The 142nd British Open Championship ended with a thrilling finale as it saw Lee Westwood loose a 2 shot lead in the final as Phil Mickelson matched the best round of the week to take the championship by storm. A 5 under par, 66, was enough for Mickelson to win his first ever British Open, just one week after winning the Scottish Open. This major win adds to his previous four major wins which include: The Masters (2004, 2006 and 2010) and the PGA Championship (2005), he also joins players such as Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Nick Faldo in winning at Muirfield. Muirfield conjured up its most difficult test yet as many big name players cracked under the pressure of the Open and the test the course provided. Luke Donald and Rory Mcilroy were just two big names to be defeated by the quick and firm fairways.
Muirfield is one of the most coveted and challenging Open courses, however this week it became close to impossible to conquer as the fairways became burnt from the sun and lack of rain which made the greens almost impossible to stop the ball on as the run off zones became a common feature of the course and the players rounds.
I ventured up to Open this week and managed to see some brilliant golf being played and probably the best spectating Open I have ever been to. Many holes had stands close to the green and the large crowds were able to stand behind tees and get up close and personal with the players, this made the practice day on the Wednesday even better as fans were able to get signatures off the players and the lucky ones were able to get golf balls and other souvenirs from the players.
How to conquer the course.
The first hole is comfortable for the players to start off as it is a straight forward tee shot into a fairly clear fairway, however the bunker on the left comes into play at 222 yards. The narrow fairway plays tricks on the players on many holes as there is no room for error as the rough has been left to grow to make it pivotal for the players to hit the fairway off the tee. The first is seen as a comfortable par and maybe even a birdie opportunity if the wind is helping as the slightly elevated green doesn’t leave the players with a tough putt once on the green.
The second hole saw many birdies as the fairway is broad and even the worst of shots can work out well. The majority of the players left them selves with a comfortable wedge into the green from about 134 yards depending on the club chosen off the tee. The green has a slight dip at the front which can see the ball run off to the left, however if the ball is punched in low the ball will run up to the top and leave you with a comfortable putt.
The third hole is yet another birdie opportunity as shown by Adam Scott on the Saturday who hit to very simple iron shots into the green then holed a 15ft putt. Scott hit a 3 iron 250 yards leaving him a simple 109 yard shot into green, which can be difficult with some players as they could end up in between clubs. However Scott perfected both shots and with the pin at back right, it left him with a comfortable straight forward putt for birdie.
The 226 yard par 3, fourth hole, is the players first real challenge, especially this week with the prevailing wind from the coast coming into the face of the player. The two greenside bunkers can come into play very easily if the players were to choose the wrong club as the elevated green has many run off zones which can leave a difficult up and down for par. The green itself slopes from right to left, so a successful fade into the right hand side of the green might just hold up and drift down towards the flag. A draw might pick up to much pace and will see the ball fall to left of the green with almost a blind shot back up to the green.
The par 5 fifth can either be an a birdie or even an eagle opportunity as Lee Westwood found out or a total card killer depending on that strong coastal wind. Many players early on in the week were often taking driver off the tee and then driver off the fairway to even get close to the green because the wind was straight into face. A tee shot of around 303 yards can leave you with a 241 yard shot into the green with bunkers to both your right and left but neither come into play until 290 yards which for a handicap golfer will not be a problem because most handicapped golfers like myself will not be able to hit it that far into wind, but for the pros could lead them into trouble if their drive is not perfect. Four green side bunkers to the left and two to the right can come into play as the green slopes from right to left. To conquer this hole would be to play it like a par 5 and get on the green for three and hopefully have a chance for a par and at best a birdie, rather than blasting two shots towards the green with no control of where they will end up.
The sixth hole is one of the most misleading holes on the course. When watching this hole on T.V. you are unable to see terrain and how elevated parts of the fairway are. The majority of players hit the ball over the four left bunkers which come into play between 219 and 259 yards. The majority of the players hit into a dip just up to 290 yards from the tee, with an elevated part of the fairway leaving a blind shot from 142 yards into a fairly lengthy green of 44 yards.
The second par 3 on the course is a 184 yard hole with bunkers coming into play on both the left and right of the hole. This par 3 is extremely flat and requires a simple shot, with many players misreading the shot and leaving the ball at the front of the green which usually ends in no better than a par.
The eighth hole has up to 12 bunkers that come into play with each shot, five of which are at 244 yards to the right hand side of the fairway and the rest come into play around the green. Gorse bushes come into play down the right hand side but are only in play if poor shot is played, they are usually a problem for handicapped golfers rather than the pros.
The last hole on the front nine is a simple shot that has seen many birdies and even eagles as shown by Hunter Mahan on the final day which saw him hit the green into two and hole a comfortable putt. Adam Scott had a similar experience on both the Saturday and the Sunday after hitting to great shots into the green both days but was unable to convert both times and finished with a respectable birdie both times. This short par 5 of 554 yards could be reached in two with 3-wood and a long iron with the tee shot needing to be carried 226 yards to clear the rough before the fairway begins.
The tenth hole runs alongside the eighteenth hole as it plays a lengthy par 4 of 469 yards back into the wind. Driver is normally first choice club off the tee which usually carry the three bunkers down the right of the fairway. The ball usually carries 290 yards and leaves the players with a comfortable mid iron into the green from 163 yards. The reclining green leaves no problems for the players once the ball is on the green, and a simple putt can lead to comfortable par, which most players would be satisfied with off the tee.
The eleventh hole starts off with a blind shot hit onto an elevated fairway with a carry distance of around 200 yards which is no problem for these players who usually hit a comfortable iron to about 121 yards left. Muirfield this week hasn’t seen many drivers being used as many players are able to hit long irons as far as their drivers because of the burnt fairways putting so much run on the balls. The stand to the right of the green is one of the best spectating stands on the course, you are able to see both the fifth and Eleventh green and also the twelfth tee. The green itself is a fairly easy green to hit with the exception of the 6 bunkers surrounding it but none of which are at the front of the green so I low punch shot into the green will allow the ball to roll up to hole over the small rises on the green.
A short par 4 of 379 yards is an extremely simple hole to conquer as a mid iron then a short iron is all the players needed to hit the green and leave themselves with an easy putt, however if their second shot was too far left it fell off down the slope and left a difficult up and down with the rough around the green creating some awful lies for the players to hit from, but with the green sloping from left to right the ball usually stays on the green if the ball lands softly.
The thirteenth hole is another very good viewing hole for the crowds to gather as there is a stand behind the tee and behind green, with walkways run alongside the green which allows big crowds to gather round to watch the players up close. This hole saw many birdies but also many bogeys and even double bogeys. Bubba Watson on the Friday hit one of the worse shots of the week left of the green and managed to hit it into the crowd, but with a lucky kick off the crowd he managed to chip it close from a reasonable lie.
This hole provides a reasonable challenge for the players as they need to carry the ball 230 yards in order to reach the fairway and with bunkers on the left coming into play at 260 yards it was difficult for the players to hit the narrow fairway and ultimately saw many of them hit it into the long hay down the right hand side. The majority of the players left themselves with a 217 yard shot into the green which was easy to hit as there is only one bunker on the right hand side.
The fifteenth hole provides a challenge for most as thirteen bunkers are in play, with one bunker sitting comfortably at 30 yards before the green in the middle of the fairway which provides difficulties for anyone trying to drive the green. But Charl Schwartzel even with playing some poor golf was able to reach the green in one with the wind behind and a fairly hefty kick forward and left him with a ten foot putt for eagle which he was unable to convert but walked off happy with a birdie.
The sixteenth again was a wonderful viewing hole but as good as it was to see the golf, not much good golf was played. On the Thursday only four birdies were witnessed on this hole as the green held many problems for the players. The pin was tucked at the back right of the green and any ball that ventured past the hole meant the players faced a difficult and quick putt down towards the hole, it was a matter of get it in the hole first time or see the ball race ten foot past. Many players three putted and one player managed to four putt, no names mentioned (David Lynn).
The par 5 seventeenth is a brilliant hole which again sees the players needing to carry the ball 230 yards to reach the fairway. If the fairway is not hit from the tee then it is impossible to reach the green in two as the wind is usually into face and the rough either side makes it hard for the ball to fly out. However Phil Mickelson managed to hit two of the best shots he may have ever hit in his life to reach the green in two and managed to two putt to line up his 2nd of three birdies in the last three holes to win the British open. Ernie Els also pulled back two shots with a chip in eagle from roughly 69 yards.
The eighteenth isn’t one of the best viewing holes for the audience but the hole itself is a beautiful finish to the round. The 470 yard par 4 is a long and narrow hole with a wide fairway at the start for the players to aim at which then narrows as the hole progresses. Bunkers on both side of the fairway were hit quite regularly as players began to get nervous down the last in front of the big crowds. Phil Mickelson on the final day could not play it any better, he hit a long iron to 185 yards to go and then a mid iron into the green with the pin slightly towards the back. The green slopes down from right to left and Phil took advantage of this spectacularly, by narrowly missing the bunker on the right hand side of the green and letting it roll back round to the flag. He then holed the putt in immaculate style with absolutely no fear what so ever.
Phil Mickelson couldn’t have played the last three holes any better as he also mentioned in his winning speech. Three birdies in the last three holes was enough to take him three shots clear and win his first British Open. After starting 2 over par and five shots off the lead, Phil came out of nowhere to win, but he wasn’t the only to look like taking the limelight off of Englishman Lee Westwood. Adam Scott had a short stint as leader at 2 under par after having two consecutive birdies but drifting off the pace towards the end as the pressure started to build, but all is forgiven for Scott seen as he is this years masters champion. Ian Poulter also looked like he was going to make a last-ditch attempt at taking the British Open championship after going eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie but couldn’t finish off his fine form and fell back to 1 over par and finished at 1 over par respectively. Lee Westwood could have become the first Englishman to win the British Open since sir Nick Faldo in 1997, but yet again couldn’t handle the pressure that was put on him by the British public. Westwood shot 72, 67, 71 to put him at 3 under par and 2 shots clear of the American Hunter Mahan going into the final round. All Lee had to do was hold for a level par to make a play off but with all the wait on his shoulders he couldn’t handle it and began to drop shots and not make a single birdie in the final round. Everyone around him did the same as Hunter Mahan shot a final round of 4 over, but Phil was the only one to make a move. Henrik Stensen played the most consistence throughout the week and deserved to be runner-up, some might argue he deserved to win after playing the best golf but not capitalizing on the greens. But hats off to Phil he saw his opportunity to take the lead and did so in some style. Being able to witness this was unbelievable and a memory I will never forget and one thing that made this week even better was seeing two amateurs make the cut and continuing their form for the last two rounds and also seeing them beat world number 2 Rory Mcilroy, that’s a memory that will stay in their mind forever. Phil Mickelson taking a lap of honour.