by G. Rennie
The Golf Coast of Scotland looked like you expected it to today, cloudy with a breeze and folks wearing sweaters. Summer was gone but not forgotten as the unusually warm temperatures and constant sunshine that made Muirfield a fast and firm links for the first three days of the championship still prevailed on the final Sunday.
The golf course almost became the lead story of this Open but , in the end, it was the players themselves that proved the most compelling, and man, what a range of stories they brought to the game.
The early story was the lightning start by the Big Swede Henrik Stenson. Starting three back at + 1, Stenson birdied one and then three and seemed to be the only one of the leaders who was taking early advantage of the easier holes on the front side. Conventional knowledge held that you got out quick, got bird on the par five ninth hole, and then hung on the whole backside with a bird opportunity a seventeen. Stenson’s ball striking was exceptional all week, as it was at last week’s Scottish Open, when he held the 54 hole lead which he relinquished to eventual winner Phil Mickelson. It’s déjà vu all over again, as Yogi would say, as the same thing happened at Muirfield. Back to back bogeys on 12 and 13 took the steam out of his game as he hung on to claim the Silver Salver as Open runner up. Stenson has remade his game the last three years after he’d plummeted to 267 in the OGWR and he nearly broke into the elite ranks today but came up 3 strokes short.
Ian Poulter was the next to make some serious noise as he made up five strokes in four holes. Eagle at nine followed birdies on ten, eleven and twelve gave the home crowd another strong rooting interest. If Lee faltered, Ian could take the jug. Poults wasn’t holing tap ins on his sizzling run, as all were putts of length, very reminiscent of his scorched earth putting last fall at Medinah. It was not to be, however, as his gamble to drive the par 4 fifteenth hole found the cross bunker and he only managed par followed by a bogey at the treacherous par 3 sixteenth.
A joint third finish with a 67, the day’s second best score, was done with great flare.
Adam Scott had a devastating run of four consecutive bogeys at Royal Lytham to finish off last year’s Open and lose the Claret Jug at the last moment to a resurgent Ernie Els. His ability to win a major was in serious doubt then but redemption was sweet and well earned as he bested a game Angel Cabrera in sudden death at Augusta this spring. Double redemption was excruciatingly close as Scott took the championship lead at -2 after birdie on #11 after closing out the front side with a string of three birdies. But it was not to be for Scott as some strange stark symmetry with Royal Lytham reared up and he strung four bogeys together from13 through 16.
Three other former major champions were clustered in the last few groups but none could muster an early charge and, with the exception of Poulter and Phil, nobody could handle the Muirfield back side today. Zach Johnson flew into town late after his playoff defeat at the John Deere Classic and immediately ripped off a shocking 66 to take the first round lead. But he shot his bolt early and couldn’t get under par for any of the remaining rounds.
Angel Cabrera brought his missing man magic to Scotland this week and looked relaxed and poised to take his third Major. But a lackluster 74 left him in a tie for eleventh.
And the man with more majors than anyone, save Jack, continued his streak of surprisingly average golf on the weekend of a major championship. The enigma of Tiger Woods continues to fuel interest in him and the game but I have to believe it’s galling to El Tigre. Tiger would always make the shot, would always make the putt that he needed to, especially those round saving par putts. But not today, not anymore, at least for now and the last five years.
When Philly Mick let another U.S. Open through his fingers this June at Merion he talked about the heartbreak he felt. In contrast, Lee Westwood told post round interviewers today that he’d be all right, “It’s just a game, no one’s died out there today”. I hope that’s so, that Lee will be OK and back in the future to contend for a major. It will take huge resilience to get off the mat again but if Westwood has proved anything over the years it’s that he does dust himself off and come back swinging. It looked like the affable Brit with the lantern jaw and bulldog physique would finally earn his major as he took a two stroke lead into today’s play. Strangely enough Westwood had climbed to the top of the leader board with exceptional putting, leading the field in one putts, and expert scrambling. The great ball striker had finally developed the short game to take him to the heights it seemed. Yet today he was done in by poor ball striking and his new found short game chops couldn’t rescue him from a four over 75 that left him tied third, the eighth time he’s finished top 3 in a major. At forty, and with so many battle scars, it’s hard not to see this as his last hurrah at a major. I hope I’m wrong.
Champion Golfer of the year- did we ever think we’d be calling Philly Mick that? Those of us who root for Phil every week, week in, week out, who worship at the altar of Phil might have dreamed he’d win the Open someday but we didn’t really think it could happen, did we?
Starting five back of the leader it seemed his only road to victory was to jump on the course early and get those Scotsmen roaring for him all over the links. But his first birdie didn’t come until five. He backed that up with another at the ninth but just as quickly gave it back when he bogeyed the tenth. At +1 with seven to go it looked like another close but no cigar venture for Lefty. What did I know…not much. I didn’t know that rare magic was in the offing, that Phil would play a truly brilliant , inspired and matchless last six holes in four under par.
Five majors, three legs of the career Grand Slam, a five stroke come from behind victory on the gem of the Open Rota. It is the stuff of dreams.