OPEN WEEK IS here. The only Major of the year in Europe and the one that last year gave Northern Ireland its third different Major winner in the space of two years, Darren Clarke.
This year, the venue is Royal Lytham St Annes, just south of Blackpool on the North West coast of England. The last time the Open was held there, David Duval emerged victorious.
At that point, it seemed like the world was Duval’s oyster. There was no doubt in most people’s mind that subsequent Majors would come easily to him. He was one of the men, if not the man, earmarked as the one to challenge Tiger Woods’ dominance.
What happened next is a story of the ups and downs of professional sport. A very unexpected runner-up finish at the 2009 US Open has been the extent of Duval’s success since then, and while he will be in the field this week, any play beyond Friday will be a real bonus for him.
The aforementioned Woods goes into the tournament as favourite, as if that was much of a surprise. Hovering not too far behind are Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood.
This time last year, McIlroy was the hot favourite, coming into the tournament off the back of his win at the US Open, only to struggle through the challenging weather and finish in a tie for 25th. After the tournament, he told reporters that he “would rather play when it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not much wind.” He went on to say that he would probably have to wait for a year when the weather is nice in order to win an Open Championship.
Very interesting comments from a guy who would have grown up playing a good amount of links golf in the amateur tournaments around Ireland, and in doing so, would have had to deal with the weather atrocity that the Irish summer can be.
Luckily, the forecast thus far is for pretty decent weather at Lytham St Annes, so maybe McIlroy will have it the way he wants it.
Just behind McIlroy in the betting is none other than 2007 and 2008 Open Champion, Padraig Harrington.
It’s been a few years since Harrington has been among the favourites in a Major Championship, but as he said himself at the Masters earlier this year, you could argue that he is the form player in Majors, having won three in the last 5 years. No other player has as good a record in Majors over that period of time as he does.
He has also had top-10 finishes in both of the Majors so far this year. He tied for eighth place at the Masters and finished in a tie for fourth at the US Open, despite a heartbreaking bogey at the final hole.
As heartbreaking as that bogey may have been, however, he would have needed a birdie to get into a playoff, and admitted to Newstalk’s ‘Off the Ball‘ recently that if he was given the choice again, he would still play aggressively and go for the birdie, despite the risk involved.
There’s something about Harrington when he’s in that mood that sets him apart from the rest of the field. He has an excellent golf game, but as evident in his three Major wins already, it is his mind that gives him an edge when it comes to the back nine on Sunday.
His performances in Majors so far this year will have given him great confidence and self-belief for the week ahead and if he is in the mix on Sunday, no man is as well equipped to do what it takes to win the Championship.
Tiger Woods would obviously have something to say about that, and it would be no surprise to see him contend, but his form this year, despite his three PGA Tour wins, still has an element of unpredictability about it.
His two most recent tournaments, where he finished Win – Missed Cut, are the strongest evidence we need.
Previous Majors winners like Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Webb Simpson will all be ones to follow.
Then of course there’s the chance of the run of first-time Major winners continuing to 16 in a row.
It promises to be a very interesting tournament, and I’m predicting a strong showing from the Irish.