x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The poisoned chalice

No one has won the British Open after coming first at Loch Lomond, but there's a first time for everything

South Africa's Ernie Els is the closest to having won at Loch lomond and nearly winning the Open Championship. He finished second to Tiger Woods in the July of 2000 at the St Andrews in totally different conditions.
South Africa's Ernie Els is the closest to having won at Loch lomond and nearly winning the Open Championship. He finished second to Tiger Woods in the July of 2000 at the St Andrews in totally different conditions.

No one has won the British Open after coming first at Loch Lomond, but there's a first time for everything Four rounds at Loch Lomond is not exactly the perfect preparation for Turnberry, so Tiger Woods won't have undermined his chances of securing a 15th major title next week by again avoiding the Barclays Scottish Open getting under way this morning. The two courses are like chalk and cheese and it will be asking a lot from any player to break with tradition by claiming the winner's cheque on Sunday and repeating the feat at the 138th Open Championship seven days later.

Since the Scottish Open arrived on the banks of the Loch in 1996, no one has managed to win it and go on to capture the Claret Jug the following week. Ernie Else went closest in 2000, eventually finishing joint second at St Andrews, albeit eight shots behind Woods, while four Loch Lomond winners - Gregory Havret, Johan Edfors, Eduardo Romero and Thomas Bjorn - missed the cut at the Open. But the record books of golf are littered with firsts and one-offs and no one will be holding back over the next four days.

While it bears no resemblance to the Ailsa links at Turnberry, the Loch Lomond layout, fashioned by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish and characterised by oak tree-lined fairways, is still a magnificent test of golf. As usual it has attracted a top-class field, including 22 of the world's top 50 players and 10 winners of major titles, with Geoff Ogilvy and Camilo Villegas crossing the Atlantic to begin their acclimatisation for the Open.

Lee Westwood, who won at Loch Lomond back in 1998 but finished a lowly 62nd in the Open at Royal Birkdale a week later, could be hitting form at the right time. He can take heart from his performance in last week's Open de France. Despite losing a play-off to Germany's Martin Kaymer he reminded us that he is still one of Europe's biggest talents. A Tour newcomer by comparison, Kaymer has now won three times in Europe and looks to have the kind of steely determination and fearless approach that has brought so much success for his inspiration, Bernhard Langer.

He narrowly missed out on a Ryder Cup place last year but seems certain to make the European team in the future. If he can find a hot putting streak and some added consistency he could be a top-10 player. Kaymer was fighting off Westwood on Sunday while Tiger was struggling to keep out Hunter Mahan to win the AT&T National, the tournament he hosts on the PGA Tour. The world No 1 promptly gave his prize money to charity, but he will definitely not be in a charitable mood when dealing with his challengers at Turnberry, a course he plays for the first time.

It was interesting to see the way he played last week. There were no big heaves at the ball; instead he looked to be hitting almost every shot with about 80 per cent effort. It's taken him a while to work out how much better he performs when he swings this way. While the swing is still a work in progress, and to some extent he is covering up the cracks, for now it's good enough to beat the rest most weeks. Whether it will be good enough at Turnberry remains to be seen.

Still some way short of producing his A game, Tiger is the best thinker in golf and this is an asset which can pay rich dividends in the Open Championship. At Hoylake three years ago he used his driver on one hole only on his way to a third Open title and his second in a row. This kind of strategy can be so effective on links courses, which give players so many options but punish poor decision-making harshly.

Without doubt, Mahan is a player to watch. He impressed me a great deal at the Ryder Cup last year and gave a good account of himself at the recent US Open at Bethpage where he finished in a tie for sixth. It could have been much better as luck certainly wasn't on his side, particularly when one approach shot hit the flag and rebounded off the green. He underlined his adaptability by finishing joint sixth in the Open at Carnoustie two years ago and Turnberry will hold no fears for him.

Greg Norman, meanwhile, must be relishing a return to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs more than two decades ago, particularly after his brilliant Open performance at Royal Birkdale last year. Ignoring his 53 years and a glaring lack of competitive golf recently, the Shark led with nine holes to play before eventually finishing third as Padraig Harrington came through to defend his title.

It was a display which says as much about Norman's ability and character as his memorable performance in 1986 when he won the Open Championship on one of only three times that it has been staged at Turnberry. His second-round 63 was one of the finest rounds in major tournament history, rivalled only perhaps by Johnny Miller's 63 in the final round of the US Open at Oakmont in 1973. The conditions at Turnberry that week were some of the toughest I experienced as a player. It was cold, wet, windy and the rough was severe.

In the first round no player broke 70. On the second day I played really well to shoot a level par 70 and was amazed to find that Norman, playing four groups behind, had covered the course in such conditions in seven shots less. Ian Poulter, who played superbly to climb above Norman and finish second behind Harrington 12 months ago, will also be eager to arrive at Turnberry after warming up nicely with a third place finish in France.

And no one would worry less about his Open Championship prospects should he win at Loch Lomond. (Former Tour player Philip Parkin is a member of the BBC TV commentary team for the Barclays Scottish Open and the Open Championship) pparkin@thenational.ae