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?
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.
- Phil Mickelson
- Ernie Els
- Branden Grace
- Rickie Fowler
- Henrik Stenson
- Jason Day
- Matteo Manassero
- Sergio Garcia
- Shane Lowry
- 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.