Laureus Academy Member Gary Player won three Open Championships and played 46 straight times. Here he looks back to his third Open victory, which was at Royal Lytham in 1974, and ahead to this week’s Championship on the same course.
BY GARY PLAYER
Royal Lytham is a very special place for me – in 1974 I had my third Open Championship victory there which meant I became the first man to win The Open in three different decades.
One of the thrills was that I had a six shot lead with two holes to play which meant I could really enjoy the last two holes and the cheers of the galleries.
It was extremely windy, as it could be this week, and what I did was to use my 1-iron a lot to keep the ball under the wind and on the fairways.
Lytham is a very, very good test. You have to score on the front nine, because on the back nine you’ve got some very tough holes like the long par five 11th, an excellent short hole, the 12th, where the wind can catch you out, and 14, 15 and 17 are all very tough par fours.
The 18th is a very narrow hole and several people have lost The Open here. There is a big bush on the right and bunkers on the fairway which if you go into you have just got to chip out. Because of new technology with golf balls going so much further, I hope they move the tee right back to maintain the integrity of what is a fine finishing hole.
I notice there have been several players complaining the rough is too high, but if you’re a good player that should be to your advantage. When I went to a tournament I wanted the rough to be very high, because that meant if you hit it straight you were going to win. Heavy rough will stop a real outsider winning. I think this year it’s going to take a special champion to win.
What do you need to win The Open this year? Well, you are going to have to have great patience and realise that other people are encountering difficulties too. And you have got to putt well. With all this rain, the greens should be in excellent condition and not too fast.
Anyone can win. So to try and predict winners is very difficult. You just can’t do it.
However, I would love to see Lee Westwood win. He’s been working hard and he has been second before and come so close to winning that I think it might be his turn. A golf course like this is made for him, because it’s very narrow and he is a straight driver. And I think he’s got a great temperament.
We have had three American winners of the last three Major Championships – Keegan Bradley (2011 USPGA), Bubba Watson (2012 Masters) and Webb Simpson (US Open) - and there are a lot of good young players being produced there, but I think a European player will win at Lytham.
Bubba is a great character and a mighty hitter and I love to watch him on the course, but if he is smart he won’t use his driver and should stick to an iron all the way round.
Of course Tiger Woods is a big threat, but if I look at what the weather man is saying – admittedly before a ball has been hit – this championship, in my opinion, is favouring a European player.
Like Westwood, Luke Donald is another one who is always consistent and you don’t become world No 1 for nothing.
And of course there is Rory McIlroy. Now there is a man who has got so much talent – as much talent as I’ve ever seen. I don’t know anyone in the game who has more talent, a beautiful swing and above all he is a very nice young man.
It is my opinion that Rory’s preparation for Major Championships has been poor. For example, before the Open Championship last year, I believe he never played in a month. As a contrast you see that highly experienced players Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson came over here to play in the Scottish Open last week ahead of Lytham.
I think that Rory’s preparation has certainly not been my ideal, but then he is his own man. I’m sure he’s looking at it and doing some thinking. I believe you’ve got to play before the Championship to get the feel. Not necessarily the week before, but at least two weeks before.
People say he is only 23, but Tiger Woods had won the Grand Slam by the time he was 24, so today people of Rory’s age are extremely experienced. They have all been playing serious golf since they were 14, so I am waiting for the next big step forward from this very talented young man.
Of course Tiger is someone we cannot ignore. He has won three tournaments this year, including the Memorial, and is a force to be reckoned with again. He has a good mind, is very focused and is playing smarter golf than he did before. He will be another one who will be looking where he should be using an iron and leaving his driver in the bag. He won The Open at Hoylake in 2006 hardly using his driver.
Tiger will be right there at Lytham, I am sure, but the other big debating point, of course, now that he is back to something like his old self, is: can he match Jack Nicklaus’ total of 18 Major Championships?
I always felt that Tiger, who has already won 14, would do it, but the lost two years have hurt him. That’s eight Major Championships that have slipped by.
But if anyone can do it, it’s Tiger. Will he do it? Possibly. Is it more difficult now? Yes.
I think everyone is expecting him to do it. But I think if he is going to do it, he has to win one Major Championship this year – that means The Open or the US PGA in August.
When he’s playing well, he’s much better than anybody else. I would be surprised if he doesn’t do it.