At last then, as almost anyone on this side of the Atlantic would agree, the highlight of the golfing year is upon us. Nothing in my view beats The Open for scenery, variety in terms of shot selection and hole set-ups, the potential for in-running excitement, nor for uninterrupted, advert-free TV coverage. Nevertheless, St Andrews will have it’s work cut out matching the drama of the last three Opens, and surely will be unable to provide a story to compare with Tom Watson’s near-miss at Turnberry last year.
Even if it is the most famous, St Andrews is the most controversial Open venue nowadays. Many, myself included, wonder why it appears twice every decade on The Open rota, especially compared to Birkdale or Carnoustie. We may well hear more complaints this week, especially concerning changes to the hallowed ‘Road Hole‘ 17th, arguably the best par 4 in world golf.
The flipside of any criticism is the rollcall of winners at St Andrews, as this layout nearly always favours the very best. The last seven Opens here were won by Woods, Nicklaus (twice each), Faldo, Ballesteros and one wildcard in John Daly. Five of whom started as favourite.
Course and stats
The weather forecast is always pivotal in an Open Championship, especially when held at St Andrews. The harsh truth about the ‘Home of Golf’, in this modern era when any pro can drive it 300 yards on fast-running fairways, is that when the sun shines and winds are light, it is barely fit to host a regular Tour event, let alone a Major.
Both of the renewals here this century were won easily by Tiger Woods, who was able to plot his way around the course with irons off the tee, and maximise the handful of straightforward birdies on offer for long-hitters. If the weather is fine, I suspect short-hitters and outsiders can forget it. An incredible statistic from Tiger’s two Open victories here shows that of the 20 players to make either top ten, 16 had already won a Major! Even the other four non-Major winners included superstars Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia.
Alternatively, strong winds around such an exposed layout can make even the best look silly. The last time we saw a windy Open here was in 1995, and it produced a far less predictable leaderboard. OK, champion John Daly was a major champion, but he was an enormous price. His play-off victim Constantino Rocca was hardly obvious either, while 500/1 chance Stephen Bottomley finished third. However, even in this tough year, the top ten included six players who had either won, or would go on to win a Major.
So, what is the weather forecast, and which groups will it favour? Punters up and down the land are busy scouring numerous weather sites, yet as usual, there is no definitive answer. There is certainly some rain and wind around, so we aren’t likely to see the perfect, (and dull), conditions of 2000. Trying to predict the speed of the wind, or precisely when it will arrive and therefore which groups are favoured, is less straightforward. Rather than trying to guess what the ideal tee-time is, we would be better off restricting our calculations to players with pedigree in such conditions.
Driving distance is usually irrelevant around an Open layout, but St Andrews is very much the exception. The longest needn’t worry about several bunkers, and as Woods proved, can easily negotiate this course taking irons for position off most tees. Then there are several reachable par 4s, depending on the wind, which offer a straightforward birdie opportunity for long, straight drivers. Analysis of the stats from 2005 point to scrambling and total driving as the key stats to follow.