The Open Championship – Royal Troon, Scotland
The Open Championship returns for the 145th installment to the much-revered Royal Troon in Scotland. The 7190-yard par 71 is one of the most difficult of the championship rota, and will play host again since its last outing in 2004.
Like most tracks used at the Open, length is not always a major hallmark of the golf course, but with prevailing winds generally a factor, the ability to keep the ball in play is a must for all players.
At Troon, a brutal prevailing breeze from the north-west will keep competitors on their toes.
One of the most anticipated major tournaments of the golfing season is certainly the one that is the most traditional – the Open Championship. Off the back of a well-fought WGC Bridgestone Invitational on the US PGA Tour, the stage is set for yet another thrilling event.
2016 US Open champion Dustin Johnson continued his good form to outlast world number one Jason Day in Akron, Ohio last week, and it wouldn’t surprise to see the two go head-to-head at Troon this week. Jordan Spieth made a late Sunday charge to fall three shots short of Johnson, and he is also poised for a serious tilt at his third major title.
At last year’s Open, Zach Johnson held his nerve in a playoff against Australia’s Marc Leishman and South African Louis Oosthuizen to add the Claret Jug to his US Masters green jacket.
Johnson is not among the most heavily favoured this week, but he has such a steady game, you can never rule him out. The defending champion will be joined by the likes of Day, Johnson and Spieth – obviously – as well as Rory McIlroy.
Justin Rose and Danny Willett headline the English contingent, while major champions Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson bring up the tail end of the top echelon of talent this week.
The man with the strongest form coming in is unquestionably Dustin Johnson. With his putter finally cooperating, his performance at both the US Open, and his weekend run at Firestone last week, left very few with a chance. If he can bring the same sort of consistency – and make his trademark fast start on Thursday – he will be tough to run down. But in the blustery conditions that often categorise an Open Championship, his putting skills will be put to the test even further.
Jason Day will be spurred on from his unfortunate late-round collapse at the Bridgestone last week, and like Johnson, his best is scintillating. But if we’re going to play that game, so is McIlroy’s and so is Spieth’s.
One who could be ready to break through under major pressure is South African Branden Grace. He won his first US PGA Tour title earlier this season at Hilton Head, following on from a stellar 2015 season. If his game clicks, he is a certain smokey at Royal Troon.
Stats That Matter
When the Open last paid a visit to Royal Troon, the best any player could manage was a 67, so expect a tough test again this week, especially if the wind gets up. There will be no need for players to try to make a sizzling start on Thursday. Anything near even par will leave players in a solid position. The key will be to not rack up big numbers early on.
When Todd Hamilton won the 2004 Open Championship, he was the sixth-straight American to win the tournament at that venue. Can another American win it in 2016 and make it seven straight Troon triumphs?