A race to be Sweet 16: Westwood & Co look to restore order at Royal Lytham
23:34 GMT, 18 July 2012
Fifteen different winners of the last 15 major championships, 25 different winners of the last 25 events on the European Tour’s international schedule.
The 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes has arrived on the schedule at a time of unprecedented flux. Is this the week when a little order is restored
Every Open staged here since the world rankings were introduced in 1986 has been won by a man who was the world’s best golfer at some point during his career. An encouraging thought, perhaps, for the present top four, who have all enjoyed spells at the summit and yet currently do not own a major between them.
Crowd puller: Fans gather to see Justin Rose
This time last year, No 1 Luke Donald and No 3 Lee Westwood collapsed under the weight of expectation and missed the halfway cut.
The word on the fairways this time is that Donald has never struck the ball better in practice. His caddie John McLaren reckons these greens are the purest he has seen at an Open. We really will know Donald the demon putter has mental issues regarding majors if he makes another poor start here.
No question as to the most popular cry. ‘Come on Lee’ has become an Open mantra, such is the yearning to see Westwood finally break the tape. Is there anyone who would begrudge seeing him end the 43-year run without an Englishman winning The Open in England
For both Donald and Westwood, though, the doubts grow with every major. Colin Montgomerie made some good points in Sportsmail on Wednesday and they have been reinforced by David Duval, the articulate winner at Lytham in 2001.
‘The longer it drags on without you winning a major the harder it gets, the more you get in your own head, the more you press and think about it,’ said Duval. ‘I don’t think you could argue it any other way if you’re making an honest argument.’
Yet people succeed. One, Darren Clarke, did so only last year at the age of 42. There’s no need to give up hope just yet.
Westwood talked at the US Open of trying to untie the mental knots by appreciating everything he has got rather than focusing on the one thing he has not.
Perspective is as good an approach as any and one that Justin Rose, another home contender, will adopt. He will be the focus of attention this morning when he tees off in the company of Tiger Woods for the fourth time at The Open. The first was in 2002 at Muirfield.
Rose recalled: ‘It was a big deal at the time. Tiger was at his peak and I was the hot young kid thrown in at the deep end. My dad was very sick at the time and he gave me a great speech, talking about what we’d dealt with as a family and how playing with Tiger paled into insignificance.
Normal service Lee Westwood will be out to restore order
‘Even now it is a speech I think about when I have a chance to win and one I can use this week.’
Rose has long been part of Open history. Who will forget him as a 17-year-old amateur, holing a chip shot at Royal Birkdale to finish joint fourth in 1998 The moment has been captured by his sponsors Taylor Made in a film called Outside the Ropes — an intriguing look at the lives of the company’s leading players.
‘Seeing the Birkdale moment was a
reminder that time is passing on,’ said the 31-year-old. ‘It was
shocking to see how fresh-faced I looked — my God! But my former coach,
Nick Bradley, said I would play my best golf in my thirties and so far
he has been proven right. I have won big tournaments in America, then a
world golf championship event and so the next stage in this sequential
progression has to be a major.’
Attraction: Over 33,000 people turned out to see the likes of Tiger Woods in practise
LYTHAM IN NUMBERS
33,600 – Total attendance over the three practise days at Lytham this week
Two – Cigarettes smoked per hole by Darren Clarke – and the number of amateurs in the field
33 – GB and NI golfers. Just Padraig Harrington from the Republic.
If it is getting harder for these players to win their first, then the pressure is surely growing on Woods to end his four-year barren spell if he is to catch Jack Nicklaus’s major total of 18.
In recent months Woods’ driving accuracy and greens in regulation stats have improved immeasurably and he must have every chance here of winning his 15th.
Now that nobody is talking about world No 4 Woods versus No 2 Rory McIlroy, what price it happening down the stretch this weekend That would be typical of this sport, wouldn’t it So many possible storylines then, so many conceivable winners, and all played out on perhaps the most under-rated course on the Open rota.
Listening to some of the guff spoken, you’d think Lytham was the only links course around sporting thick rough. The truth is the Royal and Ancient have simply done what any half-competent links custodian has up and down the land and allowed nature to take its course.
So nature has dictated a championship based on straight hitting and set a weather course that looks fair. Now, with eager anticipation, we await to see what compelling hand fate has to play.