2009 British Open Preview

troy testaCorrespondent IJuly 15, 2009

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND - JULY 13:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays on the 10th hole watched by Graeme McDowell during the practice round of the 138th Open Championship on July 13, 2009 on the Ailsa Course, Turnberry Golf Club, Turnberry, Scotland.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Temperamental Turnberry Will Be a Factor

The 138th British Open will be played at Turnberry Club in Scotland; home to three previous Open Championships all won by players renowned for their excellent ball striking ability.  The landscape and seaside views surrounding Turnberry’s Aisla course are considered by many as the Holy Grail of Royal and Ancient’s Open Championship venue rotation.

Standing on Turnberry’s hallowed grounds, there are remnants of Robert the Bruce’s castle foundation at your feet.  The mountains of Arran rest to the north, the Kintyre peninsula is due west, and the Aisla Craig is just South.  Turnberry overlooks the Irish Sea, which likes to insert its will with unpredictable gusts and temperamental deluges, seemingly spawned purposely to douse the chances of a would-be champion. 

A famous Scottish saying goes, “Nae wind, nae rain, nae golf.”  The weather is unpredictable hour to hour.  Depending on a player’s morning-afternoon or afternoon-morning rotation, some players can get lucky, while others may feel like the Irish Sea is out to get them. 

Part of the charm of The Open is watching the world’s best golfers playing in treacherous conditions.  Turnberry has a history of some of the harshest tournament conditions to date.

The first Open Championship staged at Turnberry in 1977 was the only Turnberry British Open Championship where bad weather did not play a part in the tournament. 

Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus were tied heading into the weekend, having left the field behind.  The two top players in the world at the time staged an epic battle over the weekend, still today referred to as the “Duel Under the Sun.”  Without the usual adverse weather conditions, Watson shot weekend scores of 65-65 to finish just one stroke better than Nicklaus’s weekend, 65-66.  Watson won the coveted Claret Jug by one stroke.

Two-Time Defending Champion Not in Form

Padraig Harrington has won the last two Open Championships, but swing changes have the two-time defending champ mired in a slump.  Harrington won three of six major championships in a 13-month span; he then, inexplicably, decided his swing needed an overhaul.

His modest goal was to improve the position of his club head at impact.  It sounded simple enough, but the rest of his game has suffered in the process. 

“Through that,” Harrington explained, “a combination of other things turned up. Golf is always, for me, a juggling act of keeping all the balls in the air and keeping everything working together. I've obviously concentrated on one ball a lot, and a few of the others have fallen on the ground, and it's a question of picking them up and getting them all together again.”

Or instead of juggling multiple balls, you can go back to focusing on putting your one golf ball in the hole with as few shots as possible and get back to winning major championships. 

Normally, you would never count out a defending champ in a major, especially someone who has won the last two of a given event.  But Harrington’s form has been atrocious leading up to this weekend, and he has relegated himself to also-ran.

Harrington is ranked 137th in putting (1.793 putts per green), 182nd in driving accuracy (52.8 percent of fairways hit), and 182nd in greens in regulation (60.06 percent).  He has no top 10s on the PGA tour this year and has missed the cut in his last four events.

British odds makers are so unimpressed with Harrington’s form, they have listed him at 25-1 odds to win with just 9-4 odds he will even make the cut.

Woods is Back after One-Year Hiatus

Woods missed last year’s Open after recovering from season-ending knee surgery following the U.S. Open.  Woods is the odds-on favorite, even though he has never played at Turnberry prior to arriving last Sunday for practice rounds. 

Arguably, no player on tour defines his season’s success by how he performs in Major Championships more than Tiger Woods.  So far this season, Woods is zero for two.  

Only twice this decade has Woods failed to win at least one major in a golf season (2003-04).  Woods finished tied for fourth in ’03 and tied for ninth in ’04 in his two British Open starts in the years he failed to capture a major.  

Woods has won two majors in a season four times this decade, including the Tiger Slam of 2000-2001, where he held every major championship trophy at the same time, but not in the same calendar year.

With previous champions Watson, Greg Norman, and Nick Price all being considered some of the best ball strikers of their time, Woods knows he will need to make shots in order to win this week.

“You really do have to hit your ball well, here,” Woods said, after playing a morning practice round with Mark O'Meara and Mark Calcavecchia. “And you have to drive the ball well. You have to hit your irons well. You just can't fake it around this golf course. You just have to hit good shots.”

If the wind doesn’t blow, Woods and the other players could post low numbers at Turnberry.   Greg Norman shot 63 during the second round in 1986 on his way to winning the Open Championship.  Four players shot 64s the last time the Open was hosted at Turnberry in 1994.  Rain is in the forecast for the first two days of play, but the players have yet to face the torrential winds in practice sessions.

“The course is fantastic,” said Woods. “It's in great shape. The rough is up a little bit. We haven't had the big winds yet. We'll see how the weather holds.”

Mickelson out for The Open

Phil Mickelson decided to skip the season’s third major and opted rather to stay with his wife Amy, who is recovering from breast cancer surgery two weeks ago.  Mickelson made the announcement that he would be staying stateside at the same time he reported that his mother had also been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Say what you will about Mickelson, but his decision to stay with family proves he understand what is really important in life.  Nobody would have judged him if he made the trip to Scotland and declared he was, “Going to win the British for Amy.”   There was only one right move for a self-proclaimed family man, and Mickelson made it.

Handicapping the Field - Favorites

Tiger Woods–2/1

Woods returned to the winners circle for the first time this season after reconstructive knee surgery by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitation at Bay Hill.  “Yea, that first one back, that was pretty special,” said Woods. “The people who are around me know how hard I had to work to get back to that position to be able to play again. And it felt good. It really did. It felt so good to get that W, because you put in so many hours of work just to give yourself a physical chance to hit the golf ball again.”

Woods won twice more this year proving he is all the way back and 100 percent healthy. 

If you want to bet your hard-earned money, you might as well put it on a money player.  Woods ranks No. 1 in career earnings at $86,914,539.  On a ball striker’s golf course that demands both distant and accuracy off the tee, you have to like that Woods hits 25 percent of his drives over 320 yards and lands 64.06 percent of them in the fairway.

Woods also ranks first in tour scoring average with a salty 68.26 average per round.  In 10-stroke play events this season, Woods has yet to finish out of the top 10 and he has three wins and three runner-ups.

Rory McIlroy-25/1

McIlroy is a betting favorite in part because his boyish face and humble approach endure him to the local British betting public.  But those that stand about and watch him hit range balls say his club at impact makes a different sound than the other players. 

McIlroy may be young and relatively inexperienced, but this will be his third major championship, and he has been improving at every go.  McIlroy finished 20th at the Masters; he then finished 10th at the U.S. Open.  At this improvement rate, a top-five is possible at this weekend’s Open Championship.

Hunter Mahan-28/1

Mahan has yet to finish outside the top 10 in a major championship this season.  Mahan finished tied for tenth at the Masters and was in contention on Sunday at the U.S. Open before falling off the pace on the back nine and finishing sixth.

Mahan has five top-10s this season and his scoring average of 69.5 ranks fifth on tour.  Known for his ball striking, Mahan should be hovering in the top 10 on the weekend.  If he can get his putter rolling, this could be the weekend he breaks through at a major.

Good Value Bets

Steve Stricker-33/1

Stricker may very well be the best money on the board this week.  Fresh off his victory last week at the John Deere Classic, Stricker has the shot-making prowess and mental fortitude to win the Claret Jug come Sunday.

Stricker has been smoking hot all season, having made 13 of 15 cuts, with two wins, five top-threes and seven top-10s.  Sporting a 69.3 scoring average, which is second only to Tiger Woods, Stricker has proven his ability to shoot low and win golf tournaments. 

Kenny Perry-40/1

Perry melted down with two holes to play earlier this year at the Masters, robbing him of his best chance to break through at a Major.  Perry has yet to miss a cut in 17 starts, while winning twice and accumulating seven top-10s.

Great Long Shots Bets

Zach Johnson-66/1

Johnson is another player who has been playing solid golf all season, but he hasn’t been given much of a chance to win The Open.  Johnson has made 14 of 18 cuts this season, including six top-tens and two wins.

Brian Gay-66/1

Gay has been happy with his play all year, posting a career best scoring average of 69.5 to this point in the season.  Gay has won twice this year and has proven an ability to hold a Sunday lead.  Gay also ranks fifth in sand saves at 62.22 percent and fifth in putts per round at 27.98.

Bad Bets

Sergio Garcia-25/1

If you are one of those people who say things like, “He’s due,” then this is the perfect bad bet for you.  Step up all you come-line bettors, and throw your money away on the worst putter in the history of professional golf.

Garcia is masterful off the tee, but look away from the television when he steps up to any putt over four feet.  He won’t miss it by much, but he won’t make it either. 

Garcia has exactly one top-10 all season with no wins.  He ranks 159th in driving accuracy (57.8 percent), 146th in putts per round (29.53), and is currently listed at 109th on the money list.

Ian Poulter-28/1

It seems the England native has spent too much time in the United States and took to calling The Open the “British Open” five times in one interview.  Poulter has since apologized, but don’t expect the crowd to let him off the hook all weekend.

Poulter has never won on the PGA tour, so expecting him to break through at his favorite tournament after firing up the locals is just faulty logic.  Poulter ranks 146th in greens in regulation at 62.65 percent.

The 19th Hole

A British Open is not complete until at least one streaker makes a mad dash across the 18th green on Sunday wearing only a birthday suit and some marks-a-lot ink stating “19th hole” with an arrow pointing to his or her bum.


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