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Sandwich ready to be main course

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Rob Hodgetts | 16:52 UK time, Monday, 11 July 2011

Daunting dunes, bottomless bunkers, withering winds, scorching sun, ramrod rain, vast views, clamouring crowds, 156 hopefuls...and one lucky man clutching a Claret Jug on Sunday.

The world of golf will descend on a small corner of Kent this week for the 140th Open Championship at Royal St George's.

The competition for European, if not world, golf's most cherished prize is never without drama, be it misfortune, triumph, weather woes, fallen heroes, shock winners or old favourites giving it a last charge.

The tale will have added spice in Sandwich as we wait to see how a new young superstar fares. Rory McIlroy is the new face of golf in the post-Tiger Woods era. For the 22-year-old Northern Irishman, the attention will be intense.

After McIlroy's dominant US Open win, people likened him to Woods. Some were already looking at Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors. A bit premature maybe, though Nicklaus himself says he doesn't see McIlroy as a one-hit wonder.

Statistics might count against him this week - the last player to claim consecutive US Open/Open triumphs before Woods in 2000 was Tom Watson in 1982. But McIlroy shattered a host of records at Congressional last month and is the talk of the tournament.

"McIlroy looks to have a very old head on his young shoulders," said BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss. "It will be interesting to see how he deals with it, but I think if he's in the top 10 he will have done very well, although obviously it wouldn't surprise me if he won it."

Royal St George's, just 80 miles from the centre of London, was opened in 1887 and was the first course outside Scotland to host the Open, in 1894.

Taking the scenic route through the Garden of England, it lays hidden at the end of winding Kentish lanes on flat stretch of the eastern coast. Unlike some other Open venues, there isn't the sweeping vista of the course laid out before as you approach. Instead, like the holes lurking among the undulating dunes, it remains hidden until you are upon it.

But the moment you see the green stands and famous yellow scoreboard above the 18th green that familiar feeling of the British sporting summer spreads over you.

The stand and scoreboard on the 18th green at Royal St George's

The stand and scoreboard on the 18th green at Royal St George's. Photo: AFP

Entering the course, you pass a row of pictures bringing to life the late, great Seve Ballesteros' air-punching Open celebration in 1984.

Memories came flooding back as I recalled myself as a golf-mad youngster sprinting alongside the Spaniard's golf buggy to capture his autograph when the Open was here in 1985.

"I still get the same buzz when I sweep into an Open venue, there is always such a wonderful air around all the various courses it is played at," said the 80-year-old Alliss, who will be commentating on his 51st Open this week.

Royal St George's head professional Andrew Brooks added: "There's so much kit and acres of tentage and people from all over the world. The build-up has been going on since mid April and to see it come to fruition is just fabulous. To finally hear the sound of cheering and applause will be fantastic."

Notable for its male-only membership and alumni that includes James Bond author Ian Fleming, Royal St George's is quintessentially old English, but the winners down the years have a very international flavour.

Little-known American Ben Curtis took advantage of Dane Thomas Bjorn's late collapse to triumph in 2003. Australian icon Greg Norman hunted down Nick Faldo with a final-round 64 to win 10 years before.

Scotland's Sandy Lyle pipped the late American Payne Stewart to win his first major in 1985 and American Bill Rogers won in 1981. In fact, an Englishman hasn't won the Open at Sandwich since Reg Whitcombe in 1938. Nor, for that matter, has one won since Faldo at Muirfield in 1992.

But there are two Englishmen - Luke Donald and Lee Westwood - flying high at the top of the world rankings, both with very strong claims on a maiden major title this week. Donald reinforced his position as world number one with victory in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart on Sunday. To a certain extent he has done McIlroy a favour by deflecting some of the heat, and is the first Englishman since Faldo in 1993 to go into the Open as world number one.

Second-ranked Westwood, meanwhile, has been hammering on the door for a few years, with five top threes in his last seven majors. The 38-year-old must be bored rigid of discussing when he might win a major. But Royal St George's might just play into his hands - nine of the 13 previous champions have been first-time Open winners, the most for any major venue hosting more than 10 majors.

"He just needs to play well and have good luck when he needs it," said Alliss.

Like all links courses, the wind and weather will be key this week, especially as many shots are hit blind over sandhills, mounds and towering bunkers. In 2003, a hot summer led to dry, bouncy conditions with balls shooting off the hog-back fairways into brutal rough. Woods lost his ball after catching the thick stuff on his very first hole.

Rory McIlroy is bidding to become the youngest Open champion since 1893

Rory McIlroy is bidding to become the youngest Open champion since 1893. Photo: Getty

This year a number of fairways have been widened, while recent rain has softened the landing areas. But the 7,211 yard layout is playing 105 yards longer and has been reduced from a par 71 to a par 70. Eight years ago, only Curtis finished under par, which makes Norman's 64 even more remarkable.

"It is certainly not target golf," said Alliss. "If the wind blows they will have to use their imagination and conjure up shots they've never played before."

With eight of last nine major champions all capturing their first Grand Slam title, golf is edging into a new era. And it may be that the quirky nature of Royal St George's puts on hold McIlroy's coronation as the new king, or Donald's affirmation of his statistical supremacy.

"Certain factors have to come into the equation - play well, keep your nerve, control your feelings," said Alliss. "Sometimes these go unnoticed as the modern teaching pros say it's all down to technique and a swing that repeats under pressure. But this creates its own demons.

"It could be as simple as luck with starting times. Sometimes it's a blessing if you're off at 8am and the weather deteriorates later or vice versa.

"Anyone can win and anyone can lose. You could pick out 50 if it's their turn."

"Of course, England will be hoping it gets a new 007 this week."

Whatever the outcome, Royal St George's has been granted a license to thrill this week.


  • Comment number 1.

    I am sorry if I am being dense, but I don't see why it matters what the "par" is....71 or 70 or 85, it's a strokeplay tournament: all that matters is how many times you hit the ball!

  • Comment number 2.

    Er, Rob:

    "Statistics might count against him this week - the last player to claim consecutive US Open/Open triumphs was Tom Watson in 1982."

    So Tiger Wood's wins the US Open at Pebble Beach and Open Championship at St Andrews in 2000 (both by record margins, I might add) don't coun do they? The fact that you can't remeber legs one and two of arguably golf's greatest winning streak (he followed it by winning the 2000 PGA and the 2001 Masters) is astonishing!

    And while we're at it...

    " Luke the first Englishman since Faldo in 1983 to go into the Open as world number one."

    I assume you've got your years wrong. In 1983, Nick Faldo probabaly wasn't even the Number One ranked golfer in England, never mind the world! Perhaps you meant '93?

  • Comment number 3.

    Wish i could get a job where i could make the stats up as i went along. The golf rankings didnt start until 1986.

  • Comment number 4.

    Also very interestingly, this is the first time since 1835 that the british open has not been held on the isle of white, Greg Norman being the last winner after shooting 57 over par on the final day. Obviously when tiger woods beat Nicholas and mcilroy in the 1924 playoff we had the largest attendance at sandwich - interestingly cows were made to dress up as people to boost the attendance that year as the heatwave had made it impossible for anyone over the height of 5ft 4 to go out the house for 10 mins at a time. That was before rocky balboa did the clean sweep of the majors though, and also won Wimbledon in the famous 2010 classic

  • Comment number 5.

    Rob, you say in your bio that you do this to avoid getting a proper job. It seems from the above posts that you should do the decent thing, resign, and let someone who WOULD treat writing for the BBC as a "proper job" have a go.

  • Comment number 6.

    Apologies to all. Tiger was of course the last man to win the US Open and Open in the same year in 2000. Watson was the last before that. And Faldo was world number one in 1993.

  • Comment number 7.

    Comment number four had me in stitches. Good work that chap.

  • Comment number 8.


    no need to were right on both counts. Ross should practice his/her reading skills!

    Nice blog, setting the scene for one of the most eagerly awaited Opens. Europe have a great shout at winning this one. Nice touch inviting Bjorn and as a winner this year, he may not be a bad outside bet. I had forgotten his blow up in '03....did he fluff an easy chip or something?

  • Comment number 9.

    er. Ross1980 the blog does say "before Woods in 2000".... Wow - it dangerous to write anything nowadays with the aggressive criticism (i hope the spell check works!!)

    I would like to ask whether the thought of the piece is that the undulations of this course might mean that the golfer who plays the best may not win bringing a greater amount of luck into play than would normally be the case?

    Or that the interest in the game is increased by the lack of a single dominant entity so making the pool of "bookies favourites" larger?

  • Comment number 10.

    To be fair to Ross1980, I think the blog has been amended. Mr Hodgett's post would appear to confirm that. Don't like the inherent criticism of blogs that people seem to come on here to write, but in this case he was correcting genuine inaccuracies.

    And so to the Open. For no good reason that I can think of, Sandwch is my favourite links on which the claret jug is competed for. As the blog suggests, picking a winner is nigh on impossible but I'm going to plump for Donald (how original!). He has the short game to get him out of some tricky positions and seems to be peaking at pretty much the right time. A weekend on the sofa awaits.

  • Comment number 11.

    Comments 8 & 9. I think you'll find that Rob edited his original piece to amend his errors.

  • Comment number 12.

    it always amuses me when commentators say that certain places you play are nto suited to some players and that Sandwich isnt target golf,etc,,, well I thought the object of the game was getting the ball in the hole from a point some distance away. to me that is the definitionin every case of playing to a target, ie the flag stick, if it was not a game of aiming at a target why have a flag at all.. ALL golf is a game of hitting a target ,, end of.. it always amuses me when some say that links golf has a bigger element of luck to it than say playing an inland course.. funny how you read the list of Open winners. there are about 4 surprise names on there, but funny how the nicklauses , watsons, players, faldos and woods's keep reappaearing.. maybe as gary player once said , the more they practise the luckier they get... amusing...

  • Comment number 13.

    @12 To be fair, the phrase target golf is generally reserved for courses (mainly parkland) that allow for flying the ball right at the flag. If the players try that this week they will find themselves through the green is some tricky positions!

    Unless it rains like Castle Stuart last week which turned into target golf and was reflected in the scoring.

  • Comment number 14.

    Does anbody know if Maurice Flitcroft is playing this year?
    He broke all records in previous Opens.

  • Comment number 15.

    Ricky Fowler got rookie of the year in US last year ahead of Rory,,, good call that!! 48 starts no wins and older than Rory. who pummelled the field with a 62 at quail hollow to WIN. was 3rd in the Open, one shot off the playoff in the USPGA, good call PGA of America!! one arguement was that rory wasnt really a rookie,,,???

  • Comment number 16.

    you wll see a lot of balls flown thru the air,, thats what golf balls do...they will land on the greens and stop.. thats what spin is for. the bet players hit the ball very high and can stop it on formica.. take a look at the highlights of rory's first round 63 from last years open.. watch the iron he hit into the road hole.. watch it stop,,,dropped from 28,000ft stone dead. shot of the year last year he looks to be playing better this year.. winner by 14...

  • Comment number 17.

    @16 Not saying that it can't be done, just not on every hole like a typical US course. There's a difference. Agree on wee Rors though, made the breakthrough, now watch him go.

  • Comment number 18.

    As usual the anti-British Broadcasting Corporation is advancing its pol;itical agenda by trying to split our United Kingdom into bits. It's a wonder that the usual let's be separate colonies of the Evil Empire agenda wasn't there as well

  • Comment number 19.

    I note the current forecast says Saturday will have a light shower,to my mind it wii be a windy and very wet day-more like January than July and this will make selecting a winner even harder. It would be great to see Lee Westwood win his first major and the conditions I predict may well work to his advantage.

  • Comment number 20.

    I've been digging about in the archives for information on the 1894 Open at Royal St. Georges. Let's hope the weather is better than it was that year when the tented village was swept away by a freak whirlwind. After that an infestation of slugs caused severe damage to the greens making putting virtually impossible. Also during that tournament German Golfer Norbert Dickel III was trapped in a bunker for several hours after a landslip caused by the extreme weather conditions which induced a phobia and fear of sand which ended his promising golfing career.

  • Comment number 21.

    hahaha I think Rob was hungover when he wrote this aricle in 5 minutes while he was waiting for his coffee :) a lil more professionalism please. This is the BBC.

    Donald all the way for this major...he is in the form of his life and the course suits his game down to the ground. If he cant win this week then I wonder can he win anywhere.

    Donald to be the 2nd English major winner in over 40 years! By crikeys England are over due a major winner!

  • Comment number 22.

    Though I'd love to see Westy make the breakthrough I'd say it's far more likely that we'll see another Irish major champ this week than an Englishman. 6 European majors in the last 13 years and 5 of them won by Irishmen, absolutely incredible!

  • Comment number 23.

    @20 Please, please let these things be true!

  • Comment number 24.

    I don't really care if it's an Englishman that wins the title and neither should the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation show that kind of favouratism. I'm sure it'll be very exciting and hopefully a BRIT can win the Open for the first time since a Scot won it in 1999 some 12 years ago. Thought that might be worth a mention as that seems to have been forgotten by the media....

  • Comment number 25.

    It seems these days that the majority of people leaving comments on the BBC sporting blogs (and probably the other ones too) are all aggressive these days! The BBC aren't being biased towards the other nationalities within the British Isles, but it seems perfectly fair to point out how long ago it is since an Englishman last won the Open, or any major for that matter. It's not as if there isn't plenty of discussion on McIlroy (a Northern Irishman) in the golf part of the website.

    I would be content for any Brit to win the Open this year, but it would be nice to see an Englishman do it again. It's been a while since anyone from Wales did well too, so it's time for someone from that part of the UK to do the business as well.

    And as for all the stuff at the beginning. Instead of aggressively pointing out the errors and shouting for a resignation, etc, why don't you do it in a more polite fashion? How would you feel if your boss shouted at you everytime you made a mistake at work? Would you find that motivational and constructive?

    If some of you hate the BBC so much why on earth do you persist on visiting the website and being Mr Angry's all the time?

  • Comment number 26.

    Why dont people comment on the golf rather than what errors are been written.
    It will be another miss for Lee Westwood who seems to be another Monty and various other golfers who never made it to the open arena.

    Come on Rory

  • Comment number 27.

    i read my e-mails a few times before i send then and as soon as it's out there i realise that i've made a stupid mistake.

    i enjoy reading Robs blogs but i wouldn't fancy being in his shoes knowing that the hounds are just waiting to rip you to shreds

  • Comment number 28.

    Robert Garrigus this week. He hits the ball a country mile, has just finished third in the US Open, got into this championship as an alternate, he'll get the benefit of calm weather on Thursday night to finish his first round, and no-one over here has ever heard of him.

    Fits the bill for an Open Champion in just about every respect.

  • Comment number 29.

    Its a sad sign of the times and technology that we can be as angry and as insulting as we like on sounding boards such as this since no one knows who we are and couldn't get within punching distance of us to rectify matters.

    And while we are at it: "Sandw(i)ch is my favourite links on which the claret jug is competed for". Surely Sir(or Madam), you meant to write: "...for which the claret jug is competed"?

  • Comment number 30.

    Apologies to Ross! I didn't know that the Bloggers could update their blogs once they were out there. Can us mere members of the public have the same facility?

    As regards criticisms, I welcome having my errors pointed out to me and I'm sure all professionals do including Rob. Part and parcel of being a blogger I would suggest?

    Most people in England find it difficult to understand what the difference is between GB and the UK. Being from NI, I don't get offended. It's just ignorance generated by a sub standard education that is received by the kids in England.

    Bring on the Open and let the wind blow, please!! Should favour a European.

  • Comment number 31.

    "It's just ignorance generated by a sub standard education that is received by the kids in England."

    Amen to that these days.

    So, are you rooting for Rory? He's a nice chap by all accounts.

  • Comment number 32.

    Ofcourse it matters what par is, what if a player shoots the lowest ever ala Rory in The U.S Open ! I don't see your point, par is what the Club decide is what you should reasonably get round in.

  • Comment number 33.

    There's got to be a good chance that McIlroy will do it again (I sense he really is a cut above everyone else right now) but the conditions are forecast to be challenging, so perhaps we need to look for a more experienced player and one with proven bad weather links golf pedigree. If Els has a good putting week, for example, I can see him contending and possibly even winning.

  • Comment number 34.

    @25 Here here!
    What do you think of it so far?.......
    This a sporting blog not a stat stand off or a forum for the mis-interpritation of every post as being nationally biased!
    Some folk are too sensitive.
    Anyhwow the Open Championship, looking forward to it starting in the morning. I'll throw my hat into the ring and say Harrington has a great chance. Coming into a bit of form and his putting is improving.
    Cracking course and a wee bit of inclement weather will make it even more interesting. As far as the weather I predict......bring me sunshine, every day.......

  • Comment number 35.

    The course might be ready but the traffic control was shambolic. It took 2.5hrs from joining the queue on the A256 until reaching the course. I planned to arrive at 09:30 but eventually got there at 12:15. Ruined my day.

  • Comment number 36.

    come off it Phil;Mickelson used to be one of my well regarded players but to sugest it's not fair because the weather played it's part today puts you in a different light now


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