Tiger Woods was in the middle of one of his golden periods in the majors when he took victory in the last Open Championship to be played at Hoylake in 2006.
Woods won six of the 14 majors played between 2005 and the 2008 US Open, his victory at Hoylake the third of those.
With Tiger majorless since 2008 and no dominant force emerging over the last six years, the 143rd Open Championship really does look wide open.
Woods had been clinging onto second favouritism for this year's event but the lack of money for him plus the improved form of others has seen the 14-time major winner shunted out to 22/1.
Who would have predicted after his 2006 success that we'd ever see a price like that?
Hoylake is the second-oldest seaside links golf course in England, and was the first venue in North-West England to host The Open. This year it will play as a 7,312-yard par 72 – just 54 yards longer than 2006. Three of the par fives are on the back nine (10, 16 and 18). It’s one of the flattest Open courses (just six of the holes are in the dunes) and that means there’s little protection from the often changing winds.
Hoylake has hosted 11 previous Open Championships – 1897, 1902, 1907, 1913, 1924, 1930, 1936, 1947, 1956, 1967 and 2006. The secret to success here appears to be a proven Open record. Four of the top five in 2006 were Tiger (three-time Open winner), Ernie Els (double Open winner), Sergio Garcia (seven Open top 10s) and Jim Furyk (five Open top 10s). Going further back, 1967 champ Roberto de Vicenzo could boast five previous Open top threes, 1956 winner Peter Thomson was winning his third straight Claret Jug while even little-known Alf Padgham had been in the top seven in each of the previous four Opens when he triumphed in 1936. Before that, Bobby Jones was winning his third Claret Jug in 1930, Walter Hagen his second in 1924 and JH Taylor his fifth in 1913. To sum up, five of the last eight Open winners at Hoylake already had their names engraved on the trophy while the others were all proven Open players.
Scoring in the last two championships at Hoylake has been much lower than in most Opens. Roberto Vincenzo’s winning score of 10-under in 1967 was only bettered once between 1946 and 1973 while Tiger’s 18-under in 2006 is the joint second lowest in relation to par since 1946. However, when the winds blow it’s a different story. Only two players broke 70 over the first two days when Peter Thomson won with +2 in 1956.
At 5.30pm on Tuesday, the official Met Office forecast read like this: "Thursday: Sunny spells throughout the day, becoming warm and humid. Max temp 24/25C. Wind could pick up to 10-15mph in the afternoon. Friday: Shaping to be unsettled with outbreaks of heavy rain and potentially thundery rain, clearing into the early afternoon. Very warm and humid, max temp 27C. Continued, but lesser risk, of thundery showers on Saturday mainly during the afternoon. Light winds. Sunday: More settled with light-moderate winds, further sunshine and a lower chance of showers."
The leading contenders and Sky Bet odds
Justin Rose (12/1): Rose will always be connected with the Open Championship having burst into the public eye when a brilliant tied fourth as an 18-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998. Since then though, his best major performances have come in the US, culminating in a superb victory at last year’s US Open. Three missed cuts in the last four Opens suggests he’s found it hard to adjust his game back to links golf having tailored it for US courses but an excellent victory in last week's Scottish Open answered that criticism and it followed hot on the heels of a PGA Tour win at Congressional. He arrives at Hoylake as the in-form player.
Rory McIlroy (16/1): McIlroy's 13 strokeplay starts this season have produced a win, two seconds, five further top 10s and just one finish worse than 25th. But to label him a beacon of consistency is simply wrong as within those bare results are some wild swings of fortunes. Twice in the last five starts he's shot in the low 60s to take the first round lead only to follow it with a catostrophic round of 78. He also shot a 77 on day two at Augusta. If he can eliminate these freaky Fridays he should, in theory, be a big threat but away from St Andrews (which he loves), his five other Open performances haven't produced a top 20.
Adam Scott (16/1): The Aussie has outstanding credentials this week. Not only has he turned himself into one of the game’s best major performers, he can even boast some good course form from 2006. Scott was eighth at Hoylake eight years ago and, at the time, that was his best ever finish in any major. Since then he’s won The Masters and racked up 11 top 15s in his last 14 majors. They, of course, include his second place in the 2012 Open at Lytham when he blew victory after being four clear with four to play and a third place at Muirfield last year.
Henrik Stenson (16/1): After his golden summer 12 months ago that kick-started a spectacular run to the end of the season, Stenson is hinting at something special again in the second half of 2014. He’s arrived in Hoylake with progressive form figures of 7-5-4-2, those high finishes coming in the BMW PGA at Wentworth, his home Nordea Masters, the US Open at Pinehurst and the BMW International in Germany where he lost a play-off. His Open form is hugely impressive too with three top three finishes in his last five appearances – third at Royal Birkdale in 2008, third at St Andrews in 2010 and runner-up at Muirfield last year.
Tiger Woods (22/1): Tiger put on a masterclass of long-iron play to win at Hoylake in 2006, using his driver just once all week. The final stats showed him as the week’s straightest driver (he hit 85.7% of fairways) and ranked second in greens in regulation (80.6%). Assessing his chances this week depends on your view of the mental and physical scars he’s accumulated since. No major since 2008 has taken away his air of invincibility while his recent back operation has left him short of tournament sharpness. He hasn’t managed a top 20 all year.
Martin Kaymer (22/1): Kaymer’s eight-shot wire-to-wire victory in the US Open at Pinehurst last month recalled Tiger in his pomp and Rory at Congressional in 2011. The German also walked off with the prestigious Players Championship in May so he’s won two of the biggest prizes on show in 2014. His Open record shows some promise with a seventh at St Andrews in 2012 and a 12th at Royal St George’s in 2011 and it’s a tournament he feels he can win soon. The 29-year-old was 12th in the Open de France on his last start.
Phil Mickelson (22/1): After years of striking a line through his name when it came to picking the Open winner, Mickelson now deserves our full respect. In fact if you didn't know his previous struggles you'd class him as an Open specialist following his superb victory at Muirfield last year and tied second in rough conditions at Royal St George's in 2011. Incredibly, this week's defending champ still hasn't had a top 10 in 2014 since finishing runner-up in Abu Dhabi in January although that stat is being stretched a bit as he's finished in the top 12 in four of his last eight starts, including an 11th at Royal Aberdeen last week.
Sergio Garcia (25/1): Is this Sergio's year? It seems we've been asking that question since the early part of the last decade and each time he's fallen short. The truth is, though, Garcia is a superb links player and a ninth place at Lytham in 2001 sparked a run of six Open top 10s in seven years which culminated in his agony at Carnoustie in 2007 when he lost in a play-off after missing an eight foot putt for glory on the 72nd hole. He's been a bit quieter in recent Opens but 14-9-MC-21 in the last four years is stll better than most. His last two starts show a second place in the Travelers Championship and a 12th in the BMW International Open in Germany.
Graeme McDowell (28/1): Like Justin Rose, McDowell is a former US Open winner who arrives here on the back of a victory. He's more than twice the price of the Englishman though and it's not obvious why. G-Mac has a better recent Open record, highlighted by a fifth at Lytham in 2012, and was also the first-round leader at Hoylake in 2006 after opening with a 66 (he eventually faded to 61st after a closing 79). With a victory in the Open de France and a sixth in the Irish Open on his last two starts McDowell is likely to be a popular punt.
With Hoylake being such a happy hunting ground for Open specialists, it makes sense to look closely at recent form in the game's oldest major.
To get a shortlist, let’s list all the players who have managed two top 10s in their last three Open appearances. That gives us Adam Scott, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson and Ian Poulter.
Of those seven, Scott and Stenson appeal most as win bets at 16/1.
Scott’s record in the majors these days is superb and it’s surely telling that he managed eighth here in 2006 when his record at this level was woeful.
The Aussie’s recent form shows a ninth in the US Open on his last start and before that a fourth at Memorial and a victory at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.
He looks a very obvious and likely winner and ready to exorcise the demons of Lytham.
Stenson is dropping hints galore that he’s about to enjoy another memorable summer and his excellent Open record suggests it could be here.
It will be a big surprise if he's not right in the hunt.
Americans have won 12 of the last 19 Opens so the Johnsons – Zach and Dustin – must be given respect and certainly appeal at prices of 40/1 and 50/1 respectively.
They have very different games but both are proven winners (Zach has 11 PGA Tour wins, Dustin 8).
Dustin Johnson can’t quite get to grips with the precision needed for Augusta but in the other three majors he’s posted seven top 10s across his last 14 starts and they include a second place at Royal St George’s in 2011, a ninth at Lytham in 2012 and a tied fourth in the recent US Open at Pinehurst.
Zach Johnson was tied ninth at Lytham and tied sixth at Muirfield after being the first round leader.
“Bottom line is I know I can play on these type of golf courses and I love them,” he said last year and there’s good reason to believe the 2007 Masters champion can shine again.
He shot bookend rounds of 63 and 64 in the John Deere last week so has hit form at the perfect time.
If we broaden the definition of Open specialist to those who have managed back-to-back top 15s, that brings in Miguel Angel Jimenez.
The Spanish veteran has actually posted four top 13s in his last seven Opens and in that run he's only finished worse than 27th once.
On first glance his 41st at Hoylake in 2006 doesn't look much but he was actually three shots clear on Friday before fading.
Even more impressive is his first round record at The Open.
Starting from 2005 his end of day one positions read: 13-2 (Hoylake)-8-15-1-74-3-54-4. He was also fifth after round one in 2001.
Back the cult Spaniard in in both the outright and first-round markets.
Others to consider? Sergio Garcia should go well but perhaps his best chance will come if he's off the pace and produces a late charge. That way he'll avoid the constant press tent questions about his lack of a major if he's in the thick of contention over the first three days.
Rickie Fowler, just as he's done ahead of excellent performances in the first two majors of 2014, has warmed up well with a strong performance (a top 10 in Scotland). That suggests he's discovered the art of peaking.
Mikko Ilonen won the Irish Open a few weeks ago and has an interesting connection with Hoylake having won The Amateur here in 2000. The fancy prices have gone though.
For a big price, try Chris Wood at 150s.
The big Bristolian famously finished top five in back-to-back Opens in 2008 (Birkdale) and 2009 (Turnberry) but that doesn't mean he loves every links track.
However, after Tuesday morning's practice round, Wood revealed that he's a huge fan of Hoylake.
Looking at his form, he was eighth in Ireland three starts ago and also banked two top 10s in May.
As for Tiger.... the 22/1 takes him into tempting category. Imagine if he won at that price?! I think he may dig deep and find something but winning does seem a massive ask given his lack of tournament play.
3pts win Adam Scott at 16/1
3pts win Henrik Stenson at 16/1
1pt e.w. Dustin Johnson at 40/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Zach Johnson at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Miguel Angel Jimenez at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Chris Wood at 150/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Miguel Angel Jimenez to be first round leader at 60/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5,6)