Open Championship 2018: Will Carnoustie serve up another bettors' dream?

Carnoustie Clubhouse - The Open
Not many players will get to Carnoustie's clubhouse without having had some golfing disaster along the way
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This season's majors both produced memorable, dramatic weekends and Paul Krishnamurty says the best could be yet to come, with Carnoustie hosting the Open Championship for the first time in 11 years...

"Carnoustie is one of the most feared courses in the world and probably the toughest on the Open rota. If you enjoy dramatic, volatile betting, history suggests you'll love this venue whatever the weather."

Differences in opinion regarding what constitutes the ideal golf course and tournament could not have been more stark than the recent US Open. Criticism was fierce from the pros who played Shinnecock Hills and many a pundit, who felt it was too penal, with scoring too often determined by luck. On the other hand Steve Rawlings and myself - for whom a major means four days of constant in-play betting - absolutely loved it.

If you enjoy watching the best players being beaten up by the golf course, pray for wind at the Open Championship. Carnoustie is one of the most feared courses in the world and probably the toughest on the Open rota. If you enjoy dramatic, volatile betting, history suggests you'll love this venue whatever the weather.

With the wind up, Carnoustie becomes a monster

Some older players will already be well aware of the potential carnage. Back in 1999, the Open returned to Carnoustie after a 24-year absence and duly rewrote the history books. The winning total of +6 remains the highest since WW2 and Paul Lawrie's ten-stroke turnaround the biggest final round comeback in major history. First round leader Rod Pampling - the only man to shoot par - missed the cut. A teenage Sergio Garcia - on the verge of starring in a PGA and Ryder Cup - left in tears after shooting 89/83.

That fundamental truth of Carnoustie - that shots can be frittered away with alarming regularity - would become truly apparent on the 72nd hole, with the biggest meltdown of a leader any of us are ever likely to see. Footage of Jean Van De Velde stood in the Barry Burn, dazed and bemused, will be run over and again this month. Poor man.

Watch Jean Van De Velde's collapse at the 1999 Open

Betfair wasn't around then but, had it been, exchange records would have been similarly smashed. Lawrie would have been trading at the maximum odds of [1000.0] throughout pretty much all the first 71 holes. Everyone remembers the Van De Velde collapse but few ever note how brilliantly the Frenchman had nursed the lead from halfway. There was absolutely no indication that he would implode on the last, let alone drop three shots to fall into a play-off!

Brutal finishing holes are made for drama

For me, the litmus test of a truly great course is a tough finish and potentially game changing final hole. Carnoustie delivers in both regards - more so than any Open venue. 15, 17 and 18 are all long par-fours, while the 16th is a very long par-3. All are tough in any conditions but in wind, par becomes a great score. The infamous Barry Burn is in play throughout.

'Home' - the 18th at Carnoustie - carved out a special place in golfing history that day and, when the Open returned eight years later, history would repeat itself. This time, the victim was Garcia, still chasing his first major title.

Having led from the outset, the Spaniard started the final round three shots clear of the soon-to-fade Steve Stricker, and six shots clear of the rest. On a stormy afternoon, the leaderboard was turned upside down as Padraig Harrington, Andres Romero and Ernie Els charged. The betting was wild even before Carnoustie's famous finish took a hand.

First Romero took a two-shot lead to the 71st tee, trading at odds-on for the title, only to finish double bogey/bogey. Next favourite Harrington appeared to blow his chance down the last by twice visiting the burn, but scrambled well for a double-bogey finish that would prove enough for a play-off. Garcia, who had started the day at short odds-on, resumed the lead only to miss his par putt on 18, before losing in extra holes.

A great course to lay the leaders

2007 produced exactly the sort of final round that we golf punters crave - the perfect conditions in which to 'back high, lay low'. Given that the last three Carnoustie Opens all yielded play-offs and such a terrifying finish, drama feels almost inevitable.

We haven't seen that many blanket finishes in recent Opens, and Zach Johnson's win at St Andrews in 2015 is one of only two play-offs since. In both 1999 and 2007, a wide array of players were available to lay below [5.0] at some point in the piece, and several at odds-on. Some sort of 'lay the leader/favourite/contenders' strategy should pay off here more times than not.

Don't, however, bank on another humiliating of egos to compare with Shinnecock Hills or 1999. All links courses are primarily defended by the weather and, less than a fortnight out, the UK is drenched in a heatwave. The rough is unlikely to be too dense and, without strong winds, scoring should be respectable.

Even in ideal scoring conditions though, Carnoustie is still one of the tougher Open venues. There are menacing, brutal pot bunkers lurking everywhere and driver will be mostly required on the long par-fours. This is not one of those courses - St Andrews, Hoylake, for example - where the best players can plot their way around, avoid trouble and capitalise on the easy holes.

Looking back at those two previous leaderboards, two types stand out - elite Open specialists and rank outsiders. Harrington, Garcia and Els had stacks of Open pedigree but Romero was at least [300.0] pre-tournament. In 1999, Lawrie and Van de Velde were available at any price, while play-off loser Justin Leonard a former champion. Tiger Woods was on the premises throughout while Craig Parry, David Frost and a pre-peak Angel Cabrera all traded short from high starting points.

All of this bodes well for the looming championship. Even the prospect of shock winners has been lacking from most recent majors and blanket finishes have been few and far between. The last four Opens were won with a double-digit under par winning score. There's no reason why this famous links - which has already produced the toughest conditions, biggest turnaround and one of the unlikeliest champions - can't buck these trends once again.


Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

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