The Open: Open by name, open by nature as rough looms large
IT WAS synonymous with the soggy summer. On the eve of the 141st Open Championship – the 11th to be staged at this splendid Lancashire links – preferred lies were on the agenda. Thankfully, it seems we will be spared the sight – an unthinkable one normally at any time on a seaside course – of a lift, clean and place process being in operation after summer did break out, briefly, yesterday afternoon.
However, it was yet another indication that links courses are not what we’ve come to expect, certainly not in the middle of July when the world’s oldest major comes around. The rough is thick. So thick, in fact, that some players have even been talking about the possibility of them having to declare an unplayable lie in some spots rather than trying to hack out.
Add in the 206 bunkers that are scattered here, there and everywhere and you don’t need to be a genius to work out that accuracy is going to be a premium over the next four days. It’s why many of the experts have been tipping world No 3 Lee Westwood, who is renowned for being one of the best – if not the best – drivers in the modern-day game as a potential winner here.
It’s also why many believed Tiger Woods might have been coming here with a similar game plan to the one he deployed at Hoylake when winning there in 2006 – the last time he picked up the Claret Jug. Then, the driver stayed in the bag and Woods hit irons off tees to stay out of trouble. But it was fast and firm there. Here it’s too soft to use irons all the time, even though, at 7,086 yards, the course is by no means a monster.
What do the previous Opens here tell us about the qualities you need to win at Lytham? Well, mention the names of Bobby Jones (1926), Bobby Locke (1952), Peter Thomson (1958), Bob Charles (1963), Tony Jacklin (1969), Gary Player (1974), Seve Ballesteros (1979 and 1988), Tom Lehman (1996) and David Duval (2001) and the first thing that jumps out is that they were all regarded as “good ball strikers”.
Ballesteros also had one of the best short games ever seen in this event, which is why Luke Donald, the world No 1, is reckoned to be in with a chance here. However, as Colin Montgomerie noted earlier in the week, he’ll need to drive the ball well to be able to make the most of his chipping and putting.
“I doubt the champion on Sunday will have won from the rough,” said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson in backing up the requirement to be straight off the tee. If you’re into omens, then Donald is your man. Ballesteros, second time around, Lehman and Duval were all the world’s top-ranked players at the time of those wins. And, if you listen to the last player to win a major on this course – Catriona Matthew in the 2008 Women’s British Open – he is also the man to beat.
“I think the course tests every aspect of your game to the limit,” said the North Berwick woman.
“It’s tough but it’s fair and that is not something you can say about every course on the rota. Those that will be able to control their ball the most will be the ones that are at the top of the leader board come Sunday. Hitting the fairways is all important, unless you’re Seve Ballesteros, of course, after his famous car park shot [when the Spaniard made a birdie at the 16th in 1979].
“Golf is so unpredictable right now it’s hard to predict who might come out on top, but it would be nice to see one of the British players lift the Claret Jug. I will take a punt at Luke Donald to win at Lytham as it is a very strategic type of course and you have to be very patient, which should suit his game perfectly.”
The first two majors this year have been claimed by Americans – Bubba Watson in the Masters and Webb Simpson in the US Open. Simpson’s not here, due to the fact his wife is about to give birth, but Bubba is and it will be fascinating to see how he fares on this course, which is different to any other on the Open rota in that it sits enclosed by houses.
It’s where Woods picked up the Silver Medal as the leading amateur in 1996 and now he’s back bidding to kick-start his major career. It’s more than four years now since Tiger triumphed in one of these events and this is his first taste of links golf in two years, having missed out at Royal St George’s 12 months ago due to injury. But, with three wins under his belt already on the PGA Tour, he’s heading into an Open feeling more comfortable with his game than he has for a while.
Having eventually got exactly what he was looking for up at Castle Stuart – a good links test in a decent wind – Phil Mickelson will also fancy his chances of making it an American hat-trick this season, as will Rickie Fowler, who showed a wonderful attitude in some foul weather conditions at Sandwich last year and left many – this correspondent, included – feeling certain he’ll see his name being inscribed on the Claret Jug one day.
The same goes for Rory McIlroy, despite the ludicrous comments he made a year ago about not having a game suited to this type of test. As he has now admitted, they were made in the heat of the moment. McIlroy has the game to win in any conditions and in any event. Darren Clarke, the defending champion, can’t be discounted despite his poor form over the past 12 months. He loves this type of golf and so, too, do two-time winner Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell. So don’t be surprised if the Guinness is flowing again in the Emerald Isle on Sunday night.
There are six Scots in the 156-strong field, which is competing for a £5 million pot with £900,000 going to the winner. Paul Lawrie and Martin Laird will be looking to get in the mix and, in truth, it will be disappointing if they don’t. As for the others – Richie Ramsay, Steven O’Hara, Elliot Saltman and Sandy Lyle – their target will be to still be here at the weekend.
The scene is set. Let’s just hope that Mother Nature or the R&A’s gamble to lift a mobile phone ban doesn’t spoil the spectacle.
1, Phil Mickelson
2, Lee Westwood
3, Graeme McDowell
4, Paul Lawrie
1, Louis Oosthuizen
2, Lee Westwood
3, Padraig Harrington
4, Rickie Fowler
1, Martin Kaymer
2, Jason Dufner
3, Rory McIlroy
4, Lee Westwood
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: East