The Open 2011 Day One: Tom-Tom find their way around a tricky St.Georges

The first day of the Open has rather unsurprisingly produced some fantastic stories. Again it has become a tale of the young and old at the top of the leader board after round one, and the field is set well for great developments over the next three days.

The Great-Dane leads the way

Leading the way thru eighteen are forty year old Thomas Bjorn and twenty year old amateur Tom Lewis. Scarcely could these players be further apart in their levels of experience, but today they have produced similarly impressive returns on demonstrations of great links play.

Bjorn, who recently lost his father was looking to avenge the ghosts of his past here at Sandwich having thrown away the lead when in position to clinch the title in 2003. Having to fight with such a multitude of emotions would be hard for most, but Bjorn excelled. Add to these varied emotions the fact that he was only a sixth reserve to play the Open this time last week and the story becomes greater still. This somewhat unfamiliar and unusual situation could indeed be the reason behind the seeming ease and lack of pressure present in his first round showing of 65.

Lewis’ story if anything is more incredible. The prospective Walker Cup team member went from unknown amateur to household name in the space of four hours today. He managed to match Bjorn’s round of 65 in his first ever round of British Open golf, quite the feat for a lad who few could claim to have seen in action before this afternoon.

Lewis takes the talk of the 'Young-Guard' even further

Not only did he score extraordinarily well, but he demonstrated an incredible temperament given the circumstances. Having stormed out of the blocks going out in three-under par, he then encountered his first real sticky patch in major golf. A couple of dropped shots after the turn took him back to one-under and it seemed that the wheels may have derailed. Lewis, however, was having none of it.

A four hole birdie streak from hole fourteen took him back to the summit and there he remained. The young amateur even claimed to have been unaware of the streak he was on and where it had placed him in the standings. The focus and calmness of his first round has won him many followers including playing partner and golfing legend Tom Watson.

Lewis said it was an “honour” and “the greatest privilege” to play with the man to whom he owes his first name, and it certainly seemed that way out on the course. Watson, the seasoned campaigner that he is, allowed Lewis his own space to start with but as the round went on and the relationship developed he could be seen strolling the fairways with an arm around the shoulder of the youngster. This is what amateur participation in major events is all about, and it certainly can’t be said that Lewis didn’t deserve his place having torn apart the tricky links course at Rye over his two rounds of qualifying.

G-Mac recovered his round brilliantly

Aside from these headline acts there were performances of note from other members of Europe’s elite. Miguel Angel Jimenez further underlined his status as a crowd favourite with a blemish-free round of 66 whilst former US Open champion Graeme McDowell recovered from a double bogey start to match world number three Martin Kaymer at two-under.

Other European hopes Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, and Lee Westwood went rather under the radar with error-strewn battles round the links course, all carding one-over par rounds of 71.

Bjorn and Lewis lead the way into day two with a few players one back and in hot pursuit. Open debutant Webb Simpson is tied for third alongside Jimenez and former US open winner Lucas Glover. A slender lead makes for a great deal of competition over the forthcoming rounds.

Hard-earned cigar for Miguel after a 66

The first day has offered a range of different wind conditions where players were required to take full advantage when the lulls came. It seems likely that whoever manages these variable conditions the best will come out victorious come Sunday evening and the in contention Martin Kaymer may have played the role of prophet in saying that the winner will be whoever holes the most six-foot putts. The second day is bound to serve up some further surprises and one would hope that the golfing gods keep shining down on the talented Tom Lewis as he seeks to defy his inexperience and remain atop the leader board throughout day two.

The Open 2011: Brits amongst the favourites as they take on the world on their own turf

Written on Monday the 11th July:

This weekend’s Open Championship at Royal St.George’s looks set to live up to it’s name and be very open indeed. The field may be lacking favourites of tournaments past such as Tiger Woods and Colin Montgomerie, but things are looking incredibly competitive.

Royal St.Georges plays host for the first time since 2003

Home favourites and world numbers one and two, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, will be looking to make their first major scalps. It seems that both men have a great chance of finally breaking their duck this weekend if the form book proves to be of any relevance.

World number one, Donald, looks a strong bet having put together a magnificent run in 2011. He has gone from strength to strength this year and has very rarely failed to make the top ten, picking up three tournament victories along the way. His most recent victory came just a couple of days ago with a magnificent final round of 63 taking him to a links course triumph. Nobody has ever won the Scottish Open the week before the Open, but Luke will be dreaming of breaking this tradition.

Luke looking to nail down his first major title

Having slid disappointingly down the standings at the Scottish after a classy opening round of 65, Lee Westwood will be hoping to turn the tables this week. He has consistently threatened to succeed over the past few years at the Open and will seek to silence those who have pencilled him in as the nearly man.

Aside from the major British hopes there will be a strong field of contenders seeking to land a major blow. Former champions such as Ernie Els will be looking to land a first major title in a long time, whilst nearly men of the past like Sergio Garcia are coming back into form.

In addition to Els, we should expect to see other strong South African challenges. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and reigning Open champion Louis Oosthuizen are both performing well at the moment and will fancy their chances of getting into contention come Sunday afternoon.

Can the South Africans follow up recent major successes?

Whoever proves triumphant will have to have successfully adapted to and met the demands of links golf at a course like St.George’s. Last time this course played host to the Championship there were many complaints about the difficulties of the course, and how the course set up was unnecessarily challenging. Though the tournament officials have sought to quash similar fears this time around it seems unlikely that someone can win this title without links preparation.

The unique-ness of links golf is the reason why players such as Rory McIlroy have been criticised for omitting the Scottish Open from their preparations. In an ideal world all players competing in the Open would try and secure some competitive links practice in advance, but of course many of the field have commitments to the PGA Tour in America. McIlroy however, was merely resting. Having bagged his first major title at Congressional just weeks ago, Rory has opted not to play any golf in the lead up to the Open. In spite of this he has remained as the bookies favourite, and we await to see if the rest has served him as well as competitive links practice would have.

Can Rory achieve back-to-back major wins?

All in all, it seems that the British challenge is set-fair for a strong attack at the Open. Beware though of the ‘Dark Horses’. Perhaps more than any other major, the Open has a tendency to conjure up some surprise champions. Could someone again come out of the golfing wilderness and strike lucky at Sandwich in order to become the new Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton or Louis Oosthuizen.

Rory looking to secure Major step towards emulating Tiger

With Rory Mcilroy currently destroying the field at Congressional it seems once again that a maiden Major title is well within his grasp. He is furthering his reputation as a major player and looks to be creating a trademark for himself with an unerring ability to consistently go low in the early rounds of golf’s premiere events. Such confidence and extreme scoring has again created a buzz around the young Northern Irishman comparable only to that which surrounded the young Tiger Woods fifteen years ago.

The master and the young pretender

Just as was the case with the young Tiger, Mcilroy is far from the finished article at the age of 22 and still has several areas of his game in need of refinement. This though is the major reason for the impression which Mcilroy is making. His potential is frightening, he is already going in to Majors and shooting unbelievable scores when his game is way short of what it could eventually prove to be. He may not yet be the model of consistency that fellow europeans Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer are, but more than these three appears to be making the greatest splash when it comes to major events in 2011. It is scary how at ease young Mcilroy seems amidst the excitement and anticipation which surrounds these events but in the wake of his final round capitulation at Augusta caution must be taken if Mcilroy is to break his major duck this weekend.

The hideous scenes in the final round at Augusta this year were painful to watch as Mcilroy relinquished his stranglehold on the title around Amen Corner. These uncomfortable scenes were emphasised by the host broadcaster’s apparent decision to spare the public from having to watch Mcilroy’s demise once he had slipped from a four shot lead going in to a few shots back from the lead. It was the toughest day of Mcilroy’s fledgling career but now holding a six shot lead at the halfway stage of the US Open it will be fascinating to see if he can prove he has learnt from his deadline day demons at the Masters. To secure his first major scalp at the very next attempt following his this disappointment would be some signal of intent, and one which could see Rory cement the changing of the guard amongst golf’s elite.

Rory's Masters Misery, will there be a repeat performance?

Rory has much to do in order to match the career achievements of the ailing Tiger Woods but there are some definite comparisons to be drawn. When they are in the zone and competing at the business end of events they bristle with verve, confidence and assurance. Mcilroy perhaps lacks the intensity which has forever been part and parcel of Woods’ game, but they both seem to possess a similar auror and authority. Perhaps the greatest compliment which could be paid to Mcilroy is that his game at this age is arguably more technically sound and certainly more maintainable than that of Woods. He is able to produce phenomenal length and greater accuracy all with a swing which places seemingly far less stress upon his body than that which Woods’ swing inflicts upon his own. One would hope that this will stand Rory in good stead in his quest for a career of longevity as he seeks to emulate the successes of his heroes, including those of the great Tiger Woods.

Is this the swing which will give Rory success coupled with longevity?

Rory is certainly taking a little longer than Woods did to become a consistent winner on tour, but his unmistakable talent and natural swing and ability have set him out on an exciting career path. It is yet to be seen whether he can go on to match Woods’ achievements but if he does it could prove to be achieved with more of a marathon than a sprint. Even if he doesn’t go on to match Tiger, it seems implausible that he won’t go on to become the number one in the world at some point in the not too distant future. With Woods’ future in the game looking ever more uncertain, there is a huge void at the top of the game for a real character capable of sending the galleries of the world’s tours into raptures. Rory certainly seems to have a similar effect on golf’s greatest audiences and the thought of a developing Mcilroy and a recuperating Woods battling it out at the peaks of their powers is wondrous if not a little romantic given Woods’ ill health, both physical and psychological.

This weekend will be a huge test of character for Mcilroy, and we await with baited breath to see if he can hold his nerve this time around. He possesses all the talent in the world, all he needs now to prove that he is a real force is a Major to his name and this Sunday evening could see him claim his first.

Place your bets: The Masters

This coming weekend plays host to one of sports greatest events, and one of it’s most competitive betting markets. The Masters is golf’s first Major of the year and is a fond favourite of those with an eye for a punt, and an eye for arguably one of the most vivid and enchanting venues in global sport.

Picture-Perfect

This Thursday begins one of those special sporting events that sparks interest and appreciation from the corners of disenchantment. Golf is a sport loved far and wide, but the lengthy schedules and perceived elitism involved in the sport have always attracted scepticism and mockery. Perhaps it could be argued that such attitudes have detracted from others getting involved in any way with the sport having never given it a real shot.

However, The Masters is just that bit more special than any old golf tournament. The course itself the Augusta National, Georgia, is a work of art. The beauty of the venue is beyond compare in the sporting realm and it provides that little glint of magic that sets it apart from the crowd.

Not only is the course achingly beautiful but it plays like a wicked, teasing, taunting mistress. In part it offers opportunity for low scoring and in others the margins for error are excruciatingly tight. This set-up makes for constant subtle and not so subtle twists and turns, thus there is always an element of unpredictability. Sometimes such unpredictability amongst a large field of competitors lessens the desire for a punt, but betting figures would suggest otherwise. With 99 competitors in the field, The Masters offers some fantastic odds in the outright winners market, the seed of temptation is there for all to see.

After all, how many of the world’s leading sports events could boast best odds of 25-1 on the World Number One triumphing? Not too many I would wager, but those are indeed the available odds with Betfair for the brilliant Martin Kaymer.

World Numbers 1 and 2 have been paired together for the opener at Augusta

Other names of interest to the betting public might include Lee Westwood, World Number Two and last year’s runner-up, who will desperately seek to get the monkey off his back by winning his first major (Best Odds 18/1). Red-hot young Americans with attributes seemingly built for Augusta Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson, can be backed at best odds of 18/1 and 32/1 respectively.

My European tips are big-hitting duo Paul Casey (40/1) and Ross Fisher a long-shot at a lengthy 200/1, and my tips from foreign-shores are Americans Watney (18/1), Johnson (32/1), and Matt Kuchar (34/1), and South African veteran Retief Goosen (90/1) .

Watney focused on 'Major' breakthrough

The majority of this select group have challenged seriously in Majors gone-by, with Goosen already a major winner. I feel the time is right at Augusta for a fresh-face to dazzle the golfing world with a performance of real class and flashes of sheer inspiration, as were finely demonstrated by reigning champion Phil Mickelson in the closing round last year. I think the man for this job could well be Nick Watney, a quirky character off the course whom would prove a very popular champion amongst the American spectators and in the locker room too.

Mickelson seeks to put the jacket on himself this time

The tempting length of odds for players within the world’s top thirty or so makes for some potential big-money wins for low-liability gambles. Thus, an already stunning sporting spectacle has the ability to take on increased importance and value of the monetary kind. Who knows what the outcome will be on Sunday night when the tournament reaches it’s conclusion but my advice would be: Don’t break the bank, but maybe have just a little punt on some generous odds.

The Ryder Cup 2010: ‘Monty’ and His Men Capitalise On Year of Promise

Team Europe capped a glorious year of golf in major competition with the narrowest of victories at The Celtic Manor. The rain ravaged tournament came to its thrilling climax in an unfamiliar and unprecedented final day Monday, with Europe taking back the much coveted trophy from their American Counterparts.

Graeme McDowell sealed the victory for Europe on the 17th green in a high pressure encounter with Hunter Mahan, who later dispelled rumours of a lack of American passion for the Ryder Cup when he broke down into tears in the post match press conference. Though harrowing it was to witness Mahan in such a beleaguered state, it again pays tribute to just how magnificent a spectacle this tournament seems to provide.

There is one man that epitomises just how glorious a tournament the Ryder Cup is and that is Europe’s proud captain Colin Montgomerie. ‘Monty’ demonstrated the steely nerve, determination, emotion and passion that has been evident in all great Ryder Cup captains and masterminded a crucial victory for the European Tour to bring a deserved end to a glorious 2010, which has seen them dominate in major tournaments. Montgomerie’s ‘Midas Touch’ in match play golf continued to work its magic and match winner McDowell was amongst many to praise his skipper. When questioned about the secret to Europe’s reclaiming of the much coveted trophy McDowell answered simply: ‘Monty.’

Montgomerie has demonstrated an exemplary showing of team cohesion both as player and captain in this competition over the years and if any aspiring captain needs inspiration as to the best way to run the show then look no further. Mission accomplished for ‘Monty’ and his men as they seek to continue embarking upon their quest to maintain a new era of European dominance of the golfing world in the prospective 2011 season.