Open Preview: Scotland's major hope: Robert Green picks out the men most likely to take the Open crown

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IN ATTEMPTING to identify the culprit most likely to make off with the 123rd Open Championship, which begins at Turnberry on Thursday, it may be that we should start by eliminating the usual suspects.

First, a list: Nick Faldo, Hale Irwin, Wayne Grady, Ian Woosnam, Payne Stewart, Ian Baker-Finch, John Daly, Fred Couples, Tom Kite, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer, Lee Janzen, Greg Norman, Paul Azinger, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ernie Els. That distinguished roll call contains the names of the 16 players who have won the 18 major championships in the Nineties. Only Faldo, who has won three (the 1990 Masters and 1990 and 1992 Opens), has won more than one.

The lack of repetition gets more startling. In 46 tournaments in Europe and the United States this year (excluding the Scottish Open, which finished yesterday), there have been 40 different winners. Olazabal and Price have won three times, Norman and Els twice.

None of those four is American, and recent precedent suggests that the Open champion will not be, either. There has been only one American winner since 1983 (Mark Calcavecchia in 1989) and six of the past eight major championships have been claimed by non-Americans. What's more, for the first time ever, the first two majors of this year were won by non-Americans.

On this basis, the man we are probably looking for at Turnberry is a non-American who has never won a major or indeed anything at all this year. If he had not won the Spanish Open in May, Colin Montgomerie would fit the bill perfectly. A proven tournament winner, with two near-misses in the US Open in the past three years, his previous form - top of the Order of Merit last year and third so far this season - makes him the sort of player we are looking for. What is more, there has not been a Scottish-born winner in Scotland since Tommy Armour in 1931.

The defending champion, and winner at Turnberry eight years ago, is the present world No 1, Greg Norman. This year, he has played in 14 tournaments and 11 times has finished in the top 10. In what might be described as typical Norman fashion, he has been second four times. It would be a surprise if he failed to make the top 10 this week, and he should, justifiably, tee off as favourite.

That has been a role customarily filled by Faldo since he won three majors in 15 months in 1989-90, but a missed cut at the US Open last month - his first in a major since 1986 - and an apparently permanent state of acrimony with his putter have conspired to make him look less threatening lately than would have seemed possible when he ended last season by nearly winning both the Open and the USPGA. It is two years since Faldo won at Muirfield, a major drought that has left him thirsty, and if he and his putter can remain on speaking terms until Sunday, a combination of experience and determination may earn him a fourth Open the day before his 37th birthday.

Putters have a disarming tendency to speak with forked tongues, and four eminent competitors have reasons to question the articulacy of their implements . Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price and Fred Couples have all won majors (Watson eight of them, including five Opens, and Langer two) but they have all had, or used to have, problems with the putter. Watson, the man who won that Open back in 1983, might have won a major or two more since then if it had not been for recurring attacks of apoplexy when he gets within three feet of the hole.

Langer's repeated conquering of the yips has been well-documented, but - notwithstanding his win in Ireland last weekend - he remains more fallible than many of his equally illustrious contemporaries when it comes to making the little ones that matter. Both Price and Couples can enjoy dazzling streaks of success on the greens, but they are prone to lapses. What all four have in common is this: they are outstanding ball-strikers whose best chance of adding to their respective haul of majors would seem to be at the Open, where the greens are generally both slower and less sloping than at the equivalent championships in United States.

The two major championships to be held in the United States thus far this season have witnessed victories for redoubtable putters - Olazabal at the Masters and Els at the US Open. The Spaniard is 28, the South African 24. What odds that Olazabal ends the year as the oldest of the four major winners? Certainly, Els has convincingly underlined his status as the best under-25-year-old golfer in the game. Might another wunderkind be plucked out of the kindergarten at Turnberry.

Phil Mickelson - who, like Els, is 24 - has won four times on the US Tour but has yet to come close to graduating into major championship class. But one day he will, and Sunday could be it. Australia's Robert Allenby, who turns 23 on Tuesday and who in the past month has finished first and second in Europe, has some way to go to emulate the achievements of his elders, and The Open is surely too far too soon, but given his immense potential and present rich vein of form, a modest each-way flutter may not be a bad idea.

Amid any discussion about the comparative credentials of the under-30s, it is easy to overlook the case of John Daly, even if the man himself is extremely hard to ignore. How many bald 28-year-olds can drive the ball more than 350 yards? For the simple reason that his life has resembled a well-chronicled soap opera, Daly seems to have been with us for as long as steel shafts.

In fact, just three years ago, only a few barmen and his now ex-wife knew who he was. Since capturing the 1991 USPGA title, he has discovered a winning attitude, fan adulation, sobriety and more marital hassles than Prince Charles. He will not win The Open, but we may have a lot of fun watching him try.

With appropriate respect to Messrs Daly, Watson, Couples and Mickelson, we will not, in all probability, have an American champion. In itself, that would create another small landmark for golfing kind. The last time the United States went three consecutive majors without winning one was when Seve Ballesteros won the 1979 Open and 1980 Masters and David Graham collected the USPGA in between.

Ah yes, Ballesteros. Like Faldo, he is a winner of three Opens and two Masters in his career and one European tour event this year. His wife, Carmen, is due to give birth to their third child any time now, and he is overdue another major if, at 37, he is ever going to pick one up. His fourth was 10 years ago, but what with Spaniards winning the Masters and many of the tennis titles worth having, this is the year of the Iberian.

So there you have it. Somewhere among the names so far discussed, surely, is the guilty party, the Open champion of 1994. All you have to do is find him.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Card of the course ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 350 4 10th 452 4 2nd 428 4 11th 177 3 3rd 462 4 12th 448 4 4th 167 3 13th 411 4 5th 441 4 14th 440 4 6th 222 3 15th 209 3 7th 528 5 16th 410 4 8th 430 4 17th 498 5 9th 452 4 18th 432 4 Out 3,480 35 In 3,477 35 Total 6,957 70 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photographs omitted)

Comments