The TOUR Insider: The Open Championship edition
Who are the players to watch at this week's Open Championship? According to the TOUR Insider, we could be in for some surprises, including why he likes this year's U.S. Open champion to do well here as well.
Dave Shedloski, PGATOUR.com Senior Correspondent
The last time they played on this week's testy track, the winner shot a 26 on the front nine and 61 in the opening round and still had to fight to win his 15th career professional title. Winning major championships are never easy. Neither is winning any other PGA TOUR event, which is what Corey Pavin rediscovered last year in capturing the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.
Golf activity reaches a crescendo this week, in the ides of July, on two continents, with 312 balls in the air. Teleportation -- there is a great need today.
Milwaukee, which has a tradition dating back to 1968, we've already mentioned. The other tournament commencing Thursday was begun in '60; of course, that's 1860. The Open Championship returns to the storied and stringent links of Carnoustie, Scotland, a place where many greats have convened in the winner's circle and where there occurred a grizzly conclusion in 1999 when Jean Van de Velde joined the likes of Greg Norman and Arnold Palmer as one of the most memorable losers of a major title.
Birdies could be abundant in the upper Midwest portion of the United States at Milwaukee's Brown Deer Park Golf Course. Pavin shot 20-under 260 on the par-70 layout and triumphed by a mere two strokes. The top 27 finishers shot par or better in the final round alone.
Across the Atlantic, hard by the North Sea in the Kingdom of Fife, lies one of the hardest courses man has yet devised in concert with nature. Birdies do not go to die there because they don't reside there at all. A few fall out of the sky, surreptitiously mingling with the wind and rain and sea-salt sweat.
In 1999, Scotland's own Paul Lawrie survived a four-hole playoff against Van de Velde and 1997 Open champion Justin Leonard after the three ended 72 holes of regulation play at 6-over-par 290 on the unforgiving par-71 track. In the last three Opens played at Carnoustie, the collective scoring average has swung north of 76.
The gents should be primed for such an examination, however. Zach Johnson won the Masters in April at 1 over par, matching the highest winning aggregate total at the former tree nursery now known as Augusta National Golf Club. With nary a tree in sight, Angel Cabrera shot 5 over to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont last month, matching Geoff Ogilvy's victory effort from a year earlier as the highest winning total since 1974.
Now they get to visit a place nicknamed Car-nasty. How delicious. How delightful.
How can we possibly take our eyes off it?
Here's the first thing you need to know about the Open favorites: They were the top three finishers at the U.S. Open. That's right, Angel Cabrera, the winner at Oakmont, is a major player who just happened to tie for fourth at the '99 Open. Meanwhile, two-time defending champion Tiger Woods was seventh that year and Jim Furyk has four top-10s in the Open Championship, including a tie for 10th at Carnoustie.
Only four men besides Woods will arrive at Carnoustie having finished in the top 10 in the first two majors of 2007, so watch them carefully. They are: Paul Casey, Jerry Kelly, Justin Rose and David Toms.
Colin Montgomerie, still without a major title, won his record 31st European Tour title two weeks ago at the Smurfit European Open. Though he missed the cut at the Barclays Scottish Open, he should not be overlooked, having finished second to Woods two years ago at St. Andrews and tying for 15th at Carnoustie in '99.
The best chance for Sergio Garcia to break through at a major is the Open, where he has finished in the top 10 on five occasions, including ties for fifth the last two years. Garcia recently switched to a belly putter, and his first time wielding it he shot a 65 at the Scottish Open. Too bad his Carnoustie memories are nightmarish; he shot 89-83--172, last among players completing 36 holes.
Three-time Open champion Nick Faldo turns 50 on Wednesday and will celebrate his birthday by playing in the Open, followed by the Senior British Open the following week at Muirfield, Scotland, where he'll make his senior debut and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first of his three titles.
The most touching story of the week could be that of Drew Weaver, the Virginia Tech junior who won the British Amateur to qualify for the Open. He dedicated his surprise victory to the victims of the deadly on-campus shooting at Virginia Tech earlier this year.
Ernie Els, owner of the '02 Open title, used a Callaway FT-I square driver at the Scottish Open, and the results probably were heartening to the Big Easy. With a closing 65, Els ended up third, one stroke out of the playoff won by Gregory Havret over Phil Mickelson.
Along with Pavin, there are plenty of good names teeing it up in Milwaukee this week. Here's some name-dropping: Tim Clark, former champs Kenny Perry, Shigeki Maruyama and Jeff Sluman, veterans like Steve Elkington, Bob Tway, John Cook and Brad Faxon, top rookie Anthony Kim, and two-time winner Carlos Franco. Once again, registering a "W" will be far from simple.
TOUR Insider's power ranking for the 136th British Open: 1. Tiger Woods, 2. Jim Furyk, 3. Angel Cabrera, 4. Phil Mickelson, 5. Colin Montgomerie.
TI's power ranking for the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee: 1. Kenny Perry, 2. Tim Clark, 3. Carlos Franco, 4. Rocco Mediate, 5. Shigeki Maruyama.