How will the return of the Mac go at Royal St George’s?

With all eyes on a young man from Northern Ireland coming into the British Open runs the rule over his competitors and the tricky course that the field will have to combat

The Claret Jug is what Rory McIlroy and Co will be chasing at Royal St Georges via Dan Perry, Flickr Creative Commons

The Claret Jug is what Rory McIlroy and Co will be chasing at Royal St Georges via Dan Perry, Flickr Creative Commons

Royal St. George’s golf club makes a return to the British Open rota as this year’s venue for golf’s ultimate test. The towering dunes, familiar pot bunkers, and fiery fairways on the Kent coastline always serve to grey the hair on any player’s head, and when combined with the capricious British weather can turn what is already a stern test into an utter brute.

This famed links turf has produced a variety of winners over the years. Ben Curtis and Sandy Lyle claimed their first Opens here. But it has also fashioned victors in the shape of the Great White Shark, Greg Norman, the game’s first showman, Walter Hagen, and, way back at the beginning of the twentieth century, the legendary winner of a record six Open Championships, Harry Vardon.

The man everyone will be watching come the morning of 14th July, however, will be seeking his place in both categories. Rory McIlory, at just twenty two years of age, enters as firm favourite at 6/1. His rousing performance at the US Open little under a month ago – where he lapped the field to an eight-stroke margin of victory – is some insight into the mindset of the man as he did it on the back of a final round collapse at the season’s opening Major, the Masters. In the past six Majors he has had three top three finishes, one win, and has held the lead in seven out of eight rounds in this year’s Majors.

But the pressure on him will be intense. McIlroy’s first shot at the Open will be his first in competition since that winning putt at the US Open. Fellow countryman Graeme McDowell – 2010 US Open champion – has predicted that the swarm of accolades from his fellow professionals will only add to the difficulty of the week. It seems that if the course is not enough of a test for the ball-striking wizard, then the mental fatigue that will inevitably creep in between his ears could prove a limiting factor in his performance.

If a feel-good story is what you’re after then look no further than the enigmatic Sergio Garcia. Still one of the best tee-to-green, if the Spaniard can control the fast twitch muscle fibres in his hands on the short putts then he is certain to be a factor. Although it appears he may need the weather to be on his side – bad weather would highlight the superiority of his shotmaking and place a premium on ballstriking rather than putting – he looks a decent bet at twenties – providing the demons in his head from an agonising loss in 2007 lay dormant.

The English contingent will be as strong as ever at Royal St. George’s and players can bank on plenty of support from the fans. World number one Luke Donald is at 14/1 just behind Lee Westwood. The former world number one and two time winner this year will look to continue his trend of a third place finish in the Open in 2009 and second place finish in 2010 to land his first Major. Westwood is the smart choice and has good odds at 9/1.

For those seeking a big payout then Davis Love III could well prove a good choice for an each way bet. Next year’s Ryder Cup captain tied for fourth last time the Open was at Sandwich and is coming off a strong finish at the US Open where he finished tied eleventh. He comes in at 125/1.

The Open is notoriously difficult to predict. Too much can come down to timing – Louis Oosthuizen got lucky last year when he dodged the bad weather in the first two rounds – and the little nooks and crannies of Royal St. George’s can turn a great shot into a mediocre one, push your ball into the waiting jaws of one of the many bunkers, and be the difference between a missed cut and victory.

But this is what makes the Open the best test of the golf there is. There is no doubt that the winner on Sunday evening will be the man who controlled not only his ball, but also his patience and resilience, the best.