Open Championship preview: Car-nicety laid out for Woods
They say you can’t keep a good man down. Certainly not John Philp, the head greenkeeper notorious for Carnoustie’s ‘99 course, which earned him the opprobrium of the world’s top golfers and an MBE from the Queen. Philp maintains robust views about the comments of his critics ("crap” being the one I remember best).
So the powers that be at Carnoustie found ways of ensuring he, er, took a bit of “gardening leave” during this year’s build-up. And when he was eventually allowed to slip ever so quietly back the other day, requests for interviews were politely turned away - all except one, permitted on the basis of not a single question about THAT tournament.
They must have forgotten to tell Philp, because he raised the subject himself and was well into his stride before you could say ‘liquid fertiliser’. There was “a lot of weak golf that week, bad shots, played with iron clubs, let alone wood clubs. Take away the wind, and it would never have been topical. … “
I only mention this because I am relieved to see Philp roaming free. I had visions of him being bound and gagged and shoved in a cupboard for the entire month while THEY (who know who they are) concentrated on producing the most unPhilp-like course imaginable. You have to worry when professional golfers start cooing about a course. The rough has been beaten into submission, the fairways are generous: even the weather looks to be playing its part. Cold and damp maybe, but forecast to be not at all as windy as it ought to be. So after Car-nasty, Car-nicety?
I’d certainly say it sits up nicely for Tiger Woods to make it three Opens in a row. I have my reservations as ever: he’s a busy daddy these days and on the rare occasions he has lifted a club in anger his putter has become a phutter. But this is his favourite master and he always seems to put in a special effort. Plus he is at one with links courses and doesn’t have the distractions he had at Washington earlier this month.
Among the usual suspects seeking to spoil his week are:
Phil Mickelson: We haven’t quite had the summer of fun promised after victory at The Players but at least Lefty seems to be over his wrist problem. Now about that driver … He did flunk last week’s Scottish Open at the last, but second place suggests solid form again and no doubt he’s plotted something with Butch Harmon to chase Tiger down. He doesn’t have a great record in this competition, but did come third at Troon (you know, the one won by Todd something or other).
Ernie Els: a lot of people like the look of Ernie on the back of his stellar Open record and his third place last week. It’s still putting that’s his soft spot - if he gets on top of that watch out.
Jim Furyk: the most frustrating golfer on the planet. Top five in four of his last five outings, but no cigar. Still, after a string of Open missed cuts he actually came fourth at Hoylake last year. His accuracy and strokeplay are first class but, you guessed it, the putter only works part-time.
Padraig Harrington: Why are so many people hailing him as Europe’s greatest prospect? Has anyone seen his Open record (last two were missed cuts) or his last six tournaments where he couldn’t even break 50th? I hear he won something Mickey Mouse in Ireland the other day. Bejaysus!
Vijay Singh: The stats make a reasonable case, but he has seemed to lose his way in the big ones this year.
This competition is where it all really started for Justin Rose and he’s been close in the other two majors this year, but never with quite enough of the necessary menace. Those getting excited about Luke Donald on the back of Loch Lomond last week should remind themselves of his Open record before dipping too deeply into their pockets. There’s nae bonnie banks in Carnoustie, d’ye ken?
Sergio Garcia will probably flatter to deceive again and all I read about Retief Goosen says steer clear. Paul Casey anyone? Again the history book says no although he could be stung into action by Nick Faldo’s dig at over-rich, over-friendly Brit golfers.
No, if Tiger is going to be made to fight for it, it may have to be someone else. I reckon if Europe is going to take that old jug away from him a top contender would be Niclas Fasth. He was after all top European (4th) at the US Open. A good ball striker, nicely accurate, not too bad with the putter either, he has had a win and second place since Oakmont. A hot property in my book.
And then there’s Angel Cabrera. Argentina would go ballistic if he added this to the US Open in his trophy cabinet, but there’s nothing to say he shouldn’t apart from the suggestion that his putter too goes awol quite a lot. He first caught my attention in this event last year, when a poor Sunday round dropped him to seventh. Maybe the big ones bring out the best in him.
And then, call me a sentimental old fool, but I’m going to give Colin Montgomerie a chance on home turf. I usually lay him as a reflex action, but Winged Foot showed he can do it (well, almost). Missed the cut last week but was a winner earlier this month in Ireland.
K J Choi hasn’t set the gorse alight in this competition but he’s been setting golf alight this season, so who knows? David Toms has three top 10s in his last three outings, while both Stuart Appleby and Carl Pettersson are back in some kind of form.
But here’s my real moment of madness: I’m going to have some of that 1,000 available on Loren Roberts. He might be 52 but Fred Funk has shown what old codgers can do, and Roberts has been lighting up the Champions Tour with a blazing hot putter, great strokeplay and accurate driving. Age shall not wither him!
Oh and lastly Boo Weekley, on the basis that he’ll have everyone else in so many stitches he’ll stroll past their tears of laughter to victory. He must be just about the only golfer on the planet who’s never heard of Jean Van de Velde!
PS: Talking of the unfortunate Frenchman, who I am saddened to see is currently wrestling with cancer, can we now give his meltdown a rest? Grotesque as it was, I really have read all I want about that, and then some.
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