July 14 to July17th 2011
The 140th Open Championship
Royal St George’s, Sandwich, Kent
To stride towards the first tee at Royal St George’s, towards the thatched-roofed starter’s hut, is to embark upon one of the sternest tests in the world of golf. In mid-July, fairways are firm and running, and greens are fast and true. And the rough is up.
Teeing-off towards the south, the front nine is characterised by blind shots, imposing dunes and terrifying bunkers, like the enormous, railway-sleeper-surrounded hazard on the fourth, which is set into a sand hill that rises almost 50 feet into the Kent air. The elevated fifth tee offers the chance to catch one’s breath and enjoy a magnificent view of the coast, before striking the tee-shot towards the sea.
The back nine, which occupies the northern half of the course, is largely without the dunes of the outward half, though the fairways feature no fewer undulations and the greens are arguable trickier. Holes 14 and 15 are perhaps the most daunting. Indeed, the 15th, along with the perhaps more famous 17th at St Andrews, can stake a claim to being the toughest hole in Open Championship golf.
When defending champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa handed back the small silver trophy ahead of tomorrow’s start he said it was a moment mixed with sadness and relief. “It has been a great honour to be Open champion but it’s a bit of a relief to just go out and play again.” While his year with the trophy has been one of mixed form, he feels his game is now moving in the right direction.
He will have stiff opposition from the world’s elite players, among them his close friend and fellow countryman Charl Schwartzel, winner in April of the Masters with a four-birdie finish. He has won the Johannesburg Open and had four further top-five finishes this year. He is second only to world number one Luke Donald in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
The other form horse is, of course, the recent winner of the US Open, 23-year-old Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy. He has not played since that victory but, after the initial ballyhoo, has got back into his routine, practised a lot and played two rounds at St George’s last week. “My preparation going into The Open is as good as it could be,” he says confidently.
That is not the case for four-time major winner Phil Mickelson. His Open record is unimpressive and he admits he played terribly in his first practice round here, but he is taking a new approach to links golf, trying to learn the art of keeping the ball close to the ground and running shots into the greens.
World number one Luke Donald, fresh from his final round 63 to win the Scottish Open, has the controlled long game and superb short game to be in at the death and he shares USPGA champion Martin Kaymer’s opinion that the must-hole par-saving putts will be a critical part of the winner’s armoury.
Lee Westwood, whose record in the majors over the past few years is second to none, finished third at Turnberry in 2009 and second at St Andrews last year. He is surely due to move up another place. “I try not to have too many expectations, but my form is right where I want it to be,” said the world number two.
Other home hopes rest with Graeme McDowell, first European winner of the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970. His victory was achieved in tough conditions at Pebble Beach and if the wind blows here he will be one to watch. So, too, is the man who won his second Open title in atrocious conditions at Royal Birkdale in 2008, fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington, who went on the win the USPGA later that year.
There has been some frustration in the United States over the lack of American winners in recent majors, but a strong mix of experienced and younger players will put in a solid challenge this week. Steve Stricker arrived at Royal St George’s straight from his third consecutive win in the John Deere Classic and he has nine times finished in the top-10 in majors. His young compatriot Rickie Fowler, of the flowing locks, was named US PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2010 when he became the youngest US Ryder Cup player of all time. He admits that the form of the European players and McIlroy’s victory in the US Open had given him and his compatriots a “kick in the butt”.
Add to the mix the young Australian Jason Day who finished second in both this year’s Masters and US Open and a resurgent Sergio Garcia and this becomes one of the most open Opens of all time.
All I can say is this: if the word for the small round cup where you have to eventually deposit the ball and play 18 of them each day for four days is banned from this forum, it's going to be difficult to talk about Golf!
Why is it banned anyway?
Current Leader board after the first round with a few players already started their second round
1 Thomas Bjorn DEN -5
Tom Lewis ENG -5
3 Lucas Glover USA -4
Miguel Angel Jimenez ESP -4
Webb Simpson USA -4
6 Fredrik Andersson hed SWE -2
Kurt Barnes AUS -2
Ricky Barnes USA -2
Darren Clarke NIR -2
Simon Dyson ENG -2
Jung-Gon Hwang KOR -2
Martin Kaymer GER -2
Pablo Larrazabal ESP -2
Graeme Mcdowell NIR -2
Jeff Overton USA -2
Ryan Palmer USA -2
Kyle Stanley USA -2
18 Edoardo Molinari ITA -1
Adam Scott AUS -1
Bubba Watson USA -1
Rory McElroy is on 1 over par.
Not such a good day for young Tom Lewis today who carded a 74 to drop him back to 1 under par.
Mixed day for Tom Watson. He went round in 70 to stay at +2. This should be good enough to see him make the cut and how good is he still at 61 years of age? Fantastic scenes when he got a hole-in-one on the 6th.
Open Championship round two leaderboard (par=70)
-4: D Clarke (NI), L Glover (US)
-3: C Campbell (US), M Kaymer (Ger), T Bjorn (Den), MA Jimenez (Sp)
-2: P Larrazabal (Sp), C Schwartzel (SA), D Love (US), T Lehman (US), G Coetzee (SA), D Johnson (US), A Hansen (Den)
-1: P Mickelson (US), A Scott (Aus), J Overton (US), T Lewis (Eng), R Palmer (US)
Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the world number one and two, missed the cut.
Former major champions Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera were other big names to make an early exit.
So nobody running away with it this stage. The weather is due to deteriorate tomorrow so it will be interesting to see if this comes into play.
Terrible weather today at St George's especially early on. The best rounds of the day were a 68 from Dustin Johnson and the polka dotted Ricky Fowler. The only other player to break par was Darren Clarke with a 69. Clarke goes into the final day with a one shot lead.
1 Clarke NI 69 -5
2 D Johnson US 68 -4
3 Bjorn Den 71 -2
3 Fowler US 68 -2
5 Glover US 73 -1
5 Jimenez Spa 72 -1
7 Coetzee SA 72 level
7 Hansen Den 72 level
7 Kaymer Ger 73 level
7 Kim US 70 level
7 Love III US 72 level
7 Mickelson US 71 level