The Open Championship

If History Is Any Indication, You'll Know the Guy Standing Here on Sunday.

If History Is Any Indication, You’ll Know the Guy Standing Here on Sunday.

I’ve spent the last several years trying to give the Open Championship its proper amount of respect.  I’ll try to avoid calling it The British Open, which isn’t the entirely semantic battle it seems, but more than that I’ll consider it at least on par with the Masters and the United States Open.  We all know the PGA, Glory’s Last Shot, has a long way to go and will probably never get there.

I can tell you what turned me off about the Open Championship as a young golf fan.  First off, I loathed the BBC coverage.  Where’s the ball?  Who knows, just cut to a wide shot of the green.  I didn’t understand the style of golf course and I wasn’t particularly fond of the list of winners.  Faldo, Ian Baker-Finch, Nick Price, Tom Lehman, Faldo again and again…these weren’t guys I was a fan of, and of course there was always that element of randomness.  Whether it be the weather, or that Todd Hamilton could raise the trophy, I think I always found the Open Championship a bit too quirky.

But, I’ve been coming around.  The TV coverage has been improved by leaps and bounds.  As to the style of the golf course–I’ve never seen a course in the United States look or play worse after removing the large majority of their trees.  The courses on the Open rota don’t suffer from such issues.  And, while holes and pot bunkers can sometimes boggle the mind the courses are never contrived or artificial.

What really changed my mind for good though, was the 2009 tournament at Turnberry where Tom Watson lost the playoff to Stewart Cink.  That result will forever be in my top-5 most disappointing finishes to a sporting event and my casual distaste for Stewart Cink grew into a searing hatred, but it was such a captivating week of golf.  If Watson had won, I don’t know if it could have been properly framed.  That he nearly won was a big enough story and what it showed me was that the Open Championship could often be the fairest test.

Which brings us to Muirfield, which could be called the truest of all Open tests and perhaps the greatest course in the World for identifying great champions.  Els, Faldo, Faldo, Watson, Trevino, Nicklaus, Player.  Those are the last seven winners at Muirfield.  It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that only Hall of Famers win at Muirfield.  The course is respected to the point of reverence.  Jack Nicklaus called his own course Muirfield Village.  Nick Faldo is kinda, sorta coming out of retirement this week to take a final lap around the course where he won two Open Championships.  So, while golf tournaments are more wide open than they’ve ever been, I’d expect plenty of recognizable names atop the leaderboard.  And, if a first-timer ends up with the trophy?  They could be headed to the Hall of Fame–the roster of champions would back that up…

A Quick Preview

The Best Pairings:

Sir Nick Faldo, Tom Watson and Fred Couples:  The best Open players of two generations and Fred who won last year’s Senior Open Championship.  Could the Englishman be the least popular one in the group?

Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker and Ernie Els:  Players very rarely repeat at Majors, but I like Ernie’s chances this week. Brandt Snedeker has been MIA since he had to take time off after his torrid start.

Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama:  The adjective for the year for Rory has been, “lost.”  I don’t see him finding anything this week, maybe if they were at St. Andrews.  Phil won last week in Scotland and in the most Phil utterance ever, has declared he’s finally figured out how to putt in the U.K.  Only took Pelz and him 20 years to figure it out.

Russell Henley, Jordan Spieth, Matthew Fitzpatrick: Spieth just became the first teenager to win on tour in 80 years. He makes new blood Henley look like a 29-year old playing AAA.  I’m not sure Spieth can transition off the high of a win and to links golf fast enough, but expect him to ride a huge wave of confidence for the rest of the year.  Fitzpatrick is an 18-year old qualifier.

Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel:  I’m about two years away from giving up on Sergio and about two tournaments away from giving up on Westwood.  I still think the Open is Sergio’s best shot where a foul week of conditions could accentuate his ball-striking.

Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero, Hunter Mahan:  I like Fowler’s and Manassero’s chances this week.  Fowler is a legitimate threat in the wind.  As usual, I do not like Mahan’s chances.

Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen:  Tiger has been carting around Lindsey Vonn this week like they’re playing a 9-hole modified shamble before the club’s bridge championship.  I don’t think he’s got a shot.  McDowell let me down at the US Open, and I never know about Louis’ form.  Where does this guy play?

The Forecast:

I don’t know if this is good or bad news, but the weather is supposed to be fantastic this week for the tournament. Warm, and no outrageous wind conditions.  No rain either, which I assume could always change.  The course should be nice and firm, but I’d expect good scores especially early in the week.

The Definitive, Yet Arbitrary Top-10:  Coming off a very respectable US Open Showing.

  1. Phil Mickelson
  2. Ernie Els
  3. Branden Grace
  4. Rickie Fowler
  5. Henrik Stenson
  6. Jason Day
  7. Matteo Manassero
  8. Sergio Garcia
  9. Shane Lowry
  10. Matt Kuchar

143.  Todd Hamilton

 

So, yes, I’m picking Phil back-to-back.  I got so close last time that I think I might actually have it this time around.  If I’m judging Phil’s crazy eyes right, and I like to think I am, I feel like he’s rebounded from what happened at Merion. He’s in full-smile, family mode right now.  He’s not going to have to fight the conditions.  I really think this might be his best shot at a Claret Jug.  And, I had a hell of time coming up with true dark horses this week.  I guess I’m just caught up in Muirfield’s A-List mystique.

 

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15 thoughts on “The Open Championship

    • You’ll have to remind me what my latest stance on Tiger is. I think this weekend will be telling. This is the type of tournament he would have walked away with back in the day. The other contenders fall off, he shoots a couple of solid rounds and cruises. He’s done this before in the last few years, though, only to fall off a bit or not quite putt well enough on the weekend.

      I was thinking about him in the back half of my top-10, but thought the layoff from the elbow might have him a bit rusty. He’s in great shape. That break on the 1st hole could end up being huge. I mean, an amateur golfer likely never finds that ball, let alone gets to drop it in an area that’s been matted down. That was a 7 from the moment it left the clubface. He definitely capitalized and has kept rolling.

  1. Please for gods sake, no miguel angel Jimenez. He has to be the only one on the leader board who wears briefs.
    I am president of the angel Cabrera ‘el Pato’ fan club. He only wins majors. You don’t see him playing or contending at the Greater Milwaukee Open

  2. Mike Angel has a history of not holding up for 4 rounds in Majors, I can say this as someone who is terrified of him winning one. But, it’s troubling to see him up there. No doubt.

    Angel–the real Angel–is quite a monster. I wish he was about 10 years younger so we could have more time to observe him. Maybe he’s owed one after the Masters. I’d be cool with him winning.

  3. Yes great call on Phil. And we’ll deserved, he played awesome. He said after Saturday that -1 would win, that E was in a playoff, then he went out and won this thing going away.
    I do have to say that it is very strange to see Tiger in the mix over & over again, but not able to capitalize and do what it takes to win. It’s the exact opposite of what we’ve been accustomed to. I guess everything just evens out over time. And to think, Phil would win a British before a US open

  4. I hated watching Phil win, horrible, gut wrenching experience for me. He played well, hit some very good shots, got some good breaks but all in was the best player the last two days. That said, I did find myself wondering if-in these conditions-it actually behooved players to go out earlier versus later in the day. Seemed like the course was more open to being attacked early and then got tougher as the day wore on. That’s likely just me having no idea what I’m talking about though, given Scott got himself to -2.

    • You’re a Phil hater. It’s OK. He played out of his mind.

      It’s definitely an advantage to go out early, but Phil was only a few holes out in front. You’re talking about a 45 minute difference in conditions? That’s not enough to do much in my opinion. Especially since his big move came at the end when the course was playing as hard as it was going to play for the day.

      Guy made ALL the putts this week. And hit some great shots coming in.

      • I’ve never denied my hatred for Phil and all things “Lefty”.

        I didn’t say “Phil going out earlier made a huge difference and that’s why he won.” I said he was the best player over the last two days. I then offered a separate observation regarding the course being easier earlier in the day, getting progressively harder. My point was more that if you’re the leader, maybe you should get to choose when you go out. Or something like that as a fix. I wasn’t pointing to his earlier tee time as his reason for shooting a lights out 66.

  5. Thanks for acknowledging the pick. I think that moves me to about 1/12 all-time. I really felt confident in Phil this week and I was surprised that he wasn’t a little closer to the lead after 2 and 3 rounds. I also bought into the Muirfield thing, which if you go by history essentially meant that Tiger/Phil or Ernie was going to win.

    The thing I’ve noticed with Tiger–his new excuse is getting the speeds of the greens. This is always his answer. He’s not putting poorly in the most pressured situations, it’s that he can’t figure out the speed of the greens. This seems ludicrous to me, the good putters don’t use that as a crutch. Poulter had the speed down. Phil was fine. Even Lee Westwood putted well for the week. For someone that is supposed to be the best putter who ever lived, or at least top-5, this doesn’t make sense to me as an excuse.

    Right now I don’t see how Tiger has any shot at Jack. Think of the grind of Phil’s career, over 25 years, and he just now got to 5 majors–that Tiger needs to pass Jack. There’s no way that Tiger is a better player right now in the Majors than Phil has been and even if you cancel out all the years it took Phil to get over the hump, winning 5 in something like 10 years is a crazy accomplishment.

  6. I share the opinion on tiger, but he is going to be hard to count out since he is maniacally competitive and hard working. It does seem like he hasn’t been getting anything easy- he hasn’t put together a dominant round where he is giving himself 5-7 footers for birdie due to great shots in. That is my 20 handicap opinion…everything is such a grind when you have 20-30 foot birdie chances. He used to annihilate par 5s, which created a huge advantage over 4 days. Apparently no more.

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