A quote from Sir Michael Bonallack springs to mind as the world’s finest golfers prepare to descend upon Carnoustie to battle it out for The Open. “When the wind is blowing, it is the toughest course in Britain,” he said. “And when it’s not blowing, it’s probably still the toughest.” Carnoustie straddles the bleak eastern coast of Scotland, just off the Dundee to Arbroath railway line, a land of wild winds and sooty storefronts. The course is nicknamed the beast of Angus, and it has regularly chewed up and spat out the world’s greatest practitioners of the sport. It is exposed to the elements, the holes change direction constantly so the angles to the wind change, the bunkers are devilish and the overall design is like something out of a Saw movie. It will take nerves of steel and the talent to match to prevail here this year, and here are some of the leading contenders:
If anyone can deal with the challenging Carnoustie conditions, it is Koepka. The 28-year-old American has the best record in the world on links courses since the start of 2014. He cut his teeth in Europe before becoming a PGA Tour star, so he will not be daunted by the surroundings. And he will be full of confidence after his victory at the US Open, where he became the first repeat champion in almost three decades. It was held at Shinnecock Hills in New York State, another horrendously difficult venue that resembles a Scottish links course due to the impact of the elements, the fescue rough and the lack of trees. He prevailed there by displaying mental fortitude in the face of adversity, and remained remarkably consistent throughout. He is an outsider to win this tournament in the SportingIndex.com markets, but he could well emerge triumphant once again.
Fleetwood equalled a US Open record for the lowest score of all time by going round in just 63 on the final day of the tournament this year. In such horribly challenging conditions, while the world’s best players were losing their rags, that is a tremendous achievement. He finished second in the tournament, just one shot behind Koepka, and that augurs well for The Open. He is a links golf specialist, and the proud record holder of the record for the best performance in the history of Carnoustie. He is up into the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time ever, and the Englishman should be full of optimism heading into The Open Championship on July 19. If he produces another flawless 63 at Carnousite, the claret jug should be his.
Spieth heads into the tournament as the defending champion after a sensational display saw him seize the claret jug at Royal Birkdale in 2017. He is among the favourites to win The Open this year, alongside world number one Dustin Johnson and the talented Rory McIlroy. Of the three Spieth stands out. Johnson always seems to be there or thereabouts, but he seems to currently lack that drive to go on and seize a major on the final day, while McIlroy is extremely inconsistent and he has not won a major since 2014. Spieth is an intelligent tactician and he should be able to work out a way to make himself competitive at this challenging venue. He is always capable of a magical round that can drag him back into contention from a poor position, so you never want to write him off.
The Englishman is now up to third in the world rankings after enjoying a supremely consistent year, but he is still a long shot in the betting on this tournament. Yet he has been in contention at the last two majors, he is cool under pressure and he has all the right skills to be successful at Carnoustie. His tee-to-green play is peerless, he is an elite striker of the ball and his putting has come on leaps and bounds in recent times. He has a strong record on tough layouts and he has shot some extremely low rounds on the Alfred Dunhill Links at Carnoustie. “You can’t fake it around that golf course, you have to play really good golf, but I believe it fits into my wheelhouse,” he said. He is a popular player and he is likely to receive strong support at The Open, which could drive him to victory.