One of the oddities about Open venues is that they often seem to turn up a similar type of champion to the ones they produced previously. This is certainly true of Royal Troon, which in the last six instances has thrown up an American winner, more often than not an unheralded one.
In 2004 it was Todd Hamilton winning his one and only major, in 1997 it was Justin Leonard doing the same and in 1989 Mark Calcavecchia also broke his duck on the Ayrshire links. Those three course-and-distance winners will play together for the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday and, while it is unlikely one of them will be handed the Claret Jug at the end of it, the odds would suggest one of their compatriots will get the job done on Sunday.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson sees little significance in precedent or nationality when seeking a potential winner, though he does make the point that he plays a lot of his golf in the US, so maybe the portents for him could be taken as good.
“I think any player wants to win, of course, and the Europeans want to win as badly as the Americans, whether it’s a Ryder Cup year or not,” he said. “Potentially it might be a bit of an advantage if we were to have a lot of European major champions in this Ryder Cup year. Certainly those players would come into it with a little more confidence.”
Sheffield’s Danny Willett will be one of them after winning the Masters in April and, though he got the job done at Augusta by himself, with a little encouragement from his playing partner Lee Westwood, he was paired with Zach Johnson when the American produced a four-under final round of 66 at St Andrews last year that got him into the play-off and ended with him loading the Claret Jug into his hand luggage for the flight back to the US.
“It was good to be able to see that first-hand and see how he handled the pressure and how he handled himself,” said Willett, who shot a level-par 70 that afternoon and finished in a commendable tie for sixth place. “I think it really helped in seeing that, if we play our game and play good enough, we’re going to have a good chance to win tournaments.”
Could Johnson become the first back-to-back winner since Tiger Woods in 2005-06 and before that Tom Watson, who completed the first leg of his double, and fourth of his five, at Troon in 1982?
Arnold Palmer in 1962 and Tom Weiskopf in 1973 were the other American winners, in the case of the latter after leading at the end of all four days and, more significantly, facing down the challenge of the rising star Johnny Miller, who had just trumped him at the 1973 US Open by firing a 63 to his own 70.
Weiskopf was to have his revenge when the pair played together in the final round on the Ayrshire links and he hit his tee shot to four feet and inside Miller’s eight-footer at the Postage Stamp, where both were to make birdie. He won by three shots eventually but was another for whom Troon provided a one and only major.
“It took me eight years, I guess, but I knocked on the door a few times,” reflected Johnson on the gap between his two majors. “It’s just hard. There’s only four a year, so you’ve got to make the best of your opportunities. You’ve got to get some good bounces, good breaks, some lip-ins instead of lip-outs, and there are only so many things that go along with that. You’re going to see some individuals – I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Danny Willett. My guess is, if anything, there are other examples, too, where that just gives you a little more confidence and hunger and motivation.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010