Major Wednesday: Who will tame the beast at Carnoustie, and which Rory McIlroy will turn up at The Open?

Will it be boom or bust for Rory McIlroy at Carnoustie? (Stuart Franklin / Getty Images)

THE World Cup has finally finished and the nets have been taken down at Wimbledon. But fear not sports fans, the summer is not over yet as we prepare for the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie.

It is the one week a year when golf dominates the sporting agenda and we can look forward to four days of birdies, bogeys and lots of excitement. MAJOR WEDNESDAY is here to set the scene for what to look out for over four days and 72 holes of action at golf’s oldest and most prestigious tournament.

 

Will the Beast be tamed?

Rory McIlroy plays out of a bunker on a practice round (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

CARNOUSTIE is the most northerly venue on The Open rota of courses, but it’s undoubtedly the toughest. Nicknamed ‘The Beast’, this course throws up lots of problems on the calmest of seaside days, let alone when the wind picks up. It is both feared and respected in equal measure as players and fans alike recognise this course’s difficulty. When it returned to the Open circuit in 1999 after a 24-year absence, it was mockingly referred to as ‘Car-nasty’ as it made a mockery of the best players in the world with Scotland’s Paul Lawrie eventually winning with a final score of six-over par.

That week produced awful weather in the North East of Scotland, but this summer’s heatwave has produced a completely different scenario.

Carnoustie is playing fast and fiery as the fairways have dried out and have turned from green to yellow. The ball is running for miles and the course is playing as a classic seaside links. Tiger Woods has even said the fairways are playing faster than the greens! Will players be brave enough to seek out birdies or will they try to avoid costly mistakes? Striking the right balance between defence and attack and risk and reward will be essential.

That is the beauty of The Open – the challenge varies from year to year depending on the venue and what the weather throws up. And so it should be this time until the Champion Golfer is crowned on Sunday evening.

 

Which Rory will show up this week?

Rory McIlroy (Harry How/Getty Images)

IT was here in 2007 that Rory McIlroy first alerted the wider golfing world to his awesome talent when he claimed the Silver Medal as the leading amateur that week. It’s fair to say he hasn’t disappointed in the years that have followed with four glorious Majors to his name. But somehow it feels like he could have done even better.

That’s because Rory has lived in a cycle of boom and bust. He has experienced those amazing highs but some crushing lows. When everything comes together, he is unbeatable. But when something falls out of kilter, he drops back into the pack. 2018 has followed that same pattern. He enjoyed a superb win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March thanks to a wonderful 64 on the final day but he failed to challenge on Masters Sunday after starting in the final group alongside eventual winner Patrick Reed.

That failure to complete his Grand Slam saw a downturn as he missed the cut at The Players Championship and then the US Open, while he could only finish in a tie for 28th on his last appearance at the Irish Open as he struggled on the greens. Putting has become a big issue for him in the last couple of years, but he will have been working on that for the last couple of weeks. McIlroy is not the centre of attention ahead of this week’s Open – that is Tiger Woods as he returns after missing the last two years – and sometimes that is when he’s at his most dangerous. Because when you forget just how good Rory McIlroy can be, that is when he normally gives us a timely reminder.

 

Can the Americans keep their golden run going?

Jordan Speith chips out of the bunker at Carnoustie (SNS Group / Kenny Smith)

THE United States of America is the true golfing powerhouse, but it is currently undergoing its best run for 20 years. For the first time since 1998, American men have won the last five Majors, including Jordan Spieth’s success at The Open 12 months ago. They also hold the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup, the Walker Cup, the Solheim Cup and the Curtis Cup and have five of the top seven players in the World Rankings. This week, over a third of the field at Carnoustie is American as they look to keep this purple patch going.

Dustin Johnson leads the charge as World No.1 and it will be fascinating to see how the big hitter approaches the bone dry fairways. No doubt golf fans everywhere are hoping DJ is feeling bold and wants to get his driver out. If that is the case, then watch out for drives close to 400 yards. That tactic could be employed by plenty of others from the Stars and Stripes, such as two-time reigning us Open Champion Brooks Koepka and former Masters Champion Bubba Watson.

Spieth has been struggling for form for most of 2018, but he hopes links golf and the imagination and creativity required may inspire a revival. His close friend, Justin Thomas, the US PGA Champion, is playing in just his third Open but he has already shown himself to be a serial winner and someone not afraid to shoot really low scores. Patrick Reed will enjoy walking round Carnoustie with the tag of Masters Champion, while Rickie Fowler is never short of popularity, wherever he plays. It’s a ninth Open for the Californian and after so many close finishes, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a Major winner.

Yet these are only a handful of the names competing, and that doesn’t even include a certain Tiger. It’s both the quality and the depth that is most impressive as the PGA Tour and the college system continues to churn out players who are ready to win the sport’s biggest prizes.

 

Key Hole

18th; par 4; 499 yards

KNOWN as ‘Home’, there is still plenty of work to do before the pros reach the sanctuary of the clubhouse. This is one of the hardest finishing holes in golf, and with good reason. The length alone would make it difficult, but that is only the start of difficulties. The tee-shot has out on bounds down the left and the Barry Burn down both sides as well as across the fairway.

Scotland’s Sam Locke on the 18th hole (SNS Group / Kenny Smith)

Miss all that and there are still fairway bunkers awaiting a less than perfect tee-shot. Then with the second, you must negotiate the Barry Burn again as it wanders in front of the green, along with two big greenside sand traps. If you need a four here to make the cut or win the tournament, good luck! And remember in 1999 this is where Jean Van de Velde literally got his feet wet on the way to blowing his chance of the Claret Jug.

 

 

Round One selected tee-times

06.35: Sandy Lyle (Sco), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Andy Sullivan (Eng)

09.58: Jordan Spieth (US), Justin Rose (Eng), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha)

10.09: Jon Rahm (Spa), Rickie Fowler (US), Chris Wood (Eng)

10.20: Louis Oosthuizen (SA), Paul Casey (Eng), Patrick Reed (US)

12.31: Henrik Stenson (Swe), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Jimmy Walker (US)

12.53: Rory McIlroy (NI), Marc Leishman (Aus), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den)

13.04: Dustin Johnson (US), Alex Noren (Swe), Charley Hoffman (US)

13.26: Justin Thomas (US), Francesco Molinari (Ita), Branden Grace (SA)

14.59: Ian Poulter (Eng), Cameron Smith (Aus), Brooks Koepka (US)

15.21: Tiger Woods (US), Hideki Matsuyama (Jap), Russell Knox (Sco)

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