Open Hopefuls Set Forth Up North

With this month’s Open Championship heading for Carnoustie, the most northerly venue on the R&A roster, and with Tiger Woods in the field for the first time since 2015, Mike Wilson predicts a rollercoaster ride as any one of a dozen world stars seek to get their hands on the Claret Jug

Defending champion Jordan Spieth has the game – and crucially the game management skills to mount a successful defence. But he got lucky – very lucky going down the stretch at Royal Birkdale last year, and, with only six successful defences in the post-war era, especially if he faces ‘Carnasty,’ a back-to-back win for the world number-five is unlikely.

Of the world’s Top-10, Justin Rose looks to have a decent chance of adding a British Open to his 2013 U.S. Open triumph. Although, intriguingly, 20-years-on from announcing himself on the world stage with a fourth-place finish as an amateur on debut at Royal Birkdale in 2008.

World number-two Dustin Johnson certainly has the brawn – if not the brain – to overpower Carnoustie should the event become a ‘slugfest.’ But his game, one suspects does not have the subtlety to cope with the intrigue and intricacies of a golf course much more strategic than it is credited.  Question marks remain over DJ’s temperament when under the extremes of pressure Open Championships exert on both mind and body.

Rory McIlroy’s single Open Championship title to date is scant return for the man who was the natural heir-apparent to Tiger Woods. A commanding three-stroke halfway lead at the recent BMW PGA Championship, which he failed to convert into that all-important ‘W,’ a third round 64 at the Memorial only good enough for a Top-10 finish, victory in the Arnold Palmer evidence however that the Irishman still knows how to win.

But Carnoustie is an unforgiving place. His record in the Dunhill Links Championship is patchy, at best, and with a tendency to be wayward off the tee, ‘Carnasty’ is not the place to be. With that said, tied fifth and fourth at Troon in 2016 and Birkdale last year would suggest he’s still a realistic contender, of not a champion-in-waiting.

Henrik Stenson and Alex Norén offer a small country like Sweden a dual cause for hope. Stenson having broken the Scandinavian duck at Royal Troon in 2016. Whilst, at 4th and 14th respectively on the OWGR, Sergio García and John Rahm could point to a first Spanish victory in the Open Championship since the late, great Seve’s last of three titles at Royal Lytham two-score-year ago.

García, however, who never plays the Dunhill Links event due to a tax dispute with the UK authorities and therefore has never had the opportunity to exorcise his demons after snatching defeat from the jaws of Open Championship victory there 11 years ago. Despite the Major monkey off his back following his 2016 Masters win, be considered second to compatriot Rahm, who has the game to contend with – if not tame, Carnoustie.

Once again, the brunt of the Asian challenge will come from Japanese youngster Hideki Matsuyama. But after a fine tied-sixth place on debut at Muirfield in 2013 has flattered to deceive when playing links golf. Whilst, Chinese protégé, Li Haotong, whose final round 63 brought him just short at Birkdale last year, a creditable third place. But, despite two prestigious European Tour titles to his name in a fledgeling career, will lightning strike twice in the space of 12 months?

But, if you are looking for a steer after a golfing equivalent of reading the tea-leaves, for that fragment of synergy, a single spark of inspiration, then look no further than charismatic young Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.

87 years have passed since another Tommy, Tommy Armour, won the Open Championship at Carnoustie. 43 years since ‘Tommy’ Watson lifted the Claret Jug there in 1975, and, don’t forget, Fleetwood smashed the 23-year-old Carnoustie course record at last year’s Dunhill Links Championship. A flawless nine-under-par 63, beating the previous record held by, amongst others, eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner Colin Montgomerie, 1999 Open Champion Paul Lawrie and the ever-dangerous Norén.

‘’Carnoustie course record holder – it sounds good, doesn’t it? It was a good day’s work by any standards.’ asked the 2017 Race to Dubai winner.

‘When you consider all the great players who have played here, in Opens and this tournament, it is very special to have the lowest score ever recorded on this course,’ reflected the 27-year-old, admitting.

Whichever Carnoustie, ‘Carnasty,’ or ‘Carnicety’ turn up for the 147th Open Championship this month is likely to determine which of 20-plus credible candidates will have the game to cope with this most punishing of links layouts. But one thing is for certain, hold onto your hats for a rollercoaster ride, and, if history is to believe, it will be a true thoroughbred who will claim the Claret Jug, the approximate US$2m champion’s cheque and the most coveted crown in world golf.


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