Wednesday, July 13, 2011

British Open Preview

Prior to 1995, the British Open was the reliable major.  From 1959 through 1994, Tom Watson won it five times; Nicklaus, Ballesteros, Player and Faldo each won three; and Palmer, Trevino and Norman took two each.  That’s 23 out of 36.  When those hall of famers weren’t winning it, it was guys like Nick Price, Johnny Miller, Tony Jacklin and Tom Weiskopf.  During that 36 year stretch, the only two winners who made you go “huh?” were Bill Rogers in ’81 and Mark Calcavecchia in ’89 and even those two had some credibility as Rogers finished second in the ’81 U.S. Open and Calch had finished second in the ’88 Masters.

"I'm so sellin' this and
buyin' my wife two
new Claret Jugs."
So what tectonic event occurred in 1995 to shift the Open away from its traditional course of rewarding golf’s best players with the Claret Jug?  John Patrick Freakin’ Daly, that’s what happened.  Still rocking the mullet from his PGA Championship win at Crooked Stick, he beat Constantino Rocca in a playoff to become arguably the most unlikely multiple major winner in history. (He has one more than Jim Furyk, Davis Love, III and Fred Couples and one less than his number of ex-wives to date).  The finish of the ’95 Open was classic including Daly hugging his soon to be second ex-wife before it was over followed by his reaction to Rocca’s clutch putt where he looked like someone had just taken his last Marlboro and left the empty pack in his golf bag.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Zoa9XqsWBY.                                  

Since Daly’s win, Tiger has won it three times and Padraig Harrington has won two (one without Tiger in the field).  Other solid but less than thrilling players have won it like Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard and Stewart Cink (yawn) and then you have the “how in the hell did those guys even get into the British Open” trio of Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton and Paul Lawrie who make Bill Rogers and Mark Calcavecchia look like Walter Hagen and Harry Vardon.  You can’t play enough bagpipe music behind highlights of those three to make them intriguing.   

Now we’re coming off the most uninspiring Open of recent memory with Louis Oosthuizen taking a four shot lead over Paul Casey into the weekend (and a seven shot lead over his nearest legitimate contender, Martin Kaymer) and ultimately winning by seven.  It was over by the 2nd hole on Sunday when Casey made bogey and inevitably started going backwards (Casey’s game has a built-in “lead detector” that sets off an alarm and generates bogeys when he’s within four shots and triple bogeys if he’s closer than that).  Not even the cool commentary of Peter Alliss could keep it interesting and he could make a WNBA game interesting (he couldn’t really because no one could but how great would it be to bring back Ben Wright and pair them in the booth for WNBA games with Alliss dropping lines like the one he did about Duffy Waldorf on a humid day, “ah there’s Duffy…looking sweaty in the paddock” – they’d be off the air by halftime).     

The bottom line is that we are due for a great British Open with some combination of three of these players battling down the stretch on Sunday:          

Rory McIlroy:  He’s the favorite but he recently admitted that after breaking-up with his girlfriend at the beginning of the year he “had to do a lot of begging and groveling to get her back.”  He apparently did this before being forced to do it by sleeping with a slew of porn stars and pancake house waitresses and getting caught.  He clearly lacks Tiger’s focus and single mindedness (euphemisms for being an a-hole) and is therefore not ready to win back to back majors.     


Lee Westwood:  He should have been in the playoff with Watson and Cink in ’09 but butchered 18 on Sunday.  I’m not sure playing on his home turf and having Darren Clarke and Ian Woosnam keeping him out all night is a recipe for success.  He is starting to look like a one major guy and I think it’s the PGA which is the major to win when you’re winning just one.  (As opposed to Schaefer beer which is “The Beer to Have When You’re Having More than One”).   


Luke Donald:  As far as I can recall he’s never really contended in a major as he always gets off to a slow start and then plays well when the pressure’s off.  Kind of like the English Hunter Mahan.  We’ll give him a shot this week because he went to Northwestern and should be smart enough to find the flat spots on RSG’s quirky fairways.  If he doesn’t win, he can always paint a picture of himself holding the Claret Jug. 


Martin Kaymer:  He’s not winning 2 out of 4 majors unless half the field starts inexplicably grounding their clubs in all of the pot bunkers. 


Phil Mickelson:  If Phil ever wins a British Open (which is unlikely), I see it happening when he’s about 54 years old and he only tees off with a 1 iron because he envisioned himself winning that way while in a glazed donut induced food coma. 


Steve Stricker:  He has a game suited to the British Open but he also looks like a one major guy and I think it’s a U.S. Open.  Hey look, the U.S. Open is in Wisconsin in 2017.  In the words of Sean Connery on Celebrity Jeopardy on the sound a doggy makes, “Mooo.”       


Nick Watney:  I know he’s had a couple of clutch finishes this year but when I look into his eyes I still see that “oh s—t!” look from the final round of last year’s PGA when he shot 43 on the front nine.                    


Charl Schwartzel:  South Africans have won three of the last fourteen majors, second only to the four won by Americans.  I blame the inspiring performances of Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman in Invictus, a claim that would carry even more weight if I’d actually seen the movie.  I took a pass when I read that the guy Damon was playing, Francois Pienaar, is 6’ 3” and 230lbs.  A math savant from Southie is one thing but an NFL linebacker sized rugby player…come on.    


Matt Kuchar:  I’m running out of players so we’ll throw Kuch into the mix.  Not much gets him down so the crazy bounces at RSG shouldn’t bother him like some guys….


Sergio Garcia: Not on this course.  Too many adverse conditions for him to blame but I do think he’s going to win one of these in the next few years.  Say what you will about Sergio but he can smack the crap out of the ball through the wind and I think he’s almost to the point where he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him anymore which might be his final hurdle to winning a major.  Hopefully for Sergio, if that day comes, he will be in the final group with Rory Sabbatini so a few fans will be rooting for him. 
Is that the bottom?  MERDE!

Thomas Levet:  The Frenchman added his name to the list of contenders by winning the French Open two weeks ago and then promptly removed it by jumping into a lake and breaking his shin.  No truth to the rumor that Martin Kaymer chased him in there and a group of American fans rescued him.     


Jason Day:  He’s a couple of years away but I hope he’s in contention so the lovely Mrs. Day gets a little air time. 


Graeme McDowell:  He strikes me as a rich man’s Michael Campbell.  He’s not going to fall off the map like Campbell did after winning his U.S. Open but he doesn’t have another top ten in a major - his 1996 Ulster Boys Championship notwithstanding.


We’re running out of players and we need someone to add some flavor to the final round because Donald and Kuchar battling for a major on Sunday would be weaker viewing than Franklin & Bash.  How about…


Ian Poulter: He’s been relatively quiet on and off the course this year but he’s still ranked 16th in the world.  It’s been almost 20 years since Faldo was the last Englishman to win the British Open and 42 years since Tony Jacklin was the last to do it on a course in England so the home crowd would go nuts if he won it and it would give the Brits another excuse to have “Stupid Hat Day.”  The world is a more entertaining place when Ian Poulter has a microphone in front of him and that will only be more true if he actually has something to justify his arrogance.  We’ve had too many Bjorn Borgs win lately, it’s time for a McEnroe.  


So there it is.  Luke Donald, Matt Kuchar and Ian Poulter going down to the wire for the Claret Jug.  Just as long as it’s not Chris Tidland hanging on to beat Gary Boyd with a two putt bogey on the 72nd hole.  We don’t need to make it that hard on Peter Alliss.