Sarah Stirk: Rickie ready to add to recent run of first-time Major winners
Sarah Stirk picked out Brooks Koepka last time she penned us a Major column and there are few people more clued-up than our in-form tipster who has been watching and chatting with the world's best at Royal Birkdale this week...
"I love the way Rickie's game matches up to links golf, he's incredibly creative and imaginative and for a sun worshipping California boy doesn't mind the wind and the rain!"
After two fantastic weeks on links courses for the Scottish and Irish Opens we head to Birkdale for the year's third Major. We've seen a recent trend of first time Major winners and it's intriguing to think if that will continue this week.
The weather has been fantastic so far this week but it's set to get worse for tournament days with rain in the forecast and decidedly cooler temperatures. Links golf is always a fascinating test of patience and resilience and with unpredictable weather it's all about embracing the elements and the challenge they present.
Birkdale is a beautifully scenic course and will be hosting The Open Championship for the tenth time and first since 2008. It's hardly changed in the interim and like all good links courses beautifully stands the test of time. What's stood out from talking to the players this weeks is the fact it's a really fair test of golf. When I asked Lee Westwood his thoughts on the famed Southport links he said unequivocally "it's the fairest course on The Open rota" and many agree.
The tight, firm fairways run along the valley floor framed by stunning sand dunes and there are less vagaries here than at most Open venues. It's an 'out in front of you' course with no trickery required, just a great test of golf that will produce a worthy champion. Here are my picks for the week.
Sarah's Open Championship Selections
Back Jordan Spieth each-way @ 12/1 (eight places, 1/5 the odds) - I think driving accuracy is crucial this week as Birkdale doesn't necessarily favour the big hitters. I think it's a strategic test, requiring the right spots to be hit and for that reason I really like Jordan's chances. I've talked to him a lot this year and ironically it's his normally lethal putter which has been letting him down. His ball striking has been superb and coming off an amazing win at The Travellers his confidence is sky high. The only negative is the fact he hasn't played any tournament links golf heading in. Talking to Paul McGinley yesterday he thinks it's imperative to play at least one event trying to replicate the conditions you will face at The Open. Five out of the last six Open Champions have played the Scottish Open the week before winning, but I'll make an exception for Spieth.
Back Rickie Fowler each-way @ 14/1 - To my final point above Rickie typically adds the Scottish to his schedule and is in fact a former winner of the tournament. I love the way Rickie's game matches up to links golf, he's incredibly creative and imaginative and for a sun worshipping California boy doesn't mind the wind and the rain! He's learning to handle Sundays better and I'd love to see him break his major duck this week.
Back Padraig Harrington for a Top 10 Finish @ [6.8] - The Irishman is the defending champion at Birkdale and I'm always excited to see him tackle links golf. In bad weather there's nobody better and in treacherous conditions Harrington's tenacity comes to the fore. My Sky colleague Rich Beem said last week at the Scottish Open he thought his tempo was as good as ever and as we've seen recently in Open Championships, the late thirty-somethings and players in their forties have done very well. Padraig arrives here with form after a good showing at Dundonald Links.
Back Soren Kjeldsen for a Top 10 Finish @ [14.0] - Talking of players in their early forties the Dane is one of the gutsiest out there and a fine links exponent. He finished tied 9th a year ago and is a former winner of the Irish Open. I also think with accuracy off the tee and positional play a must this week Kjeldsen is a good shout. Plus I've just seen him in Pizza Express in Southport so that's surely a good omen!