You can always tell when golfers and golf fans are complaining about major-championship courses and setups. How can you tell? Because it’s summer, their mouths (and thumbs) are moving, and major championships are being held on courses.
Hardy-har. Yes, I’m firmly on the side of those who think golfers complain too much. They all have to play the same course. The most consistent major-title contenders just keep their heads down and keep swinging while others allow themselves to be psyched-out.
But every once in a while, the rabble-rousing millionaires have a point. Like when the British Open was held at Carnoustie in 1999.
Royal & Ancient officials were still reeling from watching Tiger Woods shoot 100 under par in the 1997 U.S. Masters at Augusta National. As preparations for the Open Championship at Carnoustie began years in advance, greenskeepers had no way to know that the mercurial Woods would go into the most-pronounced slump of his young days as a golfer. By 1999, he was reduced to another also-ran failing and flailing on the windy links, and no threat to embarrass the R&A. But the damage was done.
Carnoustie was about the become “Car-Nasty,” an almost-unplayable torture track that would provoke changes in how the Open Championship’s courses would be set up in the 2000s and 2010s.
With Dustin Johnson and a familiar cast pegged by bookies as odds-on favorites to win the British Open in 2018, it’s worth noting that the event will be held at Carnoustie for the 3rd time in 19 years.
Are the betting lines correctly attuned to the styles of the names atop the board? What skill-set will it take to claim the Claret Jug in the age of Twitter?
Jean Van de “Felled”
The R&A succumbed to a psychological trap that infects golf course architects and manicurists every so often when major championships come to town. Instead of making the links a difficult challenge on which to make part, officials “souped-up” the course to keep scores high in an artificial way.
Knee-high fescue was grown around fairways and greens as the centuries-old course was narrowed into a tiny chute through the hay. There was no such thing as “light rough” at Carnoustie in ’99. When golfers missed the fairway or the green, they simply had to accept bogey and chop out.
It made for boring TV…at least until the 72nd hole. Unheralded Scotsman Jean Van de Velde led through 71 holes and held a commanding lead going into the final hole of stroke play. But he collapsed mentally on the watery 18th hole, drowning his socks along with his chance to win. Paul Lawrie, another catch-as-catch-can pro, snuck through the leaderboard and wound up with the title.
Nothing against Lawrie or his soggy one-time rival. But the Royal & Ancient knew that it had messed up, allowing the best players in the world to be cheated by foot-long weeds while 2 marginal golfers simply poked it down the middle and waited for everyone else to crash.
The course received much-better reviews with the British Open returned in 2007. Carnoustie was lengthened, but that wasn’t a big deal considering the boom in new high-tech equipment and training techniques that Tiger’s streaks of dominance had brought to the game. The rough was still a challenge, but players were given a chance to recover from missed shots. Padraig Harrington won the tournament in a 4-hole playoff over Sergio Garcia.
How will Carnoustie be set up for the Open Championship when it returns this Thursday?
Carnoustie 2018: Long and Versatile Golfers will Prosper
Head greenskeeper Craig Boath is determined to not let the rough grow to its ridiculous length of 1999. Instead, the R&A is supervising a layout that will play more like the course did at the better-received Open Championship of 2007.
Distance and accuracy with the driver will be a key factor. But that doesn’t mean finesse won’t be called for. Bunkers will catch inaccurate or wind-blown shots, and the greens will be frustrating to putt from long and medium-range.
Hole 16, known as Barry Burn, requires masterful precision to notch a Par 3. The hole had the fewest number of birdies when Carnoustie hosted in 2007. The nerve wracking hole 18 is the most difficult Par 4 and has been called the most challenging finishing hole of any course in the U.K. Hole 14, known as “Spectacles,”, is a risky Par 5 with out of bounds just to the left of the player and several bunkers scattered throughout.
Weather is always a factor at the British Open, and this year will be no different. The long-term forecast doesn’t portend an exceptionally windy tournament, but there will be plenty of wind on the links compared to what golfers experience in parkland. Rain and threatening clouds are expected on Thursday and Saturday.
In short, the champion will need to have a little bit of everything in the bag. The bunkers will prevent the links from submitting to sheer power off the tee. Players who can’t hit putts will sag on the leaderboard without any tap-in birdie chances.
And though the lighter rough enables golfers to hit recovery shots and perhaps even birdie after a missed drive, linksmen will need to stay patient and avoid compounding their problems when escaping the tall (if not too-tall) fescue.
Who on the futures betting board has the goods? Let’s take a quick look several contenders.
Dustin Johnson (+1200 Odds-to-Win at Sportsbetting.ag)
The Cheetah is coming off a run of terrific performances heading into The Open and stands as the odds-on favorite going into the championship. Johnson followed-up a top 10 finish at The Memorial with a victory at the St. Jude Classic and 3rd place at the U.S. Open.
Johnson currently ranks #10 on the PGA Tour in driving distance and his accuracy is improving. The current World #1 has competed in 9 Opens with his best finish a close 2nd in 2011.
Rory McIlroy (+1400)
Rory is looking for a bounce-back performance after missing the cut at the U.S. Open. He had an encouragingly strong showing at the CVS Health Charity Classic, finishing 6th. Driving distance on the long links will be no problem for the Irishman as he ranks third on the Tour at 317.0.
But McIlroy has struggled with the putter at times in ’18 and is outside the top 10 in eagles and birdie average. His last win at the Open Championship came in 2014.
Tiger Woods (+2000)
Tiger’s 2018 season has been a mix of intriguing promise and failed potential. Woods won The Open Championship in 2000 and returned to win back to back championships in 2005 and 2006, but the 42 year old’s best finish at Carnoustie in any tournament was a top 10 on 1999’s hideous layout.
The iconic golfer was cut at the U.S. Open along with Rory, but followed up with a top 5 finish at the recent Quicken Loans National. Woods’ driving distance has been average, ranking #27 with a 304.9, but it’s his waywardness off the tee and inconsistency with the flat stick that could sink any bid to win in Britain.
Jordan Spieth (+1600)
Things are not looking great for the defending British Open champion. The talented-but-temperamental Spieth has been on a downward spiral over his last several tournaments.
The 24-year-old Texan has not managed a top 10 finish since placing 3rd at the Masters, and driving distance and driving accuracy are suffering at the same time. That’s a lethal combination of issues for any golfer hoping to conquer Carnoustie.
Justin Rose (+1600)
As a teenage amateur, Justin Rose caused a sensation in the UK by finishing 4th in the British Open. His subsequent failure to claim a Claret Jug has confounded many fans and pundits. But 2018 is looking like the year that Rose could break through, partially because the other favorites have flawed games coming into the event, but also thanks to his renewed focus and steady play in all conditions.
Rose has been extremely consistent over his last several tournaments, winning the Fort Worth Invitational and placing 10th in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. The 37-year-old Englishman comes in with the strongest and most well-balanced stat sheet of any contender, holding at 3rd in birdie average 2nd in scoring average at 69.17.
Rose only ranks 50th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, but players who compete overseas often must adjust to the sunny skies of America, and then to the rainy winds of England, and back again.
His 12th-place finish at Carnoustie in 2007 is an encouraging factor. His tee-to-green game could come together on a familiar layout on his side of the pond.
Padraig Harrington (+12500 at Bovada Sportsbook)
My sentimental favorite for this tournament, the 46-year-old Irishman could surprise on a course that fit his well-rounded game to a tee (excuse the pun) 11 years ago. Harrington can still drive the ball long, averaging almost 300 yards off the tee, and his sand save % is out of this world at over 60% despite still taking on the challenging bunkers of Europe.
“Paddy” won’t win unless he’s very lucky and other golfers are very unfortunate. But his experience and comfort with the course make him an excellent value pick to finish in the top 10 and a fine 3-balls bet on Thursday and Friday.
2018 British Open: Best Futures Pick
You might have guessed this already, but my pick is Justin Rose at (+1600) to win The Open Championship.
“The Dude” may not be as smooth as Jeff Bridges in the Big Lebowski. But his game is shaping up in the right time for this tournament. Tiger will be up-and-down as usual, Rory’s putting problems may be prohibitive, and Jordan Spieth is headed downhill. Rose could walk through the door, just as Harrington did when Tiger fell off a cliff around a decade ago.
As for Dustin Johnson? He’s just as likely to win as Rose. But I’m liking the latter’s futures line as a much-higher payoff than DJ’s 12/1 betting odds.