Open Championship Golf: Lytham is a mystery
THE science of picking the winner of the Open championship. Grill the meteorological experts for information about volumes of rain and strength of wind, when precisely it’s going to happen and how bad it’s going to be.
Study the draw sheet and eliminate all players who are on the wrong side. Eat the stats book for breakfast. Toss aside anybody with a weakness out of sand. Dump anybody who is wayward off the tee. Ditch those who are not exemplary on the greens. Bring to the fore the men who relish links golf and who have shown form in past championships.
That’s one way of doing it. You might opt for Lee or Rory or Tiger or Luke. But there’s another way. Write down the names of every last player in the field, close your eyes, hover your finger over the list and make your selection. At least that way you might have had a chance of finding the needles in the haystack that were Darren Clarke, pictured right, Louis Oosthuizen and Stewart Cink, the last three winners of the great championship.
We live in an era where there is no big four or big five anymore, where the list of contenders numbers 40 or 50. Ernie Els was asked last week for a dark horse. He went for Clarke again. Clarke is seemingly incapable of hitting the ball out of his way these days despite still being in possession of the Claret Jug, but you knew exactly where the South African was coming from. If Clarke can get his mindset just as it was 12 months ago then there is no reason why he can’t do it again. No reason at all.
Golf’s reality. For the first time in the history of the game we have had nine first-time major winners, we have had guys dropping out the sky and taking the big championships and retreating to the relative obscurity from whence they came. Lytham’s history with the Open suggests we’ll have a well-established champion, but you couldn’t bank on it. True, the place has nearly always identified the world’s greatest player when hosting the Open, from Bobby Jones, to Bobby Locke, from Peter Thomson to Bob Charles, from Tony Jacklin, the last Englishman to win the Claret Jug in England, and onwards to Gary Player and Seve, Tom Lehman and David Duval, but this week will be a huge test of the theory that only the greatest players win at Lytham.
By that token we’re looking at Westwood, the game’s most consistent player, the fast-improving Tiger, the man with the greatest short game, Donald, and the one with the most natural talent, McIlroy.
“When we talk about a links course the range of players who can win is bigger than at any other major event,” says Jose Maria Olazabal, who knows a thing or two about Lytham, given all the times that Seve would have bent his ear about what he did there. “We saw that at Turnberry with Tom Watson, you need to position the ball, not bomb it. It’s a matter of hitting good shots, being consistent. That will give you a chance to win the Open.
“In that regard there is a bunch of guys including the usual suspects who hit the ball steady like Luke and Francesco Molinari. That kind of player obviously suits that type of tournament and golf course.”
All these first-time champions, though. Is it the brilliance of their game that’s doing it or the sophistication of their equipment, as Els believes? “The equipment is the same for everyone so you can’t put the rise in standard down to that,” says Europe’s Ryder Cup captain. “At the end of the day it comes down to how much work you put in and if you go into the gym you’ll see players working their asses off. They have mental coaches and spend hours on the range or the putting green. No matter how big the range is it’s always full of players spending hours working on their game. So give credit to the players.
“To win at Lytham takes a lot of skill and good ball control because it’s usually very windy there. I know they have lengthened some holes [it’s 220 yards longer than it was when Duval won there in 2001] so it’s going to be a tougher test. It really depends on how high the rough is and how wide the fairways are but it’s one of the toughest links courses we play, up there with Carnoustie. It’s a tough track.
“If you want to score well there you are going to have to bring your A-game. Any course is going to suit Lee and it just comes down to his putting which is maybe his only weakness. But from tee to green he’s as solid as a player can be.”
Westwood, of course, would be the fairytale story, the one we all want to see. Seven top-fives in his last 17 majors and so many near-misses that you have to wonder how many more blows he can endure before his spirit breaks and he becomes, well, Colin Montgomerie, the man Els compared him to during the week.
It’s understandable, but actually unfair, to lump Westwood in with Donald given that Westwood has contended time and time again and Donald, for all his No.1 status in the world, has not. Donald admitted last week that he’s been a little uptight going into the major championships in recent times and that he needs to learn to relax more. Donald, unquestionably, has the artillery, to win, but the track record suggests he won’t even go close. Again.
The usual suspects? Woods has won three times this year. McIlroy, who has had a tempestuous relationship with the Open – meltdown at St Andrews in 2010 and a bit of a moan-fest about playing in the wrong side of the draw last year at Sandwich – seems to have given himself a slap and is ready to “embrace” whatever Lytham is going to throw at him. McIlroy’s form has been really indifferent, but only a madman wouldn’t lend serious weight to his chances.
These guy stand out, but it’s normally the ones lurking underneath that prove to be the story. Martin Kaymer is beginning to inch his way back to form after some ropey performances this year. Kaymer has shown some decent stuff in past Opens. Rickie Fowler is another who has to be considered, given the way he adapted at St George’s 12 months ago. Lytham is a ball-striker’s dream and so it’s no wonder that Olazabal gave special mention to Francesco Molinari, who is having a hell of a week at Castle Stuart and who will surely go south on a wave of confidence. Phil Mickelson is in Inverness, too. The man is trying desperately to kick-start his game, to shake himself free of the errors that have dogged him in the last two months. Some small signs from last year’s Open runner-up that he’s beginning to get it going at last.
As ever, though, it will be Westwood who will dominate the preamble. His search for a major has reached epic proportions. Many in the game will say that Lytham is the place where it can all come good, where he can emulate his countryman, Jacklin, and take the Claret Jug. It’s his time. Isn’t it?
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West