Into the great wide Open
GOLF:THE STREAK can’t go on forever. Or can it? Each of the last 15 Majors has produced a different winner, with the last nine of them being claimed by first-time champions. It has, for sure, added an element of mystery to the start of these big shows; and the sense of intrigue was apparent here these past few days as the old order and the new bloods went about the business of preparing for the British Open.
Of all the Majors, it is the only one played on a links course where strategy and fortitude are vital components but where luck, through an erratic bounce off a humpy fairway or into a devilishly deep pot bunker, can ruin the best-laid of plans.
And, as David Duval, the champion on its last staging here at Royal Lytham St Annes in 2001, put it yesterday: “I believe it’s the most important trophy in professional golf and the most important championship to win.”
For much of the past few days, many an eye has been cast overhead at darkening grey clouds amid worries about the weather and concerns about saturated bunkers. The good news? As the RA’s Peter Dawson put it, the venue – and course – is “perfectly operational”.
The fairways may not be as firm and fast-running as the RA would wish for, and the greens may be slower and more receptive, but the flip side is the rough is lush and thick, with Mother Nature deciding on such a set-up.
It was informative yesterday to witness Lee Westwood take two shots to escape a greenside bunker in final practice. It promises to be a hard-won title, which is as it should be.
And, in line with the other Majors, the British Open has produced its fair share of surprise champions in the past decade since Ben Curtis, competing in his first Major, managed to get his hands on the Claret Jug. In that time, only two men, Tiger Woods and Pádraig Harrington, have managed to claim repeat wins but, otherwise, the run is one of first-time champions that features Curtis, Todd Hamilton, Stewart Cink, Louis Oosthuizen and Darren Clarke.
Whose turn is it to be this time?
The remarkable feature of recent days has been the number of players openly coveting this title. Woods, for one, has looked more of a throwback to the days when he dominated the Majors.
Without a win since his US Open victory of 2008, Woods is an overdue absence from the winner’s circle. “This is one of the more difficult (courses) that we play. It’s more confined, but as far as shot-making (is concerned), it tests us a lot. We have to shape the ball both ways . . . . shot-making creativity is paramount,” said Woods, a three-time winner on the US Tour this season.