Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Continent's Hope

Part II of British Open Preview

By Jared Trexler

Paul Lawrie pounds balls at Royal Liverpool this week with each slight draw brining guarded optimism that his golf career will not be defined by a flash in the Car-nasty pan.

Luckily for Lawrie, the simplistic-looking, yet priceless Claret Jug is forever his.

Further down the range, Colin Montgomerie displays impeccable balance as the sweet spot perfectly connects with the ball, punishing it majestically into the air time after time.

More eyes are on his progress. He carries himself more like a champion. The lines are clearly drawn on his furrowed brow from a career spent mixing it up with golf's best in the most prestigious events.

Yet, Europe's great hope for over a decade won't find his name on the Claret Jug.

Instead of Open champion, the first accomplishment on Montgomerie's permanent record is BPNTWAM. (Best Player Never to Win a Major)

Say what you will about Greg Norman's Sunday misfortunes. He has two of these jugs.

Contemplate the imbalance between's Davis Love III's talent and his victories. He at least holds a major title.

Montgomerie symbolizes Europe's deep longing for the Claret Jug with very little to show for it.

Nick Faldo is a three-time champion, with the last coming in 1992. Coupled with Lawrie's improbable victor...cough, cough, survival at Carnoustie in1999, two Europeans have hoisted the Jug in the last 14 years.

During that time, the Open champions have been a mixture of Hall of Fame names and ambiguous qualifiers.

For every Norman, Price and Woods, there has been a Curtis.


45-year-old O'Meara?

Europe has had a number of hopefuls for years, with Montgomerie's name always highlighting a short list of players with the game to tackle the course, the pressure and the elements.

When Peter Hedblom, a European, swats the opening tee shot from Royal Liverpool on Thursday morning, another year begins for my fish and chips-eating friends.

Here is a list of Europeans to watch once the British Open commences:

Luke Donald: Donald's record lends many experts to believe he will not fare well at Hoylake, however the Englishman is a straight driver on a course where the tee ball is critical. The rest of his game isn't too shabby either, and I expect Donald to be near the lead come Sunday.

Colin Montgomerie: Monty is more comfortable hitting a high ball, but with the golf course playing incredibly short because of a drought in the area and no wind in the foreseeable forecast, he could be a factor. He is playing much better of late -- save his high block on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot. He knows time is running out, so desperation may fuel his competitive edge. Or it's possible that such pressure could cause mental fatigue.

David Howell: I'm not a huge fan of Howell this week. Others are jumping on the bandwagon, but in my opinion he doesn't have the mental fortitude to last four days on such a grand stage. He hits the ball straight and putts well, but when things go south they normally continue to gravitate in that direction.

Padraig Harrington: The Irishman played at Hoylake in the 1995 British Amateur and has hovered near the lead in several majors. He is a solid ball striker who should have an advantage with at least an idea of how the course plays under tournament conditions. Along with Donald, he may be Europe's best bet.

Darren Clarke: A Clarke victory would be a great story with everything he's gone through on a personal level. However, he isn't a steady horse, rather one that normally flies out of the gate only to fall back into the pack down the backstretch. He is a possible leader midway through the Open, just don't expect him to hold on.

Ian Poulter/Graeme McDowell: These two young guns are grouped together as European dark horses. They both showed plenty of game at the United States Open (along with dashing attire), and I expect at least one them to be on the first page of the leaderboard come Sunday. Whether or not their mental games are strong enough to plot through four days is another story, but both are on the rise as Europe's next stars.

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