The Open Championship returns to Royal Troon this week for the 145th playing of golf’s oldest major. The last time the Open was held at Troon in 2004, unknown American Todd Hamilton stunned the golfing world by beating Ernie Els in a four-hole aggregate playoff to win his only major title. Hamilton, who also held off Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood, never won another tournament again.
In fact, the last three winners at Troon never added a second major to their trophy case. Justin Leonard and Mark Calcavecchia had their chances but couldn’t close the deal. So maybe another first-timer is due to hoist the Claret Jug this week? On the other hand, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson & Bobby Locke also won at Troon, so maybe a “been there, done that” veteran is the pick?
Anybody can pick Jason Day or Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson to win and they might be proven right, but what’s the fun in that? The challenge is going deep into the field and picking out a really talented player ready to make their mark on the game.
With that in mind, here are three sleepers to keep an eye on this week and maybe worth betting a 10 or 20 pound note if that’s your thing. I’m sure you would’ve gotten great odds on Hamilton 12 years ago.
(Full disclosure: I’ve been wrong picking winners before and even if one of these three does win, that means two didn’t so I’m still just batting .333. Wager at your own risk).
The Swede captured his 5th European Tour title last week at the Scottish Open. Mickelson pulled off the Scottish-British double in 2013 and Noren has the game to do the same. He finished T-9th at the 2012 Open and nobody else in the field will be coming off a win the previous week. Winning breeds confidence and self-belief.
The American will be making his Open debut but don’t let it bother you. It certainly won’t bother him. He was top-20 at last year’s PGA Championship in just his second ever major. He also took down Adam Scott in Malaysia last fall for his maiden PGA Tour win. Did I mention he carded a 61 in the second round that week? A T-3 at this year’s Players Championship is a good sign too. Thomas has serious game and he’s only 23.
His story got lost in last year’s Spieth near-miss at history and Zach Johnson’s win but the Aussie did have the lead with six holes to go at St. Andrew’s before ultimately falling in the playoff. He barely made the cut but closed with 64-66 on the weekend to charge up the leaderboard. He’s finished top-5 in a major the past three years. Troon could be his breakthrough.