British Open: Who Can Claim the Claret Jug?

By Alan Dymock

Tomorrow sees the first round of the 141st Open Championship tee off at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. The favorites have already been decided on by the bookmakers, but do they reflect reality?

It is set to be a true challenge of links golf, with unforgiving wilderness around manicured greens and conditions already described as ‘wet and wild.’

To reflect this test bookmakers like Paddy Power have extended their each way bets to those finishing in the top 7, while other bookmakers will, as of today, compete to create the best odds for the customers. It is up in the air at this point.

Tiger Woods is favorite at this point in time, but some details are worth noting. Firstly, this price will be generated due to betting regularity. The more people pay up to back him, the more his price shrinks. He was well backed in the last major and many people want him to succeed, rather than thinking it is possible.

Secondly, Woods has already complained about the rough at Royal Lytham. “It’s just that you can’t get out of it. That bottom six inches, in some places is almost unplayable,” Tiger reportedly sneered.

“I’ve never seen the rough this high or thick and dense.”

However, he has been roundly criticized by the likes of renowned English golfer Tony Jacklin, who has told Woods in no uncertain terms that a course like this will punish the player with a negative outlook. This would not help the third point, then, as Royal Lytham is a course where one must be consistent.

Nerve must be held when fairways are the target. Miss enough of these and it could be curtains before the green is even considered. Seve Ballesteros was immortalized after his heroics at Lytham, but Ballesteros had an escape act like no player before or since.

Perhaps this is why Lee Westwood is favored, behind Woods. He has a steely streak that suits him to this unyielding course. However, the pressures of time must be ignored if he is to bag an elusive major and, like Woods, he must rediscover some touch on the greens.

Despite this there are the usual candidates. Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Luke Donald are joined as contenders with the likes of major winners Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington. Unfortunately, no conditions and no fairytales can see last year’s winner Darren Clarke fall past odds of 150/1. It would take a miracle for him to win it, it seems.

So the course is set and the players are sufficiently scared.

Yet, this should be seen as an opportunity, rather than a dastardly chore. There are some interesting pairings out there. Justin Rose, World number 9, tees off alongside a pressured Woods; Zach Johnson is teeing off alongside Clarke; Rickie Fowler plays with Harrington; Jason Dufner will come into the field before many big names start and is under little pressure.

Opportunity may present itself. A former winner could grit it out, but for the likes of Westwood, Donald, Rose, Fowler and Dufner there could be hope. In recent history the Open has been won by first-timers. Maybe one of these men can claim the claret jug?

This unpredictable British Open could, of course, just end up being the bookies’ nightmare…

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