Usual suspects best bet for Jug

The oldest golf championship in the world, the British Open, returns for the 11th time this week to the Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club in Lancashire.

It’s a venue renowned for its collection of past champions (Bobby Jones, Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Bob Charles, Tony Jacklin, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros (twice), Tom Lehman and David Duval) all of whom were either officially or unofficially recognised or ranked as the world’s best player at the time of lifting the Claret Jug.

All of which bodes well for the top ranked players in the field this week.

In terms of a test of golf for the players Lytham is recognised as being a tough but fair course that will examine every player’s arsenal throughout the week.

One of the major talking points this week has been the rough, which has thrived in the miserable run of weather over the past number of weeks. The bottom six inches are thick and dense making it almost impossible for the players even to extract the ball from the lie let alone advance it any great distance.

Speaking of trouble, you can not ignore the 206 bunkers in Lytham either. Tiger may well have avoided all 112 bunkers when he captured the British Open in 2000 at St Andrews, but the bunkers at Lytham are far more in play no matter how long or short you are. Players will have to deal with them, and that’s what makes Lytham’s challenge so special.

The straight-hitters therefore should have a slight advantage, but only if that accuracy is backed up with a well executed strategy that includes a whole lot of patience.

I expect to see a lot of irons and stinger three-woods from Tiger this week as well as his usual conservative approach to the opening rounds. I expect the same conservatism from Pádraig Harrington, but his putter must be hot this week if he is to perfect that approach. That said, their hands may well be forced by one of Europe’s form players, Francesco Molinari, who seems now to have enough confidence in his putting to make him a very dangerous prospect.

It will be very interesting also to see what game plans Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson adopt this week, but I hope that it is consistent with their own DNA in that they go for the shots they feel that they are capable of pulling off.

When talking about Major championships you have to mention Luke Donald, the world No 1, and probably everyone’s sentimental favourite Lee Westwood. I can’t see Donald being competitive this week as he is not accurate enough off the tee nor strong enough to play from the rough. Lee has a great opportunity to win, but time is running out for him. If he can get off to a fast start and then ignore all the hype from the British media then I expect him to be competitive once again.

There will be front-runners of course, but why should tradition be broken this week? I expect the usual suspects, including an Irishman, to be challenging come Sunday evening.

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