The One They All Want to Win
It was so very close. The lovable Tom Watson just one putt away from being the most popular winner of the Open Championship. It was achievable, it was possible. And yet, it went wide, a playoff with Stewart Cink in which he lost. It was heartbreaking.
The miss can be shared in the same light as several other famous Open Championship moments, including the conclusion of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie. Jean van de Velde was five shots clear at the end of the third round and a three shot lead going into the 18th, the final hole. A series of bad luck, a shot into the rough, a shot that hit the grandstand into deep rough, a shot that went into the water, a drop shot, a shot that went into the bunker, a shot that went out of the bunker and a putt to finish the hole in seven. Forcing a play off with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie, local hero Lawrie went onto win.
The moments of tension, drama sum up the Open Championship brilliantly. There simply isn’t another tournament like it in golf, guaranteed to keep you hooked till the very last shot on the 18th.
The 18th at St. Andrews, the oldest golf course in the world. The home of golf.
There simply can be no substitutes, this is the best in the world. Everyone who has ever played golf will have wanted to win at this course in the Open, no matter who they are or where they come from. Famous holes, the 17th, over the railway sheds, trying to avoid the road hole bunkers. Fantastic.
Troubled Tiger Woods has won the last two at St. Andrews, a course he has described as his favourite. It is easy to see why, winning by eight at –19 under par in 2000 and in 2005 he was equally supreme, winning by five at –14. He was never off the top of the board. Before him was the also troubled John Daly in 1995 and Sir Nick Faldo in 1990, the last British born golfer to win the Open at St. Andrews.
It is a hot topic as the British golfers have especially underperformed in the major championships inside the last few decades, with only one winner from the British Isles since the victory of Paul Lawrie in 1999, that being Graeme McDowell in the US Open just last month. Despite some quality golfers in that period, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, the likes just haven’t performed when it has come to the majors.
Recently it has been Lee Westwood who has found form, he came so very close to winning the Masters at Augusta, eventually falling to Phil Mickleson towards the end of the final round. His chance at winning a major is at its peak, having not performed this well since the turn of the millennium. He finished 3rd at the Open in 2009, his time is going to come soon without a doubt, and for me he is favourite to win the Open.
Yet it would be ridiculous to write off Tiger Woods (which I may have done for this years Masters, before he tied 4th). Despite all the issues and an inconsistent year so far, he loves St. Andres and when it comes the the majors so far in 2010 he has performed. Two tied 4th places in the Masters and US Open. Not bad form at all. I’ve learnt my lesson from writing him off and he could be a strong bet.
On paper though, those are the two favourites, but it is never that simple. Who last year would have thought Stewart Cink and Tom Watson would be fighting in a playoff to win the Claret Jug. Based on the horrific weather seen in the practice sessions, as well as the predicted rain and windy conditions coming up, it could prove to be one of the events when the stars fall and new faces rise up the ranks.
Two players in the recent times have come back into form, Ernie Els and Darren Clarke. Els has won two tournaments so far this year and came close in the US Open. He also loves the Open Championship, winning it in 2003 and has the most top 10 finishes in the last 10 years. Winning it at St. Andrews must be a gift from the gods. Darren Clarke had an exceptionally good Scottish Open in horrific conditions too, he likes the rough conditions that is expected to come this weekend.
Speaking of rough conditions, two time Open winner Padraig Harrington must be in contention. After struggling during the 2009 season he seems to have found his impressive form once again and loves these conditions, especially enduring them in 2008 to win his second Open Championship.
There are several British born competitors that could perform excellently around St. Andrews. The favourite after Lee Westwood must be Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irish boy wonder who won his first event on the European Tour at the age of 19. He has been talked up by pretty much everyone in golf. There is also Justin Rose, a man who has also won recently as well as Graeme McDowell, the winner of the US Open. Former amateur champion Chris Wood always seems to perform at the Open Championship as well.
Sadly I don’t see much hope for the hero of last year Tom Watson. I don’t think he is going to suit the conditions or the St. Andrews course. He’s admitted as well that its unlikely to replicate his success. The same with 2010 Masters winner Phil Mickleson, despite his success in that, he’s had a poor season in my eyes. Stewart Cink has also been fairly indifferent since his Open success.
Despite me picking half the field as potential challengers for the Claret Jug it is a realistic possibility. The 150th year of the Open Championship is the one most likely to see a British winner, no matter if it comes from Westwood, McIlroy etc. No matter who goes on to win though I predict it will be unpredictable. The weather is going to be a major factor in especially determining who makes the cut, there could well be a few big names fail, and a few small names succeed.
St. Andrews. The perfect place to win the Open Championship.