Westwood weighs in as Birkdale's bumpy blot on the landscape gets a flat reception

Competitors at this year's Open are not looking forward to negotiating the redesigned green on the 17th, writes James Corrigan

When Phil Mickelson and his plotter-in-chief, Dave Pelz, made their first marathon trip around Royal Birkdale at the beginning of last week they both blurted out one word when they eventually reached the 17th green – "Wow!" There has been a similar reaction as each player has first come across this new putting surface and unfortunately for the Royal and Ancient it has been more a case of "Wow! What the hell have they done here?" rather than "Wow! What an amazing alteration."

Professional golfers are not, generally, a critical bunch, at least not when the tape recorders are running, so the typical response when quizzed about their feelings about the Martin Hawtree "masterpiece" has been – "it's different" or "it's dramatic". Commendably Lee Westwood stepped forward yesterday and said just what he thought, although his observations were not quite as critical as some mutterings on the range.

One labelled it "a sloping mess of mounds" while another concluded that it looks as if it's "contracted a severe case of mumps". Even those not totally anti the mogul run have agreed that it is not in keeping with the other greens that have help confirmed Birkdale's reputation as the finest and fairest course in England. In Westwood's opinion they should unload the shovels and start again. That is exactly what the members are planning. But perhaps not before next Monday.

"Have you had a chance to look at the 17th green?" came the probing enquiry to the Englishman who was about to go out for his first official practice round. "Yeah a couple of weeks ago," replied Westwood. "I'm assuming it's not changed since then. Nobody has dug it up? I think eventually they will. I think everybody has accepted that something has gone wrong with it. It's just out of character with the rest of the course and basically leave it at that. It's not to the standard of the rest of the greens. The rest of them are brilliant."

Indeed, comparison is the area where this bed of bumps falls flat. It sticks out like a sore thumb and has been bashed accordingly. In contrast, professional after professional has strode off the final green with good things to say about the set-up, despite it posing such a daunting challenge. Even the staple fare of their whinges has escaped.

The rough is as Geoff Ogilvy describes it: "pretty healthy, but not silly healthy". The fairways, meanwhile, are narrow and off the back tees stretch the eyes as much as the drivers. But the moans have been reserved for the penultimate green and warnings to the organisers have duly followed. Plonk the pin in the wrong place and it could get daft. "Hopefully, it ends up in a reasonable spot, or otherwise guys could be making any number," advised Ogilvy.

In fairness to the Royal and Ancient, the tournament's organisers, they recognise this and have vowed to ensure that common sense governs their flag placements. "It's a green that could get away from us if we're not careful," said Peter Dawson, the R&A chief executive. "We'll have to see how it goes."

If that sounded like an admission of guilt and a recognition of culpability in screwing up when overseeing the rebuilding and elevating of a green put 30 yards back from its original spot, then it plainly was not supposed to. The R&A's take is that it will be up to the players to take the risk if they are chasing the rewards of going for the par-five green in two. "It's not as if we're expecting the green to be hit at with long irons," declared Dawson.

The trouble, is though, that it is eminently reachable and most will go for it. Mickelson was one of the players who claimed it to be "much more dramatic than the other greens", but many on the range were saying that ironically it could actually lessen the drama. Surely fans do not want to see players laying up, but instead going for the glory of eagle. "It may be different on the Sunday evening when those in the hunt may require an eagle," said one pro. "But for the first three days they may play safe."

With this in mind the R&A will likely put the pins in accessible places, although they will still be open to criticisms from traditionalists who hate to see such a revered layout changed so substantially. Jack Nicklaus played here in April and was aghast. "You've got one of the greatest golf courses in the world, and they changed 16 holes because of a stupid golf ball," said the 18-time major champion. "That is just ridiculous."

Nicklaus was speaking for an ever-growing number who believe that the authorities should have placed limits on how far the modern golf ball travels. They failed to act, however, and now the only defence they appear to have to protect the dignity of old courses is either course lengthening or course toughening. Or in the case of the 17th, both. On occasions, the powers that be have gone overboard like at Shinnecock Hills at the US Open in 2004 when the greens were quick to the point of unplayable. The R&A is blessedly not the United States Golf Association and is not about to let their stubborn mistakes re-occur here. But they have created an eyesore. Slam, bam in the middle of golfing beauty.

Corrigan's dozen: 12 to follow at Royal Birkdale

Four big names:

Sergio Garcia (Best price: 12-1)

The favourite, despite what some cruelly insist on calling his Carnoustie capitulation. Sergio is a better putter than last year, has The Players – the "fifth major" – under his belt and is hitting it as solidly as ever. He will win an Open; this links seems perfectly suited.

Lee Westwood (16-1)

Britain's best shot by far. Rather like Garcia, he has sorted out the one weakness in his game – in Westwood's case, his chipping – and should the putter be kind he will surely be thereabouts. People forget he has 29 titles to his game. He doesn't: he remembers how to win.

Ernie Els (16-1)

If Els was a horse, then the South African would be the biggest each-way certainty since Arkle lined up in a two-horse race. In his last eight outings he has finished in the top four six times. Can justifiably claim to be the most consistent player of links in the world.

Jim Furyk (25-1)

Despite finishing fourth here in 1998, Furyk has at times found himself baffled by the unique conditions of the Open. But this gritty American has knuckled down and now appears ready to launch another challenge. This could prove a nurdler's course and few nurdle it as well as Jim.

Four rising stars:

Andres Romero (50-1)

Would have won last year if he could have played the last two holes in one-over and revealed the disappointment had not crushed him by bouncing back with victories in Europe and America. The Argentine is clearly a natural and around this natural lay-out has a live chance.

Hunter Mahan (50-1)

There is a quiet confidence among the Americans that one of their number can make it seven Open victories in the first nine years of this century and Mahan, who finished with a 65 at Carnoustie, is a player who can take courses apart with a nerveless run of birdies.

Graeme McDowell (50-1)

Maybe the Ulsterman will be completely Bushmilled after Sunday's Scottish Open success and the giddy realisation that he is in the Ryder Cup team. But McDowell has sand in his blood and if he can maintain his form this week then he will feature and feature predominantly.

Anthony Kim (50-1)

Only 23 and described by Mark O'Meara, Tiger Woods' best friend, as having a better swing than the world No 1 at his age. The trouble has been that this wild child has discovered "outside interests". However, two victories this season have refocused his desire.

Four outsiders:

Boo Weekley (100-1)

A favourite of the press room, Weekley is so much more than the image of a country yokel that he projects. He is a shotmaker and is suited to Birkdale. Also, should he prevail then the fun will truly begin. Orang-utans, alligators, diseased cows... it's all there in his background.

Pablo Larrazabal (250-1)

The Open always manages to haul characters to the fore and in young Pablo there is more than a vague reminder of the young Seve. The manner in which this Spaniard repelled players such as Montgomerie and Westwood at Versailles showed how fearless he can be.

Nick Dougherty (175-1)

There would not be a more popular winner than the local boy who lost his mother two months ago. The tragedy came just after he had performed so well at his first Masters and Dougherty has understandably struggled since. Still worth a sentimental punt.

Mark O'Meara (1,000-1)

Don't laugh, The champion the last time the Open was staged here in 1998, O'Meara should not be discounted simply because of his advancing years (51). He has won on the Seniors recently and is of the opinion that those with Open experience enjoy a considerable advantage.

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss