The Open Championship: 5 things you need to know
Hoylake, LIVERPOOL (July 16) – Former Dubai resident David Howell has the honour of hitting the opening tee shot of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool at 6.25am (9.25am UAE time) on Thursday. Here, Middle East Golfer’s Kent Gray shares the five things you need to know ahead of the third major of the year.
Tiger’s back and he’s bullish. And that’s saying something. On both counts.
Surely just three months after back surgery, and with just one warm-up tournament (Woods missed the cut at his own Quicken Loans National at Congressional last month), the dethroned World No.1 cannot seriously believe he has a chance to repeat his 2006 triumph at Hoylake? Think again, sports fans.
“First” was Woods deadpan response to the question of what would be an acceptable finish given his limited preparations. “That’s always been the case.”
“I’ve been in circumstances like this before. If you remember in ’08 I had knee surgery right after the Masters. I teed it up in the US Open and won a US Open. I didn’t play more than nine holes and the Sunday before the US Open I didn’t break 50 for nine holes and was still able to win it in a playoff, with an ACL and a broken leg. I’ve proven I can do it.”
Perhaps Woods is the only one that seriously believes he can win but regardless, the American’s return is great for the game. Expect bigger galleries and the media spotlight to remain on Woods as long as he remains in contention. Even if he’s out of the running, ESPN is dedicating an entire channel to Tiger’s every move. Here’s hoping it’s still screening Sunday.
Hoylake and the weather
It rained heavily for a period on Wednesday but if you believe the UK Metservice forecast, early morning cloud will thin and break away to leave a sunny, warm afternoon Thursday. Showers are forecast Friday while Saturday offers the risk of heavy, possibly thundery downpours in the afternoon. The winds are expected to come from the NNW, ESE, NW and W or NW on each of the four days respectively, which will have the R&A licking their lips and the players in different minds. Just how links golf should be.
Perhaps Matt Kuchar summed it up best: “Certainly the weather plays a huge part in all British Opens. You can have the luck of the draw or the unluck of the draw. I don’t know the exact forecast. I don’t know that anybody knows the exact forecast.
“This [rain on Wednesday afternoon] will soften things up, green things up. The course is green but don’t mistake that for soft. It was still firm, it was still fast. I wasn’t here in 2006, but I know it’s not as hard and fast as 2006 was. But certainly it still feels like proper links golf, where you still will need to land balls short of certain greens in order to bounce them on and keep them on the green.”
So will Tiger Woods’ iron-willed win of 2006 be the template for 2014? It depends who you asked. Kuchar said he would be using a driver, three wood, hybrid combo off the tee while Henrik Stenson said he could see his driver coming out on the par 5 10th and 16 at the very least.
Adam Scott expects to hit a lot of two irons. “The course is great. It’s been presented beautifully. Every aspect of it is perfect. It’s incredible, really. As far as what it takes, it’s all weather dependant. It can change so much, even throughout the day, depending whether the wind is up or dropped, so the wind switches. So you have to play that by ear. If it’s not windy, I think as soft as it is, we’re going to have some good scores out there.”
Just like the forecast weather, the pressure being heaped on Justin Rose is, well, predictably British.
With Andy Murray unable to defend at Wimbledon, England embarrassingly bombing out of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil and Chris Froome crashing out of the Tour de France, we’d be most appreciative if you’d save the British sporting summer, thanks Justin.
For his part Rose, who arrived at Hoylake with back-to-back Quicken Loans National and Scottish Open triumphs, isn’t reading too much into the press pleas.
“My goal is to play the golf course this week and it just happens to be in England,” Rose said. “I’m not paying attention to the fact I’m playing at home. For sure, when you are playing at home it’s a different atmosphere. The crowd get behind you and, from the point of making the summer, it would be fantastic. But it doesn’t mean a lot to the individual who’s competing. Golf is an individual sport. We enjoy competing, we enjoy the atmosphere, but at the end of the day it is an individual pursuit.”
Rose is the first Englishman to start the Open as favourite since 1992 when Nick Faldo went on to become the last Englishman to hoist the Claret Jug at Muirfield. The 33-year-old is off late at 2.27pm local time (5.27pm UAE time) with Adam Scott and Jason Dufner when the predicted NNW winds of 10-15mph are expected to die away. That bodes well for a sound start to a championship that hasn’t been overly kind to Rose, his share of fourth as a skinny 17-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998 his only top 10 in 12 starts.
“The last few years, I’ve come into this event having played links golf, but doing it by myself, trying to find different venues to get a feel of it. But it was important to get a scorecard into my hand (at last week’s Scottish Open) and do it in meaningful circumstances. I’ve got my eye on improving in this championship.”
Rose will take heart from Phil Mickelson’s Scottish-British Open double last summer but will have to do what Tiger Woods last achieved in 2001 by winning in three successive starts culminating at the Open.
“This is the one I dreamed about the most. But all I can do is commit to the things I know, let all my skills come out and give myself that chance.” Whatever transpires, you can be sure you can read all about it in the British press.
Beam me up, Scotty
After his bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey finish to hand Ernie Els the title at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2012, and a tie for third with Westwood and Poulter at Muirfield last year, Adam Scott has arrived at Royal Liverpool with a now or never mentality. The world No.1s rivals have been warned.
“I’m playing some of my best golf at the moment and I don’t know how long that is going to last. So I’ve got to try and take advantage of that and win all the events that I’d really love to win, and this is certainly one of them. I’ve given myself a couple of opportunities and haven’t done it. I think maybe the third time you have to do it or it might not come back around.”
The smartphone Open
Short of the inability to count correctly, there is no more heinous crime in golf that withdrawing your cellphone during a pro tournament. Until now, that is.
Not noted as the most progressive of organisations (remember a vote on allowing women into golf’s inner sanctum is still pending well into the 21st century), the R&A is actively encouraging fans to stay connected at Royal Liverpool with their smart devices.
This Open will be the most connected ever with wireless built into all the grandstands where galleries can stay up to the minute with live scoring and video highlights courtesy of the BBC coverage. Trying to snap a selfie with Tiger is still a no go and expect the death stare if you loudly start selling shares or try to organise a dinner reservation over your portable Alexander Graham Bell. But the fight to ban galleries from what has become an essential part of life is futile and the R&A’s chief executive, Peter Dawson, knows it. He doesn’t expect any issues with fans reacting to an incident online while a player stands over a crucial putt below them.
“I’m very confident that the golf fans will understand that they mustn’t disturb the players in front of them,” Dawson said. “It’s something we’ve discussed. But I think in the modern era, the way people now embrace this technology is something that golf also has to embrace. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. And I think the spectators are going to feel a great benefit this year. I think that is a massive step forward in golf spectating.” We will watch the Twittersphere with interest.