9 Ways To Win The British Open
July 09, 2014
Adjust your game
Links golf is different than what we see on the PGA Tour on a weekly basis. The firm ground and strong winds in particular place an emphasis on keeping the ball low. It took a couple of decades of struggling for Phil Mickelson to really embrace changing his game plan and he was rewarded by winning a tournament many doubted he could win last year at Muirfield. "It really is a different shot pattern, different spin rates, a different vision of what the shot is and how to keep the ball not just down low but without spin," Mickelson said.
Don't worry about distance
There's a reason why guys like Tom Watson and Greg Norman have contended at the Open well into their 50s. Yes, their games have always suited links golf, but it's also a tournament that minimizes the importance of bombing it. The ball runs a long way on the firmer turf, making long irons a popular choice off the tee. Of course, Tiger Woods famously hit just one driver during his win at Hoylake in 2006 -- not that we would recommend using such an extreme strategy, even at a course that will feature narrower fairways in 2014. Conditions were unusually dry that week and it was Tiger Woods at arguably the peak of his ball-striking prowess.
Focus on the par 4s
Perhaps somewhat related to not needing as much distance, winners of the British Open are much more likely to play the par 4s better than the par 5s. Whereas such an important part of, say, the Masters is taking advantage of the par 5s, at the Open, 12 of the past 19 (that's as far back as the stat goes) winners ranked higher that week on the par 4s. All 19 ranked in the top 10, with 11 ranking either first or second in the category. In 2012, Ernie Els made what turned out to be the winning birdie putt on the par-4 18th (left) and played the par 4s at Royal Lytham two shots better than anyone else in the field.
Play through tough conditions
Mother Nature is the strongest protector of par at any British Open, so players need to be prepared to play in a wide array of conditions. "It gets windy in Texas or Pebble Beach, but nothing compares to over there. It's so heavy," Jim Furyk said. And then there's the rain. Tiger Woods got his share of both during a nasty storm in the third round of the 2002 British Open (left) at Muirfield. Having won the year's first two majors, Woods had his Grand Slam hopes dashed with a third round 81, the worst score of his pro career.
And not just with your score. Mickelson talked about hitting full shots underneath the wind, but more than any other major, success at the Open also revolves around controlling your ball on the ground around the greens. It's not uncommon to see players run the ball up from off the green -- way off the green. Todd Hamilton (left) was particularly effective at doing this with a hybrid during his win at Royal Troon in 2004.
Avoid the bunkers
Links pot bunkers are particularly nasty. Finding one usually means a sideways -- or even backwards -- shot just to get your ball out. Adam Scott (left) experienced this on Royal Lytham's 18th hole in 2012, when a closing bogey cost him the claret jug. Hoylake features 82 bunkers, which should be a bigger concern for players in 2014. "We've actually increased their effective size by expanding the 'gathering' area of each point," links manager Craig Gilham said. In 2000, Tiger Woods managed to miss all 112 of St. Andrews' bunkers for four straight days -- a big reason why he shot a tournament-record score of 19 under. How did he do that? With plenty of skill, obviously, but also by avoiding some bad bounces. Which brings us to the next key. . .
Of course, no golfer can control the good or bad breaks he receives at a tournament, but they certainly play a huge role in the outcome. This seems especially true at the Open, where the quirky bounces of links courses come into play on every shot. Darren Clarke played the best golf of his life during his surprise win in 2011, but it didn't hurt that he got some favorable bounces along the way, including twice in the final round when shots seemingly destined for difficult bunkers managed to find the putting surface instead. When the golf gods smile down on you, smile back.
Don't have a number in mind
Between weather and course conditions, you never know what you're going to get at the British Open, especially when it comes to the winning score. If you look at the results from the past six years, Louis Oosthuizen's winning score at St. Andrews in 2010 (16 under) is two more under par than the other five years combined. At Hoylake, drastic differences have been seen as well. The past two winners (Tiger Woods and Roberto De Vicenzo) combined to shoot 28 under, but the previous two (Peter Thomson and Fred Daly) shot 23 over.
Don't give up
The British Open has produced more dramatic final round comebacks in recent history than any other major. Eleven of the last 20 winners have trailed after 54 holes, with six of those players coming back from at least a four-shot deficit. If you think you're out of it, don't. Just ask Paul Lawrie (left), who made the biggest rally in a major ever when he won the 1999 Open at Carnoustie despite entering the final round trailing by 10 shots.