My Oosti, their Spieth
Legends Player and Faldo back young American to make it three Majors on the trot
REPORTING FROM ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND
Over the past few days, as I have been fortunate enough to tour golf's holiest venue at St Andrews, the question I have been asked most often, other than where I come from, is who I think is going to win the British Open.
Pausing to hitch my pants up before answering, with a thoughtful furrow of my brow, I have consistently ventured the name Louis Oosthuizen.
"He won it the last time the Open was played at St Andrews," I would explain. "And I like the way he finished at the US Open recently, where he played his final three rounds in 66-66-67."
Looking at my media pass and perhaps noting the onset of grey hairs in my beard, many of the people I spoke to tended to agree, nodding encouragingly and giving me a pat on the back for not picking the usual suspects like Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
But not Gary Player.
The South African legend, who can never be accused of not speaking his mind, punched a hole in my theory with a smile and a sweeping gesture of his hands.
Speaking to me from the Rolex hospitality tent at the Open, the 79-year-old said: "Does Oosthuizen have a chance? Of course he does, everyone has a chance. Louis has a good a swing as Rory (McIlroy). His swing is brilliant.
"But he doesn't have the passion though. I'm not saying he doesn't have passion. I'm saying he doesn't have the passion of a Tiger Woods, of a Jordan Spieth."
And passion is not the only reason Player believes that someone like Spieth is going to emerge on top this week at St Andrews.
Said the nine-time Major winner: "You must remember that usually the man who putts the best wins. The best putter in the field is Jordan Spieth."
Player was quick to dismiss a story he had read in a British newspaper, suggesting that Spieth lacked the length to conquer the Old Course.
A professional for more than 60 years, he said: "I was shocked to read the man was saying Spieth is not long enough to win the Open here at St Andrews.
"How can he say that? How was Spieth long enough to win the US Masters, which is twice as long as this?
"I get so tired of hearing parents who say that their son is going to be a champion because he hits it so long.
"Hits the ball 350 yards. So what? A gorilla hits it 350 yards. Rather tell me what a good mind he's got.
"Rather tell me how well he putts. How well he hits bunker shots."
Player was not the only legend waxing lyrical about golf's new sensation.
Six-time Major winner Nick Faldo joined the chorus, describing the 21-year-old Spieth as having a "very high golfing IQ".
The American has never played a competitive round at the legendary venue, but Faldo does not buy the theory that Spieth lacks the local knowledge to win at St Andrews.
"Others play one practice round with him and he will be talking about the course, the little subtle changes, and they'll have missed everything he's talking about," said the Englishman.
And Faldo, who is competing at the Open himself, is confident that young Spieth is "going to be there" come Sunday.
His rationale? Spieth, who just won the John Deere Classic last week, is "just too darn good and holing too many darn putts".
Was I convinced by the two legends?
Let's just say that they make a compelling case for Spieth to write another chapter in history by winning his third Major in a row, a feat only achieved once before by the great Ben Hogan in 1953.
My boy Oosti, on the other hand, also has to deal with playing inside the Tiger circus during the first two rounds, after being paired with Woods and Jason Day.
But let me tell you something.
If Oosthuizen comes out on the weekend still within sight of the Claret Jug, I'm putting my money on the South African thoroughbred, Spieth or no Spieth.
- Deputy Editor S Murali's trip to St Andrews was sponsored by Rolex.
Five facts about Jordan Spieth
1 Spieth was the youngest champion of the US Open since Bobby Jones in 1923 and the youngest player to win two Majors since Gene Sarazen in 1922.
2 He was the first man to win the Masters and the US Open in the same year since Tiger Woods in 2002 and just the sixth man ever. The other four were Jack Nicklaus (1972), Arnold Palmer (1960), Ben Hogan (1951 and 1953) and Craig Wood (1941).
3 Spieth has played eight rounds in Major championship golf this year and he has led or co-led after seven of them.
4 He stands halfway on the way to winning all four Major titles in the same year, the Grand Slam of golf that no player has managed to achieve. Only Hogan in 1953 won the first three.
5 He was the second-youngest winner of the Masters in April behind Woods and the first player to get to 19-under par. - Wire Services.
THE 8 TO WATCH
JORDAN SPIETH (US)
World ranking: 2
All eyes will be on the Texan who has turned the 2015 season on its head by winning the first two Majors at the Masters and US Open.
He will be attempting to become only the second man, after Ben Hogan in 1953, to win the first three Grand Slam events to open the year.
Fresh from a play-off win at last weekend's John Deere Classic, Spieth can also snatch the world No. 1 spot from injured Rory McIlroy with a win on Sunday at St Andrews.
JUSTIN ROSE (ENGLAND)
World ranking: 7
The popular South African-born Englishman enjoyed his greatest success at the Open back in 1998, when he finished in a tie for fourth place as an amateur.
Early struggles in his career were soon forgotten as he rose to No. 3 in the world in 2013, winning his first Major the same year at the Philadelphia-hosted US Open.
It was the first Major won by an Englishman since Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters.
A gifted links player and winner of the 2014 Scottish Open, Rose will be looking to produce his best golf on a course where he won the 1997 St Andrews Links Trophy, also as an amateur.
TIGER WOODS (US)
World ranking: 241
The iconic American always draws massive galleries wherever he plays and this week will be no different on a course he describes as his favourite in the world.
Once the dominant force in golf, Woods has struggled in recent seasons and underwent back surgery in late 2013 that also saw a further dip in form.
Second on the all-time list of Major wins with 14, but still four short of Jack Nicklaus' record, Woods has no immediate plans to retire as he chases a first tournament victory since 2013.
When he won the Open at St Andrews in 2000, he crushed the field by eight strokes, while his second Open Championship victory, also on the Old Course in 2005, saw him canter home with a five-shot winning margin.
A third Open title in 2006 followed at last year's venue, the Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN (SOUTH AFRICA)
World ranking: 17
The soft-spoken South African stunned the world of golf in 2010, when he won the British Open at St Andrews with a brilliant performance against the odds.
Coming into the tournament, Oosthuizen had made the cut only once in eight Major appearances.
However he had the tournament of his life to win by seven shots and leapt into the global golfing spotlight.
A former world No. 4, he has seven wins on the European Tour and came close to winning the US Open earlier this year at Chambers Bay, where he finished tied for second with Dustin Johnson and just one shot behind champion Jordan Spieth.
TOM WATSON (US)
World ranking: 1124
One of the legends of the game, Tom Watson is set to play in his final British Open. Winner of eight Majors, including five British Opens (1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983), the Kansas City native thrilled golf fans with his riveting rivalry against fellow great Jack Nicklaus during a golden era in the game in the '70s and '80s.
In 2009, at the age of 59, he led the Open, at Turnberry, for much of the tournament and had a chance to win on the final day with an eight-foot putt on the 18th before losing in a play-off against Stewart Cink.
Watson has also won six Majors on the senior circuit and played in four Ryder Cups, captaining the US team to victory in 1993 but was on the losing side as captain in 2014 against Paul McGinley's European side at Gleneagles.
PHIL MICKELSON (US)
World ranking: 21
One of the most popular players to ever play the game, "Lefty" is a contender to win at every tournament.
The burly 45-year-old from San Diego is only missing the US Open to complete his Grand Slam set and has agonisingly finished second a record six times.
Has won over 40 PGA tournaments and reached a career-high of world No. 2 on several occasions.
Won his first Open in 2013, when he became the first player to win the Scottish and British Opens in consecutive weeks.
He began the final day five strokes off the lead, but produced a magical 66 to win by three shots ahead of Sweden's Henrik Stenson.
RICKIE FOWLER (US)
World ranking: 5
The Californian is still looking for his first Major success after a series of near-misses and finishing runner-up last year at the British and US Opens, third at the US PGA and fifth at the Masters.
Arrives at St Andrews in a rich vein of form, having come from behind to win last weekend's Scottish Open at Gullane.
Also won his second PGA event in May, when he defeated Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner in a play-off at the Players Championship in his resident state of Florida.
The 26-year-old is firmly established in the world's top 10 and only needs a Grand Slam breakthrough to further enhance his reputation as one of the stars in the game.
JASON DAY (AUSTRALIA)
World ranking: 8
Australian Jason Day has finished runner-up at Majors on three occasions, the 2011 and 2013 US Opens as well as the 2011 Masters.
However, his results on European soil have yet to produce a victory and his best result at the British Open was a tie for 30th in 2011.
His Asian looks are down to his mother, who was from the Philippines, and he once gained inspiration from reading a book about Tiger Woods.
The 27-year-old from Queensland reached a career-high ranking of world No. 4 in 2014, thanks to victory in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship that same year.