Sunday July 8, 2012
BIG guns in the hunt
By SHAUN ORANGE
But unlikely heroes often emerge to spoil the party at this great tournament – will it be the same this year at Royal Lytham & St Annes?
TIGER Woods has won three times on the US PGA Tour thus far this season. This makes him the hottest player on the world’s toughest and also richest Tour.
The American remains fourth in the world rankings, but will travel to Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in England, having been duly installed as the favourite to win the British Open and take his tally of Major championship victories to 15.
However, notwithstanding the hype that will swirl around the former world No. 1 as he bids to close in on Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Majors, there are a few players who could well upstage the player who has done enough so far this season to suggest that his drought in Major championships, which stretches back to the 2008 US Open, will come to an end sooner rather than later.
The two players at the top of the world rankings – Luke Donald and Lee Westwood – are both primes for a breakthrough in the majors.
Donald has been by far the most consistent player across the globe, and with his effortless ball-striking and trusty short-game, both requisites for success on the links courses of The Open, he could figure quite prominently if he arrives on the Ayrshire coast with his A-game.
He missed sorely at the US Open and was forced to leave without making the cut at the Olympic Club in San Francisco last month.
But there’s nothing that can keep a good player down for long and Donald will looking to bounce back with some vengeance at Royal Lytham.
Westwood has had a remarkable run of eight top-10s in his last 11 Majors, of which, two were second-place finishes and four in a tie for third. It is this quite outstanding display that has led many to venture that his first major victory is just around the corner.
His camp believes it will come at Royal Lytham, and not many would disagree; not with a tie for third at the Masters in April and a joint 10th place finish at the US Open at Olympic Club.
But there is a long string of other candidates waiting in the wings to lay their hands on one of world sport’s most famous pieces of silverware - the coveted Claret Jug.
Among the ones we would have to factor in are the likes of Webb Simpson and his American compatriot Bubba Watson, winners of the US Open and Masters, respectively, and fifth and sixth in the world rankings.
Graeme McDowell showed more than adequate resolve at the Olympic Club to write off his chances of adding to his success at the 2010 US Open. Eleventh in the rankings, McDowell will fancy his chances at Royal Lytham, given the momentum picked up last month.
His Irish counterpart, Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, will be hoping for a better showing than at the US Open, where he too missed the cut. In fact, McIlroy has got a lot to prove, what with a poor run of results this season; and that after his glorious triumph in the US Open last year and the fanfare that followed.
Americans Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson will also be keen on being in contention in the last round. So too will England’s Justin Rose and Germany’s Martin Kaymer, as well as South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, both of whom have a Major to their credit.
But above all this, one cannot under estimate the likelihood of an unfashionable player or real outside chance of winning the sport’s oldest and biggest prize.
Going back 21 years, there have been nine unlikely winners of the Claret Jug and this year that story could well continue.
Defending champion Darren Clarke came from nowhere to win last year, just as Oosthuizen did the year before and Stewart Cink the year before that.
Todd Hamilton’s victory in 2004 and Ben Curtis’ triumph 12 months earlier were also achieved at great odds. Paul Lawrie’s 1999 win was equally surprising, just as Tom Lehman’s was in 1996 and Ian Baker-Finch’s success in 1991.
Will history repeat itself at Royal Lytham next week, or will Tiger come through and land his 15th major title, as so many expect him to do?