Golf: The British Open – Picking a major winner
With the next major championship, the British Open, on the horizon, it is becoming harder than ever to pick a clear-cut winner.
Tiger Woods says that the depth of so many talented players on the tours today makes it no easy task for even leading PGA Tour professionals to be automatically considered as favourites to take the honours.
Take the last two majors, the Masters and the US Open, the first won by Bubba Watson and the second by Webb Simpson. Both outstanding golfers, but hardly expected to beat the likes of Woods, McIlroy, Els and Mickelson.
In the 1970s, we were accustomed to seeing Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Gary Player battling it out, and one could always expect a winner to emerge from this group.
But golf is not tennis, where you can pick the first, second and third place almost every time. I believe that this is the way forward for the game – suspense until the last minute as the fortunes of the golfers swing back and forth.
It is the raw emotions of the players that are laid bare as they strive to control the small white sphere coming down the final holes with a lead or in the hunt.
Watching a player’s game unravel at the final hurdle is something that average amateur golfers can identify and sympathise with.
It is what makes the game so great – no-one is immune from nerves and tension.
Whether playing in the club championship or the British Open, we have all felt that sinking sensation when the hands shake and it is hard to breathe or swallow when faced with making a crucial putt or hitting a critical tee shot.
The 141st British Open, due to be played at Royal Lytham & St.Annes, will provide an interesting test for the professionals with the first nine holes reputedly one of the easiest on which to make a score and the second nine holes extremely difficult to hold on to that score.
A total of 156 professionals will tee up at the Open Championship.
They will have to focus on those front nine holes. Make as many birdies as possible as early as possible. The final holes are long par fours that will test every part of the game.
Should the wind elect to blow, scores will rise dramatically. The golf course is a typical links layout with narrow fairways and small greens dotted with bunkers. Get into a bunker and almost inevitably you drop a shot or worse.
So are we to expect a relative unknown to take the title this year when they tee it up in July or will a tour regular be crowned?
The bookies will be fascinating to follow as they offer odds on players before the first round.
I suspect that the British Open will be won by a European, as the style of play is not particularly suited to the American target golf to which they are accustomed. One cannot, however, overlook the Asian professionals, who have been on the brink of winning major championships on many occasions and have many brilliant players on every tour.
Darren Clarke will defend his title, but the Irishman has not had a great season this year and will have to produce some brilliant form to repeat his success of 2011.
However, it would not be surprising to see his countrymen Rory McIlroy or Graeme McDowell in the chase in the usual British Open conditions with which they are familiar.
Lee Westwood is a player who seems to get better and better each year, and it is only a matter of time before he takes a British Open title. Perhaps 2012 will be his year.
Ernie Els, a past winner, has improved of late, and were he to master the putting woes that have beset him of late, will be close to the top of the leader-board.
And, of course there is Tiger Woods. Love him or hate him, the man adds an extra something to every tournament he plays in. A multiple major winner, Woods is always a factor and has much to prove.
I believe that it is only a matter of time before we see Tiger regain his confidence, although it is a fact that he was responsible for raising the general level of the players around him so that it is hardly likely that even Woods will be able to dominate again as he once did.
So the Open is wide open this year, with second-string professionals surely taking the view that if everyman professionals such as Watson and Simpson can win major championships, then why should this not be their week? I, for one, will watch with interest.