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The Open preview

The Open - one of those major sporting events I've grown up watching and still find it weird to be seeing it during the daytime now that I'm living in the UK. With no dominant player on the scene this year - Tiger hasn't won a major since Australia last won the Ashes and Rory McIlroy is battling to make cuts these days, let alone claim trophies - this could be anyone's tournament. Taking the time to spin us a yarn as well as preview the tournament in blog regular Jim Gilchrist, @jimgilch. Read more of his work over on his blog.


Gullane Ghosts and Muirfield Magic

A small silver trophy stood modestly on the mantelpiece of the dining room in my father's house in Hawick. As a young lad aged about seven, I asked my Dad what it was for.

"That, son, was for a lucky hole in one I got on Gullane (he insisted on pronouncing it 'Gillan') Number One course a long time ago." He regaled me with the story of the blind tee shot and walking up to the green, thinking he must have missed to the jungle waiting on the right, only for his father to play out the hole and find a second ball in the cup.

"Yours, I believe, Gordon" he said proudly handing the apparently missing ball to his son.

Grandfather's old house stood nearby, with a window looking down over the fairways of the town's main course, Muirfield, and my father was lucky enough to play on the hallowed turf a few times as a young man. Dad's best ever handicap mark of three though, was gained on the town's less glamorous but still fiendishly difficult number one course, but he remembers Muirfield so well.

"Where bunkers were bunkers and the rough was penal" he told me later. 'Stray and pay' was the message.

And so it is today, though the first cut is less dangerous and of more import is course management, landing your ball in exactly the right spot and envisaging how it will end up. It's not only about driving any more, but more about scrambling and putting. Don't expect the Muirfield fairways to suit only the power hitters, placement is everything and should you venture in to one of the many pot bunkers, be prepared to come out sideways at times.

It's a wonderful test, one that examines every aspect of your game and is not target golf. No surprise then that Muirfield, more than any other course on the Open rota, produces only the finest Champions. Look at the list, Trevino, Nicklaus, Player, Faldo, Els, Watson, Vardon... multiple Major winners all.

Without the wind, the test is obviously less severe, and the forecast indicates a quiet week, so scoring may well be a longish way under par. But beware even the light breeze. It's no legend, as i discovered when playing nearby Dunbar that the turn of the tide brings an hour or so of changed conditions. Subtle changes, but enough to take you a few yards offline and into the trouble around the greens, instead of leaving you a 15 foot putt. Expect a bit of wear as each day progresses, spike marks and just a dustier roughness about the greens making afternoon scoring generally more difficult.

I was, frankly, rubbish at golf, and never came near father's mark of three, so as a lad I received a shot a hole from Dad at his best. As a sixth former in a nearby boarding school we were allowed to take the bus on a Sunday down to gullane and play 'number three' course, a short and 'easy' course. Breaking 100 was always a thrill! that bad... :)

However the only thing I could do was on links courses to close the face of the number nine iron, and play the Scottish 'bump and run'. Arriving 70 yards short of the green in two (my Dad on in two, albeit a longish way away), on one occasion, I managed to pitch up to about nine inches from the cup. Father missed me playing the shot and asked in genuine surprise 'Whose is that ball on the green?' I laughed... he knew then.... Sure enough he three putted and I tapped in.

I digress in telling that, but it's how links golf is, the scrambler, the fiddler, with a touch round the green can beat the smasher, the brute, the power game. But you don't learn or achieve success in a couple of practice rounds, no matter how fantastic you are. Patience is everything, experience the only way to get the hang of it, and when you do get a bad bounce, handling it and accepting the bogey, rather than going for broke and ending up with a seven, taking your medicine is the only way to go.


11 of the last 14 majors have gone to first time winners, so it's no surprise the market is wide open. I've already suggested though that Muirfield recognizes only the very best and I would not be surprised if it yet again has a multiple major winner who comes to the fore once more. The fast wide open fairways are something of a red herring, as I feel placement is so much more important.

Ironically my first memory of attending the Open was seeing Fuzzy Zoeller in 1972 at Muirfield, having just paid my way in, hole a bunker shot, a tournament that ended historically with Lee Trevino doing something similar to Tony Jacklin! But that's not what I mean by placement!

Men like Tiger and Jim Furyk excel in such conditions, while Mickelson arrives on the back of a win and Scott and Rose are this year's two major winners, so should be full of confidence. With the exception of Furyk these are the players who head the market. They are all capable of contending this week, and Furyk is overpriced, though current form is sufficient of a worry for me to look elsewhere.

Just behind them comes ERNIE ELS at 33/1 e/w and he is my first pick. After a few years in apparent decline, Ernie shot back to prominence by winning last year's Open. it was something of a surprise to many, myself included, but there was no doubting that the class was all still there, the apparently effortless and layback approach that earned him the nickname of The Big Easy.

And Els has something just as important on his dancecard, a win at Muirfield in the 2002 renewal of the Claret Jug over this very course and distance. Yes it was 11 years ago, but like riding a bike, Els's love affair with the course can't be overstated in its importance. Tied fourth at the US Open on his last outing a reminder of his Major's pedigree.

MATT KUCHAR gets the second vote. one of only two players with multiple tour wins in 2013 and 15/15 made cuts, he couldn't be in better nick. Yet he started the Masters at 12/1 and the US Open at 20/1, so Kuchar is a pure price play at a nonsense 50/1 e/w With seven and eight places available, it's tough not to see him going well this week. The weakness is his 6/7 missed Open cuts, but we are getting a phenomenal price in return.

6th in sand saves on tour, 12th in strokes gained putting and 13th in scrambling, the assets I'm looking for are all there this week.

MARTIN LAIRD gets the big priced nomination this week. About 110/1, that's plenty value. The Scot plays mainly on the American tour these days, but produced a superb tied 5th at the Scottish open to remind people back home of his quality, and is sure to receive enormous support from the galleries. Tied 21st at the US Open, before that winning the Texas Open with spectacular closing 63, and two other top tens already this year.

SPECIAL MARKETS AND OTHERS: I'll be covering this in he next 24 hours, so do please look back if interested, there are some very tempting bets out there!


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