The Open final wrap-up: Thoughts ahead of Thursday’s first round

Quotes, stats and social from Royal St George’s before the 149th Open Championship starts.

Best bet

Ian Poulter each way at 80/1

Alex Noren first round lead at 80/1

Not long now until the anticipation ends and the action begins.

We've had two years between Opens and it's felt longer.

Shane Lowry won't have minded too much - he held on to the Claret Jug for an extra 12 months and he gets to defend his trophy in front of 32,000 spectators instead of what would probably have been none had the championship taken place last summer (or autumn).

The return to Royal St George's is not universally celebrated - the words "not my favourite course on the rotation" are commonly uttered - but the test looks like it will be subtly different to the past and in a good way.

The rough is thick, possibly as nasty as at Carnoustie in 1999.

To make up for that the fairways, already soft due to heavy rainfall, will remain that way because the R&A will water them should the expected sunshine dry them out.

html) */?>

The greens are another test this week: they are big - bigger than in 2011 - and even 10 years ago players claimed that avoiding three-putts and holing long par saves were among the key factors in success. That also demands a sold scrambling game because greens will be missed this week and players will need good touch from off the putting surfaces.

Let's take a final look at what the players have been saying, a glance at a few stats, and also pick a first round leader punt.

Louis Oosthuizen on the reasons for his good form

"A big thing was also sticking to the same putter, the same look, the same feel, and trying to get some kind of a relationship going with my putter. I think the biggest change was consistency in doing the same thing every time, trying to get a really good routine going, and when I do practice work at home and when I do it at a tournament, trying to do the same thing all the time. Just putting the time in. My coach, my swing coach, Justin Parsons, helped me with finding the right routine and doing things every time the same way, and I just think that got my consistency so much better."

html) */?>

Darren Clarke on how to win on the course

"This week there's going to be a premium on keeping it on the fairways, as you can see out there. That long stuff is really long and thick this week. My ball-striking was really, really good here. I spent a bit of time with Dr. Bob Rotella on the putting green on the Wednesday prior to the tournament and he cleared my head, because if things aren't quite going well I tend to go back into technique, and that's not always the solution to scoring. Dr. Bob cleared my head a little bit, and I found a little bit of rhythm and a little bit of feel with my putting stroke, and all of a sudden it became a much easier game again. You know, that week, my whole attitude that week changed when I thought I could hole a couple of putts."

The stats

The consensus is that finding fairways will matter, that avoiding three-putts is essential and that scrambling is key.

Only four men ranks top 50 for all three categories on the PGA Tour this season: Abraham Ancer, Russell Henley, Brian Harman and Ian Poulter.

html) */?>

The first three have little or no links record to speak of. Poulter has finished second and third in the Open, and he closed with a 63 for tied fourth last week. He couldn't, could he?

First round leader

There appears to be no weather bias according to all forecasts, but the wind is likely to be a little flatter early and late.

I like Alex Noren to make a swift start. He closed with a 64 two events ago, he opened the recent AT&T Byron Nelson 65-64, but he also has a good Open record.

Six of his last 12 Open laps have been sub-70 and he opened the last Open with a 68 for tied third. He's out at 7.08.

READ MORE: Lee Westwood’s Open quest: Honoured by longevity record and set for tough driving test

Latest Golf Videos