The 142nd Open Championship takes place this week at Muirfield, near East Lothian. This venue was last used in 2002, when Ernie Els landed his first Claret Jug after a titanic four man play off.
Due to the recent heatwave, the 7,192yd Par 71 links track will be playing fast and firm, but with penal rough, Muirfield will still provide a stern test, particularly if the wind blows,like it did on Mondays practice round(15-20mph). Hot, sunny conditions are due to continue for the rest of the week, so expect the course to bake even further. The key attributes required will be accuracy and course management. Players who have experience of the intricacies of Links golf will prosper.
From a punting angle,the home challenge is headed by US Open winners Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell. I just favour G-Mac, who certainly has the links pedigree to handle this type of test, the only negative being his inconsistency this year. He either wins or misses the cut! There has to be a doubt about the wellbeing of market leader Tiger Woods, who returns after a spell on the sidelines with an elbow injury. A positive for any Woods supporter, is that Muirfield will play very similar to Royal Liverpool, where Tiger triumphed in 2006. I can see him playing plenty of long irons and even laying up quite short to try not rolling into any fairway bunkers. I just dont think he represents any value at the current odds.
My main fancy this week is Ernie Els who attempts to win this event for the second consecutive year after his pulsating win at Lytham last year. I would ignore the missed cut at Castle Stuart, as that links test is a totally different one to that of Muirfield and the Big Easy has not threatened the judges in his three attempts at the Inverness course. His long game was in good shape last week, the problem was his putting, but he admits he cant read the Castle Stuart greens. I just got the distinct impression he was fine tuning his game for Muirfield. He has a great Open record, and his two previous attempts here have resulted in a joint fifth in 1992 as a raw 22 year old. and a win in 2002, so he obviously loves the course.
Another fancy is Sergio Garcia, who arrives here nice and fresh after a four week break. He has been in good form this year and he is another who has a proven links pedigree, having very nearly won the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie. The furore over his Tiger Woods spat has now died down, and I have a feeling the Spaniard may be best fresh, both mentally and physically. He also has a joint 9th finish here in 2002 which gives added confidence.
At a bigger price, Nicolas Colsaerts is fancied to perform well this week. He finished 7th at Lytham last year and warmed up nicely with a fast finishing joint 8th finish at Castle Stuart. The confident Belgium has already posted a top ten finish in the US Open this year, and at the current odds he represents decent value with some firms betting 7/8 places this week.
Other notables to consider are Henrik Stenson (our 20-1 E/W tip last week, placed) and if any wind does arrive, Chris Wood could be a massive runner at an equally massive price.
Ernie Els 28-1(E/W)-7 places-bet365 & Paddy Power
Sergio Garcia 30-1(E/W)-7 places-Paddy Power
Nicolas Colsaerts 66-1(E/W)-7 places-Paddy Power