The 142nd British Open Championships begins on Thursday at Muirfield on the east coast of Scotland and for the first time in a decent while, there is no obvious favourite. The unique demands of Links golf means that any one of the entrants into golf’s oldest major championships has a chance of lifting the Claret Jug. Conditions are such a huge factor in determining the outcome of The Open, more than at any other major. The Links golfer has to adjust his ball-flight to counter the effects of the wind, be deadly accurate and also be prepared to use the contours of the course to his advantage. Accuracy, especially off the tee will be absolutely imperative given that the rough at Muirfield this year is penal.
‘Lefty’ Phil Mickelson has thrown his hat into the ring with his victory at the weekend at the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. It was an impressive victory for a man who is to driving accuracy what Tiger Woods is to monogamy. The Californian also has an enviable short game which can get him out of even the deepest spots of trouble and he will need it if he is to be victorious this week. It would be a fool to discount him, but I am said fool and I just don’t think he has the requisite patience to conquer Muirfield’s testing nuances.
Britain’s newest major champion, Justin Rose will be hoping to add to his tally this week. He has all the stats this season to suggest he can definitely be a contender: 13th in Driving accuracy on the PGA tour, 1st in sand saves with over 70% and 15th in Greens in Regulation. He will have to equal those stats at least to have a chance of lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday. I also don’t think he quite has the minerals to win round Muirfield – his putting isn’t consistent enough and since he burst onto the scene as a precocious teenager in 1998 at Royal Birkdale with a T4th placed finish as an amateur, he has failed to finish in the top-10.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Worksop’s Lee Westwood will have a very good week. He has had a quiet 2013 thus far: 5 top-10 finishes; no victories but he is always there or thereabouts at the big tournaments and hardly ever has a shocker of a round. His consistency especially off the tee will come in handy – he simply needs to have a hot two days with his putter, easier said than done of course but that’s all it will take for Westwood. He has every shot in his armoury – he now needs to believe he can do it on the greens too and if he does, this might be the tournament for him.
What of the other contenders? World number one Tiger Woods has been in pretty horrible form since winning the Players Championship in May. You can never discount him, but I am going to, so obviously you can. Similarly with Rory McIlroy; his form has been seriously mediocre in the past few months. The Northern Irishman by his own admission does not overly enjoy playing on Links courses (which I find surprising for a man who has hit a 59 round Portrush) and I can see that attitude rearing its ugly features this week. At the moment McIlroy’s swing is still too inconsistent. Every round he hits at least two terrible shots that, at Muirfield, will be very expensive. Masters winner Adam Scott is another who has had a lean time of it since his amazing victory in April. The Australian came so close at Royal Lytham last year, only to be pipped by Ernie Els after some rather injudicious shots. He comes into this tournament with no pressure but also no form so I can’t see him featuring on the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
It is customary for me at every major tournament to tip Matt Kuchar to win but I am not going to this time (cue Open victory). Although my heart doesn’t think he will, I want the matador Sergio Garcia to finally break his major duck. He is the heir to Seve Ballesteros’ throne, a maverick who takes on shots no other player would even consider. It has often been to the detriment of his results (e.g the 17th hole at this year’s Player’s Championship) but Sergio only knows one way to play – all-out attack. When he gets it right it is a thing of beauty – Garcia with an iron in hand is like his compatriot Picasso wielding his paintbrush. His opening 66 at the Masters is as close to perfection as you are ever likely to see on the golf course. Unfortunately he is about as consistent as an incontinent after 10 pints and a vindaloo. He has been adversely affected by the mindless comments he made about Tiger Woods at the BMW PGA in May but over on (sort of) home soil he will get more support from the galleries than across the pond. If he is still knocking about at the weekend, anything can happen.
What about the defending champion? Ernie Els has come to Muirfield a little under the radar which is exactly how he likes it. He is in pretty good form too. A victory at the BMW International Open was preceded by two top-10’s at the U.S Open and the BMW PGA at Wentworth. He won his first Open Championship at Muirfield 11 years ago so he knows what it takes to win round this challenging course. He also has the most aesthetically pleasing golf swing in the world. If that isn’t enough to convince you to head down to the bookies straight away then I don’t what is.
So there you have it. What is for certain is some lucky fellow will be holding the famous Claret Jug aloft on the 18th green on Sunday evening with a cheque for £950,000 in his back pocket. What is also almost certain is that it will be none of the players I have mentioned in this article. I have an uncanny knack of giving the kiss of death to any of my tips so here’s my advice: have a flutter on any of the players I haven’t tipped. They’ll probably win.