GOLF - On Thursday, 19 July, 156 golfers will tee off at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in a quest to win the Claret Jug at the 141st instalment of golf’s British Open. A member of our community has written a comprehensive preview on whom and what to look out for. You can read it by clicking ‘Read More’.
Last summer, a fairytale took place in Sandwich, Kent as 42-year-old Northern Irishman Darren Clarke took his first major tournament in a thrilling final day when Clarke held off charges from the likes of Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson. That championship had many memorable moments from Tom Watson’s hole-in-one at the sixth to Dustin Johnson’s shocking 2-iron on the 14th that ended his chances. This year Royal Lytham and St. Annes should serve up another thrilling four days of golfing action.
USA resurgence after dry spell
Clarke’s win last year was the sixth major victory in a row for a non-American player; the longest run since 1910. Many people felt that the power was shifting as the USA also lost the Ryder and Walker Cups. In the years 2007-11 the US won just seven of 20 majors compared to 14 in 2002-07 and 262 out of 421 in history. However they have since taken the last three with Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson running out winners. This is still a change in the trend of a few years before when Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were dominating golf on the western side of the Atlantic.
A first time for everyone
Interestingly the last nine major winners have been first-time winners with the last multiple champion Mickelson at Augusta in 2010. In the last ten years The Open has seen six first-time winners including Stewart Cink, Louis Oosthuizen and Clarke in the last three years. This year could well see a repeat with the top three players in the world rankings only having Rory McIlroy’s 2011 US Open triumph to show for and the top ten featuring just four major winners.
One of those, the winner at Olympic Club Webb Simpson, will not play in Lancashire as his wife is expecting to give birth this week. Defending champion Clarke has been on poor form recently but has always had a good Links game and will hope to be the first consecutive winner since Padraig Harrington won at Royal Birkdale in 2008.
Donald, Westwood, Rose shoulder domestic hopes
The likes of world number one Luke Donald, perennial major nearly-man Lee Westwood and Justin Rose will be hoping to be the first to bring the claret jug to England since Nick Faldo in 1992. Donald has six professional wins in the last two years and will be desperate to do better than his Open best of tied for fifth in 2009. Westwood, on the other hand, has been in the top five three times and has a total of 14 major top tens. He has often challenged at majors over the last few years because of his excellent form from tee to green. On the other hand his putting has been his nemesis as he has come up just short time and time again. Since finishing tied for fourth at the Open as an amateur in 1998 Rose has not been at the top echelons of world golf for long periods of time. But this season he has found his form with a WGC win at the Cadillac Championship and a move up to world number nine. These three hold their country’s highest hopes of a win in North West England.
Other European trump cards
Other European hopes include world number two Northern Irishman McIlroy, fellow Ulsterman McDowell and enigmatic Spanish player Sergio Garcia. 1999 champion Paul Lawrie has been on great form this year and is likely to be Scotland’s main hope along with USA-based Martin Laird.
Woods recaptures frontrunner status
Nevertheless The Americans should never be ruled out as they are the most successful golfing country of all-time by some distance. 14-time major winner Tiger Woods has shown some signs of a return to form this year with wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial Tournament. He has risen to number four in the world after at one point last year slipping out of the top fifty. His US Open challenge at Olympic fell away over the weekend but the three-time Open winner will go into July’s tournament as one of the favourites.
American contingent laden with contenders
Old guns Mickelson and Jim Furyk have made recent major challenges although there are many dangerous younger players like Hunter Mahan, Jason Dufner and Bubba Watson who have all won this year. Dustin Johnson came to within a whisker of glory last year at Royal St. Georges and will hope to go one better this time round. The winner the last time the Open was at Lytham was David Duval but he seems very unlikely to produce a repeat performance eleven years on. 62-year-old five-time victor Tom Watson will be hoping to excite the crowds again after coming one putt away from triumph at Turnberry in 2009 and having another good championship last summer. Five Open wins in the last ten years suggests that the US will have someone near the top again.
From around the world
The Ryder Cup nations are not the only ones excitingly anticipating this year’s competition as there are many other players from around the world with a genuine chance of success. South African 2002 champion Ernie Els has seen an increase in fortunes over the last month culminating with a near miss at the US Open. Fellow country-man Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel will also expect a good performance with both claiming major wins in the last two years. Emerging Australians Adam Scott, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley have all had disappointing seasons so far but will be hoping to put that right. Young Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa will attract plenty of attention from the Asian press as always and South Koreans KJ Choi and Sang-Moon Bae will be hoping to add to the continent’s one major win.
The oldest prize
In July the best golfers from around the world will meet for the game’s oldest prize and it is sure to be a great spectacle. The Americans will be hoping to keep their good recent run going while there are many internationals hoping to replicate Clarke’s triumph. In a week that will have many twists and turns only one man out of the 156 competitors can come out on top.