The former Guardian golf correspondent, author and slayer of invoice deadlines marks your card for the Open Championship
If recent history tells us anything about the future, then the United States of Royal Troon should serve up another Yankee doodle winner of the Open Championship on Sunday evening. American pros love the Ayrshire links the way American pros love blonde-haired wives.
Reel ‘em off, cowboy. Todd Hamilton. Justin Leonard. Mark Calcavecchia. Tom Watson. Tom Weiskopf. Arnold Palmer. Since 1962, the USA is six for six when it comes to Opens staged at Troon. It must be water, or the sea breeze or the proximity to home (Troon is closer to the Land of the Free than any other Open venue) or the way the course is laid out or the quality of fish and chips shops in the town centre. Or maybe it is just coincidence.
The truth is out there somewhere, although on this occasion it the cognoscenti have decided that history is the perfect the guide to what happens next.
An American will win the Open Championship at Royal Troon, apparently. And the American winner in this blessed golfing year of 2016 will be Dustin Johnson.
After all, is there a better golfer on the planet right now than big DJ, winner of last month’s US Open at Oakmont and, a couple of weeks later, the WGC event at Firestone Country Club? Of course not.
One of newspapers ran a long story with accompanying graphic pointing out that on the Royal Troon lay-out, with the prevailing wind and a couple of friendly bounces, there is a possibility the massive-hitting Johnson could have five eagle attempts on the first six holes.
The point is only a fool would bet against DJ in his current form on a course such as Royal Troon. And yet….
If not the American colossus Johnson, then who?
Well, I hear on the grapevine there is a pretty good Irish kid in the field, goes by the name Rory McIlroy. He might hit his drives a couple of yards shorter than DJ but he has plenty going for him, not least that he has already won a Claret Jug (2014), which is more than DJ can say.
World No. 1 Jason Day isn’t a bad player either – another mammoth hitter who is surfing a rich wave of current form. Jordan Spieth is one year removed from the summer to end all golfing summers. By his own admission he has shaded a little in 2016 but lest we forget he was one chunked pitch shot from winning the US Masters this year.
Looking beyond the “big three” (now there’s a marketing confection that didn’t last long), there are others who might have a run on a links track as testing at Royal Troon. Rickie Fowler is having average year but strangely for someone who grew up in the sun-kissed climate of southern California, he enjoys playing in bad weather.
His Open record lists a couple of top-five finishes. If it’s too much of a stretch to see him as a winner then it is entirely realistic to imagine him notching up another top five and as Paddy’s paying out on the first eight places this week – that’s even better.
As for the rest of the world, we can nod briefly in the direction South African contingent. The last non-American to win at Troon was the great South African Bobby Locke back in 1950. Ernie Els, who lost in a heartbreaking play-off to Todd Hamilton in 2004, is probably past his sell-by date at the highest level but not so Branden Grace, who gets better with every appearance in this championship.
Tied 20th last year, he is a great player in bad weather – the forecast is atrocious, incidentally – and should go even better this week after showing up well bar the third round in Scotland last weekend.
World No 1. Jason Day will carry the weight of Australian hopes but watch out for Adam Scott, who could be forgiven for thinking that the Open Championship gods owe him one after a back nine that Ernie Els benefiited from in 2012.
Maybe they do, but for those of us looking for a winner who carries a chip on his shoulder and some good value odds the name that screams out is that of Sergio Garcia. With DJ having finally bagged his major, the Spaniard has slipped back into his familiar slot as “best player never to have won…”.
Suffice to say it is a title he wears begrudgingly and, one suspects, not for too much longer, given the weight of recent evidence.
He won on the PGA Tour a couple of months ago. He has already contented in both of this year’s majors. His putting, for so long a weakness, now looks as good as it ever has. He plays well in bad weather and he loves the Open Championship, as he record attests. Nine top ten finishes in 16 appearances takes some doing. It also commands us to be bold when it making predictions based on the historical record.
So here goes – Sergio Garcia will win the 2016 Open. But if he doesn’t, he will give you a hell of a run for your money.