SOUTHPORT, England – Don’t be surprised if the winner of the 137th Open Championship pledges his allegiance to the red, white and blue of Old Glory.
Royal Birkdale has a soft spot for American golfers.
Five Americans have won the Open Championship in the eight times it has been held at Royal Birkdale. Australians Peter Thomson (1954 and 1965) and Ian Baker-Finch (1991) are the two interlopers. Besides those two, it’s been America all the way.
Arnold Palmer got the American ball rolling when he won the 1961 Open here. Lee Trevino followed 10 years later, then Johnny Miller (1976), Tom Watson (1983) and Mark O’Meara in 1998, the last time the Open was staged here.
Many expect Jim Furyk to become the latest American success story.
Furyk tees it up as second favorite American behind Phil Mickelson. Furyk is a 25-1 shot with British bookmakers William Hill to make the Open Championship his second major victory.
The odds makers are right to install him as one of the favorites – Furyk likes this part of the British Isles.
The man with the loopy swing finished fourth here in 1998. Furyk missed a playoff for the title by two strokes.
Furyk tends to play well in the North of England. He was fourth at Royal Liverpool two years ago.
“Royal Liverpool and Hoylake really suit my game,” Furyk said. “They’re narrow golf courses, places where you have to work the ball around, much different than, say, St. Andrews.”
Furyk played alongside O’Meara in the final round of 1998 championship. But for a few shots here and there, he might already have his name on the Claret Jug.
“I’ve got some good memories back from ’98,” Furyk said. “I had a really good opportunity to win this tournament. I was disappointed in the finish, just down the stretch. I felt like I hit some good shots and didn’t knock in some putts, and made a mistake or two. Early In my career I think it was my best opportunity I had to win a major championship.”
Furyk doesn’t have to worry about his place in the pantheon of major championship winners. He has his name on the U.S. Open trophy as 2003 champion.
Despite his showing 10 years ago, Furyk missed five consecutive cuts between 2001-2005.
“When I first on came Tour, I hit the ball pretty low. I was very comfortable in the wind. I adapted over here pretty quickly.
“Then, in order to get better, in order to compete in the United States week in, week out, and have the opportunity to win at more courses, I changed my game. I changed my equipment and worked on hitting the ball higher.”
That change worked in the United States, which is why he has grown into one of the most formidable players on the PGA Tour. However, it didn’t help in the game’s oldest championship.
“When I came back (to the Open Championship) I had a hard time adapting.
“After missing five cuts in a row, I kind of committed myself at Liverpool (2006) to really working on trying to fit my game to the style of golf course. I made more of an effort to adapt and to play better. I probably got fed up with the way I had been playing and eventually broke out of it.”
Further proof that the work has paid came with his T-12 finish at Carnoustie last year.
Although Furyk has 13 PGA Tour victories on his resume, he hasn’t managed to add to that total this year. That’s something he’s keen to put right.
“My goals starting the year are to win, and obviously I haven’t this year, so that’s a disappointment,” he said. “Another goal is to play on the Ryder Cup team, and hopefully a winning Ryder Cup team. But first and foremost I want to win some golf tournaments. If I do that, it kind of takes care of the latter.”
Furyk’s place on the U.S. team to play at Valhalla is virtually guaranteed. He’s fifth on the U.S. Ryder Cup points table. In other words, he’s free to concentrate on getting that elusive title.
Don’t bet against him being in the mix here come Sunday evening.