Royal Troon preview: As much by skill as by strength

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Royal Troon’s motto says it all – this links calls for finesse, patience and calculated risk-taking..

To say that Royal Troon is a course of two halves is an understatement. ‘Tam Arte Quam Marte’ – as much by skill as by strength – is the club’s motto and another way of putting it is that your skill on the front nine determines how much of a cushion you can take into the homeward half when you will need all the strength you can muster.

The back nine is fully 300 yards longer – some 35 yards per hole on average – and yet par is a shot fewer. The prevailing wind is off the Firth of Clyde and, perhaps on account of the Isle Of Arran that sits just a few miles off the coast, more often than not from the north as well.

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What that means is you play with the breeze helping and off the right on the way out, before turning into what is most golfers’ worst nightmare – wind into and off the left.

In such conditions, each of the first four par 4s is drivable for at least some of the field, not just the likes of Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson but potentially many more.

Royal Troon

In addition, there are two comfortably reachable par 5s. All of which means it is possible for these elite players to have a putt for eagle on six of the first seven holes.

True, they could also find themselves in unpleasant bunkers or being short-sided to inaccessible flags that will inevitably be tucked away but still.

The chances are, at some point over the week someone will post a front-nine score in the 20s and perhaps Dennis Durnian’s record for the lowest front nine in an Open (of 28 at Birkdale in 1983) could be under threat.

But then Troon will get its own back. The hole claiming the most disasters will surely be the 11th, where the drive is blind but the train line to Glasgow that runs parallel to every one of the 483 yards is very much in view. Go left and you will find dense – is there any other variety? – gorse.

Royal Troon

The final run for home begins with the 13th and each hole from here on plays back towards the clubhouse. The six par 4s on the back nine measure 452, 483, 429, 472, 502 and 464 yards respectively.

Apart from the shortest of these, the 12th, they are all into the prevailing wind. All of which means that your average level-par round of 71 will most likely involve halves of something around 33 out and 38 in.

With this Ayrshire links enjoying a dry spring, unlike most parts of Britain, we can anticipate a fast-running course, perhaps not quite along the lines of that which Arnold Palmer famously conquered in 1962 but certainly lively.

You would tend to think that is good news for the more methodical, experienced and skillful members of the world’s elite.

Royal Troon

Certainly, Rory McIlroy would welcome green fairways and still conditions – it is not entirely a coincidence that he won at a lush Hoylake in 2014 having missed the cut by a mile at Muirfield the year before, while acknowledging that the latter came at a time when he was at his lowest ebb.

A glance at Troon’s most recent Open winners indicates that steadiness is a virtue. Todd Hamilton will not go down as a great Open champion but for one week in 2004 his determined, calm approach proved unbeatable.

Now 50, in the 11 Opens since the American has missed eight cuts and only once finished in the top 65. Curious.

Scratch below the surface though and you will see that the likes of Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Retief Goosen and Tiger Woods were all in the top 10 that week.

Royal Troon

Back in 1997, the champion was Justin Leonard, who enjoyed one of the great putting rounds as he closed with a 65 to finish three clear of Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik.

He too failed to win another Major. Talking of steady Americans brings us to the defending champion, the easy to underestimate Zach Johnson.

His performance in the St Andrews play-off against Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen was faultless and he can be relied upon, surely, to put up a stout defence.

Perhaps though, following Dustin Johnson’s Major breakthrough at Oakmont, we may see a more box-office Troon champion.

The cream may not always rise to the very top but you would be brave to bet against it this time around.

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