The Open 2015: intelligent punter's guide to the golf
With McIlroy out of contention, can Justin Spieth lift the Claret Jug at St Andrews and make it three out of three?
The third golfing major of the year - the British Open, aka The Open - teed off at the Old Course, St Andrews this morning. With last year's winner Rory McIlroy missing the event due to injury, media attention is on the new wonder boy of world golf, the 21-year-old Texan Justin Spieth, who has won the first two majors of the year. Can he lift the Claret Jug and make it three out of three?
Before placing your bets, there are five key factors to bear in mind if we want to beat the bookies.
Course form. The Open is held at St Andrews in Scotland every five years. It makes sense to look out for players who have played well in Opens at St Andrews in the past - as well as those who have won or done well in Dunhill Links Championships held there. Open winners at St Andrews have tended to be big hitters who can hole their puts. The average winning score of the last five Opens to be held here is 14.6 under par, proving that to win you need to attack the short par-four holes and make lots of birdies.
Nationality. Americans, Australians and South Africans have won 11 of the 13 Opens at St Andrews since World War Two. Only two Europeans - Seve Ballesteros (1984) and Nick Faldo (1990) - have won Opens at St Andrews in that period.
Experience. Although the Open was won last year by a 25-year-old (Rory McIlroy), for the three years before that it was won by a golfer in his 40s, so it probably makes sense to include at least one 'golden oldie' in your portfolio.
Current form. Eleven of the last 12 Open winners had recorded at least one top ten finish that calendar year - and eight of the last 11 winners had already won a tournament that year. However, form in the previous year's Open does not appear to be important: five of the last six winners had missed the cut the year before.
Long-shots. Although Opens at St Andrews tend to be won by the top names in world golf (Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus both have two victories to their name), it's worth bearing in mind that the last time the tournament was held on the Old Course, in 2010, there was a shock 250-1 winner – the South African Louis Oosthuizen. Even if they don't win, rank outsiders have made the each way places: in 2010, there was a 100-1 third, and in 2005, there was a 100-1 runner-up and two 125-1 shots tied for third.
Now let's take a closer look at the leading contenders for the Claret Jug, plus some outsiders well worth an each way bet…
JORDAN SPIETH. Best odds: 8-1
The Texan (above) is going for his third major out of three this year. While his price is short enough considering he's never played before professionally at St Andrews, the 21-year-old Texan has to be included as one of the names on our betting slip given the tremendous form he's been in.
DUSTIN JOHNSON. Best odds: 12-1
A really talented player who is top of the driving distances chart, He's highly likely to be in contention - he's finished in the top 15 in four of the last five Opens - but make it an each-way bet because he has a reputation for "bottling it" late on in tournaments.
RICKIE FOWLER. Best odds: 18-1
The Californian finished in the first five in every major in 2014, and won last week's Scottish Open. Phil Mickelson did the Scottish Open/Open double in 2013 and his compatriot - who played well the last time the Open was played at St Andrews- has to go on the shortlist.
ADAM SCOTT. Best odds: 22-1
The Aussie has twice led the Open on the final day: in 2012 he famously blew a four-shot lead with just four holes to go. He played well to finish third at the US Open and given his record of consistency in this event - he's finished second, third and fifth in the last three years - and the fact that he's one of the longest drivers in the game, an each-way bet looks wise.
JUSTIN ROSE. Best odds: 25-1
Having finished fourth as an amateur in the Open in 1998 aged 17, his record in this event hasn't been spectacular. He missed the cut here in 2010. As a major winner (he won the 2013 US Open) you certainly can't rule him out, but he'll need to bounce back after a poor showing in last week's Scottish Open.
HENRIK STENSON. Best odds: 25-1
The Swede finished third at St Andrews in the 2010 Open - one of seven top four finishes in majors he has recorded since 2008. Likely to be there or thereabouts again, but stick with an each-way bet: others offer more appeal as potential winners.
LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN. Best odds: 25-1
The South African loves it at St Andrews: he not only won the 2010 Open here by seven shots, he also shot a course record-equalling 62 in the Dunhill Links last year. He hasn't won a major since his 2010 Open success, but he has gone close: in last month's US Open he tied for second, after a brilliant closing nine holes.
JASON DAY. Best odds: 40-1
The Australian has been a consistent performer in majors in recent years without winning and his long driving game should be suited to St Andrews. But health issues have held him back: he suffers from vertigo and collapsed when coming down a hill during the US Open.
TIGER WOODS. Best odds: 40-1
The positives are that he's twice won the Open at this venue (in 2000 and 2005). The big negative is his 2014/15 general form and the fact that he‘s missed the cut in two of the last three majors. While his performance in the final round at Greenbrier, his last tournament, was encouraging, his odds reflect his past glories and not what he's been achieving over the past 12 months.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA. Best odds: 40-1
The 23-year-old from Japan has posted top 20 finishes in five of the last nine majors - a run which includes a tied for sixth place in the Open in 2013 when he was harshly penalised a stroke for slow play. Given his consistent record in the top events, he has to be considered.
PAUL CASEY. Best odds: 40-1
Although he missed the cut in 2005, he did finish tied for third at St Andrews in 2010 and is a joint course-record holder for the Dunhill Links. His proven ability to do well on the Old Course, together with his good form so far this year, makes him good for an each-way bet.
SERGIO GARCIA. Best odds: 40-1
He's still to win a major but the Spaniard has a strong record in this event: he's posted seven top ten finishes since 2002 and four top five finishes, including last year when he came third behind McIlroy.
BUBBA WATSON. Best odds: 40-1
The two-times Masters winner is a big hitter, but plays his best golf in the US: his record in The Open is underwhelming. He's missed the cut in three of the last six years, including when the Open was last played at St Andrews, and while he's good enough to get involved, others make more appeal.
PHIL MICKELSON. Best odds: 45-1.
Second in 2011 and the winner in 2013, you could argue that it‘s time for 'Lefty' to shine again in this event. However, his record at Opens at St Andrews hasn't been great: he was 60th in 2005 and 48th five years later. Also, he finished well down the field in the US Open last month.
MARTIN KAYMER. Best odds: 45-1
The German could be a dark horse this week: he won the 2010 Dunhill Links and tied for seventh in the 2010 Open. He's already a dual major winner and comes into this in improving form.
MATT KUCHAR. Best odds: 50-1.
He played well to finish tied for second in the Scottish Open last weekend, but while he could figure on the leader board at some point, the likelihood is he'll come up short as he's done before: he tied for 27th here in 2010 and in the last three years in the Open he's finished 9th, 15th and 54th.
BRANDEN GRACE. Best odds: 50-1
The South African gets ticks in the right boxes: he's got winning course form (he won the Dunhill in 2012) and is in good current form, having finished tied for fourth in the US Open. His nationality is no disadvantage either.
BRANDT SNEDEKER. Best odds: 50-1
The American has posted two top 11 finishes in The Open in the last three years, and comes into this in fine form having finished eighth in the US Open. A definite contender, though his lack of experience at St Andrews is a negative.
BROOKS KOEPKA. Best odds: 66-1
The big-hitting 25-year-old American played well on this course in the Dunhill Links in October. He has made the cut in the last five majors (he tied for 18th in the US Open in June) and could outperform his odds here.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL. Best odds: 80-1
The South African has finished in the top 16 in the Open for four of the past five years, and his tied 14th place at St Andrews in 2010 was better than it looked as he had to play in very difficult conditions on the Friday. Seventh place in the US Open showed his current form and he's one of the better outsiders.
LUKE DONALD. Best odds: 80-1.
Eleventh at St Andrews in 2010, the Englishman has been slowly returning to form after a few years in the doldrums. While he's an unlikely winner, he could go well at a nice price.
LEE WESTWOOD. Best odds: 80-1
Although he has some good course form on his CV - he was runner-up in the 2010 Open at St Andrews and also won the Dunhill Links in 2003 - his recent form hasn't been great and it looks like Westie's long wait to win his first major will continue.
JIMMY WALKER. Best odds: 80-1
The 36-year-old only recorded his first PGA win in 2014 - but then hit a glorious run of form. He's only played once in the Open, finishing tied for 26th last year, and while he's got the ability to get his name on the leaderboard, his lack of experience at St Andrews is likely to be a disadvantage.
VICTOR DUBUISSON. Best odds: 90-1
The 25-year-old Frenchman tied for ninth last year and also jointly holds the Dunhill Links course record at St Andrews, after a round of 62 in 2012. He's had injury and illness problems this year, but does look to be getting back to form and at this price is worth a flutter.
J B HOLMES. Best odds: 90-1
There are two reasons why the 33-year-old American is worth a second look. First, he's in the top five for driving distances; second, his best Open performance came at St Andrews in 2010 when he tied for 14th. Could be one of the better long-shots.
DANNY WILLETT. Best odds: 100-1
The 27-year-old Englishman has a good links record and has done well at St Andrews before in the Dunhill Links. Tied for 15th in the Open in 2013, he missed the cut last year, but that's not too much of a problem as five of the last six Open winners had done the same. An unlikely winner, but he could well out-perform his long odds.
SHANE LOWRY. Best odds: 125-1
The 28-year-old Irishman finished ninth in the Open last year and could be one of the leading European contenders. He likes links golf and is in good form at present: can he join Ballesteros and Faldo as the only European Open winners at St Andrews since WW2?
GRAEME MCDOWELL. Best odds: 150-1
He's had two top ten finishes in this event in the last three years, and finished tied for 11th and 23rd in the two Opens he has played at St Andrews. He hasn't had a good 2015 so far - he missed the cut in the US Open - but there were signs of recovery in the Scottish Open last week.
THOMAS BJORN. Best odds: 150-1
The 44-year-old finished runner-up at St Andrews behind Tiger Woods in 2000 and although that's a long time ago golfers in their 40s have a good recent record in this event. 'The Great Dane' is one of the more likely 'golden oldies' to perform well.
RYAN PALMER. Best odds: 150-1.
The 38-year-old American doesn't win very often but he is 12th in the driving distances chart and has course experience: he tied for 14th in last year's Dunhill Links. He also played well at last weekend‘s Scottish Open.
RETIEF GOOSEN. Best odds: 250-1
He's 46 but the South African did finish fifth and sixth in the last two Opens played at St Andrews and while he'd be an unlikely winner, it would be no great surprise to see him roll back the years and enjoy a good few days on a course which clearly suits.