Fantasy Golf: The Open Preview

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Rickie Fowler had us all on the edge of our seats last Sunday as he played the final four holes in three-under par to edge out compatriot Matt Kuchar and claim Scottish Open victory by a single stroke. One person who was sitting pretty, though, was Philip Brand. His ‘BrandX’ team included both of the Americans and fellow top-tenners Warren and Luiten as he claimed the weekly spoils in our Fantasy game.

This week we’re staying in Scotland for the big one – the Open Championship at the home of golf, St Andrews, with triple points on offer. The famous Old Course needs little introduction having hosted the game’s oldest major a record 28 times before. However, as Kevin Hale – Senior Instructor at the St Andrews Links Academy and TG Top 50 pro – explains, experience is required to negotiate the many quirks of this 7,297-yard par 72.

‘The common misconception is that you can spray it around off the tee here,’ says Hale. ‘On the majority of holes, if you find the right side of the fairway you have a really good angle in. However, if you miss right you’re either in sand, rough or out of bounds. The safe play is left but it makes the second shot harder. It’s a bit of a risk-reward course off the tee – the further right you go the easier your approach is but the closer to danger you are.’

‘This is a ball-striker’s course where great iron play and accuracy is required to get to some tough pins and shoot a low number. Almost half of the holes are par fours that play less than 400 yards. For the big hitters, with the wind behind, holes like 18 will be driveable. However, in normal conditions and for most of the field, they will frequently find themselves with a pitching distance of around 60 yards. Great touch and invention on and around some of the giant greens here is essential too.’

As defending champion and world number one, Rory McIlroy’s absence is regrettable but it gives us Fantasy Golf managers a little more scope. We no longer have to agonise over parting with half our budget to afford the Northern Irishman – the £7.5m outlay hitting harder than normal at the majors. So how do you go about selecting your teams this week?

Firstly, every part of the game needs to be on song at St Andrews. On his way to victory here in 2010, Louis Oosthuizen finished in the top-20 in driving accuracy, driving distance, greens in regulation, scrambling and putting. It was the same story for Tiger during his victories here in 2005 (apart from greens in regulation) and 2000. Also, the preparation is a good indication. The last five winners have all played in the Scottish Open, while just one (Todd Hamilton) of the last 24 played in the USA the week before.

We are set for a real mixed bag of weather, with rain forecast for the first two rounds before the sun breaks through over the weekend. The worst of the rain and strongest winds are forecast for Friday morning so be sure to check the draw to see when your players are out. Here’s my line-up for the season’s third major…

Rickie Fowler, £3.5m
Last week’s winner is looking to follow in great friend Phil Mickelson’s footsteps by doing ‘The Scottish Double’. The putter was the key to his victory at Gullane and he’ll need it to fire again at St Andrews where only double digits under par will do come Sunday afternoon. He was 14th here in 2010.

Matt Kuchar, £3.5m
Mr Consistency finished second at Gullane and has made 16 of 17 cuts on the PGA Tour this season where he lies 13th in the all around ranking. Likes the links, boasting a good record by the sea at Hilton Head in the RBC Heritage and posting three top-30s in his last five Opens including 27th here in 2010.

Victor Dubuisson, £2.6m
The Frenchman is back in form after a lean start to the year. In his last three events he has finished 20th (BMW International Open), 12th (Open de France) and 10th (Scottish Open). So he’s feeling good as he heads to a course he likes – fifth in the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Links when he shot 62, 68 on the Old Course.

Shane Lowry, £1.7m
Irishman proved he belongs in elite company with his top-10 performance at Chambers Bay. That is part of a run of five straight cuts with the most recent coming at Gullane last week where he started with a pair of 66s. Links record is great and an early tee time on Thursday gives him the chance to steal a march on the field. 

Tommy Fleetwood, £1.5m
The horse for the course. Fleetwood has finished second and fifth in the last two years at the Alfred Dunhill Links. Four of those eight rounds were played at St Andrews and Fleetwood has shot 65, 67, 62, 68 in those. That’s a staggering 26-under par! If he can get anywhere close to that he’ll win with plenty in hand. Tenth at Gullane last week – his sixth straight made cut.

Paul Casey, £1.4m
Steady season for the Englishman on the PGA Tour where he has made 12 of 16 cuts and finished runner-up twice – most recently to Bubba Watson at the Travelers. Played with Oosthuizen in the final group here in 2010 before finishing third.