-one 63 that got everyone excited in 2010.

Rory goes to post at 9.58 and what a humdinger of a threeball that should be with defending champion Collin Morikawa and the hottest man on the planet, Xander Schauffele, in the same dynamic group.

After a couple of blank years since he struck gold at the 2020 Olympics, Xander has suddenly regained his winning touch and won his last three tournaments. But four in a row? It’s surely Mission Impossible.

That encounter goes into my ‘Too Difficult’ tray as regards a bet as there are easier pickings to be had elsewhere. At a longer price than Rory but with an ostensibly better chance is Welsh veteran Jamie Donaldson, once a member of a winning Ryder Cup team and only now retrieving the game that brought him three tournament victories.

He needed to hole a 15-footer on the final green at the Scottish for sixth place on Sunday to get a last-gasp Open place and did so in style. He will be mentally in a great place which cannot be said for his two playing partners, Ian Poulter and Guido Migliozzi, in this early match teeing at at 7.08.

Poulter has played nothing but rubbish since signing up for the LIV squad and is 28 over par for his three latest outings. The stay of ‘execution’ he achieved for LIV defectors on appeal to the punishment dished out by the DP World Tour has come at the expense of his golf.

And while his 14th at the US Open was a fine effort, Migliozzi’s more recent form (13 over par at the Irish, second-round 84 at the Scottish) has been mediocre to put it kindly. The pressure of trying to make the next Ryder Cup in his own country has hit him hard, so 15/8 Donaldson looks a bit of value.

Everyone wants Tiger Woods to do well. He’s the 5/2 outsider to outscore US Open hero Matt Fitzpatrick and classy PGA player Max Homa in the 2.59 match. On the 77-72 he shot with a pronounced limp at the big Irish pro-am last week, you’d have to say Woods will struggle to keep up with the other two. But then again he’s twice a St Andrews winner in another life.

Fitzpatrick, sixth at The Renaissance on Sunday, should really win this game although he admits links golf is not his favourite, a comment backed up by an Open record that shows he has never placed better than 20th. But then he’s never been a major champion before…

Third man Homa, winner at Wells Fargo, fifth at Memorial and not done justice by 14th place at the Scottish where he was high on the leaderboard for a time, is underrated and could be the bet at 15/8 if the company and the noisiest crowd of the day don’t affect him.

Day one when they are fresh and the bones don’t creak is the time to get with the oldies. I’ve already gone for a 46-year-old in Donaldson but he’s a baby compared with Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington, both in their 50s but double Open champions in the past.

Both love links golf and I see them giving the “kids” they are playing with a taste of their halcyon days. Pod is on a high after outclassing everybody bar the estimable Steve Stricker at the US Senior Open, looks incredibly fit, hits it further than in his prime with increased swing speed and can be a match for anybody.

Thomas Pieters and Kevin Mitchell will be redoubtable opponents but neither has Harrington’s links wisdom. And he has fond St Andrews memories too as a double Dunhill Links champion.

Els, 52, is much more laidback about his golf than the Irishman but arrives after two third places in senior majors. The Big Easy isn’t as good as Harrington these days but has softer opponents in Adri Arnaus and Japan Tour veteran Brian Kennedy, himself no chicken at 48.

Harrington will be also be carrying my cash in the Top Senior market where’s 21/10 favourite to beat Els and the wildly unpredictable pair, Phil Mickelson and John Daly, the 1995 champion at St Andrews.

Mickelson also has a shout in the Top Lefty market with home hero Bob MacIntyre and the straight but short-hitting American Brian Harman ahead of him in the betting and there’s South Africa’s Garrick Higgo to consider.

As Scotland’s chief hope MacIntyre is under pressure to deliver, not only to do himself justice here but to further his claim for a place in the next Ryder Cup side while Harman has missed four out of six cuts on previous Open visits.

We thought Higgo was the best thing since sliced bread when he breezed to two early wins in Europe and then almost immediately opened his PGA Tour account but nine missed cuts from his last 11 tournaments don’t exactly advertise his chances.

With MacIntyre boasting a fine record in majors (two Opens, two top-eights) he really needs to nail this market if a third top-ten is to come his way.


Best bets
2pts each-way Cam Davis @ 16/1
1.5pts each-way Rasmus Hojgaard @ 28/1
1pt each-way Alex Noren @ 16/1
1pt each-way Maverick McNealy @ 12/1
0.5pt each-way Marcus Helligkilde @ 66/1
0.5pt each-way Hurly Long @ 40/1
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It’s hard to imagine even couch potatoes hanging around for the Barracuda Championship in California if they’ve survived Sky’s blanket Open coverage but somebody has to win the darn thing – and, after all, a 12/1 winner at Truckee pays just much as a 12/1 winner at the Home of Golf.

The Sky boys are teeing the Open up at 6.30am for the first two days and keeping it coming until close of play. If that leaves golfaholics suffering withdrawal symptoms, at 11.30pm there’s an eight-hour time switch to Old Greenwood in sweltering California for a tournament that’s like no other – what they call a modified Stableford.

What that means is that you score nothing for a par, two for a birdie, five for an eagle and eight for that rarest of birds, an albatross. That’s a one on a par four or a two on a par five. But for a bogey or worse you get docked points in a points format that’s deceiving.

Punters have to remember there’s a world of difference between 5pts ahead (which can be wiped out in a trice) and five shots ahead. Shots ahead is substantially superior … do the maths!

It is a competition that requires attacking golf and with 7480-yard par 71 Old Greenwood 6000ft up, they have found a good home for it. You can take at least 10% off the yardage because of the rarefied air.

This is the third year at this course and they’ll have to go some to beat Erik Van Rooyen’s record winning pointage last time of 50. The South African won’t be defending as he has bigger fish to fry at St Andrews but the new winner may come from a trio who have flown over from Scotland.

Denmark’s classy young Rasmus Hojgaard did best of those who played at the Renaissance (share of tenth) but all three did well, Maverick McNealy 16th and Alex Noren 30th, though not well enough to qualify for a late spot at St Andrews.

If their body clocks have coped with the time change, expect them to finish high on the final leaderboard in this $3.7m co-sanctioned event.

One who has gone in the opposite direction is Trey Mullinax whose 150/1 Barbasol triumph on Sunday carried the bonus of a place on top table at the Home of Golf.

Veteran Swede Noren, a prolific winner in his European days who celebrated his 40th birthday on Tuesday, has been trying for yonks to break through in the States. He has posted four top-12s this campaign and this has to be his best chance.

Young Hojgaard, a triple winner in Europe before the age of 21, has more scope and has already posted a couple of nice PGA finishes while ace putter McNealy has long been a winner waiting to happen. He and Noren were top-ten finishers here two years so know the drill.

All three face a tough opponent in Aussie Cam Davis, breakthrough winner at the Rocket Mortgage at this very time last year. Ironically for a big hitter, his best performances have come on tricky courses of below-average length – third at Heritage, seventh at Colonial and eighth at the John Deere. He is the man to beat.

Matti Schmid led into the last day at Barbasol but will have been having nightmares about that flop 77 on Sunday. Best to leave him out.

Andrew Putman, the 2020 winner, has it all to do on this year’s form but there’s no reason why a quartet of young Europeans who did well last week, Hurly Long (4th), Marcus Helligkilde (8th), Julian Brun (27th) and Niklas Norgaard Moller (27th), should not do so again with that positive experience under their belts.

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