A major week is always a special one. Their is just something in the air. Maybe its just the relevance of it all. When push comes to shove, no one really remembers a golf year for anything but these four weeks. Sure, we golf-geeks occupy our time between majors with things like the John Deere Classic or the Travelers Championship. But even the staunchest of FedEx Cup defenders would have to admit that there's no comparison between the four majors and every other week on tour. It's an argument that is not worth having because no one who is serious about professional golf will have any other opinion.
Maybe its because I am a biased American, but my two favorite majors are The Masters and The U.S Open. Not to say that I don't love the other two (my alarm is already on Scottish time), but I feel I connect more with the first two major events. However, on a world-wide scale, The British Open is perhaps the one with the most cache. Two reasons for this: 1) It's the oldest major tournament and 2) It's the only major not played on U.S soil. Even though professional golf is a world wide entity, America has a virtual monopoly on the events. The British certainly has the most world wide feel of any of the four majors.
Here are some things I'll be watching for over the next four days...
1. The Course- Another reason why the British is different from any other major tournament is that it's played at a Links course. This years site: Turnberry in Scotland. What is Links Golf you ask? Here's a good explanation from our friends at 2cybergolf.com
A links course is built along a major body of water
A links course usually has very few trees, if any.
A links course resides on sandy soil that drains easily.
A links course has a natural open layout where the native landscape and the weather (wind/rain) play a huge factor
A links course features ground contours that provide remarkable inherent undulations and slopes in the fairways and greens
A links course rarely has any internal water bodies
A links course’s rough areas feature pure seaside grasses
The thing to watch out for with a links course is the impact of weather. You may chuckle at that based on what went on a few weeks ago at Bethpage, but it's true. More than any other style of golf, links golf is generally most affected by weather.
Why? Because the weather can change on a dime. One minute, the wind could be calm and manageable. The next, hold on to your hat and keep watch of that ball. This unpredictable nature makes links golf just that-unpredictable.
It also makes it very hard to figure out a way to attack the course in your hotel room the night before. In Tiger Wood's press conference yesterday, most of the technical course questions he could not answer because shot selection and a general plan of attack depends so much on what the weather is like from hole to hole.
If the weather is calm, the course is manageable and reactively undaunting (for a major course). But the weather being calm is a gigantic if. It's best to assume it won't be.
2) Will Tiger Woods end his "major slump"- If you recall a column I wrote a week ago, you'll get why I put "major slump" in quotes. Theirs a feeling out there that Tiger has had a down year because he hasn't been in realistic Sunday contention at either of the prior majors this year. Never mind he's coming off of major reconstructive surgery. Never mind that he's finished in the top ten in both majors and won three other tournaments. He hasn't won majors like Tiger wins majors, so his year has obviously been poor.
While I think that this notion is utterly ridiculous, I do think that the idea that Tiger hasn't been his old self at The Masters or The U.S Open holds major weight. He hasn't shown that bull by the horns mentality that we are used to seeing from Woods on the stages that we are used to seeing it. Part of the reason for his U.S Open performance was the unbelievable Long Island weather that week. He was one of the unlucky ones who got out on that Thursday morning when everything was disrupted. I think this hurt Tiger for the rest of the tournament. He never got in a rythem.
He won't have that excuse this year. Weather is part of the deal at the British. Adapting to it is part of the game. It's part of the exercise that is The Open Championship. I think Tiger has to have a good week, and specifically a good Sunday,to put to bed all the "sub-par Tiger" hogwash that has been going around lately.
By the way...Here's a quote from Tiger on his year so far-
"It's been a tremendous success," Woods said of his 2009 season. "I remember looking at the year and just trying to get back in playing, [thinking] hopefully I can play and hopefully I can play at a high level. And to sit here and say I was going to have three wins halfway through the year -- if anyone would have looked at my situation, they would have said, 'You probably might be reaching a little bit.'"
One other note- Tiger has never played Turnberry.
3. Padrig Harrington going for three straight British Championships- Here's how bad Padrig Harrington has been this year. A third straight British Open championship would give him half as many British Opens in the last three years as cuts he's made on tour this year. That's right. In 13 events this season, Padraig has made only six cuts. Not something you would expect from a twice defending major champion. A lot has to do with swing. Paddy has been working on changing his swing and, by all accounts, it does not seam to be going all too well. It also may be confidence, or lack thereof. Harrington seems very unsure of himself and his game. Swing changes will do that and he does believe that better things are on the horizon, but I don't know if Harrington will turn into the Paddy of old and leave his swing woes behind.
He is coming off a win last week at the Irish PGA, but I don't think that translates into British success.
The Pick: Hunter Mahan. A bit of a dark horse, I know, but Mahan may be peaking at the right time. In each of his last three starts, Mahan has finished in the top ten. In his last tournament, The AT&T National, Mahan shot a Sunday 62 and forced Tiger Woods to play a perfect rest of his round to avoid a playoff. His year is coming to a head. Not only has each of his last three finishes been in the top ten, they have each been higher then the preceding one.
The only finish left is first. I think he gets it this week...