Who will win the 150th Open? Six key trends to identify Major, Claret Jug and Old Course winners

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There is nowhere quite like the Home of Golf - the auld grey toun of St Andrews and The Old Course which journeys from pretty much the centre of the town out towards the estuary and back again. The words used to describe the layout are enough to get you excited. For example, Grannie Clark's Wynd - the road which crossed the first and 18th fairway. And then there are the sand traps: the Spectacle bunkers, the Coffin bunkers, the Principal's Nose bunkers and the Road Hole bunker. Even the land itself is named with ancient flair: the Elyssian Fields (the stretch of fairway shared by the fifth and 14th), Miss Grainger's Bosoms (the mounds on the 15th) and, short of the 18th green, the Valley of Sin.

The Old Course has hosted 29 Opens and its 30th is also the 150th edition of the championship itself. We're all set for an amazing week. Who will thrive? Let's take a look at some key trends, some conventional, others not so.

Open form essential

Linksland golf is undeniably different from the rest of the sport. It's played on the ground as well as through the air, the turf is fast-running, the wind can be capricious. Conventional wisdom argues that it requires years of practice and plenty of patient acquisition of skills before a golfer is up to the task of lifting the Claret Jug.

But since the double back-to-back triumphs of Tiger Woods (2005, 2006) and Padraig Harrington (2007, 2008) the Open winners have often triumphed in spite of poor Open form.

Perhaps the only Open winner in that period to have stuck his hand in the air was Henrik Stenson in 2016 - he'd had two thirds and a second in his previous seven starts. Others had the pedigree, but might easily have been overlooked as golfers who had reached veteran, rather than contender, stage: Ernie Els was a past champion with 12 top 20s in his log book, but he he had missed his last two cuts, and Darren Clarke in 2011? He had a second and third at the Open in his past, but he'd also not finished top 40 for six years. Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, had been second in 2011 yet had only two top 10s in 19 starts - a poor return for his talents.

Then there are a wave of winners who had only briefly suggested they had it in them to thrive on the links. Stewart Cink (2009) had one top 10 in 11 Open starts, Zach Johnson (2015) many top 20s, but just one top five in 11 starts, Francesco Molinari (2018) had one top 10 in 10 appearances, and Shane Lowry (2019) one in seven.

Two tyros had threatened to win the championship among general struggles: Rory McIlroy had been third but it was his only top 20 in half a dozen starts ahead of his 2014 victory and Jordan Spieth was one shot out of the play-off in 2015, his only finish better than T30th in four starts before winning in 2017.

Louis Oosthuizen, in 2010, won off the back of three missed cuts at the Open and the defending champion Collin Morikawa was a championship debutant. It's a reminder that quality golfers can get the wrong end of the draw or have one bad bounce that wrecks a week. The Open is about a golfer's potential when everything goes right rather than a baseline performance.

The Old Course demands a fast start

This week's venue is well-known for being a difficult place to host the championship. The holes share fairways and greens which forces rounds to be slow. There is also a sort of Monaco Grand Prix effect in the scoring, at least if history is any guide.

The last 15 winners at The Old Course? Every single one of them was within three shots of the lead after 18 holes. And only Jack Nicklaus has won from three back. He did it in both 1970 and 1978. The other 13 were within two blows at the end of round one.

Beware a fairy tale

The Home of Golf is a magical place, but tends to play with the emotions of the underdogs rather than permit many happy endings. Doug Sanders and Costantino Rocca endured famous near misses in play-offs after putting drama on the 18the hole of the final round. Ian Baker-Finch? The then-young Aussie led the 1984 Open by three at halfway. Michael Campbell? He was two clear with 18 holes to play in 1995. Both were caught and passed by the end of the week.

The Dunhill (Non) Link

You might think that the DP World Tour's annual celebration of seaside golf - the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - would be the perfect primer for the Open itself. But what is the record of the reigning Dunhill Links champion in the following year's Open (the Dunhill takes place in late September or early October)? Not especially good, is the answer. True, Padraig Harrington won the Dunhill in 2006 and then went back-to-back at the Open in 2007 and 2008. But Lee Westwood, the 2003 champion, is the only other Dunhill winner to follow up with an Open top 10 finish (he was tied fourth in 2004). In all, 17 Dunhill winners have played the Open the following year and 10 of them didn't make the top 40.

Major winners contend

Don't forget a theme these pages repeat before every Major Championship. Since the start of 2017 there have been 22 winners of the Majors and 20 of them had vivid memories of being in-contention at a Major ahead of their win. In their three Major starts prior to their wins those 20 golfers landed a top eight finish or slept on Saturday night with the knowledge that they could win the next day. If that trend maintains this week, here's the short-list: Already Major winners: Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Charl Schwartzel, Matt Fitzpatrick, Hideki Matsuyama, Keegan Bradley. Knocking on the door at Majors: Cameron Smith, Corey Conners, Will Zalatoris, Sungjae Im, Tommy Fleetwood. Outsiders: Mito Pereira, Cameron Young, Chris Kirk, Adam Hadwin, Denny McCarthy.

The Augusta-Old Course Connection

Elsewhere in these pages Dave Tindall writes: "On first glance, Augusta National and St Andrews are like chalk and cheese: one a tree-lined parkland track in the United States and the other a wide-open links on the windy Scottish coast." But he then reveals a persuasive argument that Masters form is worth keeping an eye on, one that goes beyond mere coincidence.

Click here to read the article.

The article Who will win the 150th Open? Six key trends to identify Major, Claret Jug and Old Course winners appeared first on Planetsport.com.

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