| 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

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Mike Wil­son

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

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