MUIRFIELD hosts the oldest of the four majors tomorrow where the world’s best golfers will be tested to the limit. It will be the 16th occasion that the famous course has hosted the tournament and it’s rare that the weather has been so pleasant during the build-up. Those making their way to Scotland will no doubt be pleased to hear that the forecast over the next few days is for more of the same.
Reports suggest that the ball is travelling long distances on the dry fairways which will reward the bigger hitters. That means that accuracy is vital though, as anything wayward will roll all the way into the notoriously challenging rough.
This time last year Ernie Els landed his second Open championship in extraordinary circumstances, which left Adam Scott wishing the ground would swallow him up having blown a four-shot lead with four to play.
The Big Easy won his first claret jug at this very course in 2002 and the South African arrives in Scotland in fine form. Els finished tied 13th at the Masters and followed that with a tie for fourth at the US Open in Pennsylvania. Since then he has won the BMW International at the end of June in Germany.
Low iron shots and reliable putting are a must, and Els has the game to plot his way to a third Open championship title. At 33/1 with Coral the four-time Major winner is good value to secure another here.
Brandt Snedeker finished just four shots behind Els 12 months ago with a score of 277. He led the event at the cut and has enjoyed a superb start to this year on the way to winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National.
A sixth place finish at the Masters preceded a top 20 finish at the US Open. Snedeker clearly enjoys playing this side of the Atlantic and his ability to scramble will be a big factor at any Open. Paddy Power have him priced at 40/1 and I’m keen to get involved at that price as he should be in the mix in the final rounds.
Another price that appeals on value is Coral’s 50/1 about Matt Kuchar. He is a relentlessly consistent golfer, always finishing well despite not making that significant next step on the biggest stage.
What might make the difference this year are the changes the Muirfield course has undergone. Since 2002, new bunkers dot the drives and their greenside counterparts have been adapted to make hitting greens that much more difficult.
Should Kuchar get into sandy trouble his ability to recover only heightens his chances, being sixth best on tour at saving from the sand according to PGA statistics.
The course is projected to be firm and fast, conditions he has described as his favourite, adding another string to his already strong bow.
It is quite surprising that 14 of the last 17 Majors have been first-time wins, but perhaps even more so that Kuchar is yet to break his Major duck.
Within this category of the Major-less it is Jason Day who also stands out. His very respectable second at the US Open and third at the Masters this year, not to mention his two seconds in the same tournaments of 2011, prove he is getting closer.
The fine example set by fellow Australian Scott should spur him on even further now after his Augusta win.
Links inexperience is an obstacle, yet he has been quick to acknowledge this and declare his confidence in the face of it.
Paddy Power’s seven places offer is a generous one for punters and Day’s notoriety for just falling short makes 35/1 a very appealing each-way price.
At 25 years of age it is likely his best golf still lies ahead of him and if that is the case he has a very special four days in his locker.
Ernie Els (e/w) at 33/1 with Coral
Brandt Snedeker (e/w) at 40/1 with Paddy Power
Matt Kuchar (e/w) at 50/1 with Coral
Jason Day (e/w) at 35/1 with Paddy Power