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Sports Mole's 2015 Open Championship preview

Sports Mole looks ahead to the 144th Open Championship at St Andrews, where defending champion Rory McIlroy misses out through injury.

Viewed by many as the biggest golf tournament of them all, The Open Championship will be contested for the 144th time in Scotland over the coming days. Here, Sports Mole runs the rule over the course and takes a look at the main contenders to win the famous Claret Jug.

The course

Name: St Andrews Old Course, Fife, Scotland
Distance: 6,721 yards
Par: 72

The green on the 495 yards par 4, 17th hole 'Road' with the 357 yards par 4, 18th hole 'Tom Morris' behind on the Old Course at St Andrews venue for The Open Championship in 2015, on July 29, 2014 in St Andrews, Scotland© Getty Images

Info: Widely regarded to be the oldest course in the world, St Andrews - dubbed 'The Home of Golf' - is no stranger to hosting this prestigious tournament, having done so on a record 27 occasions.

It took on the responsibility for the first time back in 1873, which also marked the maiden occasion that the event had been played away from Prestwick, with Tom Kidd securing the only Major title of his career. The competition's most recent outing at St Andrews was five years ago, when Louis Oosthuizen romped home by a seven-shot margin.

Other former winners on the course include Tiger Woods, Sir Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus and the late Seve Ballesteros. In fact, Faldo's triumph in 1990 is still the last time that a European player prospered at an Open Championship hosted by St Andrews.

As for the links course itself, it contains 112 individually named bunkers - two of which (on the 14th and 17th holes) are particularly infamous and ones to avoid.

The fairways are known to be wide, meaning that there is plenty of room to attack off the tee, while the greens are so incredibly large that on many occasions they will double up over the 18 holes.

Weather dependent, birdies can be easy to come by at St Andrews, so it would not be a big surprise were the victor to post a low score over the course of his four rounds.

Last year's winner

Starting the final day with a six-shot lead, it seemed that Rory McIlroy was going to cruise to a third Major at Hoylake. He did win through in the end, but not before his advantage had been cut down to just two shots by Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler. In getting his hands on the Claret Jug, the Northern Irishman joined Woods and Nicklaus as the only players to win three of golf's modern Majors by the age of 25.

He will not be at St Andrews to defend his title due to a recent ankle injury that he picked up while playing football with friends.

Five contenders

1. Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth poses with the US Open trophy after winning at Chambers Bay on June 21, 2015© Getty Images

He may be ranked the world's second-best player behind McIlroy, but there is currently nobody in better form than the 21-year-old American. Spieth has won the first two Majors of the year and were he to win this weekend, he would just be a PGA Championship away from becoming the first player to win all four big events in one year. Everything seems to be going swimmingly for the Texan, who won the John Deere Classic on Sunday. However, his decision not to play any links golf in preparation could come back to bite him. After all, the last five winners of The Open all warmed up with some form of links golf.

2. Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler of the United States watches a shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on August 5, 2014© Getty Images

Surely it is only a matter of time before Fowler gets his hands on a big prize? After all, last year he finished in the top five of every Major; only Woods and Nicklaus have previously achieved that feat. British courses also seem to suit the 26-year-old, who was runner-up to McIlroy last year and also finished fifth four years ago. With some big fairways to find, big-hitting Fowler must fancy his chances of breaking that Major duck. His confidence should certainly be high, having won the Scottish Open on Sunday. His compatriot Phil Mickelson did exactly the same thing two years ago prior to his Open win at Muirfield.

3. Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson at the third hole during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship on March 8, 2014© Getty Images

If conditions are favourable, Johnson's prodigious distance is bound to see him challenge. The 31-year-old has been close to winning numerous Majors, none more so than last month's US Open when he three-putted the final green to hand the title to Spieth. He has been quick to stress that he has put the disappointment behind him, but he can only prove that over the next four days. Johnson has finished in the top 15 of the The Open in four of his last five outings - including being tied for second in 2011, so it seems that British courses are no bother to him.

4. Justin Rose

Justin Rose of England hits a tee shot on the second hole during a practice round for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on February 12, 2014© Getty Images

As an 18-year-old amateur in 1998, Rose burst onto the scene in The Open at Royal Birkdale when he finished fourth. Yet, while he has flourished at other Majors, that showing 17 years ago is as good as it has got for the Englishman at his home tournament. But, can he change that this weekend? Rose has improved with age and has shown that if he can get himself into contention on the final day, he has the mentality to win. As far as the European challenge goes, the 34-year-old looks to be the best bet.

5. Louis Oosthuizen

Louis Oosthuizen celebrates with the trophy after winning the 2014 Volvo Golf Champions on January 12, 2014© Getty Images

Last year was largely unspectacular for the South African as far as Majors were concerned, but he has rediscovered his form in 2015. He finished with a share for 19th spot at The Masters, before finishing joint runner-up at the US Open. In truth, but for a poor opening day, he would have probably won that event. But, the main reason why he is likely to be in with a shot is because he won The Open when it was last held at St Andrews five years ago. Not only was he victorious, he annihilated the rest of the field by seven shots. While he may not be a flamboyant golfer, his steady approach could be just what is needed, particularly if the wet and windy forecast is correct.

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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 9, 2015
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