After a sensible change to the scheduling three years ago, the oldest and greatest of the four majors, the Open Championship, often referred to as the British Open, is now the final one of the four to be staged each year.
Organised by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (the R&A), the Open Championship is the only one of the four majors to be played outside of the USA. Willie Park won the inaugural tournament way back in 1860 and this will be the 150th edition.
The Open Championship is always staged on a links course and this year we're off to most famous of them all - St Andrews.
The Old Course, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland.
Par 72, 7,297 yards
Average score in 2015 - 71.71
A traditional out-and-in seaside links, the Old Course at St Andrews is often referred to as The Home of Golf or The Old Lady and it's been in existence in some form since the early 15th century. It first staged the Championship in 1873 and it's been the venue a further 28 times since. The most famous and most-often used venue, it hosts the event every five years, although it's now seven years since we were last here, thanks to the pandemic.
The course has changed very little since Tom Kidd took the title way back in 1873 and it has a number of unique features...
St Andrews has a ridiculously wide fairway on its first hole that's almost impossible to miss. Seven massive double greens, whose hole numbers all add up to 18, with the 2nd and 16th, 3rd and 15th, 4th and 14th, 5th and 13th, 6th and 12th, 7th and 11th and 8th and 10th holes all sharing the same greens.
It's famous for its numerous, often hidden from sight, tiny pot bunkers, as well as the gigantic Hell Bunker on the 14th hole, which tripped up Jack Nicklaus in 1995 when he needed four attempts to extricate himself, and the steep Road Hole Bunker on 17, which are both to be avoided at all costs.
The 2nd and 4th holes are fairly challenging, and both averaged over par in 2015 but once through there the players can relax as the stretch of holes between 5 and 10 is the scoring section. With the exception of the par 5 14th, holes 11 to 17 are tricky; with the par 4 17th the hardest on the course, but the finishing hole is simple enough.
Famous for its 'Valley of Sin' in front of the green, at just 356 yards it ranked as the second easiest hole on the course seven years ago (averaging 3.76), yielding an eagle and 149 birdies. If the leader needs par or better to win after 71 holes, the engraver can probably get started, although Doug Sanders did famously miss a tiddler on 18 for par to win in 1970.
The vast majority of par 72s have 10 par 4s, four par 3s and four par 5s but St Andrews has 14 par 4s and just two short and long holes. The par 3s are the 8th and the 11th and the par 5s are the 5th (easiest hole on the course) and the 14th.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 6:30 on Thursday morning.
Last Ten Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2021 - Collin Morikawa 42.041/1
2020 - Championship cancelled
2019 - Shane Lowry -15 100.099/1
2018 - Francesco Molinari -8 38.037/1
2017 - Jordan Spieth -12 17.016/1
2016 - Henrik Stenson -20 25.024/1
2015 - Zach Johnson -15 150.0149/1 (playoff)
2014 - Rory McIlroy -17 19.018/1
2013 - Phil Mickelson -3 21.020/1
2012 - Ernie Els -7 50.049/1
2011 - Darren Clarke -5 300.0299/1
What Will it Take to Win the Open Championship?
Although the Championship is played at a different venue each year, links golf offers up broadly the same test whichever links course is used, so here's a look at the average stats for the winners of the last ten Open Championships.
Average key stats for the last 10 Open winners
Driving Accuracy - 40
Driving Distance - 32.9
G.I.R - 14.2
Scrambling - 19.7
Putting Average - 10.9
Looking at the ten-year average rankings, no single stat stands out and Putting Average has the lowest average ranking but it makes sense to dig a little deeper and to look at the stats for the four editions staged at St Andrews this century.
Here are the stats for the four winners and the average stats for the top-ten and ties at each of the four renewals.
Zach Johnson (2015)
D.A - 3rd
D.D - 60th
G.I.R - 40th
Scrambling - 2nd
Putting Average - 8th
Louis Oosthuizen (2010)
D.A - 1st
D.D - 4th
G.I.R - 9th
Scrambling - 15th
Putting Average - 2nd
Tiger Woods (2005)
D.D - 1st
G.I.R - 53rd
Scrambling - 10th
Putting Average - 7th
Tiger Woods (2000)
D.A - 7th
D.D - 1st
G.I.R - 1st
Scrambling - Stats not available
Putting Average - 9th
2015 - Top-10 averages statistical rankings
D.A - 39.27
D.D - 23.09
G.I.R - 23.26
Scrambling - 14.63
Putting Average - 30.18
2010 - Top-10 averages statistical rankings
D.A - 21.2
D.D - 33.2
G.I.R - 21.2
Scrambling - 21
Putting Average - 21.8
2005 - Top-10 averages statistical rankings
D.A - 33.7
D.D - 29.6
G.I.R - 21.7
Scrambling - 24.4
Putting Average - 30.3
2000 - Top-10 averages statistical rankings
D.D - 27.4
G.I.R - 16.5
Scrambling - Stats not available
Putting Average - 19
Zach Johnson isn't renowned for his length, and he ranked a lowly 60th for Driving Distance but Louis Oosthuizen was one of the two players beaten in the playoff seven years ago and he ranked second for DD.
Jason Day, who hit it further than anyone else that week, missed out on the playoff by just a stroke and the three previous editions here went the way of two big hitters (Tiger Woods twice and Louis Oosthuizen).
Looking a bit further back in time, the 1995 edition at St Andrews was also fought out by two big hitters, John Daly and Constantino Rocca. The tournament went to extra time after Rocca had famously holed for birdie in regulation play from the Valley of Sin, but Daly won the playoff.
Scrambling isn't a stat that leaps out at you looking at the above data but three of the top-four scramblers finished inside the top-four and tied here in 2015 and as Dave points out in his excellent 10-year trends piece, seven of the last eight Open winners have ranked inside the top-seven for Scrambling so that's worthy of consideration.
Since 1970 and before Daly in '95, the Open at St Andrews was won by Jack Nicklaus (twice), Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, so the cream has risen to the top in the modern era. Oosty was a shock winner 11 years ago and he's the only St Andrews champion since 1964 not to be a multiple major winner but he's been runner-up in all four majors.
The 1964 winner, Tony Lema, may well have gone on to win more majors had he not been tragically killed in an aircraft accident two years after lifting the Claret Jug.
The greens here are absolutely huge and a good putting touch, especially from distance, is vital and as you'll see above, the last four winners here all had a Putting Average ranking inside the top-ten.
So, ideally, you need to be long off the tee and a great putter but with 14 par fours at St Andrews, Par 4 Performance is arguably the most important stat.
Danny Willett, who finished tied sixth in 2015, having sat second at halfway, played the par fours in ten-under-par and only four others played them in double-figures under-par - the three playoff protagonists and Jordan Spieth, who finished alongside Day in tied fourth.
Oosthuizen ranked number one on the par fours in 2010, playing them in 13-under-par, as did Woods in 2000, and five years later Woods played them in seven-under-par, a tally only bettered by Darren Clarke, who played them in eight-under.
A Scottish Open start a big plus
Now that the Scottish Open is co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour, and that the field strength has increased dramatically as a result, what used to be a great angle in is now just a factor worthy of brief mention.
Links golf is quite unique and ever since the Scottish Open moved away from Loch Lomond after the 2010 edition to take in various wonderful Scottish links, an appearance in the Scottish the week before the Open has often proved beneficial.
Last year's winner, Collin Morikawa, finished a tailed of 71st in the Scottish Open but it got him acclimatised to links golf and the slower greens and I doubt he'd have won at St Georges had he not teed it up at the Renaissance.
Current form has been key of late
Having won the WGC Workday Open in February, Morikawa cooled off a bit before producing form figures in his five starts before winning at Royal St Georges reading 8-14-2-4-71 and the 2019 winner, Shane Lowry, had a similar form profile.
Lowry had won the Abu Dhabi Championship in January, and he produced form figures reading 3-8-2-28-34 so he was clearly in form and the three winners before him had all won in one of their two previous outings.
As many as five of the last eight Open winners had won in one of their five previous starts and only Ben Curtis, Stewart Cink, Ernie Els, and Zach Johnson (here in 2015), have won the Open this century without winning on either the PGA Tour or the European Tour in the 12 months previously and despite last year's result, a high finish in a previous Open is almost an essential prerequisite...
Open Championship form is a huge plus
Morikawa was the first debutant to take the title since Ben Curtis back in 1993. He also won the US PGA Championship on debut too and he's the only man in history to win his first two majors in his first start in each but he goes against the grain in no uncertain terms.
Previous Open Championship form is a huge pointer and 14 of the last 16 winners have recorded a prior top-ten.
Somewhat quirkily, Lowry won the championship having finished ninth in 2014, a year after Francesco Molinari had won at Carnoustie, having finished ninth in 2013, and other than Morikawa last year, Oosthuizen is the only recent winner not to record a previous top-ten. In three appearances prior to his victory here in 2010, the South African had failed to make it through to the weekend.
Lowry and Molinari's ninth-place finishes could even be construed as slight anomalies given 12 of the last 16 winners have finished inside the top-six in an Open and remarkably, eight of the last 16 winners had finished inside the top-three!
Desert form is a good angle in
The Qatar Masters was played at Doha Golf Club prior to 2020 and form there has been a good pointer for this event. It's not a links course but it's very exposed and wind-affected and year after year the leaderboard there is jam-packed with links specialists.
Open winners, Henrik Stenson and Paul Lawrie have won the Qatar Masters at Doha and so too have three players that really should have won one.
Adam Scot, Sergio Garcia, and Thomas Bjorn have all traded at odds-on in an Open Championship before ultimately failing to get over the line so that's a tournament to look at, and so too are the Abu Dhabi Championship (won by Lowry months before he won the Open), the DP World Tour Championship (won last year by Morikawa after he won the Open) and the Dubai Desert Classic, which is so often won by a links specialist.
In addition to form at the desert circuits highlighted above, we also need to consider form at other links venues too.
As already alluded to, look at the Scottish Open over the last ten years or so, the Irish Open in 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019, and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which is staged each autumn over three different links courses - with two rounds being played at the host course, St Andrews.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Last year's winner, Morikawa, was only 24 but experience is ordinarily very important and Phil Mickelson is the best player to highlight that.
For 11 years he turned up and missed the cut or finished down the field and then something clicked at Troon 18 years ago when he finished third. The penny had dropped. Since then, he's gone on to win the Championship and contend a couple more times and him and Stenson's Open six years ago is arguably the best in living memory. He matured into an incredibly good links player but it took him a long time to get there.
Lowry was only 32 when he won three years ago but he's played links golf all his life. He famously won the Irish Open at the County Louth Links as an amateur way back in 2009 and 12 months before Lowry won at Portrush, Francesco Molinari became the ninth player aged 35 and above to win the Open in 12 years. Veterans figure in this championship year after year.
Stenson had turned 40 just three months before he won in 2016 and the 2015 winner here, Zach Johnson, turned 40 eight months after he'd won. Had he been born a little earlier, five of the last ten Open winners would have been aged 40 or above and it would have been five from nine anyway if Kuchar had won five years ago. He turned 40 a month before Spieth edged him out at Birkdale.
In addition to Stenson winning six years ago, 46 year-old Phil Mickelson finished second and 49 year-old Steve Stricker finished fourth and yet they were mere pups in comparison to a couple of fairly recent contenders...
At Royal Birkdale 14 years ago, 53-year-old two-time Open Champion, Greg Norman, led the field by two strokes after three tough, windy days and he was the oldest player to ever lead the Open Championship through 54-holes but only 12 months later, 59-year-old, Tom Watson, smashed that record when he took a one-stroke lead into round four at Turnberry. Both men were eventually collared but they emphasise the point I'm labouring. This is clearly a tournament where plenty of experience is a huge plus and age is no barrier.
Given how well experienced players fare, it's perhaps not surprising that debutants have a woeful record. Morikawa was the first to win since Ben Curtis in 2003 and the last debutant and before him was Tom Watson in 1975.
Even though it's played at a different venue each year, the examination is always similar and it's totally unique to anything else encountered so previous tournament experience is very important.
Outsiders have a decent record in the Open so don't be afraid to back an outsider.
Last Eight Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2021 - Collin Morikawa - solo second, trailing by one 3.1511/5
2019 - Shane Lowry - led by four strokes 1.635/8
2018 - Francesco Molinari - solo fifth, trailing by three 16.015/1
2017 - Jordan Spieth - led by three strokes 1.42/5
2016 - Henrik Stenson - led by a stroke 1.768/11
2015 - Zach Johnson - tied sixth, trailing by three 38.037/1
2014 - Rory McIlroy - led by six strokes 1.21/5
2013 - Phil Mickelson - tied ninth, trailing by five 27.026/1
Molinari sat tied for 29th and six off the pace at halfway four years and he was still three off the lead with a round to go but off the pace winners have been fairly common at the 2018 venue, Carnoustie. That's not the norm though and it's not been the case here...
Molinari, Todd Hamilton in 2004 and Stenson six years ago are the only winners in the last 17 years to be outside the top-ten after the opening round and five strokes is the furthest any winner has trailed after round one this century. Morikawa sat ninth and three back after round one last year and he sat second after rounds two and three.
Ernie Els was seven shots adrift at halfway in 2012 but he was still only tied for 10th and that's the furthest number of strokes made up this century after 36 holes. David Duval also trailed by seven in 2001 but nine 36-hole leaders have gone on to win this century, 15 of the 21 winners were inside the top-five places at halfway and 16 of the 21 were within three strokes of the lead after 36 holes. Unless the weather is poor, making up ground on links tracks can be difficult.
While watching the coverage, you'll invariably hear the commentators say on several occasions that there's a long way to go and that there's plenty of time to make up lost ground or that anyone that makes the weekend can still win - words to that effect.
And those with long memories may recall Paul Lawrie's miraculous win at Carnoustie in 1999 from ten shots back with a round to go but that was a freak result of monumental proportions, and I can't stress enough how important a fast start is.
I've looked at every post Second World War Open staged at St Andrews and every winner has been up with the pace from the get-go...
1946 - Sam Snead - tied 4th and two off the lead
1955 - Peter Thompson - tied 10th and two off the lead
1957 - Bobby Locke - tied 4th and two off the lead
1960 - Kel Nagle - tied 2nd and two off the lead
1964 - Tony Lema - tied 5th and two off the lead
1970 - Jack Nicklaus - tied 8th and three off the lead
1978 - Jack Nicklaus - tied 13th and three off the lead
1984 - Seve Ballesteros - tied 5th and two off the lead
1990 - Nick Faldo - 3rd and one off the lead
1995 - John Daly - tied for the lead
2000 - Tiger Woods - tied 2nd and one off the lead
2005 - Tiger Woods - lead by a stroke
2010 - Louis Oosthuizen - 2nd and two off the lead
2015 - Zach Johnson - tied 2nd and one off the lead
Marc Leishman shot a 64 in round three in 2015 to move up from tied 50th to tied 6th before a 66 in round four saw him get into the playoff, won by Johnson, but in the 14 Opens at St Andrews since WW2, Jack Nicklaus is the only man to win having trailed by more than two strokes after round one. And he's the only winner to be outside the top-ten.
World number two, Rory McIlroy, heads the market and he's a fascinating contender.
He arrives at St Andrews in fine form following his successful defence at the Canadian Open and his fifth in the US Open, but he swerved the Scottish Open and he was a bit disappointing last time out at the Travelers Championship - finishing only 19th having been tied for the lead after round one.
Rory cruised to victory at Hoylake in 2014 but his victory at the US PGA Championship a month later remains his last major victory and after three top-five finishes following his Open success, he hasn't impressed in the last two editions.
He missed the cut at Royal Portrush when a warm favourite in 2019 and he was only 46th last year at Royal St Georges but he has some very solid form at St Andrews.
Rory has finished runner-up in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship three times and he was third here in the 2010 Open, despite shooting 80 in round two! He'd led the event after an opening 63 on Thursday but caught a really bad break with the weather in round two. Rory missed the 2015 Open due to injury.
Xander Schauffele has been well supported while he's contended at the Scottish, which he's just won, and he's far and away the hottest player in the field. He won the Travelers Championship the week after finishing 14th in the US Open and prior to his victory in Scotland, he won the 36-hole JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland on Tuesday.
With Open Championship form figures reading 20-2-41-26, Schauffele commands plenty of respect but he's yet to win a major championship and his very recent exploits may just leave him a bit jaded.
Having gone off favourite, Jon Rahm finished a disappointing tied 55th at the Scottish Open but he's a magnificent links exponent and he's already won the Irish Open twice on a links layout - in 2017 and '19.
Rahm was third last year when in fine fettle following his US Open win and he's a recent winner on the PGA Tour in Mexico, so he ticks plenty of boxes. Whether he's quite playing well enough is debatable and he lacks course form. Rahm missed the cut at the Alfred Dunhill Links on his only start in the event in 2019 and he only made his Open Championship debut in 2016.
Jordan Spieth has an excellent Open record and his tied 10th at the Scottish Open should prove to be a fabulous warm-up. He was matched at a low of just 4.3100/30 at the Renaissance Course but a double-bogey at the par three 14th in round four derailed his challenge and he finished tardily after that.
He was my ante-post pick in the event at the end of last year and Dave Tindall like's his chances too.
Scottie Scheffler missed the cut at the Scottish Open, but I wouldn't let that put you off if you like the world number one here. He was 12th in the Scottish Open last year and he finished eighth in the Open last year on debut so the Texan can clearly play links golf.
As already stated, I backed Spieth months ago so it's great to see him arrive in form and my only other pick before the off is the defending champ, Collin Morikawa.
The 25-year-old American hasn't been at his best this year, but he tends to get up for the big events and he was so impressive last year that I'm happy to take a chance at a juicy price.
Both Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington have won back-to-back Opens this century and Morikawa has the class to emulate them.
Morikawa hasn't tasted victory since he won the DP World Tour Championship in November, but he was second in the prestigious Genesis Invitational, and he finished fifth in both the US Masters in April and the US Open last month.
Jordan Spieth (ante-post)
Collin Morikawa @ 32.031/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
Watch Golf... Only Bettor, ahead of this week's 150th Open Championship below, presented by Sky Sports golf presenter Sarah Stirk with guests Dave Tindall from betting.betfair and Sporting Life's Ben Coley, with another Betfair tipster, Matt Cooper, joining them live from St Andrews.