The Open Championship 2017: A quartet of selections to challenge the first round lead

Will Richie Ramsay challenge the first round lead at Royal Birkdale?
Will Richie Ramsay challenge the first round lead at Royal Birkdale?

The Royal Birkdale excitement continues to build - Dan Geraghty throws four first round darts at Thursday's opening round...

"(Richie Ramsay) played well at both the Irish and Scottish Opens and looks really well prepared for this week's test - on a course he knows and loves."

Well, despite my best efforts, I'm not allowed to look at the Barbasol Championship first round this week. The Open Championship it is.

There's been plenty of head scratching over an ever changing weather forecast in Southport, but the way it's going, it looks like we could have a very fair day on Thursday, with no rain and winds consistently around 18-20mph all day; so wherever you're drawn, you'll likely have a fighting chance of being in the mix after round one of the year's third major.

In tough conditions, only three players broke 70 in round one last time the Open Championship visited Royal Birkdale; Graeme McDowell, Rocco Mediate and Robert Allenby all tied for the lead after the first day having shot one under 69's in 2008. It looks certain we'll have better conditions this year but Royal Birkdale is bound to be a tougher test than recent Open Championships have been. It's going to be a grind, so it feels like we're looking for a different kind of player than the birdie machines that are usually on the first round radar.

Maverick McNealy was always going to be the first man on the shortlist for me this week. I'm a big fan of the Stanford phenom; he warmed up for his first Open Championship with a very solid performance at the John Deere last week. From everything I've read about the former amateur number one, his game seems to compare with Jordan Spieth's - with his mental ability to grind out scores and get the ball in the hole one of his best attributes. Amateurs have a good record in Open Championships in recent years and McNealy has some of the best amateur credentials we've seen. He's off in the second group at 6:46am.

Ernie Els looks worth chancing at the same price. Remarkably the big easy opened with an 80 last time the Open was at Royal Birkdale yet still managed to finish seventh. Els is an Open Championship specialist and is always one to consider when this time of year rolls around; he's still playing at a high level and has made his last five cuts.

Richie Ramsay comes into this week in some of the best form he's been in going into a major. He played well at both the Irish and Scottish Opens and looks really well prepared for this week's test - on a course he knows and loves, as he told the BBC:

"Royal Birkdale really suits me and I love playing there. I remember playing at The Amateur there and it's just a great set-up."

I usually ignore the shorter prices in these first round columns but in recent days my head has been turned to the chances of Jordan Spieth this week. My friend has been texting me hole by hole updates of his practice round at Royal Birkdale today (Tuesday); Spieth went out with Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas and by all accounts led the other three a merry dance. He was three under for the 12 holes my friend witnessed and it sounds like a testing Royal Birkdale setup is right up his street. Spieth comes into this week off the back of a victory last time out at the Travelers and with doubts over many of his peers, he should be full of confidence this week.

...and finally, if, like me, you are one of the poor lost souls looking at the Barbasol, I'll be cheering on Blayne Barber and Andrew Loupe.

Recommended Bets

Back Maverick McNealy @ 110/1
Back Ernie Els @ 110/1
Back Richie Ramsay @ 110/1
Back Jordan Spieth @ 25/1

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