Date: July 17, 2014
Author: Mike Clayton /

Adjusting to the links at Hoylake

In 2006 over the burned Hoylake links near Liverpool Tiger Woods played one of the great Open Championships.

Hitting only one driver for the week, a snap hook off the 16th tee on Thursday, Woods played two, three and four irons from the tees in order to avoid the fearsome pot bunkers from which escape to the green is all but impossible.

He hit a succession of brilliant approach shots from thirty, forty and fifty yards behind weekend playing partners Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia and in the end he beat them and Chris DiMarco with some ease.

Much has changed since.

Hoylake has changed colour, something sure to satisfy those offended by 2006 and what we saw at Pinehurst a month ago at the U.S Open. It’s a pity so many golfers have such a reverence for the colour green but so long as Augusta National is held up as the ideal that’s the way it’s going to be.

Woods has changed teachers and swings and no longer is he the dominating favourite. Whether the new swing works as well as the ones it replaced is a question history will answer but there seem to be as many critics and fans.

Only Woods knows how it feels and what levels of confidence he has in it but with the course playing longer than last time one wonders if he can once again avoid hitting the driver, his poorest club, all week.

Whilst he may still be the favoured by the betting institutions it would surely be a surprise if he were to beat those who have played the best golf this season.

Adam Scott, in stark contrast to Woods, is probably the finest driver in the game. The Queenslander threw away The Open two years ago at Lytham and at Muirfield last year he was ideally placed with four of five holes to play only to be beaten by Phil Mickelson’s closing brilliance and his own lousy putting on the 15th green.

For a seemingly slow game it all happened very quickly at the end last year and arguably it was Mickelson’s finest day. What was amazing was the most creative and imaginative player since Severiano Ballesteros took so long to work out how best to play the seaside courses on the other side of the Atlantic.

Scott is a likely contender but others are playing terrific golf and have games suited to Hoylake. Martin Kaymer has won two of the three most significant events so far this year and he has a swing made for ripping low and powerful shots through the wind.

Justin Rose won last week at Royal Aberdeen and a few weeks ago at Congressional. All those results tell us in last years U.S Open champion has a game quickly capable of adapting to wildly varying conditions because one could hardly find two courses so different in look, feel and the questions they ask.

Rory McIlroy too played in Aberdeen, opening with bemusing rounds of 64 and 78. He’s done the same a few times including at St Andrews in 2010 when he opened with 63 and then failed to break 80 on Friday.

The weather had a lot to do with it that week but one wonders how the Emirates Australian Open champion can be so brilliant one day and so ordinary the next. Of course he can win but it will take four good rounds and not three.

Pinehurst was the most interesting U.S Open to watch for years because of how the ball bounced and how little influence the typical ‘hack out’ rough had on the play of the course.

The Open Championship is almost always the most interesting golf of the year because the courses demand players control what the ball does after it hits the ground and not simply what it does in the air.

We have rarely seen the principle better exemplified than last week at the British Women’s Open at Royal Birkdale. There, the unlikely American Mo Martin hit a long running three wood into the final green which finished up crashing into the pin and bouncing off six feet away. From there she made the putt for the winning eagle.

If the same thing happened on Sunday at Hoylake’s par five finisher it might be remembered as the greatest shot in the game's history.