The Open 2015 preview: Why Dustin Johnson could land major title

After successfully predicting the winner of US Open, Shane O'Hara is back with more tips for The Open 2015

By Shane O'Hara
Could Padraig Harrington spring a surprise?

The Open returns to St Andrew’s this year, as it does every five years on the Open course rota.

A classic British links course, ‘the home of golf’ and venue for the first major ever played.

A par-72 track, however, it unusually features 14 par 4’s, 2 par 3’s and 2 par 5’s. The opening four holes are probably the most difficult section on the course with holes 5-10, 14 and 18 where birdie opportunities will lie, 11-17 (excluding the par-5 14th) are all very tricky holes fraught with danger.

St Andrew’s isn’t a particularly long course, the fairways are wide and forgiving.

However, it features ample monstrous greenside and fairway bunkers with steep undulations and run-offs protecting the greens. The course set-up this year will be similar to both 2005 & 2010, where winning scores were -14 and -16 (Tiger Woods & Louis Oosthuizen respectfully) so expect plenty of low rounds.

The Open is traditionally the major where veterans always seem to be in contention, with Mickelson 2013 & Els 2012 both winning in their 40s and Greg Norman and Tom Watson both being in strongly involved late into Sunday in 2008 & 2009 respectfully.

Open links golf requires all of a players imagination and experience, there is massive value to be found amongst the big-priced veterans in the betting market. Considering the Open is played on a five-year rota here, it is worth noting that five players have won the Claret Jug twice on this track (most recently Tiger 2000 & 2005), which again gives credit to the fact that experience here is pivotal.

Reports from the course on the practice days this week are that the course is looking particularly ‘green’ – that the ground isn’t as dry as other years, suggesting that recent rain/sun combinations may have balanced the divide between the experienced veteran and the possibly more naive younger pros as the course will play alien to all.

As mentioned, wide fairways will suit all the big hitters. Our winner on Sunday will undoubtedly feature highly on the driving distance stats.

In fact, Woods was the first in this category during both his wins here, with Oosthuizen finishing fourth. Neither finished within the top 15 in the driving accuracy stats, confirming that distance is crucial and playing from the wispy fairway runoff grass isn’t much of an inconvenience.

As always, putting will be important but extra yards off the tee coupled with the prospect of softer greens than previous years mean big hitters will have shorter wedges which they can dial-in to pins without the traditional hard greens we’ve seen players struggle with in previous Opens here.

So, where is my money going and why?

I’ll begin by eliminating some market favourites and explaining why.

Jordan Spieth: He is the best in the world at the moment without doubt, one could not be criticised for backing him.

However, for the Tipster, there are too many reasons why Spieth won’t win this week. Preparation is key to winning modern majors and as I pointed out in my US Open guide, nobody was better prepared for Chambers Bay than Spieth.

This won’t be the case in St Andrews. Spieth did win The John Deere Classic last week, but his time would have been better spent with the other main contenders, either playing the Scottish Open or just playing some practice rounds at St Andrews.

His fellow competitors this week are simply better prepared, he has only played a single round here before (4 years ago), has a modest Open history (2 finishes of 30+) and he has the added pressure of chasing the Grand Slam. Would be a staggering achievement were he to win here, should be a much bigger price in my opinion.

Justin Rose: He hasn’t featured in the top-10 at The Open since turning pro in 1998. The Englishman has plenty of support and generally always contends in the majors, just not in this one. He has the putting skills required but cannot see him winning this week. His game simply does not suit links golf.

Henrik Stenson: Similar to Rose albeit with a better Open record. Hangs around late in majors but never gets the job done.

Adam Scott: A class act who should probably have two Opens to his name by now. Struggling with the putter rule change which has somewhat stalled his career. A final round 64 at Chambers Bay with a brand new putter suggests he might be hitting form at the right time and have found some much needed putting confidence again. Could win, but a little too short for our betting expert at 20/1.

Louis Oosthuizen: He won The Open here in 2010 by seven strokes. He has contended in Majors since and also played well at Chambers Bay after a terrible start. He had favourable tee times in 2010 but too patchy and also too short at 22/1.

Legitimate arguements could be made for the following prospects:

Rickie Fowler @ 16/1: Winner last week in Scotland but too slow of a starter for our man-in-the-know.

Sergio Garcia @ 30/1: Would be a popular winner but has too much mental baggage at The Open to get over the line.

Bubba Watson @ 35/1: Has the ammunition to do well here but if the wind begins to blow as expected, the Incredible Sulk will be getting an early flight home before the weekend.

Tiger Woods @ 40/1: Major improvement in Woods’ game at the Greenbrier and was great to see. Hit fairways, looked in control, bogey-free final round, all very encouraging. The Open comes a little too soon for him I’m afraid but expect him to possibly contend at the PGA Championships.

Who is the Tipster backing?

All prices with Paddy Power, paying first 7 each-way.

Dustin Johnson – 3pts Win @ 11/1

DJ’s game is on point at the moment. He simply should have won at Chambers Bay – in fact he should have won by half a dozen shots. Imperious driving left him wedges which he was knocking to 12ish feet but he just didn’t hole enough putts, he has a lot to prove this weekend and he will be determined to make up for his US Open collapse. Many would say that Johnson is playing the best golf in the world at the moment, I would probably agree, my only reservation is his ability to close out competitions. His driving distance & accuracy stats are too strong not to give him chances to win this weekend. His short game has improved dramatically this year, if he gets his putter running he will be lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday evening.

Lee Westwood – 1 pt E/W @ 70/1

Another who would be a popular winner and who should have 2 Open titles to his name. Will have ample support and a decent record here coupled with good preparation, course knowledge and suggestions he is practicing harder than ever mean it might be time for Westwood to break his major duck.

Kevin Kisner – 1 pt E/W @ 90/1

Fearless rookie who has lost 3 PGA Tour playoffs in as many months. Hasn’t played in the Open before but is in the mix nearly everytime he tees it up. Good driving, scrambling and putting stats on the PGA tour and a fearless approach suggest he could content come Sunday.

Ernie Els – 0.25 pts E/W @ 150/1
Thomas Bjorn – 0.25 pts E/W @ 200/1
Mika Ilonen – 0.25 pts E/W @ 250/1
George Coetzee – 0.25 pts E/W @ 175/1

All the above tick the Open/links experience, course knowledge and driving distance boxes mentioned above. The Open has a habit of throwing up a surprise winner and this year may be no different. Certainly value in all of the above, especially with Paddy Power paying each-way for the first 7.

1st Round Leader

Padraig Harrington – 0.5 pts E/W @ 125/1

Two-time Open winner and a quick starter. 1st round leader of the Irish Open recently before a collection of big numbers killed off his chances on Friday. An unexpected PGA win in March seems to have reignited his career somewhat. Superb value at 125/1 each-way in this market.

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