So, here we are. Open week. Without a doubt this is one of my favourite golfing weeks of the year. The Masters and Ryder Cup are the only other two worthy of entering the debate and The Open probably pips them to the post when it comes to sheer anticipation and excitement. The early morning starts and the late evening finishes, the bright yellow leaderboards, the random Asian player who has a good first day – all of these are traditions which add to the joy of the oldest major of the lot.
The venue this year is Royal Birkdale. For me, this is one of the very best courses on the rota. I've only played it once but loved it – my review is here. I went along when Ian Baker-Finch won in 1991 and remember it being a fantastic course to view as a spectator.
The course is framed by magnificent dunes, has great views and a classic clubhouse. The players profess to liking the course because there are few irregular bounces on the flat fairways. Having said that, don't think that this is an easy course. When Harrington won last time he was over par and the weather forecast tells us to expect some wind this week which will definitely make things tricky. It is a par 70, so expect the halfway cut to be well over par this week.
In coming up with a list of players to consider this week there are a few factors to take into account. Firstly, the Open is a tournament which definitely requires patience. If the wind does blow hard, then keeping your head and not being discouraged if a double bogey comes will be key. Therefore, when it comes to selections, I am staying away from streaky players, or players who tend to get down on themselves when things don't go their way. I'm sure Jon Rahm will go on to some major victories for example but it's hard to pick him this week given his temperament can be a little dubious at times.
The other factor I am taking into account is that this isn't a course which is going to necessarily reward length off the tee. We will see a lot of irons in play this week as often the trouble lies further up the hole and the risks taken won't always be rewarded.
Thirdly, I think it is far from a coincidence that, in the last 6 years, the winner has come from those who have played in the Scottish Open the week before. Players who embrace the links game will feel more comfortable in this environment. Extend that to the Irish Open as well and there is a good pool of players who have had some links golf in recent weeks.
Lastly, the pedigree of the Open winners has been pretty good over the last few years. It's been a while since we had a 'no-name' winner (think Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton) and the Birkdale roll-call is a really impressive one with Harrington, O'Meara, IBF, Watson, Miller, Trevino, Thomson and Palmer - a pretty good line-up.
So, here are a few suggestions of who you might like to think about if you are considering a wager this week. You can check out http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/y/6/Golf.html for more markets and prices
Rickie Fowler 16/1
It is no secret that Rickie Fowler is a lover of links golf. He won the Scottish Open in my home town of Gullane a couple of years ago and he has posted a T2 and T5 before. This season he is playing well and is 6th in the FedEx Cup. His scoring average is the lowest of everyone on the PGA tour this season and he is 6th in strokes gained on approaches to green. 16/1 isn't particularly generous, but for me he is the clear favourite this week
Marc Leishman – 45/1
The Australian has finished in the top 5 twice in the last three Opens, missing out in the playoff to Zach Johnson a couple of years ago. He is having a good year with a win at the Arnold Palmer in the spring and finished 5th last time out. I would rather he had played in the last couple of weeks but he is too good to ignore at 45/1
Matt Kuchar – 50/1
Big, smiley, goofy Kooch is the kind of player who has a game that fits with the Birkdale Open narrative. He is a quality ball striker with a great reputation around the greens and has the demeanour to shrug off some of the challenges that will undoubtedly come his way this week. He's not one of the longest hitters (162nd on the PGA Tour this year) but that won't count against him too much this week. Importantly he loves links golf. While his Open record isn't much to write home about he embraces the format which makes him good odds at 50/1.
Padraig Harrington – 66/1
If you're looking for horses for courses then Harrington is your man. He was the winner here in 2008 and it would, without a doubt, be one of the most fantastic stories if he was able to pull it off this week. Harrington showed well at the Scottish Open last week, with the exception of a poor third round, and there is no doubt this guy is a grinder. He will be inspired to do something special out there and you can be sure he will have the fans behind him. Come on Padraig ,one more time......!