Our man, Steve 'The Punter' Rawlings, has been spending some of his festive free time looking ahead to the 2018 major championships. Here's his look at the biggest of them all - the Open Championship...
“Carnoustie may have only been used sparingly for the Open Championship itself but it’s one of three courses used in rotation each year at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – won in each of the last two years by Tyrrell Hatton.”
The 2018 Open Championship
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Looking forward to the US Masters (here) and the US Open (here) has whetted my appetite for 2018 nicely but I've really enjoyed pondering what the 2018 Open Championship might bring when the world's greatest tournament returns to Carnoustie for an eighth time in July. The Angus links has provided us with some fantastic and memorable renewals already and there's no reason to think the 2018 edition will be any different.
Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson won the first five editions but I'm too young to remember any of those renewals. I have vivid memories of the last two staged here though.
Looking at the records, I see Hogan, who was tied for the lead after three rounds in 1953, is the only Open Championship winner at Carnoustie not to win from off the pace but Paul Lawrie took it to another level in 1999! The Aberdonian began the final round in a tie for 14th place, fully ten strokes behind the clear leader, Jean Van De Velde, and it looked like his quite brilliant 67 in filthy conditions wasn't going to be enough when the Frenchman still led by three with one hole to play but then this happened on the 18th.
Lawrie went on to win the playoff comfortably and one could be forgiven for thinking the 2007 edition at Carnoustie might be a much duller affair but it wasn't...
Sergio Garcia had begun the final round leading by three strokes and Padraig Harrington, who like Sergio, was also looking for his first major, had trailed the Spaniard by six strokes. The Irishman looked like he'd blown it when he made a double-bogey at the 72nd hole but he went on to win in extra time. Here's a quick recap.
So, if the last two editions are anything to go by we can expect plenty of drama and an off-the-pace champion but can we search anywhere for clues?
Carnoustie may have only been used sparingly for the Open Championship itself but it's one of three courses used in rotation each year at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - won in each of the last two years by Tyrrell Hatton.
Given the ADLC is a pro-am, Carnoustie, or Carnasty as it's sometimes nicknamed, is set up much easier for the Dunhill than it is for the Open but it's still the toughest of the three courses used (the other two are St Andrews and Kingsbarns) and form in that event can't be dismissed lightly. Paul Lawrie went on to win the inaugural ADLC in 2001 after his 1999 Open victory and Harrington won the event twice (2002 and 2006) before he won the Open here in 2007.
Tommy Fleetwood broke the Carnoustie course record when he skipped round in 63 at the ADLC in October so he's a very obvious candidate, as is Hatton and anyone else that's won the ADLC.
Alex Noren didn't play the event this autumn but he skipped around Carnoustie in just 64 last year so he's plausible pick but the Sportsbook have ducked him a bit at 33/1 and the same can be said of Sergio at just 14/1. The Spaniard has to enter the equation given his course and event form and that he's now a major champion but that looks way too skinny for my liking.
Given he led the 2009 edition of the Open before a late collapse, and that he's a three-time runner-up in the ADLC, Ross Fisher is an interesting contender at a triple figure price and I Henrik Stenson could be a bit big at getting on for [30.0] on the Exchange but at the prices on offer, I can't get away from Hatton.
It's hard to envisage Hatton as a major winner so early in his career and his demeanor on the course is frustrating and off-putting but his links form (fifth in the 2016 Open) and his form at Carnoustie (shot 67 and 65 in each of the last two ADLCs) make him very difficult to scrub off the list and the 50/1 available with the Sportsbook is fair enough.
Having won his first European Tour event in the autumn of 2016 at the ADLC, Hatton struggled for much of last year before finishing strongly with back-to-back victories at the ADLC and the Italian Open so it will be interesting to see how fares in 2018. I suspect he can only improve on the bulk of his 2017 form and he could be quite a bit shorter than 50/1 come July.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter