x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

An English summer with no Jug

The British Open is a flagship sporting event staged in the United Kingdom, but one dominated by visitors from elsewhere.

Britain's Lee Westwood had a decent eighth-place finish at the Scottish Open and would be hoping to use the confidence to make an impression at the Turnberry this week and win his first career major.
Britain's Lee Westwood had a decent eighth-place finish at the Scottish Open and would be hoping to use the confidence to make an impression at the Turnberry this week and win his first career major.

LOCH LOMOND // Summertime in British sport traditionally feels like a losing time for the country's sportsmen, with or without the impromptu, nationalistic feel of a European Championship or World Cup finals in football. This can be a gruesome period that tends to unearth a surfeit of forlorn hopes, and the outbreak of some widespread bewilderment.

The British Open golf championship, ripe for the opening round of its 138th staging at Turnberry in Scotland on Thursday, feels eerily similar to the Wimbledon tennis tournament. This is a flagship sporting event staged in the United Kingdom, but one dominated by visitors from elsewhere. Gary Lineker, the England footballer-turned-television presenter, who is also into golf, once remarked that "football is a simple game. 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end the Germans win."

The Open is a tournament that baffles the British. Around 80 men hit a ball for four days and at the end the Americans win. Or at least it feels like they do. There have been 15 US winners in the past 30 Opens, ranging from Bill Rogers to Tiger Woods, after the halycon period of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. They continued winning after Nicklaus captured his final Open at St Andrews in 1978.

Britain gave football and golf to the world, but they tend to do such sports better in other parts. The British Open feels a bit like inviting guests over for afternoon tea only to watch them steal your finest crockery. The Claret Jug could be draped in a Union Jack at the presentation table all week this week, but that does not make it a British possession. The omens look bleak if one uses the Barclays Scottish Open for stimulation.

Germany's Martin Kaymer emulated his French Open win with a second straight success around an almost mystical Loch Lomond on Sunday, holding off France's Raphael Jacquelin and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain by a couple of strokes. Australia's Adam Scott shared fourth place with Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark. England's Lee Westwood finished alongside Ross Fisher in eighth spot at the Scottish Open. It came a week after he lost to Kaymer in a play-off in France.

Kaymer has won £1 million (Dh5.9m) over the past week, but there is another US$1m (Dh3.7m) question to be answered, apart from Kaymer's pursuit of a unique treble: can a British golfer win the Open this week? Westwood is without a major. In playing the opening two rounds with Tiger Woods, a figure chasing a 15th major as he hunts down Nicklaus' career total of 18, he does not have to seek inspiration.

In discussing why Britain fares badly at its solitary major, Westwood said he felt too many demands are placed on players on the week of an Open, but that he "has always wanted to win a major". They are not easy to come by. When the Open concludes on Sunday, it will be exactly 17 years since Nick Faldo, Britain's most successful player with six majors, won the last of his three Claret Jugs. It was on July 19, 1992 that Faldo promised to treat everyone present at Muirfield after his win. British golf has experienced a drought since such heady times.

Paul Lawrie, the Scottish player, got the better of Justin Leonard and Jean Van de Velde, whose unfortunate club selection on the 72nd hole cost him victory at Carnoustie in a play-off in 1999, but two winners in 17 years is a thin consolation as against the thick rough around Turnberry. There are only three British names etched on the Claret Jug in three decades if one takes into account Sandy Lyle's victory at Sandwich in 1985.

Paul Casey is rated the world's third-best player. Other aspiring members of this generation include Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Nick Dougherty. Fisher is also worth a mention after his fifth place at the US Open. If there is going to be a British winner, he seems likely to come from England. The European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, 46, is without a top-10 finish in Europe over the past year. His time, even in his native Scotland, would seem to have gone.

That ravaged American golfer, Boo Weekley, last week joked that he was going to fish for Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, in Loch Lomond if he won the Scottish Open. It remains a suggestion more realistic than trying to pin a winner's rosette on a viable British candidate before its Open Championship begins. dkane@thenational.ae