The 141st Open Championship starts on Thursday and as the oldest of the golf’s 4 Major Championships, it has a history littered with great champions and memories. The history of the Championship means that it attracts a large number of visiting fans from around the World particularly fromAmerica
The influx of visiting fans provides great financial benefits not only to the host course and the Open Championship organisers, but also to the host course’s local area, with hotels and B & B‘s being fully booked month‘s in advance. The atmosphere at The Open is often commended by players and spectators alike, it is a diverse mix of different supporting styles and allegiances which has respect for its champions at the heart of it. The scene’s following Stewart Cink’s 2009 victory exemplified this respect, despite gaining victory at the expense of the adapted son of Scottish Golf in Tom Watson, Cink was greeted a rapturous reception when holing his winning putt, despite the majority of the crowd being in the corner of Tom.
is hosting it‘s 11th Open Championship , the last being held in 2001, since then the course has been adjusted in part as a reaction to the greater distances that the current crop of players are hitting the ball. A total of 223 yards have been added to course, and it has been reduced from a Par 71 to a Par 70 as the 6th Hole has been reduced to a Par 4. With a total of 206 bunkers, the course provides a solid test of all aspects of the players game, but particularly their accuracy off the tie and approach play to the greens, as the bunkers can be penal.
The back nine has always been the tougher of the two at Lytham, and these year it looks to be no different, it prominently plays into the wind. On a practice round over the past few days, Graeme McDowell posted a video on Twitter, in which he described the back nine as brutal. The rough is extremely thick and long following the recent rain, which will also have the effect of reducing the run on the fairways which will potentially make the course play even longer than its yardage. The 11th Hole could well prove to the toughest challenge of them all, at 598 yards, it represents a stiff par 5 but when playing into the wind, which it does in the main, it is potentially brutal challenge and one to take your par and move on.
And so to the players,
David Duval was the winner when the tournament was last held at Lytham, making an 11 under par score of 274 to beat Niclas Fasth. His victory was built by a superb weekend performance, shooting 65, 6 under par on Saturday to move into a four way tie for the lead, before shooting 67 on Sunday. Since that victory, Duval has struggled, his best performance was in 2009 US Open, when he finished second, but having failed to win a tournament since 2001, he lost his PGA Tour card in 2011 and has played from sponsor’s exemptions this season, and has made just 2 cuts in the process, both of which came in April. It is hard to predict with any confidence that the return to the location of his finest hour in golf will result in a return to form.
Defending champion, Darren Clarke will also be hoping memories of his finest hour will lead to an improvement in recent form. Since he lifted the Claret Jug last July his form has slumped, having made just 2 cuts since, the most recent at his home Open, at Royal Portrush. He shouldn’t be written off though as in addition to last year’s victory, he has two further top 5 finishes, one of which was gained at Lytham in 2001, he also has a top 10 finish and his other Open appearance at Lytham resulted in a tied 11th finish, so he clearly likes the course and it would be no surprise to me to see him come back to form with a strong defence of the Claret Jug, though I think back to back victories will prove elusive.
Who the will be main contenders for glory at Lytham, well I have compiled a list of ten players to watch out for over the four days, however the World No 1 & 2 who are not amongst my list. In respect of their positions in the game I will provide my reasoning beyond my opinions. Firstly, World No 1, Luke Donald who warmed up for his tilt at a first Major Championship with a stuttering weekend performance at Castle Stuart, failing to convert 3 shot deficit going into the weekend into a tilt at defending his title, finishing 5 shots off the lead in a tie for 16th. However that performance is not in my mind when considering his chances, what concerns me is his performances in The Open, where he has just a solitary top 5 finish when he was a never nearer tied 5th in 2009. In fact in his 11 Open Championship appearances he has missed 6 cuts, including in last year’s Open.
World No 2 Rory McIlroy, has made his feelings about Links golf clear in the past, making quite dismissive remarks following his final round at last year’s Open, though those remarks should be put in the context of a young man disappointed at his performance in his first tournament since his majestic victory in the US Open. Unfortunately, such comments have become something of a hallmark of Rory’s reaction to poor performances, after missing the cut at the Players Championship; it was the course that didn’t suit his eye, only to admit two weeks later when missing the cut at Wentworth that he had taken his eye of the ball with practising. As talented as Rory undoubtedly is, the talent will never be matched with a career record if he doesn’t put the hard work in; this is something he readily acknowledges, though we are yet to see the evidence of this application. I do feel there is improvement around the corner for Rory but the set up and weather at Lytham mean it is unlikely the improvement will be forthcoming enough to produce his maiden Open Championship win.
Now for my 10 players who I believe are names to look out for at Lytham, it is mix of established contenders and some dark horses who might not be at the forefront of people’s minds.
Dustin Johnson – Those who know me well will not be surprised to see me include Dustin, as I have long been a massive advocate of his abilities. I firmly believe he goes to Lytham with a huge chance of gaining his 1st Major title. His only missed cut this season came at the US Open, but that was his 3rd tournament on the bounce following a 3 month absence due a back injury, the previous week he gained his 6th PGA Tour victory. It is ability to manage links golf that makes him appealing to me for Lytham; he will feel he let a chance slip last year at St George’s when he finished tied 2nd behind Clarke that said he still produced a strong performance. Add to the mix his dual victories atPebbleBeach as well as his performance there in the US Open until his infamous last day disasters; you get the picture of an accustomed links player. If asked to choose one player I think will win this year’s Open, it’d be Dustin.
Tiger Woods – I will make no apologies for including Tiger, with 3 Open victories to his name and a return to form this year resulting in 3 victories, he is the pre-favourite tournament for good reason. He looked ominously in control in the opening 2 rounds at the US Open last month, holding a tie of 36 hole lead, only to lose that control over final two rounds in falling back to final position of a tie for 21st, however there has been enough evidence this year to suggest Tiger will be a big factor at ‘his favourite Major’ and a coastline on which he has already claimed 1 of his Open’s on.
Lee Westwood – As derided as Lee is in some quarters, the reality is that he is currently best player golfer not to win a Major, and the reality is that in his last 5 seasons, he has made the top 5 in 7 Major’s and had a further 2 top 10’s, and sits on a streak of 3 straight top 10’s or better in Major’s. However, his putting has cost him a number of times on the big stage, this facet of his game looked much improved at the US Open and a continuation of that at Lytham will see him being bag in contention.
Ernie Els – The ‘Big Easy’ has recovered from a disappointing 2011 with a much improved season, it all started with a play-off defeat to Branden Grace at the European Tour Champions Event, he has followed that another play-off defeat on the PGA Tour, and 2 further top 5 finishes and a 9th place finish at US Open. He has lifted the Claret Jug on one previous occasion, and he is Mr consistent when it comes to The Open, with 12 top 10 finishes or better, including ties for 2nd and 3rd at Lytham in 1996 and 2001 respectively, his missed cut’s in the past 2 years were the first since his debut in 1989, much like Westwood, if he can putt well he will be in with a good chance.
Rickie Fowler -Being labelled the ‘Great American Hope’, is a tag that would be easy to get weighed down by, particularly following a series of missed chances in his first 3 pro seasons to claim his maiden professional victory. His maiden victory did come in October 2011 in fine fashion, winning in Koreaby 6 strokes. A subsequent maiden PGA Tour victory at Quail Hollow in May of this year has further enhanced his stature in the game. What is impressive about Fowler is that in his 8 Major appearances since turning pro in September 2009, he has missed just 1 cut, he has an imagination for the game that lends itself to Links golf as evidenced by his two Open appearances resulting in ties for 14th and 5th, whether he is quite ready to make the leap forward to win a major remains to be seen, but he is likely to be on the one of the first two pages of the Leaderboard come Sunday evening.
Miguel Angel Jimenez – The Mechanic was bang in contention at Royal St Georges last July for 3 rounds before fading in the last rounds; however he achieved his best Open finish at Lytham when finishing tied 3rd in 2001. He is without doubt one of the great characters of European golf and something a cult hero owing to his unique warm up routines and practice swings, however in stringing together a 4 under par round in the blustery conditions at Castle Stuart on Sunday he once again showed an ability to cope with difficult condition which could stand him in good stead at Lytham, either way he will be a fun player to follow.
Retief Goosen – The Goose is another player with solid Open form, with 8 top 10 or better finishes. Injuries and loss of form have been the prominent features in the past 18 months however, he has shown significant signs of a resurgence when finishing in a tie for 10th in the US Open, he also put a back run through the field together on the final day of the French Open only 3 wayward holes on his back nine to halt his run, this was his last tournament before The Open, and after an opening round of 6 over par he can find quite encouragement in his final score of 2 over par. He is a much under-rated contender going into this week and it worth remembering that as recently as 2010 he followed his 6th in The Open with a 3rd place in the PGA Tour Championship so he will eager to start moving back up the World Golf Rankings from his current position of 63rd and get back within the top 50 before the year is out.
Tom Watson – Call me sentimental, call me stupid but I just think (or perhaps) hope Tom can produce a special performance in what could be his last Open Championship, he has only made 3 Champions Tour appearances this season and there have been rumours that he is considering retiring due to the strain of maintaining even a modest schedule on the Champions Tour. Whilst these are merely rumours at present, if true though it will bring down the curtain on a fantastic career epitomised by a mutual love affair with Links golf, so yes it is a sentimental pick but however Watson plays, there will be plenty of attention on him.
Andres Romero – Not a household name by any means but a player with a decent record in his 4 appearances at The Open, with a top 15 in 2009, top 10 in 2006, and a top 5 in 2007, his other appearance resulted in a tie for 32nd in 2008. His qualification through the regional qualifier this year ties in with a return to form that saw him finish in 2nd place behind Tiger Woods at Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament. He has arrived early on this side of theAtlantic to practice on the Links courses so his preparation is that of player who is coming to perform well not just make up the numbers.
Adam Scott – It’s hard to believe that Scott’s tie for 8th in 2006 is still his best Open Championship finish, however it is worth adding that he has only missed the cut once since then, but has failed to convert his weekend stay’s into another top 10 or better. Scott has showed glimpses of form this season, with a tie for 8th at The Masters, and tie for 15th at the US Open, his final event before the Open was a season’s best of 3rd place at A T & T National; I have a feeling that Scott will be making big waves this week.
When the action starts on Thursday, I will be providing a daily report each evening on the days action packed with an assessment of the state of play and identifying a the players to keep an eye based on their play that day. I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it, and look forward to your comments and opinions as well as the daily reports starting on Thursday.