OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP BLOG
By Denis Kirwan
The Open. The original and the best. Royal Birkdale is widely considered to be one of the top three courses on the Open rotation – along with St Andrews and Muirfield. It has no signature holes. Just 18 great ones. At 7,156 yards, it is unusually playing some 17 yards shorter than it did in 2008 when Padraig Harrington became the first golfer from GB & I to win back-to-back Opens since Englishman James Braid back in 1906. Mr. Braid subsequently went on to design or redesign many of the great Irish golf courses – Rosapenna, Mullingar, Tullamore, Dundalk, Grange, Howth and Newlands. And while I’m on the subject of course designers, it was wonderful to see Pat Ruddy receive Life Membership of the International Association of Golf Writers at Royal Birkdale on Wednesday. Pat was a distinguished golf writer for many years before turning his hand to golf course design and he has been responsible for a few real gems including his own spectacular – yet fiendishly difficult – European Club in Brittas, Co.Wicklow. Pat now has the distinction of designing two Irish Open courses – Druids Glen and the stunning Glashedy Links in Ballyliffin, Co.Donegal, host to next year’s tournament. His courses generally tend to bring most golfers to their knees and Ruddy has stated that if his courses are critically considered to be really difficult tests of golf, then his aim has been successfully achieved.
The Open has become the major where older players have excelled. Of the last 24 major championships, the five oldest winners have all come from the Open – Henrik Stenson (40), Zach Johnson (39), Phil Mickelson (43), Ernie Els (42) and Darren Clarke (43), which shows that younger bigger hitters don’t have any real advantage on the shorter links courses while the slower green speeds can be alien to the young guns regularly used to putting down marble staircases. Experience counts for a lot too. There is no doubt that Matt Kuchar (39) has that in spades and he could well become the eighth consecutive first time winner of a major championship. His 29 front nine today was a golfing masterclass. Despite having never won a major, Kuchar has become an absolute cash machine on the PGA Tour with more than $40million in career earnings. I’m sure he’d swap a significant chunk of that to put his name on that claret jug. He definitely wouldn’t be winning a major out of turn. Neither would Paul Casey (39) or Ian Poulter (41).
They will have to work hard for it, though. Brooks Koepka’s 65 on his first competitive round since he won the US Open at Erin Hills was seriously impressive. He’s got anti-freeze running though his veins. And when Jordan Spieth’s putter gets hot, he’d even give Freddie Smith a run for his money in the Castleknock singles matchplay. One thing that seems certain is that the cream will eventually rise to the top on this magnificent course. Or will it? Could a relative unknown like Austin Connolly become the Todd Hamilton or Ben Curtis of this year’s Open Championship. Now, he’s the kind of guy that golf bookies like Karl Craven would absolutely love to win! As for Rory McIlroy, well he played like Ben Hogan on the back nine – having played like Hulk Hogan on the front half. It was gutsy. He might well have found something. It’s still game on for him.