Stenson's Open hopes
Hoylake, LIVERPOOL (July 16) – There is nothing ordinary about Open Championship week but for the assembled media corp, things have got off to a fairy conventional start at Royal Liverpool.
A selection of the game’s brightest superstars follow one another into the media centre Monday through Wednesday and do their best to fill column inches and summon up a slightly different sound-bite to the age-old preview questions trotted out interview after interview, tournament after tournament. Does the course suit your eye? Do you think you can win? Tiger’s playing, did you know?
There are exceptions to this rather bland diatribe, of course. Monday’s audience with five-time Open Champion Tom Watson was full of nostalgic and futuristic insight, nothing less than you’d expect from golfing royalty. Rory McIlroy too has become refreshingly candid, even when the headline hunters attempt to delve into his very public private life.
There’s no dodging the tough golf questions either. All those big numbers you’ve been posting on Fridays this year, after so many fast Thursday starts, surely it messes with your mind? “Yes it does,” McIlroy admitted, with his second round 78 at the Scottish Open last week, following a course record 64 at Royal Aberdeen the previous day, still a very fresh wound. “I think I just got it into my head. It’s something that I need to go out and pretend it’s a Thursday again.”
But few press conferences are as anticipated, or packed, as those with Henrik Stenson. If the 38-year-old Swede hits it as straight as often as he knocked it out of the park in the media centre on Wednesday, watch for his name on the big yellow leader board atop the massive 18th green grandstand at Hoylake this week. And the new LED scoreboards dotted elsewhere around the course as well.
Stenson is off at 12.04pm (UAE time) in Thursday’s opening round with Angel Cabrera and Tiger Woods. The inevitable questions follow.
Obviously you are playing with Tiger so a lot of eyes will be on you. He’s even got his own dedicated TV channel this week. I was just wondering…
“Where did mine [TV channel] go?” Stenson quickly retorted. Later, this response to a journalist who “just wanted to ask a Tiger question a little bit differently”. Do you suppose when he (Woods) sees that he’s playing with you, it strikes fear into his heart?
“Yeah, I think there would have been a lot of sleepless nights for him of late. When did the draw come out? He looked tired today, didn’t he?”
And what about Tiger’s template for success the last time Royal Liverpool hosted the Open in 2006 when the American pulled driver just once (and missed the fairway)? “Yeah, I thought about using it twice, just to break his record.”
But for all the usual one-liners and light heartedness, there was an unusually serious mood to this Stenson presser. He has the FedEx Cup-Race to Dubai double and pretty much everything else a golfer could desire. But not a major. Stenson insists he’s not picky and would happily take any of the year’s four bigs. But yes, being European, winning the Open would be extra special.
He came close last year, finishing runner-up to Phil Mickelson at Muirfield, and was third at St Andrews in 2010.
“I grew up watching this championship and it was a boyhood dream to play in the Ryder Cup and the other one was to win the British Open, the Open Championship. So just because I’ve had some great success, I don’t think that dream has gone away,” Stenson said.
“And it’s the last thing on my CV to make it complete, more or less, in my eyes. So I will try my hardest to make it happen.”
Like most every tournament, keeping in play off the tee and finding greens will be key this week with the stakes, and Hoylake’s rough, so high. Stenson knows he must remain patient when he inevitably misses, something he admits is still very much a work in progress.
“I think it always is [a work in progress], being able to accept your mistakes. You are going to make mistakes, its how you bounce back from them. That’s always been a key and I think it’s always a tough thing for a player, not just me in particular.
“You’ve got to have a fresh mind when you start the week. If you’re already tired, that patience is going to run short if you do make mistakes and hit some bad shots and get off to a bad start. And chasing has never been a formula for good success here. It’s going to be a long four days and you’ve just got to keep your patience.”
Stenson warmed up for last year’s Open at Muirfield by playing the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart but with such a hectic schedule post his FedEx Cup-Race to Dubai double, opted for rest and an earlier start to his preparations at Hoylake.
“I’m fairly happy with my form. It can always be better, but I’ve played okay. It hasn’t been as good a season as the last six months, last year, but you can’t expect to play like that all the time.
“I feel like I’ve got some good results in this championship. It’s all about hard work, putting yourself up there and hopefully your name will be on top or around the top of the leaderboard when you hit the back nine on Sunday. If I can play well enough to keep to my plan and keep the patience and get the odd good bounce here and there, I hope to be there Sunday.”
A lot of people wouldn’t mind seeing him in the media centre Sunday night either. That would be some story.
Thursday’s notable tee times (UAE time). Friday’s second round tee time in brackets
9:25am (2.26pm) – David Howell, David Duval, Robert Karlsson
11.26am (4.27pm) – Tom Watson, Jim Furyk, Darren Clarke
11.37am (4.38pm) – Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia
12.04pm (5.05pm) – Tiger Woods, Angel Cabrera, Henrik Stenson
12.26pm (5.27pm) – Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth
12.37pm (5.38pm) – Ian Poulter, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker
12.48pm (5.49pm)– Graeme McDowell, Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen
4.38pm (11.37am)– Martin Kaymer, Jason Day, Zach Johnson
5.05pm (12.04pm) – Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson
5.27pm (12.26pm) – Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner
* Live coverage on OSN Sports 1 HD from noon