Rory McIlroy has targeted Hoylake’s par-five holes as the keys to a successful Open Championship campaign this weekend as the two-time major winner aims to emulate Tiger Woods’ 2006 success at Royal Liverpool.
The weather may not be baking these links on the Dee estuary the way Woods found them eight years ago, but McIlroy believes it will be the same thing separating the winners and losers this time around come Sunday evening, especially as two of those par-fives come at the 16th and 18th holes.
“I think the par-fives are a big key this week,” McIlroy said. “If you look back at ’06, I think Tiger played the par-fives in 14 under par. So the majority of his scoring was done on the par-fives.
“There are four really good opportunities to make birdies out here. Par-fives are going to be crucial. And then there’s a couple of tough holes on the back nine, if you can just sort of make par there you’re going to do well. Yeah, par-fives, I think, there’s a few birdie opportunities on this course, and you want to try to make as many birdies as you can on those holes.”
McIlroy and Woods will be getting their opening rounds under way today within 22 minutes of each other, three-time Open champion and 14-time major winner Woods making his first appearance in a Major this year following back surgery for a pinched nerve at 9:04am in the company of Henrik Stenson and Angel Cabrera while the Irishman goes off at 9:26 with bright young things Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth.
And if the weather forecast is to be believed the morning starters with late tee times for tomorrow’s second round should get the more favourable conditions with heavy rain predicted for tomorrow morning but easing as the day progresses.
That will also suit McIlroy, whose BMW PGA Championship victory at Wentworth in May was a rare occurrence this season of the Holywood golfer not suffering a nightmarish Friday round.
Graeme McDowell, fresh from his French Open victory a fortnight ago, is another contender with a morning/afternoon draw over the first two days, teeing off today at 9:48. The Portrush golfer is quietly confident coming into a tournament on a course where he believes length off the tee is not a pre-determinant to success.
“Is distance going to be an advantage around this golf course? I don’t think so, no,” 2010 US Open champion McDowell said.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of opportunities to blow it past trouble here. I think this golf course forces you into certain areas. And certainly my game plan, doesn’t matter what the wind direction is going to do, there’s not going to really be a lot of opportunity to do anything else but place it in those kind of areas, where the golf course forces you.
“I don’t walk on to this golf course and kind of sigh and say, ‘here we go again, this is 330 paradise’. It’s not that type of golf course. It’s a placement golf course, I think. Look at the way Tiger won here in 2006. He can dominate with length, but he didn’t have to. This golf course doesn’t ask that question. It asks you to play a game of chess more than anything.”
So who will be the grand masters on this 7312-yard board? The return of Woods to a major championship having missed both the Masters and US Open is tantalising and the former world number one has been typically bullish in assessing his potential for victory but while two competitive rounds since his surgery in March will have shaken off some rust two weeks ago before a missed cut at Congressional in the Quicken Loans Invitational, it would represent an amazing comeback if Woods were even to contend this weekend.
The same could be said of defending champion Phil Mickelson, whose only top-10 finish this year came in Abu Dhabi in mid-January and whose putting prowess has deserted him of late.
Given the remarkable feats of both Woods and Mickelson and their capacity to produce something out of nothing it would be foolish to dismiss their prospects of lifting the Claret Jug but there are golfers in a field featuring 88 of the top 90-ranked players and the current top 25 in the PGA Tour money list far better placed to do so than the two American giants of the game.
With his victories at the Quicken Loans Invitational and last Sunday’s Scottish Open, last year’s US Open champion Justin Rose is the hottest golfer in the world right now and the Englishman will feel right at home here in a tournament in which he first made his name as an amateur, finishing in a tie for fourth in 1998 just the other side of Liverpool at Birkdale.
Rose is among the favourites but he is not the only one showing form with Henrik Stenson showing signs of the performance levels that led him to topping the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic by gaining two top-five finishes in the past five weeks at the US Open and the BMW International Open in Germany.
American Rickie Fowler tied for eighth in Scotland last weekend and his Majors record this year reads tied fifth at the Masters and tied second at the US Open behind Martin Kaymer. Added to that Fowler, 25, finished T5 in 2011 Open.
An even more impressive Open record belongs to current world number one Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion who has finished second and tied for third in the past two years, at Lytham and Muirfield respectively, while McDowell’s French Open win in Paris and his leadership of the PGA Tour’s Strokes Gained-Putting category makes him another live contender.
“G-Mac won in France a couple of weeks ago so obviously his confidence is going to be up,” Darren Clarke said. “It’s a premium on getting it on the fairways around here and that’s G-Mac’s game.”
Clarke, the 2011 champion, is less forthright about McIlroy’s chances, saying: “Rory’s obviously one of the best players in the world so you’d never...he’s got all the firepower to win, unquestionably, and it’s just a question of getting the slightly right bounce or good break on links because you could hit good shots and get punished for them.
“You rarely hit bad shots on links and get away with them He hits good shots and sometimes it doesn’t quite work out, so it depends.”
It does depend, and you can never be too sure which McIlroy will turn up in any given week. Yet if he cracks those par-fives and cuts out a freaky Friday, he could be three-quarters of the way towards a career Grand Slam.
Wagers against Open rules
Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke looked to have had a friendly wager during their practice round ahead of the Open Championship, but more serious wagering is strictly prohibited.
One of the conditions of entry for the 156 players at Hoylake is agreeing to abide by anti-gaming regulations which mirror those in place on the European and PGA Tours.
The regulations were introduced at the Open in 2011 and include the following terms:
1: No competitor or caddie shall directly or indirectly bet or facilitate betting by another person.
2: No competitor or caddie shall have any financial interest, either direct or indirect in the performance or winnings of any competitor, which includes purse-splitting, prize money insurance, financial assistance or bets.
3: A player shall be responsible for any actions of a caddie who is employed by him.
With golf returning to the Olympics in 2016, R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said: “I can say that this whole business of keeping sport clean in terms of betting is very high on the IOC’s agenda at the moment and something that we’re following very closely, because it’s just a killer to sport to think that any outcomes might have been predetermined. I really don’t think that’s applying in golf. But we have to be vigilant.”
Open Championship tee times
USA unless stated, all times Irish
Starting at hole 1
6.25am: D Duval, D Howell (Eng), R Karlsson (Swe).
6.36am: D Van Der Walt (Rsa), C Tringale, M Kobayashi (Jpn).
6.47am: C Wood (Eng), M Jones (Aus), B Wiesberger (Aut).
6.58am: H-sung Kim (Kor), E Compton, M Leishman (Aus).
7.09am: K Oda (Jpn), B Martin, A Lahiri (Ind).
7.20am: B Koepka, K Aphibarnrat (Tha), E Molinari (Ita).
7.31am: F Jacobson (Swe), B Grace (Rsa), A Chesters (Eng) (x).
7.42am: J Leonard, B Curtis, P Lawrie (Sco).
7.53am: R Moore, F Molinari (Ita), T Olesen (Den).
8.04am: M Manassero (Ita), B Neil (Sco) (x), M Ilonen (Fin).
8.15am: T Bjorn (Den), P Reed, S Cink.
8.26am: T Watson, J Furyk, D Clarke (Irl).
8.37am: L Donald (Eng), R Fowler, S Garcia (Spa).
8.53am: P Casey (Eng), H English, M Every.
9.04am: T Woods, A Cabrera (Arg), J Stenson (Swe).
9.15am: C Schwartzel (Rsa), P Harrington (Irl), K J Choi (Kor).
9.26am: H Matsuyama (Jpn), R McIlroy (Irl), J Spieth.
9.37am: I Poulter (Eng), D Johnson, J Walker.
9.48am: M Kuchar, G McDowell (Irl), L Oosthuizen (Rsa).
9.59am: H Mahan, S Gallacher (Sco), V Dubuisson (Fra).
10.10am: N Faldo (Eng), T Hamilton, D Hearn (Can).
10.21am: B Rumford (Aus), R Palmer, T Kondo (Jpn).
10.32am: J Singleton (Eng), P Uihlein, M Warren (Sco).
10.43am: P Mckechnie (Sco), K Broberg (Swe), J Pagunsan (Phi).
10.54am: R Gibson (Aus), B Harman, H-tae Kim (Jpn).
11.05am: O Floren (Swe), C Hanson (Eng), Y Tsukada (Jpn).
11.26am: M Southgate (Eng), J Mcleary (Sco), H Iwata (Jpn).
11.37am: R Castro, V Riu (Fra), T Hatton (Eng).
11.48am: D-kyu Jang (Kor), N Watney, S Stefani.
11.59am: Y E Yang (Kor), D A Points, B Steele.
12.10pm: S Stallings, P Larrazabal (Spa), B Macpherson (Aus).
12.21pm: C Hoffman, G Coetzee (Rsa), M Hoey (Irl).
12.32pm: B De Jonge (Zim), K Streelman, B Todd.
12.43pm: G Woodland, S Lyle (Sco), K Stadler.
12.54pm: G Delaet (Can), B Snedeker, C-tsung Pan (Chn) (x).
1.05pm: B Weekley, D Willett (Eng), A Wu (Chn).
1.16pm: J B Holmes, J Blixt (Swe), C Kirk.
1.27pm: MA Jimenez (Spa), B Haas, T Jaidee (Tha).
1.38pm: J Day (Aus), M Kaymer (Ger), Z Johnson.
1.54pm: J Donaldson (Wal), W Simpson, Y Miyazato (Jpn).
2.05pm: P Mickelson, E Els (Rsa), B Watson.
2.16pm: R Henley, G Fernandez-Castano (Spa), B Horschel.
2.27pm: A Scott (Aus), J Rose (Eng), J Dufner.
2.38pm: R Ishikawa (Jpn), L Westwood (Eng), K Bradley.
2.49pm: K Na, J Luiten (Ned), J Senden (Aus).
3pm: J Daly, T Fleetwood (Eng), R Fisher (Eng).
3.11pm: R Cabrera Bello (Spa), M Wiebe, P Dunne (Irl) (x).
3.22pm: O Fisher (Eng), C Hadley, S Lowry (Irl).
3.33pm: R Sterne (Rsa), G McNeill, C Stroud.
3.44pm: G Bourdy (Fra), J Jeong (Kor), M Baldwin (Eng).
3.55pm: J Walters (Rsa), R Enoch (Wal), B Hurley III.
4.06pm: C Rodgers (Eng), S Jamieson (Sco), B-Hun An (Kor).
6.25am: M Southgate (Eng), J Mcleary (Sco), H Iwata (Jpn).
6.36am: R Castro, V Riu (Fra), T Hatton (Eng).
6.47am: D-kyu Jang (Kor), N Watney, S Stefani.
6.58am: Y E Yang (Kor), D A Points, B Steele.
7.09am: S Stallings, P Larrazabal (Spa), B Macpherson (Aus).
7.20am: C Hoffman, G Coetzee (Rsa), M Hoey (Irl).
7.31am: B De Jonge (Zim), K Streelman, B Todd.
7.42am: G Woodland, S Lyle (Sco), K Stadler.
7.53am: G Delaet (Can), B Snedeker, C-tsung Pan (Chn) (x).
8.04am: B Weekley, D Willett (Eng), A Wu (Chn).
8.15am: J B Holmes, J Blixt (Swe), C Kirk.
8.26am: MA Jimenez (Spa), B Haas, T Jaidee (Tha).
8.37am: M Kaymer (Ger), J Day (Aus), Z Johnson.
8.53am: J Donaldson (Wal), W Simpson, Y Miyazato (Jpn).
9.04am: P Mickelson, E Els (Rsa), B Watson.
9.15am: G Fernandez-Castano (Spa), R Henley, B Horschel.
9.26am: J Rose (Eng), A Scott (Aus), J Dufner.
9.37am: R Ishikawa (Jpn), L Westwood (Eng), K Bradley.
9.48am: J Luiten (Ned), K Na, J Senden (Aus).
9.59am: T Fleetwood (Eng), J Daly, R Fisher (Eng).
10.10am: M Wiebe, R Cabrera Bello (Spa), P Dunne (Irl) (x).
10.21am: C Hadley, O Fisher (Eng), S Lowry (Irl).
10.32am: G McNeill, R Sterne (Rsa), C Stroud.
10.43am: G Bourdy (Fra), J Jeong (Kor), M Baldwin (Eng).
10.54am: J Walters (Rsa), R Enoch (Wal), B Hurley III.
11.05am: S Jamieson (Sco), C Rodgers (Eng), B-Hun An (Kor).
11.26am: D Duval, D Howell (Eng), R Karlsson (Swe).
11.37am: D Van Der Walt (Rsa), C Tringale, M Kobayashi (Jpn).
11.48am: C Wood (Eng), M Jones (Aus), B Wiesberger (Aut).
11.59am: H-sung Kim (Kor), E Compton, M Leishman (Aus).
12.10pm: K Oda (Jpn), B Martin, A Lahiri (Ind).
12.21pm: B Koepka, K Aphibarnrat (Tha), E Molinari (Ita).
12.32pm: F Jacobson (Swe), B Grace (Rsa), A Chesters (Eng) (x).
12.43pm: J Leonard, B Curtis, P Lawrie (Sco).
12.54pm: R Moore, F Molinari (Ita), T Olesen (Den).
1.05pm: M Manassero (Ita), B Neil (Sco) (x), M Ilonen (Fin).
1.16pm: T Bjorn (Den), P Reed, S Cink.
1.27pm: T Watson, J Furyk, D Clarke (Irl).
1.38pm: R Fowler, L Donald (Eng), S Garcia (Spa).
1.54pm: P Casey (Eng), H English, M Every.
2.05pm: T Woods, A Cabrera (Arg), H Stenson (Swe).
2.16pm: P Harrington (Irl), C Schwartzel (Rsa), K J Choi (Kor).
2.27pm: R McIlroy (Irl), H Matsuyama (Jpn), J Spieth.
2.38pm: I Poulter (Eng), D Johnson, J Walker.
2.49pm: G McDowell (Irl), M Kuchar, L Oosthuizen (Rsa).
3pm: S Gallacher (Sco), H Mahan, V Dubuisson (Fra).
3.11pm: T Hamilton, N Faldo (Eng), F Hearn (Can).
3.22pm: R Palmer, B Rumford (Aus), T Kondo (Jpn).
3.33pm: P Uihlein, J Singleton (Eng), M Warren (Sco).
3.44pm: P Mckechnie (Sco), K Broberg (Swe), J Pagunsan (Phi).
3.55pm: R Gibson (Aus), B Harman, H-tae Kim (Jpn).
4.06pm C Hanson (Eng), O Floren (Swe), Y Tsukada (Jpn).
(x) denotes amateurs
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