As we approach the 3rd major of the year in golf, the British Open may be the hardest of the 4 majors to predict. Don’t believe me? How many of you had Darren Clarke winning last year? How about Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 at St. Andrews? More notable players to come out of nowhere, Todd Hamilton in 2004 and Ben Curtis in 2003. The Open Championship is one of my favorite tournaments of the year, partly because of my love for links style golf, and for all the unexpected that can take place over the week.
If you like hitting a high ball and playing in 70 degree temperatures, this is not the tournament for you! Rain is almost a certainty each year, and high winds place a demand on ball striking and creativity around the greens. You’re more likely to see a player use a hybrid club or putter from 40 yards short of the green than you are a lob wedge. So as we near the start of the oldest professional major, let’s take a look at the course they’ll be playing, the favorites, and also some dark horses that could surprise us this week at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s.
The Course: Royal Lytham and St Anne’s Golf Club
Founded in 1886, this true links style course will play just over 7,000 yards this year. The course is in the town of Lancashire England, and is home to an astounding 206 bunkers. Word from the players that have been on site so far is that the fairways are much more narrow than they were in 2001, when American David Duval won the last Open Championship hosted by the club.
All of England has seen more than the usual amount of rain this year, so the rough is expected to be especially penal. Tiger Woods, who will play Thursday and Friday with Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, was asked Sunday after a practice round about the condition of the rough, simply stated “That rough….Oh My God.” Lytham starts with a par 3, which is rare on any championship golf course, and use to have back to back par 5′s on holes 6 and 7, but this year the R&A has changed number 6 to a par 4, leaving just two par 5′s on the course. It will play as a par 70. The last two times the winning score was -10 by Duval in 2001, and -13 by Tom Lehman in 1996.
The bookies will be busy in England this week and have listed Tiger Woods as the favorite at 6/1 (via Ladbrokes.com). Lee Westwood, the current holder of the “Best player not to win a major” title is at 16/1, followed by Rory McIlroy, fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington and current world #1 Luke Donald at 20/1. Other noteworthy Americans are Phil Mickelson at 33/1 along with Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler at 40/1.
Sergio Garcia- Known in the golf world as one of the best ball strikers there is, Garcia lipped out a putt on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in 2007 for the win, and eventually lost to Harrington in a playoff. Garcia’s weaknesses are his putting and his mental game. If Garcia can keep it together between his ears, he should be able to make enough putts on the slower Open Championship greens to give himself a shot at lifting the Claret Jug.
John Daly- You may think I’m crazy for bringing up ol’ JD, but he has been in great form recently and has always played well on links style courses across the pond. Daly will need to find fairways to compete, but the crowd favorite has an underrated short game, and has played well in tough conditions before. At 250-1, it would be worth a flyer to put a couple bucks on this past champion.
Ernie Els- Some wouldn’t consider this a dark horse pick, but the 42-year-old South African has played well in spurts this year, and finished T3 in 2001, the last time the Open Championship was at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s. Els has the temperament to deal with the tough conditions, and should be able to hang around to give himself a shot on Sunday.
I would love to give you a pick that will shock you and take a chance at picking a dark horse to win the coveted
3rd major of the year. I can’t, I’m taking Tiger Woods and here’s why. Woods leads the PGA Tour this year with 3 wins, and also leads in fairways hit. With the rough being up and the course putting an emphasis on placement off the tee, I see Woods being able to do what he did at Hoy Lake in 2006 where he won his 11th Major Title and 3rd Open Championship. That week Woods hit 1, I repeat 1 driver all week.
He managed his way around the course with 2 iron after 2 iron off the par 4′s and stayed away from trouble. That seems like it will be the recipe this week as well. In fact, Bubba Watson, who loves to blast that pink driver all over the place, said today that he will hit more irons than normal off tee’s due to the amount of bunkers at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s. In recent weeks Woods has had his “stinger” working to perfection, and that combined with his ability to be creative around the green’s leads me to believe this is the week he get’s his 15th Major Championship, and inches closer to passing his idol Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.
Tips for following the Open Championship:
ESPN will broadcast the Open Championship starting at 4:30am (EST) on Thursday and Friday, so you’ll be able to follow all of Tiger and Phil’s shot’s both days. (They tee off on opposite sides of the draw.) But here’s a few Twitter handles to follow if you want a unique view at the course and the Championship.
@StephanieWei- I started following Stephanie about a month ago, and she provides great insight on and off the course. Earlier this week, she walked Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s and posted 360 degree views off a lot of the tee boxes. She’s easy on the eyes as well.
@GCTigerTracker- One of the mysteries of this Twitter handle is who exactly it is, but if you’re a fan of Tiger, the Tiger Tracker follows his every move on the course and inside the press room. You’ll get shot by shot commentary and some other information, like what Tiger says to playing competitors, what he’s eating for lunch, and other insight you don’t get anywhere else.
Enjoy the Open!