The Open Golf Preview
The records show that to win an Open at Muirfield, you need to be more than just a golfer enjoying a brief purple patch of form or a lucky week. To win an Open at Muirfield you need to be a legend.
The roll of honour since the war reads like a Who’s Who of Golf: Henry Cotton (1948), Gary Player (1959), Jack Nicklaus (1966), Lee Trevino (1972), Tom Watson (1980) and Sir Nick Faldo (1987 and 1992),
And even when Tiger Woods was thrown off course, almost literally, with a storm of biblical proportions when the Open was last played on the East Lothian links in 2002, it was another golfing giant, Ernie Els, one of the greatest links players of all time, who ended the week holding aloft the Claret Jug after a four-way play-off.
Not many in this week’s field can lay claim to be a legend of the sport (apart from the likes of Watson and Faldo, now just playing mainly for nostalgic purposes) – Woods and Els, obviously and Rory McIlroy may well join them down the line.
And of course there is Phil Mickelson and he, above everyone perhaps, seems to fit the bill as a Muirfield winner. Coral go 20/1 and that’s a price that makes a great deal of appeal.
Mickelson doesn’t have a great record in the Open, certainly not compared to what he has achieved in US majors, but it has never been because he doesn’t have the game for links golf; more that in the past he has invariably got into trouble playing the crowd-pleasing shots.
Nowadays, however, there seems to be much more maturity off the tee – he often doesn’t even put a driver in his bag – while his short game remains sublime.
Second to Darren Clarke at Sandwich in 2011, runner-up (yet again) in the US Open last month and winner of the Scottish Open last week, the popular 43-year-old is maybe now ready to win our Open and join the Muirfield Hall of Fame.
With Woods (8/1 favourite) and McIlroy (28/1) both currently having questions marks against them and major-less former world number ones Lee Westwood (30/1) and Luke Donald (35/1) weighed down by the monkeys on their backs, US Open winner, Justin Rose (20/1), and US Masters winner, Adam Scott, (22/1), look better bets amongst the other big names at the head of the market.
Further down the betting list Paul Lawrie and Richard Sterne (both 100/1) catch the eye, although the Scot needs to find a way of playing as well on the Saturday as he does on the other three days. Six out of the last seven times he has made the cut, Lawrie has thrown in a poor third round, although he did recover rather well in 1999 at Carnoustie when he overcame a ten-shot deficit on the final day to be crowned Open Champion.
South African Sterne has been plagued with back problems in recent seasons, but is back healthy and in the groove this year and is the type of player one can well imagine in the final mix come Sunday.
Written by Jon Freeman