The Open Preview

The 146th Open takes place at Royal Birkdale, who have the honour of hosting the event for the tenth time.

The Southport venue, which has never seen a British winner, provides one of the toughest challenges on the Open rota, with the last two winners – Mark O’Meara and Padraig Harrington – failing to break par over the four days.

The defending champion is Swedish ace Henrik Stenson, who will take some comfort from the fact that the last person to defend the Claret Jug was indeed Harrington at Birkdale in 2008.

Stenson, though, has loved being Open champion and is looking to put up a stern defence.

“It’s pride, it’s history – the Claret Jug is such an iconic, perfect trophy. It’s imprinted in your mind. I’m Claret Jug brainwashed,” said Stenson.

“There have been some drinks with French heritage in that jug and some Sprite and cola for the kids. It’s been jet-skiing and if I defend my title and win again, I’ll take the Claret Jug sky-diving.”

This time around, picking the winner looks as hard as ever and this week has already been described as the most ‘open Open’ of all time.

Birkdale has the distinction of never crowning a British winner, and that can be seen in the early odds – indeed you have to going looking for the first European.

The Americans are dominating the betting markets with Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler attracting a lot of money along with US Open winner Brooks Koepka – who is fancied by many for a repeat –  and they are followed by Japanese superstar Hideki Matsuyama, who is looking to become the first Asian winner of the Claret Jug.

Spieth has emerged as the favourite for the tournament, and he is hoping he can get fortunate with the draw as he thinks that can play a huge part in who wins.

The 23-year-old, who is competing at The Open for the fifth time, said: “It could be anybody this week.

“At this tournament it tends to fall on half the field. You kind of cut half the field, depending on the draw. Sometimes it’s more or less 75 percent.

“But most of the time there’s at least a group that gets the worst weather. And it’s almost impossible to win in that circumstance at an Open Championship.”

Of the European challenge, Spaniards Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia as seen as the best chances. Rahm, who put himself firmly into Open contention with victory at the Irish Open earlier this month – has been compared in some quarters to legend Seve Ballesteros.

Ballesteros came to prominence in 1976 at The Open at Royal Birkdale when he finished runner-up, before winning his first Claret Jug 12-months later aged just 22 – the age Rahm is now.

“I know I can read the putts right, I know I can interpret the wind and I can hit the shots and I can manage myself around the golf course properly enough to have a chance to win The Open,” he said.

The British challenge is a strong one, with home favourite Tommy Fleetwood fancied by many to make a move on his home track and he has been showing brilliant form in recent weeks, and he is confident.

“25 years since an English winner, it’s about time that changed, isn’t it?” said Fleetwood.

“25 years since an English winner, it’s about time that changed, isn’t it?”

Tommy Fleetwood

“I can’t believe it’s been that long to be honest. English golf is in such a strong position right now so it should only be a matter of time. I hope it’s me that breaks the spell.

“I think it’s going to be brilliant. The fans are a noisy lot from around here and that’s really going to add to the atmosphere. It’s going to be a week I’m never going to forget, that’s for sure.

“A lot of people say it’s the best Open venue, even people who aren’t as biased as me. You hear it a lot, about the course and about the town, it’s right up there with St Andrews. Put that together with one of the best golf courses in the world and it’s going to be a cracking scene. It’s going to be a great Open.”

Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy are the best backed of the Brits. McIlroy is rated at over 20/1 in places, something he has not been for a major in many years, following a struggle for form.

“I feel like my game is not far away and I can be ready to go on Thursday,” insisted McIlroy.

And Rose is tipping his Ryder Cup team-mate to come good.

“The one thing about Rory is as soon as you question him, he’ll do something special and turn it all around,” Rose said.

Rose is delighted to be back at Birkdale – the venue he announced himself to the golfing world at as he finished tied fourth as an amateur at The Open 19 years ago, and he would love to win it here.

“It’s definitely been a championship that I’ve had great moments in. And to win it would kind of close the book in a way on my Open Championship story,” he said.

The pro’s point of view…

Our resident golf expert is Cliff Jackson. Cliff is a leading youth coach and PGA professional at the famed Seaton Carew Links – one of the oldest courses in the world.

So I know Birkdale has never seen one, but I am going for a British champion this week – a good young ‘un and a good old ‘un. Youngster wise I am going with local boy Tommy Fleetwood, nobody knows that course better than him.

And I am also siding with Lee Westwood – surely there would not be a more popular winner and I would love him to come down that 18th on Sunday ready to claim the Claret Jug.

The Bookie says…

We caught up with BetVictor’s Jack Milner – an expert in the golfing markets

Historically, the course is incredibly tough and will be a severe test of those wanting to be crowned the ‘Champion Golfer’ in 2017.  The last winner, Padraig Harrington, closed with a terrific 65 at Dundonnel last weekend and is 50/1 with BetVictor to win a third Open Championship and a fourth major overall.

Harrington’s winning score of +3 in 2008 shows just how difficult the course can be when conditions turn sour, and bookmakers are expecting another attritional week for the world’s best golfers when arriving at the Lancashire coast. Spaniards Jon Rahm and Rafa Cabrera-Bello have won back-to-back European Tour events in the Irish and Scottish Opens respectively and have both been popular in the book; 18/1 from 33s and 40/1 from 80s respectively.

Our biggest loser in the book is England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who is now 20/1 having been as big as 100/1 at the start of the season. Fleetwood, born and raised just 20 minutes down the road, was an impressive winner of the French Open three weeks ago and is likely to know the course better than none; with BetVictor paying six places I can see him making the frame at the very least.

Americans have won 5 of 9 Open Championships held at Royal Birkdale and there are several stars from across the pond that look over-priced at 100/1 or bigger. Two-time major winner Bubba Watson played himself into a bit of form over the weekend and shouldn’t be as big as 150/1, whilst compatriots Brendan Steele and Charles Howell III are likewise a shade too big at the same price.

For all the latest odds head to – Be Lucky!

Expert says…

We also spoke with sports writer Paul Higham – who is at Royal Birkdale

Birkdale: As always the weather will play a huge part, storms Wednesday will soften it up and it’ll be a case of getting your scoring done on day 1 and clinging on for dear life Friday and into the weekend as it gets progressively worse.

Not so much the rain bit the wind is key at Birkdale and in particular the cross winds coming off the sea, it makes hitting fairways and greens of paramount importance.

You’ll not win here from the rough, especially after a good soaking, so there won’t be a lot of drivers from the bigger hitters. It’s a second shot course and iron play will win the day, along with of course putting, I’ve seen player practising putting from way off the green and that’ll be a key shot also this week.

You’ll need patience, precision and putting to lift the Claret Jug this year.


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