By Nicola Kenton

  • American Jordan Spieth returns as Champion golfer having won the 2017 edition
  • Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose are hoping to become the first English winner since Sir Nick Faldo in 1992
  • Carnoustie plays host the to the 147th Open Championship this weekend
CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND – The Open Championship, the third golfing major of the year, returns to Carnoustie but who will lift the Claret Jug in 2018?

 

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The course history

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This weekend Carnoustie will host the Open Championship for the eighth time. Some of those who have won in the past include Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Paul Lawrie and Padraig Harrington. The winning scores have varied greatly over time with the course proving tricky for many reasons and the 18th is one of the most difficult holes as Jean van de Velde proved in 1999 after his infamous Barry Burn-collapse led to Scot Lawrie’s victory.

The last winner here in 2008 was Harrington and the Irishman sees himself as the ‘reigning champion’. The knowledge of how to play the course will be crucial and there are many players who have never played a round at Carnoustie before but 2018 will provide different conditions, which players must be able to adapt to. Harrington told The Open:

 

“I look forward to playing in every Open Championship but this one, like last year at Royal Birkdale, where I’m kind of coming back as defending champion makes it a little bit more special. Experience is very important at Carnoustie and links experience is exceptionally important. It does play into the hands of guys who can thread the ball around. The 18th is the toughest finishing hole in golf but it is based on circumstances, the weather and conditions. I stood on the tee on Sunday, looked where I hit it in the hazard and thought ‘how on earth could you hit it in there?’ because of the conditions this week.”

 

Imagination the key to Carnoustie

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This year’s Open Championship will certainly provide a different challenge. Long-hitters sometimes have an advantage at a major championship but Carnoustie is playing long after a summer that has baked the Angus course. Those who can hit the ball that far will not need to and those who are shorter will still be able to get play themselves into good position.

This tournament may provide more of a tactical challenge – players cannot rely on how far they hit the ball, instead they will have to adapt to how the course is playing. Americans Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and Masters champion Patrick Reed have all spoken about how players will have to show their creativity, use their imagination and have a strong mentality to get through this weekend. Spieth, the 2017 champion, spoke to BBC Sport:

 

“An Open Championship requires a lot of feel and imagination, and that’s what I needed a bit of in my game. This week provides that opportunity where you don’t know how far the ball is necessarily going to go off the tee. You need to play the spots and then use your imagination from there – hold the ball, ride the wind. You’ll see guys playing the golf course with a lot of different strategies.”

 

Major chance for Woods?

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Many have touted that if Tiger Woods is to win his 15th major championship, this course may provide his chance to do so. It will be the first time that the former world number one has played at an Open since 2015 and the American is relishing the chance to put himself into contention for another Claret Jug.

Since his return to the circuit this year Woods has performed very well but is yet to record a victory. At the US Open the former number one struggled, as did many others, and did not make the cut to play at the weekend. Between then and now Woods has only played one tournament the Quicken Loans National where he put in a strong showing finishing tied fourth. This year’s course has been described as similar to that of Hoylake in 2006 when Woods used his golfing brain to claim victory and that is why many think the former champion can deliver again. Woods told BBC Sport:

 

“At Carnoustie there are not many opportunities to hit the driver because the ball is going to roll 80 yards, so it’s hard to keep the ball in play. I hit a three iron 333 yards in practice on the 18th hole so when I get a bit older I can still chase a long club down there, so distance becomes a moot point. But creativity plays such an important role. There’s a reason Tom [Watson] won five of these – he was very creative.”

 

Recent victories for Knox and Molinari

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Two players who have been in good form recently are Scotland’s Russell Knox and Italy’s Francesco Molinari. Both have moved their way up the Ryder Cup rankings list and the Italian, especially, is the man in the best form out of the two.

Knox’s victory at the Irish Open came through a play-off. The Scotsman had made a 35-foot birdie on the 18th to ensure that he would tie with Ryan Fox and then the two headed back to the 18th to battle it out. Knox hit a shot very similar to his original and once again holed a 35-foot putt while Fox missed his ten-footer. Last week, Knox also played the Scottish Open but a disappointing final day led to him finishing in a tie for 49th place.

At the US Open, Molinari finished tied for 25th and since then has been in a rich vein of form. AT the Quicken Loans National, the Italian stormed the rest of the field with a final round of eight-under-par to break the tournament record by seven shots and win by eight. The Italian backed up that performance with a second place finish at the John Deere Classic last weekend, where he put in a final round of seven-under-par.

 

The Brits to look out for

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In recent years, the Irish golfers have had more luck than any of the other home nations with Padraig Harrington’s back-to-back victories in 2007 and 2008. This was followed by Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy who won in 2011 and 2014 respectively. Scotland’s last victory came in 1999 when Lawrie succeeded at Carnoustie and England have had to wait even longer, as Faldo was their most recent triumph in 1992.

This year has seen Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose perform well at the other major championships – Fleetwood also holds the course record for Carnoustie, which he set at the Alfred Dunhill Links in October 2017. However, the last four majors have been won by Americans and the Brits will be hoping to break the pattern. An additional factor this year is that the Ryder Cup is happening in September and many of the European golfers are vying for points and form to secure a place on the team.

Some other contenders include Tyrell Hatton who has won the past two Alfred Dunhill Links Championships. Rory McIlroy can never be ruled out, although he has not been in the best form this year, if he manages to use his tactical nous he might have a chance. England’s Danny Willett and Ian Poulter are another two who may also be in the frame come Sunday.

The Open Championship takes place at Carnoustie, Angus, with the first tee time at 6.35am on Thursday morning with the tournament concluding Sunday.

 

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