Big triumphs spur Djokovic, McIlroy on

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The 140th Open Championship is scheduled to get underway this Thursday at Royal St. George’s – the course which last hosted the Championship in 2003. A glut of sub-plots is adjunct to the third golfing major of the year.
Earlier this week Tiger Woods announced his decision to pull out of the second major running. Woods is apprehensive about exacerbating his knee and Achilles tendon injuries, which have kept him out of action since May. Tiger Woods’ absence indisputably weakens the star power of the Open’s golfing ensemble, which was described by tournament director Bill Paul as “our strongest field in recent history”.
Woods’ withdrawal also shelves the much anticipated Woods-McIlroy major duel, for the time being.
Rory McIlroy meanwhile, fresh from his stupendous eight shot triumph in the U.S Open last month, is the resounding favorite for the British Championships. He seized the headlines last year, shooting a record Open Championship opening round score of 9-under par 63 at St. Andrews. Having buttoned up the misanthropists doubting his mental potency at big events, McIlroy’s next aim would be to hush the murmurs of cynicism articulating the possibility of a fall in front of home fans.
Royal St. Georges is traditionally a course that is conducive to conservative golf and will challenge McIlroy’s fairway accuracy to the core. Hence, the U.S Open Champion might have to tone down his extroverted stroke play to overcome a course that Jack Nicklaus pinpointed as his least favorite Open venue.
Lee Westwood would like to be dethroned from the “Greatest player not to win a major” title, sooner rather than later. Second and third place finishes in the previous two Open Championships, and five top-3 finishes in the last seven majors should beget buoyancy. The World Number two has often been accused of losing grip over his putter in crunch situations, and his command over the putter will be awfully decisive at St. Georges. The local boy will have the backing of sanguine home crowds, who have witnessed the upsurge of British golf at the expense of the U.S. This could well be Westwood’s year.
World Number One Luke Donald has had eight top 10s in 10 PGA Tour events this year, but it is his run of the mill performances in majors that has stimulated acrimony against his crown. Nonetheless his conservative game and iron prowess is tailor-made for the course which is filled with unkempt fairways. Having climbed to the summit of the golfing world, a major conquest is all that separates Luke Donald from rubber stamping his name at the pinnacle.
Martin Kaymer has stealthily moved up to third in golf rankings, and is at the peak of his game. The 26 year old German’s uncanny ability to find the green will come in handy, but only if he can do it with usual consistency. Jason Day is another consistent performer who might want to go one better than his recent bridesmaid showings at Augusta and Congressional. Two-time champion Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell are other noteworthy mentions who should have a say this year.
The Claret Jug has travelled across the Atlantic 11 out of the previous 20 years, and this year’s American Dream is headed by Phil Mickelson who has a single top ten finish in the Open Championship and that was way back in 2004. Following Tiger Woods’ fall from grace and the rankings back in 2009, Mickelson was earmarked as the man to take Tiger’s place at the top. However, barring his win at the Masters last year, Mickelson’s golf has gone pear-shaped. Experience is invaluable at St. Georges and therefore amongst the American contingent Steve Stricker has a plausible shot as well, especially if he can get prolonged pleasure from the greens.
Defending Champion Louis Oosthuizen was a prototypical out of the blue winner, a prime example of the bombshell factor that the Championship incorporates. The event in 2003, incidentally the last time Royal St. Georges hosted the event, was another one that bamboozled one and all. Ben Curtis playing his first major, was not intimidated by hobnobbing with golfing magnates, and stunned the world with his victory.
Paul Lawrie’s win back in 1999, after the epic capitulation of Jean Van de Velde, was another stunner along with Todd Hamilton’s success in 2004. The Open Championship is well documented as having the capacity to throw a few surprises over the years – although this year round the winner is as likely as ever to come from within the jurisdiction of the usual suspects.
The course at Royal St. Georges is a typical British links course. Irregular bounce, shabby fairways and daunting bunkers characterize the club where achieving low scores quite often becomes a Herculean task. Patience will be the key, as there are more than a few horrifying obstacles in this eerie golf course – just ask Stuart Appleby about the Sahara bunker on the fourth.
Djokovic on Top of
the Tennis World
Last Sunday’s staggering Wimbledon triumph has capped off an unthinkable run for Novak Djokovic, as he stunned Rafael Nadal and in turn usurped his Wimbledon title and his number one ranking.
Not only has Djokovic beaten Nadal in five straight finals this year, he has done so on three different surfaces. Having lost only a single match this year as we are about to embark upon the North American hard-court season, Djokovic’s heroics defy belief. With No-Djo cementing his place on the apogee, what does this mean for the chasing pack?
Rafa was visibly shocked by the events at SW19, which were reminiscent of the four previous demolition acts this year. Djokovic not only deals with Nadal’s legendary forehand cross-court, he counter-attacks with interest and the Serbian is absolutely ruthless with Rafa’s second serve. Granted, the Spaniard hasn’t been at his best this year but if he wants to prevent one-man governance he has to raise the level a couple of notches. Federer is the only man to have beaten Djokovic this year, but his own graph is plunging into obscurity.
The recent past has seen him eek out major triumphs when long-time ‘nemesis’ Nadal has been taken care of, but with the emergence of the East European leviathan R-Fed has to up the ante if he wants to break the Nadal-Djokovic monopoly over Grand Slams. A record 16 majors should leave you with nothing else to prove – not quite.
Andy Murray has stated that he takes inspiration from Djokovic’s triumph, but it’s about time he translated inspiration into results. His habitual collapse at the business end of a slam is a melancholy site. The Scotsman must add aggression to his game in order to have any chance of ending his Grand Slam procrastination.
It is hard to look outside the ‘Big four’ for serious challenges. Djokovic is in the middle of a record-breaking year, and with his preferred North American hard-court season around the corner the Serbian’s stranglehold over the throne seems firm.