Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The British Open Preview

"It's called 'Mind Rape'. It's
supposed to make the PGA
Tour more watchable."
There is a very fine line between a groove and a rut and, unfortunately for me as a writer and by extension you as a reader (if you decide to continue after this inspiring opening paragraph), that line is getting bolder by the week as I seem to sink deeper into the rut of a golf season that peaked at the Masters and then has spent the next two months limping along like the plane at the end of Memphis Belle.* The most clutch performance of the last month was turned in by a guy named Ted Potter, Jr. who was overshadowed as the best "Ted" of the week by an animated stuffed bear. The tour and I are both in desperate need of a Four Loko.

But if I was ever going to bust out of this rut, tonight is the night. I've been a bachelor for five days with my family at the beach and I'm coming off a 72 hole weekend. I just had a dinner that consisted of a lettuce salad, two different kinds of leftover chicken, 1/4 of a turkey club that I started eating on Saturday and I'm on my third jar of low budget Chardonnay. I also don't really have anywhere to be until 3:00 p.m. tomorrow when I've got 56 guys lined-up to play golf and gamble on the Open. (In what I hope will one day become the FGR Invitational). I vow to keep writing tonight until I've produced something worthwhile, I hit 4,000 words or I start recycling old Top Gun material, whichever comes first.

The British Open Preview

Coming off of one of the best prognosticating efforts in FGR history, I can honestly tell you that I have absolutely no freakin' idea who is going to finish in the top ten this week much less win. Look at the factors my "handicapping colleagues" and are dealing with: (1) The last 15 majors have been won by 15 different players, 13 other different players have finished 2nd and not included in those 28 are Luke Donald, Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson, (2) the last three winners of the British Open were Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen and Stewart Cink and I guarantee you they were each at least 150 to 1 shots in the years that they won, and (3) there no longer seems to be any correlation between how well a guys is playing leading-up to a major and how he is going to play that week as evidenced by Webb Simpson's two missed cuts before winning the U.S. Open and the fact that Tiger won the two tournaments he played before finishing 40th and 21st at the Masters and U.S. Open respectively.

No, No Lee . . . don't go into the light!
We do, however, have one thing going for us and that is the fact that Royal Lytham has never failed to deliver a worthy champion with the last five winners being David Duval, Tom Lehman, Seve Ballesteros (twice) and Gary Player.** So it would appear that we have two converging trends this week: (1) first time major winners and (2) quality champions. That obviously rules-out Tiger which is fine because if you were going to pick him, you certainly don't need me to tell you to do it and you're not going to listen to me when I tell you that he is not going to win (the field is too deep, he's just not quite there yet and if you want a site that advises you to pick Tiger every week, then we're wasting each other's time).

I'm also removing Lee Westwood and Luke Donald from the equation. I can't get past the fact that Westwood lost a ball in the top of a tree at the U.S. Open. That's not bad luck. That's what happens when you build your mansion on an ancient tribal burial ground and the chief's grave is right under the bush you whizz on when you're too drunk to make it from the driveway to the bathroom (I've heard this happens to some people). As for Donald, he's never going to win a major. He was the kid at the party who somehow failed to get any candy when the Tiger PiƱata broke so his mom had to buy him a Hershey bar on the way home (Hershey bar = #1 spot in the World Golf Rankings). So who is going to win? Well, sticking with our two trends, I see it going down like this.  

The British Open Top Ten
Adam Scott didn't make the
original list but sometimes
concessions must be made.

1. Jason Dufner
2. Ian Poulter
3. Sergio Garcia
4. Justin Rose
5. Martin Laird
6. Matt Kuchar
7. Dustin Johnson
8. Francesco Molinari
9. Ross Fisher
10. Adam Scott

I'm not quite sure how we got to a place where Jason Dufner is the best golfer in the world but it seems fitting in light of the parity that has taken over the tour. Dufner's last five tournaments have yielded two wins, a second and a tie for 4th at the U.S. Open. In light of his recent performances, I may just scrap the whole FGR Rankings concept and go with "if you had to pick one guy right now to win the tournament that kept you out of a Turkish prison, who would it be?" As I think about my answer to that question, I keep reluctantly exclaiming the name "Dufner!" (as in "Newman!")

The only thing that gives me pause about this pick is that Dufner has only played in two Opens and he's missed the cut both times but, in light of how different the various British courses play and his recent hot streak, I don't put much stock in that. The bottom line is that every time that guy stands over the ball and starts waggling his club, you're thinking, "he's going to stick it tight." I don't care what tournament it is or what the conditions are, give me the guy who's hitting it the best and I'll take my chances, even if he is the Bizzaro version of the most interesting man in the world.

As far as the rest of the favorites go, as you can see there is no shortage of players to take over the "best player never to win a major" spot if Lee Westwood ever exorcises the demons. If Poulter or Garcia are  going to win one, it will be a British and Justin Rose may be the second best player in the world behind Dufner at this point. The bottom line is that I would put my top five up against the five favorites of Tiger, McIlroy, Westwood, Harrington and Donald and feel pretty comfortable about it. Other than Harrington, I don't see any of those guys being in contention this week. (You should note that it was no accident that I stopped short of adding the next favorite, Graeme McDowell to that list as this course is made for his game).

All of his shafts are
extra stiff, including
the one in his pants.
One other thing worth noting is that it's been almost 20 years since the Open went three straight without a playoff and we haven't had one since Stewart Cink shat on the greatest moment in golf history back in 2009. Let's just hope that trend continues and we get one of those free-for-alls like we had in 2002 when Ernie Els won a four man playoff over Steve Elkington, Stuart Appleby and Thomas Levet (speaking of Levet, I wonder if his leg has healed yet - Merde!!!).  


Last Week's Report Card: A-

1. Steve Stricker - T5th
2. Jonathan Byrd - T54th
3. Tim Clark - T36th
4. Zach Johnson - 1st
5. Scott Piercy - 3rd

That would have been a banner week if not for Stricker's back nine meltdown on Sunday which inexplicably shocked everyone who apparently hasn't noticed that he does not play very well when there is something significant on the line.*** If you didn't catch the last few holes and the playoff, you missed an array of golf shots that ran the gamut from horrendous to unbelievable, the likes of which I cannot remember seeing. Here is how it played out:
  • Reputed short-knocker Zach Johnson smokes a 300+ yard drive down the fairway to set-up a two-putt birdie on 17 that gives him a two shot lead and virtually locks-up the title. (B+)
  • Troy Matteson makes a sixty foot eagle putt on 17 to tie. (A)
  • Not yet aware of Matteson's eagle and thinking a par would probably win the tournament, Johnson pulls his second shot onto the left fringe next to the water despite the fact that he had 30 feet of green right of the hole. (C-)
  • A kid picks-up Matteson's ball on 18 as apparently (a) golf balls are hard to come by in Illinois, (b) he didn't know where he was, or (c) he thought it had magically fallen from the sky. (F)
  • Matteson runs his birdie putt on 18 five feet past the hole but makes the come backer. (C- followed by a B+).
    "Hey, I'm from Illinois, you
    got a problem with that?"
    . . . No, no I do not.
  • Johnson hits his tee shot on the first playoff hole into a tough hanging lie in the left fairway bunker and Matteson hits driver into the trees on the right. (C-)
  • Matteson punches out across the fairway into the water. (F)
  • Johnson, knowing bogey probably wins, hooks his shot from the fairway bunker into the water. (F-)****
  • After Matteson pitches 12 feet past the hole, Johnson skulls his chip 15 feet past the hole (he also had a shank earlier in the week - he's truly the "people's player"). (D)
  • Both players hit their bogey putts at least five feet past the hole. (D)
  • Both players make their next putts knowing that, if they miss them, they will have lost the tournament to a double which would really sting. (B+)
  • Two guys who are completely oblivious to what is going on have to be yelled at as they were walking up the middle of the fairway when Johnson was a getting ready to tee off. Apparently they were arguing about where to go cow tipping that night.
    "Gutsiest move
    I ever saw."
  • Johnson hits his tee shot on the second playoff hole (but the same hole they just played) into the same fairway bunker. (C-)
  • Matteson finally wises-up and hits a 3-wood down the middle. (B)
  • Johnson hits his fairway bunker shot to 6 inches to win the tournament. (A+)
And there's the first Top Gun reference so clearly it's time to wrap this thing up. Let's just hope we get some drama approaching that this Sunday at Royal Lytham. I for one really need it.

Endnotes (Explicit)

* Memphis Belle?!? Are you fucking serious?!? No one has even seen that movie except for you and Mattew Modine's mom. Snap out of it and get your shit together!

** And if I really wanted to stretch this "quality champion" theory, I could add that Annika Sorenstam won the Women's Open at Royal Lytham in 2003 back when the LPGA had more fans than cat juggling (Roll the Ugliness).

*** "Stricker was attempting to win his 4th consecutive John Deere Classic, a tournament played in the middle of nowhere with a winner's check of $828,000 which is chump change on tour. I'm not going to take another shot at Stricker's ability to close (I think you just did).

"Well that's a big gamble with the
 Jerkstore's fantasy golf season."
**** I also have to give the commentating an "F" here. First someone said, "he's got to be looking front right of the green doesn't he?" (as opposed to what . . . the 20 feet between the pin and the water?). That was followed by Feherty noting "well he doesn't really have anywhere to lay-up." He was standing on the downslope of a bunker that was almost 200 yards out so of course he had places to lay-up. He could have hit a 60 yard shot, then a 9-iron to the middle of the green and two-putted for the win. Instead he went for it by ripping a 6-iron and followed Matteson into the water which, as the owner of Zach Johnson in multiple fantasy leagues, made me feel like I swallowed a bug. A 192 yard bunker shot from a hanging lie with water on the left and your opponent in trouble . . . what were you thinking?!?

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