Thursday, July 20, 2006

By popular demand: I've been eagerly anticipating the Open Championship this year, maybe more than before, and I think I know why. This year's tournament is the most mysterious major championship we've seen in golf for quite some time, like going on a blind date, set up by someone you've never met.

First, there's the golf course. When asked what he thought of the site for this year's Open, Tiger Woods replied, "I know it's in Liverpool." Brilliant insight, that, since the course's name is Royal Liverpool (not Hoylake, as you may have heard - that's the name of the train stop nearest the course which is how Brits used to refer to their favorite links, i.e Sandwich for Royal St. George's). The greatest player in the world, and a pretty knowledgeable golf historian, Tiger claimed never to have seen a picture of it before this month. It last hosted the Open in 1967, won by Roberto de Vincenzo, who is better known for signing an incorrect scorecard at the Masters a year later, causing him to lose that major to Bob (who?) Goalby. Royal Liverpool, I'm afraid, was forgotten a little more after that. After all, if de Vincenzo goes on to become a multiple major winner, old Hoylake's story changes a little, I'd say.

Add to that the fact that this year's tourny has no clear cut "Story." Or maybe too many stories. Tiger? Is he back. Phil? Can he put Winged Foot behind him? The Europeans? Have they surpassed America in talent? Boy, that's a lot to be decided in one four-day stretch. Add to that the vagueries of links golf and English weather and this week is wide the freak open. But that doesn't mean I won't play Carnac.

Here's how it plays out (bear in mind, it's after 2:00 as I write this and play is probably close to done for the first round and I haven't seen a single shot or even a leaderboard...damn job gets in the way every time). Tiger beats Phil, who really ought to start preparing for next year's U.S. Open now so he can just win it and be done with it. He'll have to satisfy himself, like Sampras, with 3 out of 4 for his career (too bad he won't have that whole most-majors-ever thing to console him). Just not cut out for the links was Phil. But, Tiger doesn't win this week, either. Royal Liverpool is a neat course, but it ain't St. Andrews and Tiger, intentionally or not, saves his best stuff for the best courses. Which means look out Medinah in August at the PGA, which I predict he wins going away.

Really, there's not an American I think is a favorite this week, and neither Ernie Els, Vijay Singh or Retief Goosen is having a banner year, to round out the Big Five. Of those three I'd say Ernie has half a chance, since he has a game that can win on a links (he wins all over the world) and he's had good rounds lately, if not four good ones together. Retief has half a chance, also, since he's one of the best putters in the game and that means he's never out of it. Vijay is sort of like Phil - go get a U.S. Open and forget about across the pond.

That leaves us with a bunch of Brits, Swedes, Aussies, Kiwis and the like who are absolutely taking over the game. I continue to pull for one of the Irishmen who are always in the mix: Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, maybe. But it's always a bridesmaid for those guys. The real killers these days are the Aussies, proving that it's not the alcohol that keeps Irishmen from winning majors. Geoff Ogilvy won't go back to back, but Stuart Appleby has plenty of game and tends to pop up out of nowhere hot as a $5 pistol. A British Open would suit him well.

Of course, it's entirely possible we'll get an unknown or barely known again this year - it's sort of every other year and Tiger won last year, so that's what I'm expecting. And somehow, that would suit this year's event. Unknown course, unknown champion. Fine with me.

I should get bonus points for making it through all that without mentioning The Beatles. But there I go, went and did it. None of them was a golfer, not even later in life like Alice Cooper. Bunch of stiffs.

Now it's off to find out how wrong the Day One results make me look. Cheers.

No comments: