There is a Scottish expression that sums up the best way for players to approach Royal Troon, as they descend on South Ayrshire this week for the 145th Open Championship.
“Ca’ canny” – meaning “tread lightly” – is sound advice for tackling the Old Course, a setting that prioritises accuracy over enormous hitting and has been known to throw up a few surprises.
It’s a real fairways-and-greens test; not overly long but with a premium on straight hitting. Try to be too aggressive and overpower it and you’ll end up in the severe rough. It looks beautiful, but it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The Old Course features some fantastic holes, such as the par-three eighth Postage Stamp, with its tiny green, and I hear that players who’ve seen it in lately say it’s the best Major setting for some time.
I’ll always remember being in the first group to tee off on the Thursday at one of the previous Opens at Troon.
I was the only player in my group to birdie the first, so for a few moments I was very proud to lead the Open.
The luck of the draw
The draw can have a huge impact, as different tee-times can result in wildly different weather conditions, and that’s another reason why this great course does not tend to be one for the favourites.
There have been some great winners here, but Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Bobby Locke are the only multiple Major champions to have won the Open here. Five of the eight men to claim the Claret Jug at Troon did not land another Major, which tells you there could be a surprise in store.
A very open Open
The form of the field is another reason to think this is the most open Open in years. We’ve grown accustomed to focusing on Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and then Jason Day going into recent Majors, but none of those three is right on top of their game.
World No2 Dustin Johnson, who will be aiming for a third victory in three events, is the only one of the big four showing consistency.
On paper this isn’t the kind of course that suits his big-hitting style, but then neither was Oakmont, where he won the US Open last month.
That is a massive motivation for him and a key part of the story this year, although again the course looks a better fit for a Steady Eddie kind of player.
Defending champion Zach Johnson is that type, and the setting actually looks better suited to him now than it did 12 months ago.
For British players – probably Europeans too – the Open is the best Major, the one they strive to win most. The history of the event is amazing and the atmosphere is up there with the best.
Not special for Spieth
Spieth was just one shot off the play-off as he chased a third straight Major last year but I don’t think this event will have extra significance to him for that. It’s the next Major, but there will be many more.
Former US Open winner Graeme McDowell is the type who could do well this week. The Northern Irishman hits a lot of fairways, has a wonderful short game and plays with such determination. He also showed a lot of form last week at the Scottish Open, where he tied for 10th.
Sweden’s Alex Noren earned himself a timely boost before the Open by triumphing at Castle Stuart, where England’s Tyrrell Hatton clinched his place at Troon by finishing second.
Could experience count?
A final factor to consider this week is experience at the venue. It’s been 12 years since the Open was last held here so this will be new to most of the field.
Five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson, who won the Claret Jug in 2013, was third at Troon in 2004, while Lee Westwood was fourth.
The Englishman has been in contention at both of this year’s Majors so far so could be another one to watch.