Inside the Ropes
The 141st Open Championship
Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Lancashire, England
Royal Lytham & St. Annes
Par: 70 (34-36)
Water Hazards: Links course
Course Architect: George Lowe (1897); Harry Colt (1919)
Winner’s Share: $1,440,000, 600 FedExCup points and the Claret Jug.
Defending Champion: Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke won his first major by holding off Americans Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson by three shots at Royal St. George’s.
The last time The Open was held at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2001, David Duval won by three shots for his first Claret Jug. Niclas Fasth was runner-up.
Date: July 19-22
Notes: Gamers, major history is very important this week but I believe you can still look at 2001 for some guidance as well. It had 206 bunkers back then, too! This is the 11th Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Since 1951, only eight players have defended The Open Championship. Peter Thomson (1954-56); Arnold Palmer (1961-62); Lee Trevino (1971-72); Tom Watson (1982-83); Tiger Woods (2005-06); Padraig Harrington (2007-08). Darren Clarke will look to join that exclusive club.
The last 15 major championships have been won by 15 different players.
The last eight major champions have been in their 20’s. Darren Clarke (42) and Bubba Watson (33) were the two champions that were not.
The youngest Open Champion was Tommy Morris, Jr. in 1968 (17). The oldest Open Champion was Tom Morris, Sr. (46).
There are 16 past Open Champions in the field this week. Some I will rate and some I will not. Stay tuned.
As I mentioned in The Takeaway on Sunday: There have only been 10 winners the week before a major who have gone on to win the following week. Lee Trevino, in 1971 (Canadian Open), is the only player that has won the week before The Open Championship and gone on to lift the Claret Jug the following week. That’s not great news for Jeev Milkha Singh and Zach Johnson.
The Champion Golfer at Royal Lytham & St Annes has always been a heavy hitter. See if any of these names ring a bell: Bobby Jones (1926), Bobby Locke (1952), Peter Thomson (1958), Bob Charles (1963), Tony Jacklin, the last Englishman to win in England (1969), Gary Player (1974), Seve Ballasteros (1979, 1988), Tom Lehman (1996) and David Duval (2001). All of those players were considered the best players in the world at the time or right up there. People forget how good Lehman was in 1996. He made 20 of 22 cuts. He had 19 top 25’s. He finished in the top 10 exactly 13 times. He won twice, had two runners-up and a third as well. End of story.
Young Guns versus Middle Guns versus Old Guns
In 30 events on TOUR in 2012 our season-long standings are all squared again after Johnson’s second victory in 2012. The “Middle” have now equalized the “Young”, 14-14-2, as the “Old” folks are left in the dust for this season.
For the “Young”, age during their victory in ( ), Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29) Rory McIlroy (22), Justin Rose (31), Rickie Fowler (23), Dustin Johnson (27), Webb Simpson (26), Marc Leishman (29) and Ted Potter, Jr. (28) are your winners.
The “Middle” guys are Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods THRICE (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner TWICE (35) and now Zach Johnson TWICE (36).
Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41) are the only “Old” guys to hit the board in 2012.
So What? So Let’s Dance!
Royal Lytham & St Annes hosted its first Open Championship in 1926 and will be hosting its 11th this week.
It is not a conventionally beautiful golf course, surrounded as it is by suburban housing and flanked by a railway line, but it has a charm all of its own. It is a Links Course that is a long way from the sea yet close enough for the sea breeze to have an effect on one's game and was aptly described by Bernard Darwin, the leading golf writer of the thirties, as 'a beast of a Course, but a just beast'. He went on to say that 'no one could fail to be impressed by its difficulties, which sets a golfer just about as ruthless as an examination as any Course of my acquaintance'.
The course is barely 7,000 yards but length has nothing really to do with this “examination”. The fairways are grown in. The rough is left up. The bunkers, all 206 of them, are absolutely everywhere. And I haven’t even mentioned the weather yet.
You better be tough because balls aren’t going to bounce your way every time. You better be patient because the weather will change, twist and turn throughout the round, let alone the day. You better be committed to each shot. You better be ready for failure because your ball is going to find its way into one, two or ten of the 206 bunkers, unless you’re Tiger Woods at Royal Liverpool. That was amazing. You better be a big-time ball striker that can play all the shots that will be required, left-to-right, right-to-left, high, low and everything in between. You better be a dreamer and have an idea how to get the ball to the hole when you are not in position A. So who fits that bill? Keep reading…
Royal Lytham & St Annes have shown in its history that the cream rises at this event. I believe this week will produce another premium winner. Raise your hand if you had Clarke, Oosthuizen or Cink (or Watson finishing second!) in the last three Opens? Right. This course is too difficult. The rough, at the bottom, is too thick and wet. The weather forecast is rain, rain and more rain. The bunkers are deep, treacherous and plentiful. The mental challenge is first-class. The tears will be real again from whomever lifts the Champion Golfer trophy on Sunday afternoon after this test of golf.
The 10 who should fire
Padraig Harrington: His form suggests that he’s ripe for another Open championship as he’s been flying lately. After failing to make the cut at THE PLAYERS, the two-time Open champion has made the cut in seven of his last eight world-wide starts. In the states he’s recorded T15 (HP), T13 (FESJC), T4 (U.S. Open) and T11 (Travelers). Across the pond, it has been much the same. Minus his MC at the BMW, Harrington has posted T7 (Irish Open) and 16th alone last week at Stuart Castle. Harrington was also T8 at Augusta so his mind-set for majors is dialed in. He’s MC, MC and T65 since his back-to-back victories but his well-documented swing changes can be attributed to those lack of results. He is a known grinder and will enjoy the conditions, no matter how poor they are, as he looks to cement his legacy this week. He finished T37 in 2001.
Lee Westwood: Westwood, along with all the English players in the field, will be looking to join Tony Jacklin (1969) as the only English players to win The Open on their home soil and what a story it would be for Westwood. Tee-to-green it’s hard to argue that there is anyone in the world more consistent than Westwood. He’s focused recently on sharpening up his short game which has been his hindrance throughout his career, especially in majors. In his last 11 majors, he has one MC and his worst finish is T16. This year he was T3 at Augusta and T10 at Olympic Club.
Tiger Woods: The three-time champion is having his best season in recent memory this year and the only thing that is missing is a major. His ball-striking has been lights out as tee-to-green he looks as good as ever. The knocks on his game have been his putting slow greens and more recently, bunker play. My guess is he has been focusing on correcting those weaknesses since his MC at Greenbrier where he struggled to gain the speed of the greens and struggled with his wedge play. With three wins already in 2012, I can’t possibly leave him out. Sean Foley has straightened out his tee-to-green game and I would assume the short game is next. He has played The Open twice at Royal Lytham & St Annes and finished T22 as an amateur in 1996 and T25 in 2001. Those experiences should help him this week.
Justin Rose: Sean Foley’s stable puts three players in the 10 best this week. Rose has earned his way into this list with his excellent major’s performances in 2012, finishing T8 at Augusta and T21 at the U.S. Open. I like that he’s second on TOUR in GIR from other than the fairway. That meshes well with 34th in driving accuracy and fourth in GIR. Oh, and he’s 11th in scrambling. He finished T30 here in 2001.
Sergio Garcia: Speaking of guys with serious tee-to-green game that haven’t won a major, Garcia still has seven top 10’s to his credit just at The Open in the 12 cuts he’s made (15 events). Garcia has not played since his T29 finish at the BMW in late June so he should be mentally fresh to accept the challenges he, and everyone else, will face this week. He finished T9 in 2001 here and has 17 top 10’s in his career in majors.
Dustin Johnson: He mentioned via Twitter that “something feels real good about this week” so I’ll bite. He’s finished T2 and T14 in his last two Open championships and has shown his penchant for playing in crappy conditions as he won the rain-shortened Barclays (2011) due to a hurricane and the 2009 rain-and-wind shortened AT&T Pebble Beach. His length can really help if the wind decides to blow against the players and his strength can help get him out of the wet, nasty rough.
Rory McIlroy: The enigma that is the “recent” Rory McIlroy still fascinates me. He’s admitted to have mailed in an event to catch up with his tennis-professional girlfriend. He’s not had a top 10 finish in the four majors he’s played since his run-away victory at Congressional in 2011. Yet, I’ve read this week that he’s embracing the conditions, no matter what they might be (rain, rain and more rain) and he’s reset his schedule to have time to prepare for majors. He last played the Irish Open, finishing T10, and gave himself two weeks to prepare for The Open. He finished T40 at Augusta and MC at Olympic Club but is four-for-four at The Open career, including T3 in 2010.
Jason Dufner: The “Yank” is the surprise of this group but once you get into what Dufner does well, his game matches up with an Open-style set up. The only drawback with Dufner would be the question of does he have enough links experience to navigate an Open. An excellent ball-striker and bunker player, Dufner’s admitted weakness is his putter. He’s not a big fan of putting but that’s not the part of his game this week that will make-or-break him. Dufner is 16th in driving accuracy and sixth in GIR. He also is 16th in scrambling so if his go-to strengths are off, he can still get it up-and-down from around the greens. He’s also 10th in GIR percentage from other than fairway. He finished T4 at Olympic Club in his last outing.
Graeme McDowell: The 2010 U.S. Open champion’s form in the states hasn’t carried over to The Open just yet but I like the fact that he plays hard courses well. In his last three U.S. Opens, McDowell has finished T2, T14 and WIN but in eight starts in The Open his best finish in T11 in 2005. Since his T2 at the U.S. Open, he’s only played twice, finishing T16 and T17.
Francesco Molinari: The Italian has been on fire of late and his ball-striking (see a theme developing?) has been the catalyst to back-to-back runner-up finishes on the European Tour. If you’re looking for a hot-hand, Molinari fits that bill this week. The downside is that he’s only made one cut in four attempts at The Open but I can’t turn a blind eye to a guy that’s hitting 78% GIR on the European Tour.
The next 10 who could fire
Hunter Mahan: According to PGATOUR.com, Mahan is the No. 1 ball-striker on TOUR in 2012 and I believe it. He only has four top 10’s in 26 career-starts in majors but his first half of 2012 has been very solid. Kinda like his ball striking. He’s made career-best three-consecutive cuts in majors dating back to last year’s PGA so that shows me he’s becoming more comfortable on the big stage.
Adam Scott: Finishing T8 at the Masters, T15 at the U.S. Open and T3 at the AT&T Scott has shown he’s in fine form when it comes to difficult courses in 2012. He’s made eight cuts in 12 Open championships and in his last six majors, he’s made five cuts all falling in the top 25. He finished T47 in 2001 here.
Jim Furyk: Furyk has found the top 10 five times in 16 career-Open starts and has been playing excellent golf in 2012 evidenced by his “almost” win at the U.S. Open. One tee shot undid his chances at winning his second U.S. Open but had to give him the confidence that he can still get it done on the big stage even in his early 40’s. He was also 11th at the Masters. He ranks 4th in scrambling and sixth in driving accuracy and that will allow him to be in the mix this week. Furyk loves hard courses where par is a good score and this will suit him well this week.
Ian Poulter: A grinder who prefers courses where par is a decent score, Poulter is looking to climb his Everest this week as well. His last outing saw him share fourth in Paris two weeks ago so his form is rounding into shape. His record at The Open is highlighted by a second-place finish to Harrington in 2008 but it’s thin after that. He can get wrapped up in the “home” crowd and can use that in his favor this week. His best finishes in the states this year were third at API and seventh at the Masters.
Louis Oosthuizen: The 2010 Open champion almost claimed his second-career major this year at Augusta yet fell to “that shot” by Bubba Watson in a playoff. He dusted himself off, flew half-way around the world the next day and won the Maybank Malaysian Open. Not bad. He couldn’t recover from an opening-round 77 at Olympic Club and missed the cut by a shot. He played last week in Scotland finishing T24. An excellent driver of the golf ball, Oosthuizen has already shown the chops and demeanor necessary to tame an Open championship.
Martin Kaymer: Teeing it up in the last four Open championships, the former world No. 1 has made a steady ascent. He began with 80th in 2008 but has seen his fortunes improve with T34 (2009), T7 (2010) and T12 last year. Kaymer struggled in Paris as he failed to break par in four rounds but rebounded nicely last week to fire three rounds under-par before a 74 on Sunday saw him fade to T29. He made his first cut at Augusta this year in five tries and was T15 at a very difficult Olympic Club.
Ernie Els: The “Big Easy” has 12 top 10’s in 20 starts in the Open championship. He’s been bright in 2012 as he’s racked up four top 10’s in 13 events including solo ninth at the U.S. Open. After a lull in his form that saw him not qualify for the Masters, Els has persevered both in the U.S. and across the pond. Els knocked off the cobwebs last week playing four rounds at Castle Stuart and finishing T52. With no pressure and his experience, I’m excited to see what he brings this week. Els was T3 in 2001 and T2 in 1996 at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
Rickie Fowler: People used to focus on his fashion instead of his game but Fowler has forced the skeptics to take a back seat in 2012. Fowler, after winning in Asia in late 2011, knocked the monkey off his back on the PGA TOUR as he defeated Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points in a playoff at Quail Hollow in May for his first-career TOUR victory. He followed that up with T2 at THE PLAYERS and T5 Colonial for his best stretch in his career. He was a respectable T27 at the Masters and T41 at the U.S. Open but his best major finishes have come at The Open. In 2010 he finished T14 and last year he improved on that to finish T5. He’s 14 in total driving and 17th in ball-striking on TOUR.
Zach Johnson: Johnson is trying to equal the great Lee Trevino as the only player to win the week before The Open and go on to win the Claret Jug the following week. Johnson was gritty in cool, windy weather during his Masters victory in 2007 so he’s proven he can play in these conditions. He’s made five consecutive cuts in majors and five straight as well at The Open.
Retief Goosen: I’m going to stretch a bit here. Yes, I know there is no Luke Donald, Phil Mickelson or Bubba Watson on this list but they didn’t fit what I was looking for this week. Goosen does. He’s been here, done that and has the nerve to produce in adverse conditions. Before his WD last year, Goosen had made 12 consecutive cuts at The Open. He also has eight top 10’s in 17 career starts. He was T13 in 2001 and 75th in 1996. I feel that Watson is still trying to figure “it” out and Donald has MC six times in 11 tries. Mickelson showed you last week why he can be a risky venture. Two really good rounds were sandwiched by two really average rounds. Plus, he has two top 10’s in 18 career starts. Not enough for where I have to pick him.
Long Shots: “The Ben Curtis” section
Jonathan Byrd: He’s made eight cuts on the bounce and has five top 10’s in 2012. He’s won before but this is only his third Open championship. He scrambles well and has improved his putting. He’s my “Stewart Cink” of 2012.
Michael Hoey: He’s from Northern Ireland and all those folks do is win majors, right? His best finish in his last nine events since his victory in late March is T28 at the Irish Open. He won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last year in October.
Alexander Noren: He has four top 10’s in Europe this season, including T3 last week at Castle Stuart. He was 15th in Paris the week before so his form heading to Royal Lytham & St Annes is on point.
Ben Curtis: You have to put the guy whose name is on the category IN the category! Those are rules and he’s playing by far the best of the three entering the week. His formed dipped in the States after a four-tournament streak of WIN, T13, T2 and T5 but his accuracy off the tee and iron play might just surprise a few people this week. And he has three top 10’s in nine-career Open championships.
Raphael Jacquelin: Hopefully he doesn’t take the same path as Jean Van de Velde to fame but his form the last month has been steady. He finished T21 (U.S. Open) MC (BMW), T3 (Paris) and was T16 last week at Castle Stuart. He was T13 here in 2001.
True South Classic
Annandale Golf Club, Madison, Mississippi
Par: 72 (36-36)
Greens: Champion Bermudagrass; 5,500 square feet.
Stimpmeter: 12 ft.
Water Hazards: 8
Course Architect: Jack Nicklaus (1980); Redesign Jack Nicklaus (2006)
Winner’s Share: $540,000 and 250 FedExCup points
Defending Champion: Chris Kirk defeated Tom Pernice, Jr. and George McNeill by one shot to notch his first-career TOUR victory.
Date: July 19-22
Notes: In 2006 the G-2 bentgrass greens were replaced with Champion Bermudagrass. Also in 2006, the greenside bunkers were cored out with new drainage and sand installed. The signature holes at Annandale Golf Course are Nos. 8 & 17. The par-3, No. 8 is the toughest and largest putting surface on the course. Slightly downhill with water behind the green, this is the second of two long par threes on the front nine. Annandale members would identify the par-4, No. 17 as their "signature hole." For those who want to gamble with the tee shot, a long iron or fairway wood can be landed onto the island fairway to the right that is protected by water and rough. The island sets up a much easier second shot if properly placed. The optional fairway to the left is guarded by an out-of-bounds area to the left side and a water hazard to the right. The small and slender 17th green fields shots from many angles. Courtesy of the GCSAA
Last year, Kirk became just the seventh player to claim his first-career TOUR win at the True South Classic.
Former champions playing this week in addition to Kirk are Will MacKenzie (2008), D.J. Trahan (2006), Heath Slocum (2005) and Cameron Beckman (2001).
The True South Classic began in 1986 and moved to Annandale in 1994. Only two players have won this event twice, Brian Henninger and Fred Funk.
With the best players in the world playing The Open Championship this week, the field in Mississippi is a bit thin on big names but here are some birdie-busters who will go low and try and win this weekend.
My 10 Best, Plus One:
Ken Duke: The last two times Duke has MC he’s followed it up with T7. Every time Duke makes my rankings it seems he finishes MC. That nonsense stops now! The Arkansas native will pull a Zach Johnson this week and win his “home” event. There. I said it.
Roberto Castro: His last time out he fired a Sunday-best 63 at The Greenbrier Classic. In his last three he’s finished T47, T29 and T7 last time out. He also fired 64 in round two at The Greenbrier Classic.
Brendon de Jonge: He’s now at 13 weeks in a row with making the cut. Another four rounds in the 60’s last week at John Deere isn’t going to run me off. I’m committed and plus he finished T13 here last year and T3 in 2010.
Blake Adams: He’s made the cut in nine straight tournaments. He’s ninth in par-five performance and 36th in strokes gained-putting. He finished T9 last year.
Chris Kirk: Last year’s champ broke a three-week run of MC with T30 last week in the Quad Cities. He fired all four rounds at par or better to get geared up to going low again this week. Nobody has successfully defended their title here so he would be bucking that trend.
Bud Cauley: He’ll have good memories of last year when he broke out and finished T4 to spring him on his way to earning his TOUR card. He hasn’t hit the top 25 since late April but this week is where he gets back on track.
D.J. Trahan: Straight “horse for course” pick this week because Trahan has been sleep-walking through 2012. He has one top 10 (and top 25, same event), fourth (WMPO) in 19 events entered. He’s made seven cuts. Now, for the good news: In five events at True South, Trahan has absolutely killed it. He finished T12 (2005), WIN (2006), T49 (2007), DNS (2008, 2009), T3 (2010) and T9 last year. No matter how off-kilter he is right now, I’ll take a chance this week.
Brian Harman: His best run of form in 2012 could have been better except for his final round scoring the last two weeks. He was cruising along at The Greenbrier before his six-over 76 on Sunday knocked him to T69. Last week, he was T3 entering the final round at John Deere before his 38 coming in pushed him back to T19. He’s reeeeeeal close. Harman WD two minutes after I submitted my column.
J.J. Henry: Had it going at John Deere until a final round 71 knocked him back to T13. Form play here as he fired 64 in round two last weekend and was 20-under here in 2004.
Gary Christian: He finished T18 (Travelers), MC (Greenbrier) and was T19 last week. Four of his last 10 rounds have been 66 or better. He’s close to breaking into the top 10.
Plus One: Luke Guthrie finished T3 last week in his second-career TOUR start. He was previously T19 at FESJC before the U.S. Open. Giddy up!
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: The Open Championship (Glass’s Picks)
Group 1: Lee Westwood
Group 2: Sergio Garcia
Group 3: Padraig Harrington
Group 4: Tom Lehman
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: True South Classic (Glass’s Picks)
Group 1: Ken Duke
Group 2: Roberto Castro
Group 3: Scott Brown
Group 4: Luke Guthrie
Ned said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He’s had documented success in Yahoo!’s game for years. Even if you’re confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read. Now, Ned also provides us with his Golf Channel fantasy game selections as well!
Full Disclosure: I am NOT Ned! He’s smarter and better looking!
Luke Donald-- The world's number one player is in good form right now. He has had problems in the past at The Open, but recently he has played well in this event with a T5 in '09 and a T11 in '10.
Sergio Garcia-- I think this pick in a real tossup between Garcia and Phil Mickelson. I'm going with Garcia based on that he finished T9 in The Open when it was last played at Royal Lytham.
Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Adam Scott, Steve Stricker
Tiger Woods-- Woods has been a hit or miss player this season, but I can't see how you can fade the three-time British Open winner.
Rory McIlroy-- In the second half of last season, McIlroy started to play in an unreal zone, which continued in this year up until THE PLAYERS. He then fell into a prolonged slump. McIlroy seems to have broken out of that slump with top 10s in two of his last three events and he should be ok to use this week.
Justin Rose-- Rose comes into this week in great form, with top 10s in six of his last eight world-wide events. Surprisingly, his past history is just ok at The Open, but he is so hot right now that I can't see how you leave him off the roster.
Lee Westwood-- Westwood made a misstep at the Open de France and slightly injured himself. He claims he is good to go, but if there is any indication that he is still injured then I'll switch into Rickie Fowler.
Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson
Padraig Harrington-- The recent trend in recent years is for first-time Major winners. I'm going to go against that trend with Harrington. He is a two-time Open champion and right now he is playing some of his best golf in years.
Francesco Molinari-- If you are looking for a first-time Major champion, then Molinari should be on your short list. I watched part of last week's Scottish Open and I was very impressed with how well he is striking the ball. He is also very hot right now with back-to-back second place finishes at the Open de France and the Scottish Open.
Jason Dufner, Graeme McDowell, Thomas Bjorn, Ben Curtis, Louis Oosthuizen
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: The Open Championship (Ned’s Picks)
Group 1: Tiger Woods
Group 2: Francesco Molinari
Group 3: Padraig Harrington
Group 4: Tim Clark
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: True South Classic (Ned’s Picks)
Group 1: Brendon de Jonge
Group 2: Roberto Castro
Group 3: Alex Cejka
Group 4: Luke Guthrie
“And another thing…”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at NOON ET. They will be breaking down the field at The Open Championship and the True South Classic and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.