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A Right Royal Test Royal Lytham & St Annes, host venue for this month’s Open, represents one of the toughest challenges on the championship rota, write Alex Jenkins and Paul Prendergast

E Alan Birch (Royal Lytham); David Cannon/Getty Images (Ballesteros)

uropean players have, by and large, fared well at Royal Lytham & St Annes, but no one in history has been more successful around this difficult, heavily bunkered layout than the late Seve Ballesteros. The club and the R&A are planning on recognising the threetime Open champion’s deeds at Lytham and the part he played in the championship’s history with, amongst other things, a commissioned portrait to be unveiled in his memory during Open week. And rightly so. Ballesteros’ victories in 1979 – with the famous ‘car park’ shot in the final round – and his titanic battle with Zimbabwe’s Nick Price in the 1988 Championship – capped off by a marvellous chip shot from the left of the final hole to within inches – have, of course, become the stuff of Open legend. In a Ryder Cup year with Ballesteros’ great Cup partner José María Olazábal at the helm, there could be not better way for European players to honour his memory and book their place on the team than to secure victory on the Lancashire coast. In the 11 previous Opens held at Lytham dating back to Bobby Jones’ victory in 1926, American winners had been scarce until Tom Lehman’s victory in 1996, which also saw Tiger Woods collect the Silver Medal for finishing as the low amateur. At the 1926 Open, the great amateur Jones played a remarkable 175-yard blind shot to the green from a sandy lie on the penultimate hole, demoralising the chances of countryman Al Watrous, to win the Open on only his second attempt. A plaque marks the spot from where Jones struck his imperious shot and the mashie club he used is displayed in Lytham’s attractive Victorian clubhouse. The champions at Lytham in the intervening years were among the finest of their respective eras: Bobby Locke (1952), Peter Thomson (1958), Bob Charles (1963), who was the first left-handed major champion, Tony Jacklin (1969) and Gary Player (1974); before consecutive victories by the swashbuckling Spaniard. With such an impressive list of past winners, there can be no questioning Lytham’s ability to identify truly great champions, not to mention its habit of witnessing so many memorable shots. Forgetting Ballesteros’ catalogue of wonder moments for a second, who could forget Player’s left-handed putt from against the wall of the clubhouse or Jacklin’s booming drive down the middle of the 18th fairway that wrapped up his maiden major?

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Forever linked: Royal Lytham & St Annes, seen here at the 18th hole, and threetime Open champion Seve Ballesteros Lytham is also unique for being the only course on the Open Championship rotation to start with a par-three, a robust 206 yard opener that is infamous for the events that occurred in the final round in 2001. Ian Woosnam, the co-leader standing on the tee in the final round, hit a marvellous approach to within inches of the cup for a castiron birdie only to be alerted by his caddie on the 2nd tee that they had 15 clubs in the bag. Woosnam hurled the offending extra driver into the bushes in frustration and the subsequent two-shot penalty effectively ruined any hope of the diminutive Welshman, who won the Masters 10 years previously, adding to his major haul. In the end it was World No 1 David Duval who cantered to his one and only major success thanks to a brilliant 67. Given Woosnam’s misfortune, the American might have been an unpopular winner with the British golfing public had he not given such a heartfelt and gracious speech upon receiving the Claret Jug. Duval, a somewhat misunderstood character HKGOLFER.COM

At the 1926 Open, the great amateur Bobby Jones played a remarkable 175-yard blind shot to the green from a sandy lie on the penultimate hole, demoralising the chances of countryman Al Watrous, to win the Open on only his second attempt. showed the utmost class and dignity that day. Lytham is a pure links but urban development has resulted in the course being surrounded by housing and a railway line that borders the property, unlike other Open layouts which retain a mostly uninterrupted relationship with the shore. But what it lacks in seaside vistas it more than makes up for in golfing quality. Chief Executive of the R&A, Peter Dawson, says players familiar with Lytham will notice a few changes to the golf course since 2001. “The R&A have embarked on a programme over the past 10 years of upgrading our Open venues, only slightly here and there, to give the modern professionals the best possible challenge,” he said. At Lytham, that means new back tees installed on the two par-fives – the 7th and 11th – and also the par-four 10th. The 7th green has also been moved back approximately 30 yards to extend the hole to 589 yards, while the 11th has been stretched to over 600 yards. Reports indicate the upgrade work has settled in well after helpful winter conditions and the tweaks also includes the creation of three new dunes systems on HKGOLFER.COM

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Royal Lytham’s Open Highlights

1974 - Player Prevails

1926 - Jones’ Master Stroke Bobby Jones, whose only previous Open appearance saw him walking off the Old Course at St Andrews in disgust following an outward nine of 46 – which he would later call his “most inglorious failure in golf” – comes from behind to overhaul fellow American Al Waltrous thanks to a superb approach to the 17th green from a sandy lie to the left of the fairway. An amazed Waltrous three-putted the hole for bogey and then bogeyed the last to lose out to Jones by two shots. It was the first of Jones’ three Open titles.

1988 - Ballesteros’ Double

195 - Locke Cuts it Fine South African Bobby Locke eased to his third Open Championship victory at Lytham but only after a mad panic on the morning of the final 36 holes. After breakfasting at his Blackpool hotel, Locke realised that his golf clubs were stuck in the boot of his car which was locked inside a private garage – which he didn’t have a key to. Luckily for Locke a friendly milkman knew the garage owner and scarpered off to find him. After retrieving his clubs Locke made a dash for the course, changed his shoes in the car, and made it to the 1st tee with only moments to spare.

1958 - Thomson Makes it Four The fourth of Peter Thomson’s five Open titles came after a 36-hole play-off with a powerful 23-year-old Welshman, Dave Thomas. After the pair recorded record 72hole total of 278, Thomson went out and shot a fine 68 to Thomas’ 69 in the morning round before prevailing in the afternoon. The win gave Thomson his fourth Open in just five years; he would add his fifth in 1965.

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Seve Ballesteros and Nick Price contested arguably the finest major shootout since Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus’ famous ‘Duel in the Sun’ at Turnberry 11 years earlier with a gripping final day battle. Trading birdies and eagles around the turn, Ballesteros broke the deadlock with a brilliant 9-iron to within inches of the cup on the 16th before getting up and down at the 18th with a wonderfully deft chip that he nearly holed. Ballesteros’ winning 65 was at the time the lowest final round score ever posted by an Open champion.

1996 - Lehman Hangs On A young amateur named Tiger Woods won the Silver Medal for low amateur, but it was his fellow countryman Tom Lehman who took home the Claret Jug thanks to a two-shot win over Ernie Els and Mark McCumber. A flawless 64 in the third round gave the Minnesotan a six-shot lead with only 18 to play, and despite not being at his best on day four, Lehman was able to hang on for his first and only major championship win.

2001 - Duval Shows His Class

1963 - Lefty Putts to Victory New Zealand’s Bob Charles became the first left-hander to win a major championship after a sensational putting display in his 36-hole play-off with Phil Rodgers of the USA. Charles took just 26 putts in the morning 18 holes and scrambled superbly, wearing out Rodgers, who had fired a fine 69 in the final round of regulation. Charles ended up winning by eight.

1969 - Jacklin Gives Brits a Boost There hadn’t been a British champion of the Open since Max Faulkner in 1951 but Tony Jacklin changed all that with an accomplished display over the Lytham links. Taking the lead in the third round, Jacklin withstood the challenge of 1963 winner Bob Charles well and arrived on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead. After Charles missed the fairway to the right, Jacklin hit a bullet of a drive down the middle of the fairway to become the first British winner in 18 years. It would take another 16 years more the next British winner – Sandy Lyle at Royal St George’s in 1985.

1979 - King of the Car Park Seve Ballesteros was only 22 when he won the first of his Open Championships – and he did it in the style that made him a fan favourite all over Europe and beyond. Despite finding only one fairway with his driver in the final round, Ballesteros rescued the situation time after time thanks to magnificent shot-making and a brilliant short game. The highlight of his performance came at the 16th when his tee shot came to rest under a car. He was awarded a free drop before pitching to the green and holing the birdie putt from around 25 feet. Ballesteros won by three from Ben Crenshaw and Jack Nicklaus.

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the 2nd, 3rd and 16th holes. At 7,086 yards and playing to a par of 70, Lytham will measure around 200 yards longer than it did in 2001. Lytham is a course that favours the strategic, says Dawson. “There’s always disaster lurking (at Lytham) with over 200 bunkers. You’re not going to win this Open from the bunkers, that’s for sure.” And like at all Open venues, players face the prospect of fluctuating weather conditions, such is the unpredictability of the British summer. Lytham, the work of numerous architects over the years including the brilliant Harry Colt, is routed so that few holes play in the same direction, while shifting winds means the very real likelihood of holes playing differently from the morning to the afternoon sessions. Getting through the tough opening six holes without calamity should allow for opportunities to pick up shots over the more middle of the round, before Lytham bears its teeth again with a difficult finishing run of par fours from the 14th onwards. But what of the contenders? Defending champion Darren Clarke, who finished third here in 2001, has relished his 12 months as the Open champion, getting married to his girlfriend Alison in a beachside ceremony in the Bahamas the week after the Masters and

Gary Player was cruising to his third Open victory until the penultimate hole when the South African missed the green and his ball fell deep into knee-high rough. It was only with the assistance of the galleries that he located it, and it was only narrowly within the five-minute time frame. Then, his approach to the 18th hole ran through the green and up against the clubhouse wall. With a healthy lead, he could have elected to take a penalty drop, but instead elected to play the shot left-handed. Successfully accomplished, Player calmly two-putted for his eighth of nine major championships.

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A near flawless 67 from World No 1 David Duval gave the American a deserved first major but it was Ian Woosnam’s two-shot penalty after his caddie discovered an extra club in his bag on the 2nd tee that garnered almost as much attention. To his credit, Woosnam, who had birdied the 1st after a splendid tee shot to take the championship lead, didn’t collapse, but the quality of Duval’s play on that final day was too much for the Welshman and the rest of the field. Sadly for Duval, his victory at Lytham, which many thought would be the first of many major titles, preceded a terrible slump in form and he has never been the same since.

proudly touring the Claret Jug to tournaments throughout the world. Sadly, he has endured a difficult year on the course but links golf clearly brings out the best in him and, while he won’t start as one of the favourites, it will take a brave man to bet against the likeable Ulsterman. Despite Americans winning the last three majors, the chance of another European victory must be seen as good. Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, fresh off extremely disappointing US Open performances, will be determined to underline their world ranking positions with strong showings, while Lee Westwood, the most consistent performer in major tournaments over the past three years, has to believe he’ll be in the reckoning come Sunday. Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose all have the games to take home the Claret Jug. Included in this heavyweight group is Sergio Garcia. The gifted Spaniard loves the challenge of an Open Championship, although he has much to prove. After this year’s Masters, the World No 21 told Spanish reporters “I’m not good enough, I don’t have the thing I need to have. I had my chances and opportunities [in the majors] and I wasted them. I have no more options. I wasted my options.” Garcia’s closest shaves among 17 top 10 finishes in majors date back to his runnerup finish to Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, site of this year’s Ryder Cup, a play-off loss to Padraig Harrington in the 2007 Open at Carnoustie and a second place finish, again to Harrington, at the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills. Heading to Lytham, Garcia is 0 – 55 in majors. Were these statements at Augusta simply refreshing candour or a resigned acceptance of fate from the 32-year-old? Garcia need only look back to the then 42-year-old Clarke’s victory at Royal St George’s 12 months ago however to realise that he has time very much on his side. Fred Couples, Tom Kite, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Corey Pavin were all older than the at-times petulant Garcia when they bagged their majors. Perhaps the inspiration of Ballesteros will visit Garcia at Lytham, where you can be sure he’ll receive thunderous support from the most knowledgeable galleries in the game. After his many near misses and his impassioned Ryder Cup exploits for Europe, his would be as popular and emotional victory as any. Hero and villain: David Duval (opposite) played sublime golf in the final round in 2001 to claim his so-far only major title; Sergio Garcia (left) is often a popular if occasionally petulant contender on British seaside links


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