Paul Krishnamurty marks your card for the opening round at Royal St George's with a quintet of three-ball picks...
"Branden Grace warrants a place on any shortlist. His low ball-flight offers a big advantage and he's looked a winner-in-waiting of late."
Opposing favourites hasn't proved a very smart way to play major championships but if there's one exception, it's the Open and if there's one venue, it's Royal St George's. The last two champions here were massive outsiders and plenty more made the top-20.
Koepka could come unstuck in penal rough
There may be some logic to contrarian thinking, and taking on Brooks Koepka in a major. Sandwich has never struck me as a course where bombing it miles, regardless of the rough, will pay dividends as it invariably does for Brooks in US majors. Richard Bland's tweet doesn't bode well for that strategy.
Royal St George's is in pure condition this week gotta hit fairways because the rough is some of the thickest I've seen #TheOpen? Richard Bland (@blandy73) July 12, 2021
Koepka's task in this group isn't straightforward anyway up against two recent winners. Garrick Higgo is easy to swerve on his Open debut, unproven on links having missed the cut at the Scottish Open. Take them on at juicy odds with Colonial winner Jason Kokrak.
I concur with Steve Rawlings that greens in regulation is the key stat to follow here. Kokrak is one of the most reliable around from tee to green and fared well enough in only his second Open, finishing 32nd at Portrush. He's definitely improved in the two years since.
Back Ernie to turn back the years
Two old, personal traditions come into play here. First, backing a veteran former champion in the first round has frequently paid off. Second, backing the greatest links performer of his generation in his favourite tournament. For two decades, that was a goldmine.
Els has been unbackable in recent Opens because his game was in crisis but he's been spurred on by the Champions Tour and finished runner-up only a fortnight ago. Sure, Ernie won't win a third Claret Jug but a top-25 finish wouldn't surprise me.
This group is very winnable. Amateur Cole Hammer hasn't demonstrated his potential at all on his few major appearances. Gary Woodland has a solid Open record but isn't the most obvious links performer and has only bettered 30th once.
Links expert Grace fair value in strong group
My number one big name to oppose this week is Bryson DeChambeau, having shown little aptitude for links in three attempts, missing two cuts and finishing 51st. Plus again, his power won't offer its usual advantage.
In contrast, Jordan Spieth's game is made for links golf and he's also famous for brilliant starts in majors. Penal rough could, however, prove his undoing so I'll take him on with another links specialist.
Branden Grace warrants a place on any shortlist. His low ball-flight offers a big advantage and he's looked a winner-in-waiting of late, finishing fourth at the Memorial and seventh in the US Open.
Reliable Cink perfect for specials markets
Two of Steve's Find Me a 100 Winner picks vye for favouritism in this group. If I'd written it, Stewart Cink would definitely have been a pick at 180.0179/1. Lesser targets such as three-balls may be the perfect way to back this ultra-reliable player.
Resurgent this term, winning the Heritage and finishing 12th at the Masters, he comes in off eight straight cuts. Since winning at Turnberry in 2009, he's only missed two Open cuts and registered five top-30s.
For me, that lot is preferable to Westwood's legitimate claims. Although a fine links player at his best, Martin Kaymer is a long way behind on recent form.
Van Rooyen's links pedigree is eyecatching
Finally, let's give Erik Van Rooyen a chance to restate his links credentials. He hasn't kicked on at PGA Tour level since making a big impression in this major, making the top-20 on his first two attempts. Nevertheless, he's looked a natural in this and other links events.
The outsider of three, Chez Reavie, looks weak having missed all three Open cuts. Harris English is hugely respected and a potential champion, but at these odds, I prefer the South African.
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