There's little mystique to Royal St. George's, and even less love for the English venue. It's not the birthplace of golf like St. Andrew's or an impossibly difficult test like Carnoustie. When a course crowns so unheralded a champ as 2003's Open winner Ben Curtis, somehow the host bears the brunt of the criticism.
Ask Ian Poulter about the track at Sandwich, and he'll say "it's an average course at best." The 18 holes that sit as far south as any in The Open rota are wildly considered the most quirky, fluky among the bunch.
But isn't that exactly what's so loved about link golf? The creativity, the nuance, the ability to define a champion who does more than lasers his seven iron more precisely than anyone else that week. It's got humps and bumps and wacky lies and oddball stances and nothing's a given. But when in golf is anything a given.
Who will emerge? Who will surprise? There's a strangely common theme among The Sand Trap staff. Read on to see what we think.
Who will win the 2011 British Open? Score?
Ron Varrial: Graeme McDowell, -4. The gutty Northern Irishman proved his mettle in 2010, as both a major champion and on the grand stage of the Ryder Cup. He's been off his game in 2011 but has shown flashes of hitting his stride. Last week he played well until carding a nine late on Sunday. Long putts fall at the British Open, and I can't think of a single golf who's dropped more crucial putts in the past 12 months than McDowell. His Open record is solid, but not dazzling. He has the look of a multiple major winner to me, and the tougher Royal St. George's plays, the better his odds of emerging.
Justin L. Pucheu: Luke Donald, and let's say -4.
Alan Olson: Hard not to pick the boy-wonder right now. Rory gets it done at -9 (271).
Danny Ottmann: The British Open is like no other major, the best player, or even the player playing the best, does not always take home the Claret Jug. With that being said, I am going with Steve Stricker and a total of 279 (-1). He is playing some very good golf lately and I know it's a long shot but I tend to pull for the older guys.
Jamieson Weiss: I'm going out on a limb and taking 17th-ranked Adam Scott at -5. His Open Championship record, though it includes a T8, isn't great, but his I can't get his solid finish in the Masters out of my head. When he's on he has as much game as anyone in golf, and I think he's got a pretty good chance to go low.
George Promenschenkel: More than any other major, the Open Championship seems ruled by weather, blind luck, and (perhaps) even the supernatural. It has given us champions like Ben Curtis and Louis Oosthuizen, as well as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. St. Georges is a course of random bounces where good shots are not necessarily rewarded. Suffice it to say, just about anyone could win.
That said, there's no reason not to assume Rory McIlroy will not win. After his showing at the U.S. Open, it's hard not to think that he could do the same thing at Royal St. Georges. I wouldn't normally pick a high ball hitter like Rory in Scotland, but he seems to be able to adjust his game. Rain should soften the links a bit (though not as much as Castle Stuart was for the Scottish Open). But it should let the pros play an aerial game. Rory McIlroy at 267.
Erik J. Barzeski: I think Ryan Moore takes it at -7. He's gotten to play at Chambers Bay and might have learned some of these shots, and his lower ball flight will help as well.
Who places more players in the Top 10? USA or Europe?
Ron Varrial: This is the week that the U.S. struggles really hits home. I have to go 10-12 players deep in my "favorites" list before I find an American I think has a legit shot here. I'm going to say Europe places seven in the top 10, America places one, and the rest of the world has two.
Justin L. Pucheu: Likely the Europeans, I'd say there will be 5 Europeans, 3 Americans, and 2 others.
Alan Olson: Europe. U.S. players don't play this style of golf often so I expect them to have a tough time. Europe 8, USA 2.
Danny Ottmann: Europe. This is not the kind of golf that Americans tend to play. If the course softens up and the wind doesn't blow 50 mph, the Americans could have a better shot.
Jamieson Weiss: I think the U.S. and Europe will tie, but the internationals will beat both of them. I've got four for the internationals, three for the Americans, and three for the Euros.
George Promenschenkel: Europe. They play the courses like this far more often, and they've been playing better golf lately than the U.S. players.
Erik J. Barzeski: The United States. Europe isn't as big as some people seem to think. South Africa isn't in Europe, for example. That said, it'll be very close, and I'm probably wrong.
Name one Top 10 player to miss the cut and one sub-50 player who contends.
Ron Varrial: Tough one here. Mickelson seems the obvious choice, but something just ain't right with Martin Kaymer. I'll say he struggles and misses the weekend. Angel Cabrera, ranked 75th in the world, has been hit and miss at the Open, but he'll be right there on Sunday. One other name to keep in mind: Sweden's Fredrik Andersson Hed.
Justin L. Pucheu: Top 10 player that will MC: Kaymer. Sub-50 player that will contend: Going out on a limb and saying Fowler, but it's really hard to not say Sergio Garcia. I've been very happy seeing him seemingly turn things around.
Alan Olson: It's been feast or famine for Phil this year and with that, the Open will be his famine. As for the over 50 player, Angel Cabrera (75) ends up with a top five finish.
Danny Ottmann: Sub-50, I am going with Sergio Garcia. I picked him in the U.S. Open and he did me proud, I am going with him again. Top 10 to miss the cut, well I guess I will go with Martin Kaymer. Personally I think the entire top 10 have a good chance at playing well, but he is just my least favorite of the bunch to watch.
Jamieson Weiss: If anyone inside the top 10 in the world is going to miss the cut, it'll be Phil Mickelson. Only one top 10 in the Open, three missed cuts, and a smattering of near-missed cuts doesn't bode well. Sergio Garcia is the obvious choice as a player outside the top 50 to contend, and I think for good reason. Six top 10s in the Open Championship, solid week at this year's U.S. Open, and a second-place finish at the BMW International Open a few weeks ago have Sergio on the right foot
George Promenschenkel: Sergio! Sergio! I think he might, maybe, quite possibly, be almost back. I see a top 20 coming in his future. If the course doesn't get into his head, this might be the last time I can pick him in this category, at least for a while. Top 10er missing the cut? I'll go back to my standby, Martin Kaymer. He seems prone to getting beaten up mentally by a course like St. Georges.
Erik J. Barzeski: Watney misses the cut. My winner is Ryan Moore so do I get to pick him again? It's my site, so I say yes.
Head to head: Westwood vs. McIlroy? Donald vs. McDowell? Quiros vs. Dustin Johnson? Top American? Top European?
Ron Varrial: Westwood is always right there and McIlroy has barely touched his clubs since Congressional. Lee takes him, but both play well, Top 15. McDowell's my pick to win, but I'd be shocked if Donald doesn't finish top 5. In long ball battle, give me the dim-witted Johnson, who won't let the funky course infect his psyche. Jeff Overton will be top American (finished 13th and 11th past two Opens) and McDowell is top Euro.
Justin L. Pucheu: I'm not jumping on the bandwagon, but McIlroy tops Westwood. Luke Donald, plain and simple, he's hot right now, everything has come together for him and he has a superior short game. Seems like Quiros has been just outside of really breaking out, I think he finishes above DJ, but both finish inside top 25. Top American: I can't decide between Watney and Stricker here. One of those two. I'd love to see Stewart Cink take that honor though. Top European: Again, Luke Donald.
Alan Olson: McIIroy, Donald, Quiros. Top American; Matt Kuchar. Top European: See #1.
Danny Ottmann: McIlroy over Westwood, Donald over McDowell, DJ over Quiros. Top American will be Stricker since I am picking him to win, but look for Nick Watney to play well too. Top European will be McIlroy, I mean how can you bet against him?
Jamieson Weiss: McIlroy beats Westwood, Donald beats McDowell, and Johnson beats Quiros. Westwood is having a pretty good year, pretty much what you would expect from him, but McIlroy is on another level right now. I won't get ahead of myself and say he's the next legend of golf, but he's certainly on the right track. McDowell is pretty much in the same shoes as Westwood; having a decent year but not lighting the world on fire. Donald, on the other hand, is having a great year, so he's my pick. Although I like Quiros, I have to take Dustin Johnson head to head. At this point, Johnson just has the more complete and polished game. Not to say Quiros won't have a nice career, but right now DJ has a leg up. For top American I am going back to my standby, Matt Kuchar, and Rory McIlroy gets my pick for top European. Again though, don't overlook the internationals. They might not play well as a team, but they've been doing well in the majors lately.
George Promenschenkel: McIlroy - talent over experience. Donald - consistency over slightly less consistency. DJ - he's been closer. Top American: Nick Watney, he's playing great golf. Top Euro: Rory McIlroy. But what about… Top African: Ernie Els. Top Australian: Jason Day. Top Asian: KJ Choi. Top South American: Angel Cabrera.
Erik J. Barzeski: McIlroy, Donald, both stink, Moore, and Jimenez.
Does the British Open venue affect your interest in the tournament? What are your feelings about Royal St. George's?
Ron Varrial: The Open rota is full of historic spots. Part of my enjoyment this week is learning a lot more about the venue, so I'm taking an open mind into Royal St. George's. I know it's got a reputation as quirky, but I love that and think the most creative golfer will hoist the jug on Sunday.
Justin L. Pucheu: Yeah, the venue matters a little bit, but doesn't totally make it or break it for me. I prefer St. Andrew;s and Carnoustie, but there's nothing wrong with Royal St. George's. I think the best way to describe it is “quirky.”
Alan Olson: Not really. While some are better than others, the overall experience of the Open is fun to watch, regardless of the venue. Never played there so my only experience is seeing it on TV. Not sure it ranks at the top of the rotation of Open courses but it's no slouch either.
Danny Ottmann: Royal St. George's is one of my least favorite venues for the Open Championship, but then again I just don't see the beauty in most of those courses. I like St. Andrews, it just is the British Open kind of like how I love U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach. I will still watch regardless, I already have the DVR ready to go.
Jamieson Weiss: Royal St. George's isn't going to make me watch the Open all by itself, but it certainly doesn't make me want to watch it less. It doesn't have the reputation of St. Andrew's, Carnoustie, or Turnberry, but it's a nice golf course and it should hold its own as long as the wind stays up.
George Promenschenkel:If they played every other Open Championship on the Old Course, that would be fine with me. That would leave room for Carnoustie and the other primo links courses. I'm not sure Royal St. George's is on par with the top tier. Sandwich is a really quirky course. The eventual winner will have to play well, but the best player may not be the eventual winner. But I will definitely watch. It's the Open Championship, after all.
Erik J. Barzeski: I didn't watch much of 2003, so I'm looking forward to it. Maybe that's silly of me, but I like quirks. You've still gotta hit the ball.
Where do you stand on links golf? It's golf as it should be? Or it's golf where lucky/unlucky bounces play too big a role?
Ron Varrial: I experienced true links golf for the first time this spring at Royal Porthcawl in Wales, and it completely changed my appreciation for this style of golf, and for the game as a whole. Hitting a 350-yard five wood, a 225-yard nine iron and a 120-yard driver and 60 yard putt all in the same round really opened my eyes to all the different ways to play golf. It's not all about point and shoot that we know so well in America and the creativity of links golf turns it into as much an art form as a sport.
Justin L. Pucheu: I think links golf is great, it's always insanely challenging. As far as being “golf as it should be”, well, I don't think that should be defined in some sort of concrete mold. I understand why people might think that it's golf as it should be, but like everything else, the game has evolved. There's nothing wrong with courses that aren't as challenging and offer up easy scoring. A good shootout is fun to watch. The unlucky bounces can play a role, but a true champion will overcome that. In my opinion, the players draw (as in when they tee off in the first two rounds) has had a much bigger role, and even though there's nothing you can really do about that, it's frustrating.
Alan Olson: Love it! Quirky bounces, deep bunkers, and a different strategy of golf compared to what is mostly played in the United States. As for getting unlucky bounces, etc. that's part of the game. Sometimes you get the luck and sometimes you don't. Either way, it's fun to watch.
Danny Ottmann: Links golf is alright. I have friends that dream about going to Europe to play those courses and I am not interested at all. The weather is often terrible and those courses are just not pleasing to my eye. But it's the British Open and those very factors make it enjoyable to watch.
Jamieson Weiss: I'm a big fan of links golf, though I don't consider myself a purist. I enjoy the challenge that the wind and water brings, and I like seeing the pros play on links courses a few times a year. I wouldn't necessary call it golf as it should be, but it certainly is a welcome and enjoyable change of pace. As with the U.S. Open, I don't mind lucky bounces playing a part.
George Promenschenkel: I dig the links! Love the long wispy borders, the ground game, the bumps and burns, the ridiculous bunkers… it's all good. I'd hate for all golf to be links golf, however, because it is the variety of climates, terrain, and vegetation that make golf so great. Rub of the green comes into play on every golf course. Good shots should be rewarded, and generally are. But how about the approach shot that is so perfect that it hits the flagstick and bounds into a hazard instead of nestling close to the hole? It's part of the game. It shouldn't rule the game, but it makes things interesting… especially for those of us watching.
Erik J. Barzeski: I wish we had more of it. I'm looking forward to the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Unfortunately we simply don't have the soil for it anywhere, and the "links courses" we have in the U.S. are a joke.