Could Sadom Kaewkanjana be this year’s version of 2006 Tiger Woods? No, of course not. But now that you’re intrigued, let me explain. (I realize “Let me explain” is one of those things no one wants to hear, kind of like “Do you think this is infected?” or “I’m afraid your card has been declined” or “That wasn’t spaghetti.”) But it is a major championship and I need to make a prediction and I figured I ought to get your attention by comparing the Thai rookie sensation and 2019 Bangabandhu Cup Golf Open champion to modern golf’s most dominant force at the height of his powers.
Alas, this will not be Sadom’s time to be heralded as “champion golfer of the year”—although he is twice a champion golfer of this year, having also previously won the Thongchai Jaidee Foundation title in February. And while the 20-year-old’s two wins in 2019 may not immediately resonate with you (you’ll of course remember that the Bangabandhu Cup is held at Bangladesh’s venerable Kurmitola Golf Club, “the prettiest and best maintained course in the sub-continent”), he is the cornerstone for my theory about this year’s winner. That pick most certainly will somehow reflect the vast and seemingly infinite, multi-hued tableau that is worldwide professional golf and its ranking system, which has awarded points in some 237 events on 23 tours so far this year, including the Golconda Masters Championship Powered By Telangana Tourism & Incredible India, The World Snooker Jessie May Championship and, of course, the Players Championship. Follow me. (Again, not something you want to hear. “Follow me” is essentially the primary plot point in at least three of the “Saw” movies and the entire “Friday the 13th” canon, as I recall.)
My idea is that this year’s winner of the Open Championship cannot be predicted in the usual ways because this is a decidedly unusual Open. As we’ve all heard by now, it’s been 68 years since the Open was played at Royal Portrush and outside Great Britain and in Northern Ireland, and while the venerable links did host the European Tour’s Irish Open in 2012, every hole has been changed since, two have been removed and two new holes have been created. For all intents and purposes, this is uncharted territory.
Of course, “uncharted territory” brings us to Tiger Woods in 2006. Woods was relentlessly brilliant in winning the claret jug at Hoylake (Royal Liverpool) during a year that he won seven other titles. He reportedly missed three shots the entire week, hit driver only once and birdied three straight holes on the back nine to overcome vandalism on the 72nd hole (and Chris DiMarco) to win. It was the first time the Open had been back at that venue in nearly four decades. Hoylake, you see, was kind of an unknown quantity with several changed holes. Sound familiar?
Royal Portrush this year is just as Royal Liverpool was in 2006. So the winner, or at least my pick to win, will be just like Tiger Woods. Which, of course, would be like saying the winner will be a jackalope or Orthros, the two-headed monster dog, or of course, Finn McCool. Finn is the warrior hero of Irish lore whose footprints formed the epic Giants Causeway just down the road from Portrush. A giant warrior hero, at least in golfing terms, is pretty much Tiger Woods. Given my recent puppy adoption/rescue, a two-headed monster dog is what I now have living in my house, but hey, we needed new carpets. In. Every. Freakin’. Room.
It would be too easy to suggest that this year’s Open champion would be exactly like Tiger Woods in 2006. Picking No. 1-ranked Brooks Koepka just because he’s No. 1 like Woods was No. 1 when he won in 2006 shows a disdain for the numerological creativity my major championship picks are known for. They also are known for sucking, as in 0-for-24 and counting.
Besides, picking Koepka to win another major would be like rooting for Tom Brady’s children to have fun on summer vacation. Or cheering on the IRS in mid-April. Or placing a win bet on influenza. And while Koepka’s made major championship golf his own personal giants causeway in the last 25 months, he does not have the credentials, er my credentials, to win the Open Championship this year. He is, for all the wrong reasons, no Sadom Kaewkanjana, no Gudmundur Kristjansson, no Maverick Antcliff, and certainly no Jazz Janewattananond or Prom Meesawat.
No, despite sounding like Bond villains or forms of East Asian botulism, those gents all have something Koepka doesn’t, something that puts them closer to Tiger Woods’ Hoylake 2006 than Koepka is right now. They’ve all won twice this year leading into the Open Championship, just like Woods did in 2006. Unfortunately for Messrs. Kaewkanjana, Kristjansson, and Antcliff, as well as 17 others who have multiple Official World Golf Ranking points-earning victories as tracked by the OWGR this year, they are missing one key characteristic for potential Open Champions: They are not in the field. Admittedly, a technicality. (A “technicality,” by the way, is a lovely term, one the R&A leaned on in denying John Daly a cart at the Open Championship this year. Of course, watching a guy with what amounts to the swimmers’ ear of disabilities try to hornswoggle his way into a free cart ride at another major championship is an insult to all that golf should hold sacred.)
In point of fact, there are only five players in the field at Royal Portrush who bring two wins in this calendar year with them to the Open (Sorry, Kooch, but a FedEx Cup calendar year does not count.). That’s counting Jazz and Prom, which sounds like something you’d overhear the girls talking about at Delta Nu (“Omigod You Guys!”). The others are Bernd Wiesberger (not a type of Schnitzel), Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy (“Omigod You Guys!”).
Given that we are looking for a Tiger Woods type of winner, we certainly favor excellence and experience. Woods’ win at Hoylake came in his 12th appearance in an Open Championship. Jazz, Prom and Bernd combined barely have half that many. McIlroy and Johnson are both making their 11th. Advantage to the former No. 1s.
When Woods won at Hoylake, he would have been ranked first in strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained total. When Woods won at Hoylake he was also ranked in the top 10 in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained approach the green, driving distance, birdie average and scoring average, among other things. And when Woods won at Hoylake, he sobbed uncontrollably after holing the final putt, the weight of the world off his shoulders.
My winner at Portrush is ranked first in strokes-gained/tee to green and strokes gained total. He is ranked in the top 10 in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained approach the green, driving distance, birdie average and scoring average, among other things. And my winner at Portrush most certainly will sob uncontrollably after holing the final putt, the weight of all of Ireland lifting him on their collective shoulders.
No, not Chikkarangappa S, winner in Delhi and Golconda this year. The “S” apparently is some sort of abbreviation, presumably for “Shaughnessy.” Sadly, he’s not in the field, either, so instead, I’m going to make Rory McIlroy my crazy pick to win the Open Championship this year. As they say, “Erin go Bragh!” (which I believe is French for “He’s finally figured out his wedge game.”)