There’s nothing better than the British Open.
Sure, the Masters has the prestige, is played on arguably the most pristine golf course in the world, and not only does the winner receive a $1.3 million check, but they also get to take home one of those stylish green jackets.
The US Open is our national championship, is considered by many to be the toughest test in all of golf and the deafening roars created by the seemingly unlimited number of spectators the USGA lets onto the premises just contributes to the overall excitement of the event.
And then we have the PGA Championship, which is, well, the fourth major of the year.
Similar to the US Open and the Masters, The British Open can be a brutally tough test of golf, is extremely prestigious and contains large galleries full of knowledgeable golf fans. But, the British Open is also the oldest major championship and is held at courses that contain a rugged beauty that’s unique and unmatched anywhere in the world.
As you sit back and watch the world’s top players compete at courses such as St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon and Turnberry there is a feeling that inevitably overtakes you; a feeling that you are witnessing the game of golf played in the way it was meant to be played.
Yes, the coverage is on very early in the morning, the courses look different to anything we have here in America and we typically don’t like seeing the world’s best players competing for major championships in wind and driving rain.
But, folks, that’s golf. That’s how golf was originally played long before a golf club even made its way over to America.
There were no tractors moving the earth or high priced golf course designers dropping in on their Gulf Stream jets to design the British Open venues back in the 1800’s. The ocean more or less created these golf courses from scratch and the ‘designers’ of the 1800’s literally just dug out a few bunkers and cut some of the grass a little shorter to create putting surfaces.
Scotland is the birthplace of golf.
What could possibly be better than watching the best players in the world compete for golf’s oldest major championship in the country where the game was invented?
Here is a preview of what you may see this week at Turnberry.
The Golf Course
Like most British Open courses, Turnberry’s Ailsa Course is not particularly long in terms of sheer yardage.
The Ailsa course plays just 7,204 yards which is about the average length for a PGA Tour event these days.
But, the British Open is not like the US Open, where the USGA seems to add an additional 100 yards of length to the host courses each year – It’s only a matter of time before the USGA produces an 8,000 yard course to host the Open.
A British Open course’s sole defense is the weather.
More often than not, the weather in the Scotland, England and Wales is rainy, windy and cold, particularly along the coasts where most of the golf courses are located.
If the Ailsa course at Turnberry played 7,600 yards, it would be virtually unplayable in the wind and rain that so often sweeps across the west coast of Scotland.
In comparison, Royal Birkdale, which was the site of last year’s British Open, played 7,173 yards. The Old Course at St. Andrews plays 6,933 yards and Royal Troon plays 7,150 yards.
Many believe the Ailsa Course at Turnberry to be one of the easier venues on the British Open rota.
Jack Nicklaus shot 65 and 66 in his final two rounds at Turnberry in the 1977 Open and lost to Tom Watson.
Norman carded a 63 in the second round of the 1986 British Open at Turnberry.
In 1994, Nick Price recorded four consecutive rounds in the 60’s on his way to capturing the Claret Jug at Turnberry. Jesper Parnevik, who finished second to Price that year, also shot in the 60’s every day and finished one-stroke behind Price.
If you simply look at the scoring records at Turnberry, it would appear that the golf course is far too easy to host a British Open.
But, what you don’t see is that Mother Nature happened to be on vacation for two of the three previous Opens held at Turnberry.
Nicklaus and Watson’s epic battle in 1977 is referred to as the ‘Dual in the Sun’.
Norman’s 63 came on the one day that the weather was at ease during the 1986 Open. Although the wind was still whipping across the Ailsa Course, at least it wasn’t cold and raining as it was during the other three rounds of the 1986 Open. Norman finished at even par for the tournament and won by a margin of five strokes.
The 1995 Open was also played in fairly decent weather by British Open standards.
In two out of the three previous British Opens held at Turnberry, the course was not really played in the conditions it was meant to be played in.
St. Andrews on a beautiful day is not an overly difficult golf course.
In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, the sun came out and there was no wind to speak of all week.
Tiger Woods won the tournament with a score of 18-under-par and 41 other players in the field finished under-par for the week.
This is basically a long way of saying that any British Open golf course is not overly difficult in perfect weather conditions.
But when the wind and rain decides to show up, it’s a much different story and you better be prepared to use every club in your bag, every shot shape you have in your arsenal and swallow your pride while breaking out a fairway wood to reach what the yardage book will tell you is a short par-three.
The weather forecast for this week at Turnberry?
Light to moderate rain every day except Saturday combined with wind and temperatures in the low-mid 60s.
For just the second time in four tries, the world’s best players may experience Turnberry and all it’s might under the proper conditions.
Some say that in any major championship there are actually two tournaments – the first three and a half rounds and then the back-nine on Sunday.
If that’s true, the 15th and 17th holes could very well determine the winner of the 2009 British Open.
The 15th is a 206 yard par-three.
If you go short or left of the green, your ball could come to rest in one of three very deep pot-bunkers.
If you go long, your ball will roll down into a ravine and almost certainly result in a bogey at best.
If you go right, you’re also in big trouble as your ball will catch a hill and roll down towards some very deep fescue.
In perfect conditions, this is a very difficult hole; add some wind and rain into the equation, and you are looking at a brutally difficult golf hole.
If the wind picks up, don’t be surprised to see players attempting to hit the green with hybrids and fairway woods.
Also don’t be surprised if on Sunday afternoon, many player’s hopes and dreams of holding up the Claret Jug implode somewhere on the 15th hole.
The 17th is a 559 yard par-five.
As is so often the case in major championships, there is an excellent chance that the winner could be decided on the final par-five of the tournament.
Those in pursuit may have an opportunity to catch or overtake the leader with an eagle on the 17th, while the leader may have an opportunity of his own to deliver a knockout punch before heading to the 72nd hole.
On a nice day, virtually every player in the field should be able to get home in two on the 17th.
On a windy day, however, you may see players spending a significant amount of time deciding exactly what it is they want to do with their second shots.
The obvious choice is to layup on a windy, rainy day. The only problem is that the layup area is very narrow, contains several deep bunkers to the right and some long, thick grass to the left.
Hitting this target in 20 mile per hour wind will be about as difficult as landing a ball on a kitchen table from 180 yards away.
Just as it did during the 1977 Open, now popularly known as the ‘Duel in the Sun’, there’s a very good chance that the 17th hole will determine the winner of the 2009 British Open.
He has won 14 major championships, including three British Opens.
Woods has already won three times since returning to the PGA Tour in February and has finished within the top-10 at the year’s first two majors.
In fact, the last time Woods finished outside of the top-10 was at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie.
He has a better than 27 percent winning percentage in major championships, which means that he’s statistically likely to win either this week at Turnberry or at the PGA Championship which will be played in August at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
The Turnberry resort offers guests all sort of activities such as horseback riding, archery, mountain biking, riffle shooting and ATV rides.
But, I think it’s safe to say that there will be only one man at Turnberry on a bear hunting expedition this week, and that’s Tiger Woods in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships.
Needless to say, there is no one in the field with a better chance of winning than the world’s number one player.
Ian Poulter came within a hair of winning last year’s British Open after carding a final round 69 in tough, windy conditions.
Being from England, Poulter is very experienced in playing links-style golf.
Poulter has finished within the top-25 in eight of the 11 PGA Tour events he’s attended this year, including top-20 finishes at each of the year’s first two majors.
Poulter has never won a PGA Tour event or a major championship, but he has won seven times on the European Tour.
Look for Poulter to be a factor this week, particularly if the wind and rain really begin to pick up.
After getting off to a red-hot start to the 2009 season, Nick Watney has slowed down over the past couple of months.
Watney is competing in just his second British Open (he finished tied for 35th at Carnoustie in 2007).
Watney will be someone to watch this week for two reasons.
First, he tied for 6th at last week’s Barclays Scottish Open which could be a sign that he is once again on the verge of playing some great golf.
Second, Watney is an excellent driver of the ball and plays a fairly low ball flight, which are two attributes any player must possess if they hope to contend at Turnberry in tough weather conditions.
Watney may not yet be ready to win a major championship, but he could contend this week.
If Ross Fisher even finishes the British Open this week, his mind will understandably be elsewhere.
Fisher and his wife are expecting their first child any day now.
A helicopter and private jet will remain on standby for Fisher throughout the entire week and the second he gets the word from his wife, he’s out of there.
But, if Fisher happens to make it through the week without the arrival of any babies, he is certainly playing well enough to contend.
Fisher tied for 30th at his first Masters this past April, finished 5th at the US Open and tied for 8th at last week’s Scottish Open.
Fisher is still new to the major championship scene. But, if his recent results are anything to go by, he could contend this week, particularly in light of the fact that he is from and still lives in England which would make him as comfortable as anyone playing links-style golf.
Similar to Nick Watney, Zach Johnson is an excellent driver of the ball even though he is not one of the longer hitters on tour.
Johnson also has a very low ball flight and can play a low draw that pierces through the wind, just as he did en-route to winning the 2007 Masters in extremely windy conditions.
Johnson has two wins and six top-10 finishes so far this season. He is also coming off a second place finish at last week’s John Deere Classic.
Johnson’s game typically peaks around April and May. But, we are now in July and Johnson has shown no sign that he is beginning to slow down.
Johnson tied for 20th at the 2007 British Open but finished 51st last year. He has also missed the cut at both the Masters and US Open this year.
Johnson’s ball flight and ability to find the fairway off the tee could put him in contention on the weekend, and if he can make a few putts, he could be a real factor this week.
For a guy that seems to handle Ryder Cup pressure with ease, it’s quite surprising that Lee Westwood has not experienced much success at the majors.
At 36-years-old and having won 18 times on the European Tour, Westwood has to be getting anxious about winning a major championship before his best years have passed him by.
Westwood did finish 3rd at the 2008 US Open, but other than that, you have to go back to the 2004 British Open to find Westwood’s last top-10 finish in a major.
Having said that, he does seem to be entering this week’s British Open on a hot streak.
Westwood tied for 23rd at the 2009 US Open at Bethpage, finished second at the French Open two weeks ago and tied for 8th at last week’s Scottish Open.
Major championships are all about playing well at the right time, and Westwood has certainly been playing some good golf over the past month.
Steve Stricker has already won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including last week at the John Deere Classic.
Stricker has finished inside of the top-25 in 12 out of 15 events this year and is currently ranked second on tour in scoring average.
Stricker does not have all that much experience playing in the British Open. But, he has attended the last two British Opens and finished within the top-10 at each of them.
You think the weather will be tough this week at Turnberry?
Try hitting golf balls outside all winter in Madison, Wisconsin, which is exactly what Stricker has been doing during the past few off-seasons.
Needless to say, the weather will not be a factor for Stricker this week.
Aside from Tiger Woods, Paul Casey is the highest ranked player participating in this week’s British Open.
Now it’s time for Casey to prove that he really is worthy of being ranked as the number three player in the world.
Casey has three wins so far this season (two on the European Tour and one on the PGA Tour).
Casey tied for 20th at the Masters but missed the cut last month at the US Open.
Although he has made his home on Arizona for the past decade, Casey grew up playing links-style golf in England before crossing the pond.
Casey is one player in the field that has a lot to prove this week, and like any competitive athlete, Casey will surely be looking to silence his critics.
Possible Contenders – if the Weather is Decent:
The forecast is calling for typical Scottish weather this week. But, if the weather report is somehow wrong (which is a common occurrence along the west coast of Scotland where the weather can change at the drop of a hat), here are a few players to watch.
Geoff Ogilvy should be considered a contender at any major championship, except when there is a lot of wind and rain involved.
Ogilvy plays a very high ball flight. In normal weather conditions, this is part of what allows him to attack virtually every pin location on any golf course.
But, in the wind and rain, Ogilvy’s high ball flight is a hindrance.
Ogilvy has missed the cut in his last two British Opens, and he could struggle once again this week at Turnberry if the forecast is correct.
If the sun does happen to come out though, Ogilvy cannot be overlooked as a possible contender.
In high winds and driving rain, Brian Gay does not hit the ball anywhere near long enough to contend at Turnberry.
In decent weather, however, Gay’s game certainly contains the right formula for success at Turnberry.
Gay hit’s a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and is an excellent putter.
In perfect conditions, the only way players can get into real trouble at Turnberry is by missing the fairway with their tee shots, which is not something that happens to Brian Gay very often.
Furthermore, Gay has shown an ability to close out a golf tournament, which is a quality that so few players seem to possess these days.
If the weather is decent and Gay is in contention, don’t expect him to back down to anyone, even if a Tiger happens to be stalking him around the links.
Every time this guy steps foot on the golf course, there is a very real chance that he may fire a 62.
Possibly more than anyone else on tour, Hunter Mahan has the ability to catch fire and keep it going for an entire round.
If the weather happens to be nice this week, there could be a 62 out there on the Ailsa course, and Hunter Mahan could very well be the guy to go out there and grab it.
Mahan also has two top-10 finishes at the majors this year and might have actually won the US Open had his perfectly struck approach shot on the 16th hole of the final round not happened to strike the flag stick and roll off the front of the green.
Mahan is a hit or miss player. If he’s hot, he’s as good as anyone on tour. If he’s not, you won’t see his name anywhere near the leaderboard.
Sean O’Hair won the Quail Hollow Championship earlier this year, which was played at a golf course that looked more like a US Open venue than a host course for a standard PGA Tour event.
O’Hair also tied for 10th at the Masters and finished in a tie for 23rd at the US Open.
At the young age of 27, O’Hair has already won three times on the PGA Tour and has three top-25 finishes in major championships.
The big question with O’Hair is whether or not he has what it takes to hold it together on the back-nine of a major championship.
Earlier this year, O’Hair squandered a five-stroke lead to Tiger Woods in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He also limped home at the Quail Hollow Championship with bogeys at the 17th and 18th, only this time none of his pursuers were able to make a run at him.
With knee-high rough just yards off the fairways and greens, Turnberry is a ball striker’s course, and there are few players who have been striking the ball as well as Sean O’Hair lately.
Anthony Kim’s first and only British Open appearance came last year at Royal Birkdale where he managed to finish tied for 7th in some brutally difficult weather.
After a breakout year in 2008, Kim got off to a fairly slow start in 2009 as he fought through several injuries.
Kim finally appears to be healthy and has been playing significantly better over the past month.
Kim tied for 16th at the US Open, tied for 11th at the Travelers Championship and finished in third place just two weeks ago at the AT&T National.
If the forecast for rain and wind this week is correct, it might be too much for Kim to overcome as he continues to work out some kinks in his swing.
If the weather is decent, however, Kim is the type of player who can catch fire and never look back.
Remember, this is the same guy who recorded 11 birdies in one round earlier this year at Augusta National.
Similar to Brian Gay, Furyk may not have the length to contend at Turnberry in difficult weather.
But, if the sun decides to come out, there are few players on tour better than Furyk at meticulously working their way around a golf course while hitting virtually every fairway and green.
Furyk is also very good with his long irons, which he will be forced to use often at Turnberry.
Furyk is a former major champion (2003 US Open) and has finished in the top-five at two out of the last three British Opens.
If the weather is not too rough, Furyk could contend at another British Open this week.
If the rain and wind comes and goes periodically, which is often the case along the West Coast of Scotland, look for the winning score to be between 5-10 under par for the week.
If Mother Nature decides to unleash the full weight of her fury on Turnberry this week, the winning score could be around even par or higher.
If for some strange reason, the sun decides to show up at Turnberry and stick around for the entire week, look for the scoring to be very low – maybe not quite as low as the scoring at Royal Liverpool back in 2006, but the winner could finish somewhere between 10-14 under par in absolute perfect weather conditions, which based on the current forecast, seems unlikely.
Well, that’s about it. Now give us some of that wind, rain, fescue, pot bunkers and brown fairways that are so synonymous with just one golf tournament each year – the British Open.