This is the year! Why a British player will lift the Claret Jug
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
THERE is a warm fuzzy feeling in Britain, and it has nothing to do with the weather. No, it all has to do with a belief that a home player could be lifting the Claret Jug at Hoylake at the conclusion of The Open Championship.
Optimism is nothing new, of course. Every year the British press throws its weight behind a chosen hope and then fills the rest of its coverage with stories about Tiger Woods and the young amateur champion, whoever that may be.
Last year it was Justin Rose, on account of his victory in the US Open. It was never going to happen. If you are an ordinary mortal, winning a major takes a great deal out of you, and Rose expended a great deal of mental and physical energy in landing the title at Merion.
In the immediate aftermath, there were countless interviews and events to attend and it was probably a relief for him when he was able to get back on the course. But it was no real surprise that he failed to make the cut.
In truth, Rose has a miserable record in The Open. The best he has ever done was to tie for fourth at Birkdale in 1998 when he was a 17-year-old amateur. Since then, he has missed the cut on five occasions and his best performance as a professional was a tie for 12th in 2007. He has even failed to qualify on four occasions, such has been the rollercoaster nature of his career.
Compare that with The Masters, where he has twice finished in the top eight, the US PGA, which he should have won in 2012 before finishing third and the US Open, where he has one win and two other top 10 finishes to his name. And he finished in a tie for 12th this year.
So what makes this year different?
Rose has just won the Quicken Loans National (where do they get these titles) at the fearsome Congressional Golf Club, one of the toughest courses on the planet. It was his sixth win on the PGA Tour, drawing him level with Nick Faldo. And Rose is still only 33 and in his prime.
Unlike the US Open, this victory won't put any additional pressure on Rose's shoulders and there will be no endless round of media interviews. It all means that he will arrive in Hoylake in buoyant mood.
He knows that he has underachieved in The Open. He also knows that he is good enough to win multiple majors. As we have already stated, the Englishman loves tough courses, and Royal Liverpool certainly fits the bill. If we get a bid of wind, Rose will surely be in contention.
If not Rose, who else?
That would be Rory McIlroy. You may remember that at the start of the BMW PGA championship, McIlroy told a hushed press conference that, having sent out the invitations for his marriage to Caroline Wozniacki, he realised that he wasn't ready to settle down and that the couple had split up. McIlroy cut a distressed figure as he tried to keep his emotions in check and had to work very hard to fight the tears back.
He said that he just wanted to get out on the golf course and focus on his game. From the way he spoke, most of us expected him to shoot 80, 80 and miss the cut. Instead, he produced four brilliant rounds of golf and won the tournament.
He also played three great rounds at The Masters - unfortunately, there was also one bad round. And he showed at the US Open that his very best game is not far away.
McIlroy is a streaky player, and always will be. But it is a racing certainty that his juices will be flowing when he arrives in the northwest of England, and if he can get off to a decent start then he will take some stopping.
In a field of 156, it is possible to eliminate at least 100 as possible winners. The problem is that there are still 50-odd players who, on their day, could lift the Claret Jug.
Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Ian Poulter, Thomas Bjorn, Victor Dubuisson, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed and the incredible Jordan Spieth are just a handful of players who all have what it takes to do the job at Hoylake, but it is always fun to look outside the box, and I believe there are two outsiders who could spring a huge surprise.
Tommy Fleetwood learnt his golf on links courses and comes from Southport, just across Liverpool Bay. He will have huge local support, has learnt how to win and how to contend. He has a fabulous temperament and a great golf game - and he won't be afraid to see the job through if he gets himself into contention.
And my other dark horse is Kevin Streelman, who played in his first Open at Muirfield last year and quietly went about completing all four rounds.
The American has recently become a father for the first time and won the Travelers Championship with birdies at each of the last seven holes during his final round. He is a much, much better golfer than some give him credit for, and is that rare thing - an American who loves both links golf and playing in the wind.
And finally, if you are looking for an each-way bet, the only possible man to carry your money is Henrik Stenson, who came so close in 2013
Derek Clements is a sports journalist with a particular passion for golf with over 12 years of experience covering golf and other sports including Chief Sub-Editor on the sports desk of The Sunday Times. To contact Derek email direct via [email protected]
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