Prior to Rory McIlroy's withdrawal from The Open Championship, the focus was on Jordan Spieth's pursuit of the third consecutive leg of the Grand Slam. And before that, changes made to The Old Course at St. Andrews were projected to get the most attention in advance of the 144th edition of the season's third major. However, as with any well-supported narrative, there's room for all tales to be interwoven.
No, the defending champion (McIlroy) won't be strolling the vastness of the fairways and double greens at the home of golf, but he still lays claim to one badge that Spieth has yet to collect: World's top-ranked golfer. But should Spieth win, he'll have that, too. And while Ben Hogan is the only golfer to win the first three majors in a single season, in 1953, there isn't anything about what Spieth is (or isn't) doing that suggests that he can't equal the achievement.
This is the 29th time that St. Andrews has played host to The Open Championship. Since its debut in 1873, only once did more than eight years pass between editions. A 10-year hiatus prior to the 12th hosting in 1921 was due in part to a five-year stretch of the tournament not being contested during World War I.
St. Andrews is a par 36-36--72 but it features only two par 3s and two par 5s. With modifications to 10 holes since is lasted hosted in 2010, including updates to Hell Bunker (14th hole) and the Road Hole bunker (17th hole), the aggregate yardage is down eight yards to 7,297.
From a strategic standpoint, navigating St. Andrews is all about course management and short game. Finding generous fairways and massive greens are expected. En route to his seven-stroke romp in 2010 in which he was fortunate to post very early in the second round and prior to gusty winds, Louis Oosthuizen led the field in putts per greens in regulation (1.746) and putts per round (29.75). That latter stat would currently rank 173rd on the PGA TOUR! So, toss on a boatload of patience as the field is going to total an above-average number of strokes on the greens.
Of all courses played in 2010, St. Andrews ranked highest in putts per round (32.38), birdies-or-better percentage (21.69), one-putt percentage (26.78) and three-putt avoidance (7.57). It ranked second in scrambling at just 46.55 percent.
The course is included in the rotation of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour. The entire field gets one spin around before the cut after which all play it again in the finale. So, European-based talent will have a working, course advantage not to mention a feel for what are usually slower greens on the continent.
And it wouldn't be an Open Championship without the elements. Rain covers the forecast with the greatest threat on Friday. Gradually increasing winds are also expected into Saturday. Things may settle for the final round on Sunday. However, it's Scotland, so the field of 156 will be letting the weather come to it by the hour.
POWER RANKINGS: The Open Championship
Rank Player Comment 1 Jordan Spieth 2 Rickie Fowler 3 Dustin Johnson 4 Henrik Stenson 5 Hideki Matsuyama 6 Adam Scott 7 Brandt Snedeker 8 Paul Casey 9 Phil Mickelson 10 Matt Kuchar 11 Sergio Garcia 12 Zach Johnson 13 Francesco Molinari 14 Victor Dubuisson 15 Jason Day 16 Branden Grace 17 Charl Schwartzel 18 Tommy Fleetwood 19 Shane Lowry 20 Louis Oosthuizen