DCSIMG

The Open: English hopefuls must continue to carry burden of expectation

IF YOU are a Scottish golf fan, do you want the bad news? Next year's Open championship, which begins in 362 days' time, is being held in England.

If you are an English golf player would you like to hear some bad news? Next year's Open is being held in England, and will be again in 2014, after a return to Muirfield.

Almost as soon as Darren Clarke's final, winning putt slipped into the earth at Royal St George's, thoughts began to turn to the next Open. Royal & Ancient officials almost demand that they do. The leaderboard, which since Thursday has been telling the story of the tournament, quickly flipped over the numbers to spell out a message of congratulations: "Well played Darren". Next to it was another line: "See you at Royal Lytham St Anne's next year".

The next stop is on what is termed "England's golf coast". The region's tourist representatives who had de-camped to Kent last week were telling anyone who would listen that this is "the finest stretch of championship golf in the world". It means England will have hosted the major in three out of four years. It's a cross the likes of Lee Westwood will have to bear. Or else, they can learn to cope with the burden of expectation which has weighed them down so obviously here at the 140th staging of the Open.

Absence has been a central theme. Tiger Woods, of course, withdrew from his second Open in four years, while Colin Montgomerie, although desperate to appear, just could not summon up the miracle required to qualify.

Woods doubtless still recalls losing his ball with his opening tee shot the last time the tournament was held here in 2003. "Too hard," was the verdict on the course eight years ago. Since then the impenetrable rough has been cut back, the sloping greens made less punitive. Did the course get the winner it deserved this time? Probably. After all, it proved pretty likeable.

There were fewer critics around this time. Not Westwood and not Luke Donald, even though they must surely have wished to pin the blame for their poor performance on something other than their own shortcomings. Westwood had talked a good game beforehand. "It's named after St George, I guess, so you can't get much more English than that," he replied, when asked if it was time for a home champion.

However, the finest two players in the world, according to the statistics, could also be listed among the absentees - at least when it came to the business end of the tournament. Donald had joined Westwood in failing to make the cut on Friday and indeed suffered the indignity of his caddie brother - who carries the bag for Martin Kaymer - going further in the tournament than him.

Westwood and Donald's failure to reach the weekend was an almost unthinkable scenario for English golf fans, although a 20-year-old from Welwyn Garden City partly made up for it.Tom Lewis' success was another strand of a memorable tournament. The amateur led the field on the first night, along with Thomas Bjorn, who exorcised some of those demons from eight years ago with his fourth place finish. Lewis was charm personified throughout and survived some wobbles along the way to securing the Silver Medal, given to the leading amateur. And, refreshingly, he wants to hold onto his amateur status, at least for the time being. The memories of playing with Tom Watson on the opening two days, and then Phil Mickelson on a difficult, rain-lashed Saturday, will last a lifetime.

The five-under-par 65 he shot on Thursday was equalled on the same day by Bjorn, but no other player bettered it. It provided evidence that it was possible to post a score that was substantially below par, even when the wind blew.

Yet when the conditions did relent slightly on Friday, no-one tore the course apart. It has commanded respect this week, rather than derision. It was significant that Clarke chose to reference the complaints from 2003 in his victory speech. He said the course had been "magnificent", a view, he added, which was shared by his fellow players. Tom Watson gave it another nod of approval. "It's a tough golf course," he said after a two-over-par round of 72 had left the 61-year-old on a very healthy six-over-par for the tournament.

"When you go around even par on this golf course, you've played a really good round of golf," he said. Only Rory McIlroy appeared to sound a sour note, although his grumbles were more to do with the overhead conditions rather than the actual course. It had, though, been a disappointing weekend for the youngest member of the Northern Irish professional golf corps.

Instead, McIlroy's buddy from across the Atlantic impressed. Rickie Fowler finished on level par for the tournament. He slipped back yesterday, but was still proclaiming his love for links golf, while revelling in his Open experience. "Awesome," he said last night. "All in all, awesome tournament. I had a lot of fun, and love playing over here."

He wasn't just able to withstand the vagaries of links golf, he also embraced it. "Yeah, I love links golf," he said on Saturday. "I love the variety and the options you get on the course.

"There's so many ways you can play one shot, and I feel like I can hit different shots and I like to hit different shots.

"When I'm given those opportunities, it's just fun for me. It's just the way I grew up learning how to play the game. There's so many ways to play one course, and it's rare that the course plays the same way on a four-day tournament."

The likes of Fowler were the spokespeople for this tournament, and, perhaps, for a new generation of golfers. However, they will have to wait for their moment after a burly Ulsterman stole the show. See you all in Lancashire.

 
 
 

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