The 2012 British Open begins July 19 and all of golf’s biggest stars will be in attendance at Royal Lytham. Predicting how some of the best will perform is on the agenda today, but first let’s take a look at how it should be played.
A shorter course (played at 6,905 yards at the 2001 Open), Lytham & St Annes is not easy by any stretch. American David Duval won it the last time it was held at Royal Lytham. As Tiger Woods proved that trying to shorten the already stubby course is a mistake, Duval was successful by taking what the course gave him—if you’ll pardon the cliché.
Players must do just that this time around, as the course will be equally stingy—but will play a bit longer, at 7,118 yards.
Last year’s Open Championship winner is not a PGA Tour regular. He is also not showing well at the PGA events in which he has taken part this year.
In five events this season, he has been cut three times and finished as high as 33rd—at the Accenture Match Play Championship in February. 2011 was a much better year for Clarke, as he finished in the top-five at three of the six tournaments he entered, including winning the British.
Yet, he will somehow put it all together at Royal Lytham and be in contention all weekend. It’s what he does. Clarke shows best at the Open Championship, though before last year’s win it had been since 2005 that he was close on Sunday (he finished tied for 15th).
Final Result: Top-20 finish
After two victories in three tournaments, Woods failed to make the cut at the Greenbrier Classic in early July. He has not been particularly good at the British Open since winning back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006.
But, he’s been better of late, crushing the ball on his drives like we’re all used to seeing and really putting well of late. He rode his putter to victory at the recent AT&T National, not recording a single three-putt the entire week.
Following the win, Woods credited former Stanford teammate Notah Begay for helping him regain his small-ball form (h/t Alan Shipnuck, SI.com): “He got me putting like I used to,” Woods said. “Which was, in a word, ‘Fantastic.’“
All relishing aside, Woods’ putting at the AT&T was fantastic. The greens at the Open Championship will be a bit tougher to play, though, so he will need his absolute best if he is to win major title No. 15 and close the gap with Jack Nicklaus.
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Final Result: Top-five finish
Rory started the year as the No. 1 golfer in the world. He started well, placing in the top-five in four of his first five tournaments—including a win at the Honda Classic.
Since then, however, McIlroy has missed the cut at three PGA events: The Players’ Championship, the Memorial Tournament and most recently the U.S. Open. The 23-year-old Irishman is ready for whatever comes his way at the Open Championship, according to ESPN:
“There’s a lot of tee shots that you have to hit left to right at Lytham,” he said. “So I’ll just work on the fade and make sure that’s in good order. Apart from that I’ll make sure the rest of the game is sharp and ready to go.”
He must make sure the winds don’t get to him, though, as his reaction to the weather at last year’s British Open left some senior members of the Tour suggesting he keep his mouth shut and play.
A year older and a bit wiser, McIlroy will be ready to take on the field.
Final Result: Top-five finish
The world’s No. 1 golfer has had an up-and-down 2012 season. His roller coaster ride through the doglegs and bunkers has been both exciting and disappointing to watch.
Donald started the year with two finishes outside the top 30. Then he placed sixth at the WGC Cadillac Championships and won the Transitions Championship in March before two more tournaments outside the top 30. He had a nice run in April and May that included two top-10 finishes and another at No. 12—but then missed the cut at the U.S. Open two weeks later.
Though he is not a big-hitter off the tee, his short game is exemplary. He is currently third in Strokes Gained-Putting, at .758 strokes per round. He will be there near the end, and his PGA Tour-leading 69.13 final round scoring average will help him win his first major.
Final Result: Victory
Hole-by-hole Guide to Royal Lytham & St Annes, Presented by Golf Monthly