July 15, 2011
Stars and stripes on leaderboard
By IAN HUTCHISON, Special to QMI Agency
TORONTO - Conventional wisdom is more fantasy than fact in the birthplace of Harry Potter and home to the Open Championship, where reality has replaced the hyperbole that swirled around Royal St. George’s like the prevailing wind in the practice rounds before it died in the afternoon on Thursday.
As often as not, what we’re discussing today is entirely different than what we talked about yesterday, which leads us to the fact that that a Dane most renowned for a Jean Van de Velde moment the last time the Open was played in Sandwich and a 20-year-old amateur are sitting atop the leaderboard.
Once you get past Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lewis and get over the fact that nobody named Rory is with them, you’ll get to a pack of players who have been somewhat maligned of late, yet are within striking range of the leaders.
The prevailing attitude is that the once-mighty Americans have fallen on hard times with golf taking on such a global scope, an opinion that is cemented solidly in the fact that the last four majors have been won by players from outside the United States, which has also been humbled as well in recent Ryder Cups.
The recent personal and injury issues faced by Tiger Woods, once the automatic favourite to win any major, fuels this popular opinion that goes quite nicely with the popular belief that Americans don’t have the game to be successful on the links.
Tell that to Tiger or Ben Curtis, the last guy to win at Royal St. George’s. You may also want to explain that to the six Americans who were within three shots of the lead when play ended Thursday because apparently they didn’t get the memo.
We’re not talking the usual suspects such as Phil Mickelson, who sits at even par and still has a shot, or Jim Furyk, who may not get to play the weekend. As surprising as the five-under 65s shot by Bjorn and Lewis were, so too are the American names up near the top going into today’s play.
While 2009 U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover seems fitting, especially after his playoff win at the Wells Fargo Championship in May, he’s also in a season in which he’s missed the cut five times in 14 events to date, but says he looks forward to links golf.
“I enjoy it and appreciate the challenge. You enjoy it more when you shoot four under. Birkdale, I had the wrong side of the draw, shot 78 and felt like I shot 65. I mean, it’s what the golf course gives you, and if you execute, you shoot good scores, and if you don’t, you don’t,” said Glover.
Glover is just one back along with countryman Webb Simpson, who was a late addition to the field despite his big jump up the leaderboard at this year’s U.S. Open where he tied for 14th.
“The U.S. Open was definitely a good experience for me, being my first major,” said Simpson. “I was nervous definitely at the U.S. Open to start, but it helped me today to stay a little bit more calm and just kind of know what to expect, and the crowds were great out there. It was pretty awesome.”
Kyle Stanley and Ricky Barnes, who are both three shots back at two under, were also late additions, with Barnes getting in just this week as an alternate when Nicolas Colsaerts withdrew. Other Americans at two-under include Ryan Palmer and Jeff Overton.
They caught a break when benign conditions took over in the afternoon, so it remains to be seen if they can hold their positions as the tournament progresses, but the same can be said for the leaders.
Conventional wisdom may say no, but the fact is that Americans are in position to change their image.
Benign conditions took over in the afternoon, allowing 35 players to come in under par. It remains to be seen how weather affects the golf course the rest of the way, but after Congressional played so soft at the U.S. Open, it will be interesting to see if the USGA/R&A start blaming clubs and golf balls once again for bruising their egos with low scores. The lords of golf may see even more new equipment standards as the solution if golf courses don’t have the money these days to fund expensive lengthening and other alterations … Former world No. 1 David Duval won’t be repeating history as the 2001 British Open champ reeled off five consecutive bogeys on the front nine and finished with a 78, which left him fourth from the bottom.
PADDY FLIRTS WITH CUT
Another former champ, Padraig Harrington, is also flirting with the cut after finishing at three over … Others that may not make it to the weekend include Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Ernie Els. All three are scheduled to be at next week’s RBC Canadian Open in Vancouver … Toughest hole on the course was the 419-yard, par-4 fifth which yielded 50 bogeys, two double bogeys, just five birdies and no eagles …If Lewis continues to play well, can we do him a favour not afforded to Rory McIlroy and not compare him to Tiger?