Wayne Riley Blog: Great golfers do well at St Andrews and if the wind stays away Rory could be making history at this year’s Open
Wayne Riley Blog: Open and Shut Case
The Open Championship at the Old Course in St Andrews – that’s enough to put a twinge into any part of your anatomy. Just the sound of it does it for me. A couple of columns back I predicted Rory McIlroy would prevail at the year’s third Major, and I haven’t changed my mind, especially now he’s added another World Golf Championship to his victory tally. Don’t expect him to slow down any time soon!
Let me tell you friends, I know the venue so well, and there’s nothing quite like it. I’ve had the pleasure of playing there in two Open Championships, a Dunhill Cup where I represented Australia, and several Alfred Dunhill Links Championships, not to mention doing several commentary gigs for the latter.
Every year it is truly the Home of Golf and the spiritual home of the Claret Jug. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Arnold Palmer, Nick Faldo, just to name a famous few, have prevailed over the Old Lady. Need I say more?
I take my lead from the late, great Bobby Jones who believed that if you want to be known for being a great player, you have to have held the Claret Jug aloft at St Andrews. Harsh, but fair in my humble opinion. But if you ever run into Tom Watson, a five-time winner of this great championship, but never on the Old Course, don’t tell him I said that!
The way Tiger won in 2000, without hitting into a single bunker over the course of 72 holes, was the stuff that folklore is made of. Fifteen years later we are all still talking about it – as they will be when we’ve all turned our toes up and are watching down on St Andrews from Heaven Country Club.
I doubt that Rory will be able to control himself. He will be hitting a driver whenever he can, which I feel is the right move for him, especially the way the boy from Holywood bangs it off the tee. He drives it like a bullet, and for that reason he’ll inevitably find bunkers.
But he can, and will, make so many birdies that I don’t think it matters too much. For me, he is the overwhelming favourite. He shot a 63 in the opening round in 2010 – the joint-lowest round in a Major – and there could be more of the same this time if the wind stays away.
Jordan Spieth, after his Green Jacket-winning masterpiece at Augusta (and who knows, by the time you read this he might be a US Open champion, too) may struggle a little at The Old Course. I’m not sure he’s ever played there before, but the way he putts, nothing would surprise me.
He could win it, of that there’s no doubt, but experience is massive at St Andrews. Rory could walk 18 holes in the pitch-black on the Old Course and not fall into a single bunker. If Jordan Spieth wants to have a chance to win this great championship at the Home of Golf, he must have at least ten practice rounds.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t see that happening with the busy year-round schedules these top-tier professional have nowadays. Oh to be young…
Another player who I think could fare well at St Andrews is the big-hitting Bubba Watson. With his length, and the way he can manoeuvre the golf ball, it’s a layout that should be right up his street. He’s another birdie machine, but I fear for Bubba, as I do with Jordan, when it comes to experience. I really think it will play a significant role at St Andrews. Have I said that already?
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of going to St Andrews, you must do it! Even though, in all honesty, it’s not the best venue for spectators. You have to watch about 99% of the golf from around the perimeters of the course. But St Andrews is about so much more than that.
As a spectacle, it is a golfing mecca. There’s something so magical about driving into St Andrews, seeing the R&A Clubhouse and the Swilcan Bridge, or even visiting the graves of Old and Young Tom Morris, who between them won eight of the first 12 Open Championships. This town bleeds golf, and will continue to do so until the world comes to an end.
If you don’t get that twinge I was talking about earlier when you’re in the ‘Auld Grey Toon’, you simply aren’t a golfer.
It’s electric during Open week. Everything comes alive. If you don’t currently have plans to be in St Andrews the week commencing July 13, then get on your bike. Call in favours, grovel, do whatever you have to, because you don’t want to miss out on one of golf’s unmissable experiences.