A very special Claret Jug quest: who will be crowned the 150th Open champion in 2022?

Delayed by a year but set to be an immense occasion, the 150th Open will take place on the Old Course in St Andrews.

The oldest Major Championship returns to the home of the sport in 2022 and the golfing world is all set for a party.

In recent years the Auld Grey Toun of St Andrews has witnessed emotional occasions. There was Arnold Palmer's last Open in 1995, the new century championship in 2000, Jack Nicklaus' farewell in 2005, and Tom Watson's goodbye in 2015.

But the 150th Open might well eclipse them all for pageantry, emotion and schmaltz.

Hopefully, we will also witness a championship worthy of the landmark.

Let's take a closer look at the recent history of Open on The Old Course, what it takes to win there, and who might lift the Claret Jug.

Old Course recent history and what we can learn from it

For two decades from 1970 the course was conquered only by legends. Jack Nicklaus won in 1970 and 1978, Severiano Ballesteros in 1984 and then Nick Faldo followed in 1990.

When John Daly (1995) and Tiger Woods (2000 and 2005) overpowered the layout with huge length from the tee, conventional wisdom decided that the course was irredeemably reduced to being vulnerable to one-dimensional big-hitters. That rather overlooked the fact that both champions had magnificent touch on and around the greens - and that Woods was a master tactician who, in his first win, didn't find one bunker all week.

It's also a notion somewhat at odds with what happened in 2010 and 2015. The former was won by Louis Oosthuizen and the latter by Zach Johnson. And who did Johnson defeat in a play-off? Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman. That's four players known for being neat and tidy (and not especially explosive from the tee box).

How to win on the Old Course

Woods has already shown the way: avoid the bunkers. The need for a smart strategy goes beyond just missing the sand, however. There are just two par-3s and two par-5s but many of the par-4s can either be reached from the tee, or reduced to very short approaches.

To capitalise on this course dynamic requires a golfer who is adaptable and alert. He needs to know when the wind allows attack and when it calls for defence, to appreciate pin positions, and to be aggressive yet also eliminate trouble.

A further factor is not only the huge greens but the capacity to putt from a long way off them. Never is lag putting more of a required skill set than at this Open host. In 2005 Woods had just one three-putt all week, in 2010? "I believe I had nine three-putts," he said. "If I got something going, I found a way to stop the momentum."

CONTENDERS

The course specialist

Let's start with Louis Oosthuizen, whose championship course form will be superior to everyone else's. He won by seven strokes in 2010 and only Zach Johnson in extra holes in 2015 could better him. He'll also return to the tournament knowing that he led for the first 54 holes in this year's championship.

Did he, though, miss his best opportunity of landing a second Major title in 2021? Three top threes is something to be both proud of and irked by. Mentality will be essential in Open week. He'll know he has a good chance, but the perils of his own expectations, those of others, and even the vaguest understanding of the term regression to mean will all hover over him.

The big-hitter

Ahead of the 2015 event Dustin Johnson was the name on the lips of everyone using conventional wisdom and when he shot 65-69 to grab the first and second round lead it looked like the pattern was re-establishing itself. Johnson did win, but it was Zach, not Dustin, after the latter carded two weekends 75s.

But DJ does like links golf, he has been in-contention at five of his 12 championships starts, and, crucially, his wedge game is vastly superior now to in 2015.

The World No. 1

History tells us that when players win multiple Major Championships they do so in waves. Only the very exceptional do so over a prolonged period. For most it is about hitting a sweet spot and making the most of it. If you take the opinion that Jon Rahm looks good for more than one Major, then the next two to three years are when he'll be ripe, having broken his duck at the US Open.

What can we add to that? Well, he's quite an emotional character beneath the big lummox of a frame and the Seve-link might inspire him. Big-hitting? Yep, that's there when required. Links savvy? He's won twice by the Irish seaside. Championship form? Third at Royal St George's this year was his best effort yet. He's warming to the task and get this: he's ranked fourth and 15th in the last two seasons for three-putt avoidance, and 18th and first for Scrambling outside 30 yards; both keys stats for The Old Course (the latter in a somewhat cock-eyed way because that skill might help him land birdies on the short par-4s as well as save par in the normal fashion).

The creative type

Jordan Spieth has revived his regular tour career, with the majority of 2021 a sparkling journey that took in a return to regularly contending, a long-awaited win, and a close call at the Open.

Can he now enjoy a second wave of Major success? Links golf is a superb match for his imagination, and he may also have the extra edge required because he not only went close at Royal St George's this summer, he also was just one shot outside the play-off in 2015.

The Dunhill Link

Back in 2015, Tommy Fleetwood entered the championship with one of the best records in the field on the Old Course, with the stats revealing that his fine Alfred Dunhill Links Championship form was built on particularly exceptional Old Course scoring. He's maintained that event form and has nine top 25s from 10 visits (seven of them top seven).

But he missed the cut in the 2015 Open and he lost form (and his full PGA Tour card) in 2021. His last four Opens, though? A brilliant recovery to make the cut in 2017. third at halfway in 2018, second in 2019, top 10 after 18 holes in 2021. He knows and understands links golf. If he can rediscover his best golf he can be a contender.

The former champion

2019 champion Shane Lowry had a delayed defence of his title, but ahead of it he did let his mind drift to the 150th championship and just what an occasion it will be in the Auld Grey Toun. His defence got off to a rough start with a 71 for T74th, but then he raced through the field with laps of 65-69-69 for T12th.

He loves the Old Course, has three top six finishes there in the Dunhill Links (including this year), and is on record as saying he has got to grips with playing his best golf at the Major Championships.

READ MORE: The top five golfers yet to win a Major Championship and where they can change that in 2022

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