My latest National Post column….
Canadians looking strong before Open
While all eyes are on defending champion Tiger Woods, and with the microscope turned on Phil Mickelson following his U.S. Open collapse, few are considering the possibility that Canadians Mike Weir and Stephen Ames might take a run at the Claret Jug. Ames and Weir are the only two Canadians in the field at Royal Liverpool, and both are in the midst of strong years. The big question is how the pair will react to Hoylake, a course unseen by Tour pros since it last held the Open Championship in 1967. Unlike many of the big and bold links used for the tournament, Hoylake, at 7,258 yards, is tight and restricted, with many of the fairway bunkers lying in the landing areas. That should force players to hit controlled shots to specific targets.
It could also work in favour of both Ames and Weir, neither of whom are bashers by PGA Tour standards. Ames comes into the tournament having what might be the best year of his career — US$2.2-million in earnings and a Players Championship title.
He has also had success at the British Open, but that came nearly a decade ago when Ames finished fifth at Royal Troon in 1997. He comes into this tournament playing inconsistently, with two missed cuts and a tie for fourth in his last four tournaments.
It would appear Weir might be more set to chase a major at Hoylake. His track record in the British Open is strong — though he missed the cut last year, he placed ninth in 2004 and 28th in 2003. Quietly, Weir has amassed US$1.4-million this season despite some suspect Sunday rounds. And, having rediscovered his putting stroke, Weir could surprise some.
Weir also has a great track record of being a good player on tough courses. He has had a tendency in recent majors to scrape the ball around and post strong scores while those around him fumble.
For Ames, success rests largely on his comfort level with the course and his game. A feel player, the mercurial Ames might only be held back at Hoylake by his own head. But if he becomes comfortable with Royal Liverpool’s tight fairways and tricky greens, he could fall into the same rhythm that led him to victory earlier this year at the tough and challenging TPC at Sawgrass.
With weather the great unknown factor this week, however, Ames might never be able to fall into a pattern where he becomes content with the course or his game. That’s been his track record at the British Open in the last two years as he missed cuts.
But both players have the ability to contend this week, especially if Hoylake takes the onus off the PGA Tour’s bomb-and-slash style of play and places the focus on coolly calculated games where nuance and subtly determine success.