| The Open Championship Preview
With this month’s Open Championship heading for Carnoustie, the most northerly venue on the R&A roster, and with Tiger Woods in the field for the first time since 2015, Mike Wilson predicts a rollercoaster ride as any one of a dozen world stars seek to ge
This year will be a rollercoaster ride as a dozen of world stars seek to get their hands on the Claret Jug.
This year’s event will be the eighth time Carnoustie has hosted the Open Championship. The links, nicknamed, ‘Carnasty’ when the wind blows and, ‘Carnicety,’ when conditions are more benign has proved what many modernday players believe, that the Old Tom Morris, James Braid, Allan Robertson-designed course is the most challenging of all the Open venues.
Tommy Armour, the so-called, ‘Silver Scot,’ won the inaugural Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1931 with a score of 12-over-par. The weather, according to records, all-but rendering the links unplayable, and it is said to have been not a great deal better six years later when Englishman Henry Cotton won the second of his three Open Championships, carding plussix for his72-hole aggregate.
Carnoustie has invariably thrown up pedigree Open champions, Armour, Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson and Pádraig Harrington and its unlikely to be any makeweight or journeyman pro who will lift the Claret Jug there this month.
The 147th Open Championship enjoyed a huge shot-in-thearm recently with the news that Tiger Woods is to play in search of a 15th Major, which, if successful would be his first in a decade and a fourth Claret Jug.
‘I won two of my Open Championships in Scotland, so let’s try and add in another one there,’ said Woods, who first experienced Carnoustie as a rookie 20-year-old at the 1995 Scottish Open. ‘I got introduced to links golf by playing the hardest links golf course there is – Carnoustie.’
The 42-year-old is getting back to his best following three years of injury, surgery and controversy, contending again in regular PGA TOUR events. But winning a 15th Major, especially over a course as tough as Carnoustie will require a Herculean effort, greater accuracy off the tee, hitting as many bunkers as he did in winning record style at St. Andrews in 2000 and getting his putter not just hot, but red hot.
But his more recent utterances on Carnoustie could be interpreted as him being in awe of the golf course and its fearsome reputation, saying, ‘there are so many holes where you’re forced to hit long irons into the greens. Obviously, if you miss the ball in any of the pot bunkers off the tee, you have to go sideways, if you can. You can’t advance it forward.
‘Yes, it’s extremely fair, it’s probably a little more difficult than it was in the Scottish Opens I played and if we have wind, any kind of wind on this golf course, it just becomes a lot more difficult than you think.
‘You really do have to hit the ball well [and] the greens are extremely subtle, just like all links courses, they’re hard to read,’ could it be that the Great Man has talked himself out of contention by viewing golf courses nowadays as threats rather than opportunities?
Defending champion Jordan Spieth has the game – and crucially the game management skills to mount a successful defence. But he got lucky – very lucky going down the stretch at Royal Birkdale last year, and, with only six successful defences in the post-war era, especially if he faces ‘Carnasty,’ a back-to-back
win for the world number-five is unlikely.
Of the world’s Top-10, Justin Rose looks to have a decent chance of adding a British Open to his 2013 U.S. Open triumph. Although, intriguingly, 20-yearson from announcing himself on the world stage with a fourth-place finish as an amateur on debut at Royal Birkdale in 2008.
World number-two Dustin Johnson certainly has the brawn – if not the brain – to overpower Carnoustie should the event become a ‘slugfest.’ But his game, one suspects does not have the subtlety to cope with the intrigue and intricacies of a golf course much more strategic than it is credited. Question marks remain over DJ’s temperament when under the extremes of pressure Open Championships exert on both mind and body.
Rory McIlroy’s single Open Championship title to date is scant return for the man who was the natural heir-apparent to Tiger Woods. A commanding threestroke halfway lead at the recent BMW PGA Championship, which he failed to convert into that all-important ‘W,’ a third round 64 at the Memorial only good enough for a Top-10 finish, victory in the Arnold Palmer evidence however that the Irishman still knows how to win.
But Carnoustie is an unforgiving place. His record in the Dunhill Links Championship is patchy, at best, and with a tendency to be wayward off the tee, ‘Carnasty’ is not the place to be. With that said, tied fifth and fourth at Troon in 2016 and Birkdale last year would suggest he’s still a realistic contender, of not a champion-in-waiting.
Henrik Stenson and Alex Norén offer a small country like Sweden a dual cause for hope. Stenson having broken the Scandinavian duck at Royal Troon in 2016. Whilst, at 4th and 14th respectively on the OWGR, Sergio García and John Rahm could point to a first Spanish victory in the Open Championship since the late, great Seve’s last of three titles at Royal Lytham two-score-year ago.
García, however, who never plays the Dunhill Links event due to a tax dispute with the UK authorities and therefore has never had the opportunity to exorcise his demons after snatching defeat from the jaws of Open Championship victory there 11 years ago. Despite the Major monkey off his back following his 2016 Masters win, be considered second to compatriot Rahm, who has the game to contend with – if not tame, Carnoustie.
Once again, the brunt of the Asian challenge will come from Japanese youngster Hideki Matsuyama. But after a fine tied-sixth place on debut at Muirfield in 2013 has flattered to deceive when playing links golf. Whilst, Chinese protégé, Li Haotong, whose final round 63 brought him just short at Birkdale last year, a creditable third place. But, despite two prestigious European Tour titles to his name in a fledgeling career, will lightning strike twice in the space of 12 months?
But, if you are looking for a steer after a golfing equivalent of reading the tea-leaves, for that fragment of synergy, a single spark of inspiration, then look no further than charismatic young Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.
87 years have passed since another Tommy, Tommy Armour, won the Open Championship at Carnoustie. 43 years since ‘Tommy’ Watson lifted the Claret Jug there in 1975, and, don’t forget, Fleetwood smashed the 23-year-old Carnoustie course record at last year’s Dunhill Links Championship. A flawless nine-under-par 63, beating the previous record held by, amongst others, eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie, 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie and the ever-dangerous Norén.
‘’Carnoustie course record holder – it sounds good, doesn’t it? It was a good day’s work by any standards.’ asked the 2017 Race to Dubai winner.
‘When you consider all the great players who have played here, in Opens and this tournament, it is very special to have the lowest score ever recorded on this course,’ reflected the 27-yearold, admitting.
Whichever Carnoustie, ‘Carnasty,’ or ‘Carnicety’ turn up for the 147th Open Championship this month is likely to determine which of 20-plus credible candidates will have the game to cope with this most punishing of links layouts. But one thing is for certain, hold onto your hats for a rollercoaster ride, and, if history is to believe, it will be a true thoroughbred who will claim the Claret Jug, the approximate US$2m champion’s cheque and the most coveted crown in world golf.
Tiger Woods first becameChampion Golfer of the Year in 2000 at St Andrews and did so again, at theHome of Golf, in 2005