Golf’s oldest major at the birthplace of the sport. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.
St Andrews is to golf what Wimbledon is to British tennis fans, or Lord’s to cricketers – iconic, hallowed, revered.
The best players in the world are honing their skills in Scotland ahead of Thursday’s opening round, but with so much talent on show who should you be keeping an eye out for?
We suggest who could be lifting the famous Claret Jug on Sunday…
Jordan Spieth (US)
World ranking: 2
Season best: Won – Masters, US Open, Shell Houston Open, John Deere Classic
Open best: Tied 36th (2014)
Jordan Spieth is on a roll. The young Texan triumphed in the first two majors of the year, and if he adds the third leg at St Andrews this week, he will be one away from being the first player to win the full set in a calendar year. He barely had time to pick his ball out of the final hole after winning the US PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic before travelling to Scotland to compete in golf’s oldest major. Spieth is not long off the tee, but he boasts marksman-like precision with his irons and his putting is “awesome right now”. As if any more incentive was needed, a victory would see him overtake Rory McIlroy as world number one.
On St Andrews: “I love the town, I love the R&A clubhouse. I love the Himalayas putting greens, the entire experience is really cool. The golf course specifically, I think it’s just mind-boggling that it can hold the test of time and still host a major championship, centuries after it was built. They have been playing golf here since before our country was discovered. That puts it into perspective.”
Rickie Fowler (US)
World ranking: 5
Season best: Won – The Players Championship, Scottish Open
Open best: Runner-up (2014)
Rickie Fowler proved he is the man for a big occasion by finishing in the top five in every major last term, a feat only matched by Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, and this term he won the Players, known as golf’s “fifth major”. The colourfully dressed Californian enjoys playing in Old Blighty, finishing runner-up at Hoylake last year and fifth in the 2011 Open in tempestuous weather at Royal St George’s. A win in last week’s Scottish Open at Gullane, a layout similar to St Andrews’ Old Course, will have boosted his confidence. This could be the week he breaks his major duck.
Justin Rose (Eng)
World ranking: 8
Season best: Won – Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Open best: Tied 4th (1998)
Justin Rose burst onto the scene in 1998 when he posted a top-five finish in the Open as an 18-year-old amateur. Since then he has accumalated seven wins on the PGA and European Tour, one of which was the US Open in 2013, although the Open is the one he’s “dreamed of winning”. Sir Nick Faldo was the last English player to win the Claret Jug in 1992, but Rose’s process-driven, methodical mind and ice-cool temperament could change all that.
On St Andrews: “St Andrews is one of those places where you can be the only person around but you feel like people are watching you. It’s just got that aura about it, it’s got atmosphere, it’s got history. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, it’s just got that magic appeal.”
Louis Oosthuizen (SA)
World ranking: 17
Season best: Runner-up – US Open, Alfred Dunhill Championship
Open best: Won (2010)
Louis Oosthuizen won the Open the last time it was hosted at St Andrews in 2010 – his one and only major triumph. The South African rediscovered his form at the US Open last month, an event he would have won by a canter were it not for a poor opening round. A no frills, steady Eddie golfer who has proven he has the game for the Old Course’s unique layout.
On St Andrews: “I’m always proud playing at St Andrews. We always have the opportunity coming here in October to play Dunhill Links but the Open at St Andrews is definitely a different vibe.”
Dustin Johnson (US)
World ranking: 4
Season best: Won – Northern Trust Open
Open best: Tied 2nd (2011)
The tall, laconic American is many people’s idea of a good thing at this year’s Open. Johnson’s prodigious distance might breach the Old Course’s defences in ways we haven’t seen if conditions are right. He has been agonisingly close in a number of majors now, most recently in June’s US Open when he three-putted the final green to hand the title to Jordan Spieth. Johnson says any disappointment is firmly behind him, but could the catalogue of close shaves be getting to him?
Johnson missed six months of last year through a “self-enforced” break from the game – reports said it was a drugs ban for cocaine, although the PGA Tour have denied this. Now married to Paulina Gretzky, daughter of ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, and with a baby son, Johnson is reinvigorated and knocking at the door.
Phil Mickelson (US)
World ranking: 21
Season best: Runner-up – Masters
Open best: Won (2013)
Phil Mickelson’s powers may be fading with age, but after years of winning at the highest level, he knows how to get the job done. He was dubbed “Phil the Thrill” because the crowds love his all-or-nothing style, which has brought him five major triumphs over the years. The left-hander lifted the Claret Jug at Muirfield two years ago when he mounted a final-round charge that was too good for the competition. His mesmerising short game could reap rewards in a tournament that favours guile over power.
On St Andrews: “I’ve seen St Andrews when it is brown and fast but it is also fine when it is green and soft. When it gets brown and the weather is nice, the pin placements can get a bit iffy. I prefer the weather to be bad and the pin placements to be fair and have the weather and conditions be the defence of the golf course rather than trying to trick it up because conditions are nice.”
Who is a lively outsider?
Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)
World ranking: 14
Season best: Runner-up – Waste Management Open
Open best: Tied 6th (2013)
A bit of a long shot, but Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama has the game to challenge anyone when on-song. Another of the game’s young superstars, Matsuyama has shown remarkable form this season, posting eight top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour. Two years ago he showed a liking for links golf at Muirfield, finishing tied for sixth in his first outing at the championship. He won the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament last term, but whether he has the temperament to win a major remains to be seen.
And what of Tiger Woods?
World ranking: 241
Season best: T17 at Masters and Hero World Challenge
Open best: Won (2000, 2005, 2006)
Tiger Woods won the Open at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005, but it’s been a tumultuous decade since, to say the least. After returning from injury this season, the 14-time major champion looked more like a 14 handicapper, posting three rounds in the 80s, one of which was a career-worst outing of 85. However, his impressive outing at the Greenbrier Classic a fortnight ago suggested there may be some gas left in the tank. We’ve seen it all from Tiger over the years, but if he were to win a first major since 2008 at the Home of Golf this week, it would be one of the all-time great sporting comebacks.
On St Andrews: “It’s my favourite golf course in the world. I love coming back here and seeing it and remembering all the shots and remembering all the good times I’ve had here. The creativity that it takes and the discipline – people don’t realise how much you need to shape the ball and the discipline it takes to play this course.”
This article first appeared in www.golfmagic.com