There’s little history to Royal St. George’s, at least little mystique. It’s not the birthplace of golf like St. Andrew’s or an impossibly difficult test like Carnoustie.
When a venue crowns so unheralded a champ as 2003’s Open winner Ben Curtis, somehow the course bears the brunt of the criticism. Ask Ian Poulter about the course at Sandwich, and he’ll say “it’s an average course at best.”
The 18 holes that sit as far south as any in The Open rota are wildly considered the most quirky, fluky among the bunch. But isn’t that exactly what’s so loved about link golf? The creativity, the nuance, the ability to define a champion who does more than lasers his seven iron more precisely than anyone else that week. It’s got humps and bumps and wacky lies and oddball stances and nothing’s a given.
But when in golf is anything a given. Who will emerge? Who will surprise?
Who will win the 2011 British Open? Score?
Graeme McDowell, -4. The gutty Northern Irishman proved his mettle in 2010, as both a major champion and on the grand stage of the Ryder Cup. He’s been off his game in 2011 but has shown flashes of hitting his stride. Last week he played well until carding a nine late on Sunday. Long putts fall at the British Open, and I can’t think of a single golf who’s dropped more crucial putts in the past 12 months than McDowell. His Open record is solid, but not dazzling. He has the look of a multiple major winner to me, and the tougher Royal St. George’s plays, the better his odds of emerging.
Who places more players in the Top 10? USA or Europe?
This is the week that the U.S. struggles really hits home. I have to go 10-12 players deep in my “favorites” list before I find an American I think has a legit shot here. I’m going to say Europe places seven in the top 10, America places one, and the rest of the world has two.
Name one Top 10 player to miss the cut and one sub-50 player who contends.
Tough one here. Mickelson seems the obvious choice, but something just ain’t right with Martin Kaymer. I’ll say he struggles and misses the weekend. Angel Cabrera, ranked 75th in the world, has been hit and miss at the Open, but he’ll be right there on Sunday. One other name to keep in mind: Sweden’s Fredrik Andersson Hed.
Head to head: Westwood vs. McIlroy? Donald vs. McDowell? Quiros vs. Dustin Johnson? Top American? Top European?
Westwood is always right there and McIlroy has barely touched his clubs since Congressional. Lee takes him, but both play well, Top 15. McDowell’s my pick to win, but I’d be shocked if Donald doesn’t finish top 5. In long ball battle, give me the dim-witted Johnson, who won’t let the funky course infect his psyche. Jeff Overton will be top American (finished 13th and 11th past two Opens) and McDowell is top Euro.
Does the British Open venue affect your interest in the tournament? What are your feelings about Royal St. George’s?
The Open rota is full of historic spots. Part of my enjoyment this week is learning a lot more about the venue, so I’m taking an open mind into Royal St. George’s. I know it’s got a reputation as quirky, but I love that and think the most creative golfer will hoist the jug on Sunday.
Where do you stand on links golf? It’s golf as it should be? Or it’s golf where lucky/unlucky bounces play too big a role?
I experienced true links golf for the first time this spring at Royal Porthcawl in Wales, and it completely changed my appreciation for this style of golf, and for the game as a whole. Hitting a 350-yard five wood, a 225-yard nine iron and a 120-yard driver and 60 yard putt all in the same round really opened my eyes to all the different ways to play golf. It’s not all about point and shoot that we know so well in America and the creativity of links golf turns it into as much an art form as a sport.
Ron Varrial is Metro’s Managing Editor, Print and Digital. He is also a regular contributor to TheSandTrap.com, where you can find more of his thoughts on golf.