Few favourites, many chances at Open

All eyes this week in Lytham are on Tiger Woods as the 14-time major winner goes in search of his first major since winning the 2008 US Open by defeating Rocco Mediate at the first sudden-death play-off hole.

Woods has won The Open on three occasions but openly admits it is now harder than ever to clinch a major.

Rory McIlroy Rory McIIroy (Photo: Anthony Powter)

“I think the fields are deeper, there’s no doubt,” says Woods.

“And we’re having to shoot some pretty low scores in general. You need to have a hot week at the right time. That’s what it comes down to. I have had a few wins this year, which is good. But I’ve also had a few poor performances as well.”

As for the younger generation of first-time major winners, Woods appreciates the enormity of the challenge confronting his pursuit of another major title.

“I think there are more guys now that have a chance to win major championships than ever before, and I think that will just continue to be that way.”

If you look at Rory McIlroy winning last year’s US Open, Keegan Bradley winning the USPGA, Charl Schwartzel winning the 2011 Masters and Webb Simpson winning last month at the US Open, these are young men. They were the generation Tiger inspired.

The newcomers to the tour are better prepared than ever – not just between the ropes – but more so between the ears.

The last nine major winners have all been first-timers.

Tiger’s slip – putting injury aside that kept him out of four majors since his last win at the 2008 US Open – has opened the door for a lot of guys, but there’s more to it than that. The next wave of golfers think they can win whatever Tiger is doing.

There was the mindset a few years ago that it didn’t matter how well you played, Tiger was going to play better and roar home during the closing stages of a major on Sunday and claim another title, particularly where Woods held the lead going into the final round.

Yet times have changed and the younger guys have become every part of the run to a major title.

McIIroy arrived this week hoping to surprise a few people on a course he grew to like during his amateur days playing in the Lytham Trophy.

In his last outing at the Irish Open at Royal Portrush a fortnight ago, there were signs McIlroy was getting back to his normal self.

“There was definitely a little blip on the radar but I feel great now. I feel like I am swinging the club better than I have all year,” he said.

A top 15 finish in the wind and rain in the Irish Open was a hopeful sign that McIIroy was beginning to answer his own doubts about being able to deliver in bad weather.

“I thought I played well in the conditions and looking at the forecast it might be like that again this week, where you have to knuckle down and focus and keep fighting and stay tough,” McIIroy said.

Out on the range, McIlroy went up to Tiger during Tuesday’s practice round and congratulated him on his recent victory at Congressional.

It is in keeping with his ‘under the radar’ Open to date, while Woods will be the centre of attention alongside Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia in the first round tomorrow.

McIlroy has been paired with two low-profile recent major winners in Louis Oosthuizen and Keegan Bradley.

Twelve Australians are in the field with Adam Scott the best chance to break our six year winless drought at majors – Geoff Ogilvy was the last Australian to collect a major when he triumphed at the 2006 US Open.

Scott is not alone in the ‘yet to win a major’ league – six of the world’s top- 10 have yet to break their major drought and they include the world No. 1 and No. 3, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.

Donald has been drawn with Phil Mickelson, who tied for second last year, and our own Geoff Ogilvy.

Many have cast doubt over Donald’s chances of winning this week despite the past three Open Championships at Royal Lytham having been won by the world number one players at the time, with Seve Ballesteros (1988), Tom Lehman (1996) and David Duval (2001) all holding the prized Claret Jug.

Darren Clarke, who clinched his maiden major title at Sandwich 12 months ago, is paired with 2002 winner Ernie Els and last week’s PGA Tour winner and Masters title holder, Zach Johnson, in his bid to retain The Open title.

Royal Lytham isn’t one of the longest courses at 6509 metres, but it is definitely one of the most demanding.

It’s the only course on The Open rota that begins with a par-3, the only Open course to have three par-3s on the front nine, and the only Championship venue to be surrounded by houses on three sides.

The home stretch, often played into the wind, is particularly testing, not least the 378 metre par-4 18th hole where the tee shot has to be threaded through a sea of sand and the approach hit to a well-guarded green.

It’s a course that demands respect and patience and that style of golfer should be able to come through.