Crunchsports.com's guide to the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes, courtesy of Bettingpro.com tipster Ross Aylward...
With the Open Championship due to get under way at 06:19 BST, you'll no doubt be trying to get your heads around the challenge of trying to pick the winner. With 150-odd runners and a recent record of shock winners, that's a pretty daunting task, but at least there's plenty of value to be had with layers desperate to attract your custom in the biggest golfing week of the year.
What awaits them is a classic links track that was last used for the Open in 2001, when David Duval lifted the Claret Jug, For this week's renewal, Royal Lytham has been stretched 181 yards to 7,086 and its par reduced to 70. Generally, the first nine holes are played downwind and the back nine into the breeze, but it's defences are the long "almost unplayable" (according to Tiger Woods) rough and the 206 bunkers. Find one off the tee, and you are almost certainly looking at a dropped shot and you can never rule out a real horror story. The weather forecast seems to favour the later starters on Thursday with rain expected to set in mid-morning until mid-afternoon. The rest of the week doesn't look too bad, though.
My Three Against the Field:
Of the market leaders, G-Mac makes most appeal and just edges out Fowler for top pick as he looks to have everything going for him. Finding the fairways and thus avoiding the penal rough will be essential for a good score this week, so the Ulsterman's driving accuracy (ranked 2nd on the PGA Tour) is one of the more compelling reasons for a bet, and he's well-used to playing in links conditions having grown up near Portrush. It's a surprise, therefore, he's never managed an Open top-10 in eight attempts, but he did win a US Open at the links-style Pebble Beach and it's surely a question of time before he contends for a Claret Jug. Granted, he's not won anywhere since the 2010 Chevron Challenge, but he's knocked on the door several times since, including when twice finishing runner-up this season, the latest coming in the US Open at Olympic Club. He's clearly a player for the big occasion and is very much on his game right now, so I'm expecting a big run for my money.
I vowed to back the American for the 2012 Open after watching him shoot 68 in the third round at St George's 12 months ago in the worst of the weather, before slipping back to fifth on Sunday, and I've not changed my opinion since. That was only his second taster of links golf having finished 14th at St Andrews on his debut and he's made no secret of the fact he loves playing in these conditions. Few Americans have the imagination to play the shots he does and know when to play them, and that is what convinces me he's an Open champion in waiting, especially now his driving accuracy is much improved (jumped from 157th to 51st in the PGA Tour stats). He also got a massive monkey off his back when holding his nerve to beat Rory McIlroy in a playoff at Quail Hollow, so will not feel he has anything to prove this week. Sadly, I missed the 40/1 (and seven places) available at Paddy Power earlier in the week, but Ladbroke's are offering the next best thing.
I considered with making Phil Mickelson my final pick here as he finally showed his mettle for links golf when finishing second at Royal St George's, but the case for Els was impossible to ignore. Like Mickelson, the South African is a multi-major winner (three to be exact), and he would surely have won more had a certain Mr Woods not appeared on the scene. Granted, you have to go back to 2002 for his last major success, that coming in the Open at Muirfield, but there has been no more consistent performer in this event down the years, and his 12 top-10s include a tied-second (1996) and third (2001) at Royal Lytham. It was woeful putting that contributed to his missed cut 12 months ago and I honestly thought his chance of a fourth major had gone, yet he's proved me wrong this season with five top-10s in his last 11 starts, including second in New Orleans, fourth at Bay Hill and ninth at the US Open. Clearly, the competitive juices are still flowing and with his putting much improved, he looks sure to be in the mix come Sunday.