SANDWICH, England – We don’t know who is going to win the British Open. We may not even be able to predict the champion with nine holes to play on Sunday.
But for now let’s say the winner could go by J.B.
At least if you believe in omens. And I do.
In 1997, Justin Leonard was on my flight to Scotland. I took it as an omen, bet on him and cashed in when he won the Open at Troon. I’ve been looking for omens ever since.
In 2004, Todd Hamilton was on my flight to Scotland. The night before the tournament began, I saw him again on the streets of Troon. I did not bet on him, but he won.
Ever since I have vowed never to defy an omen again, no matter how long of a shot.
Which brings us back to the J.B. topic.
Upon arriving in Sandwich on Sunday, the first player I saw was J.B. Holmes. He was playing Prince’s Golf Club, where Gene Sarazen won the 1932 Open Championship. Prince’s is adjacent to Royal St. George’s, site of this week’s Open.
Holmes and another man were riding a buggy, of all things, and played through our threesome. He may be painfully slow on the PGA Tour, but he appeared to be flying around in his cart.
Holmes is staying there at the club and was playing Prince’s for the second day in a row.
“You going to play that course next door at all this week?” I asked, referring to St. George’s.
“Yeah, I’ll get over there tomorrow,” he said, smiling. “I’ve still got plenty of time.”
That was good to know. For a minute I was concerned he might have thought this week’s Open was at Prince’s.
Holmes, though, isn’t the only J.B. in the omen mix. While our party walked down a street in nearby Deal on Sunday night, a voice from an Indian carryout restaurant yelled out a hello and came outside.
And so it was that the second player I spotted here was Jonathan Byrd, twice a winner on the PGA Tour in the last year.
Byrd came to England early after missing the cut at the John Deere Classic. In good spirits, he volunteered, “Hey, I’ve got a good quote for you.” Then he told this story: When he arrived and was in line at customs, a British man recognized him and said, “Good luck this week.” Then the man paused and said, “You’re going to need it to beat Rory (McIlroy).”
Yes, U.S. Open champion McIlroy is the favorite, listed by Ladbrokes, the largest British bookmaker, at 7-1. Holmes and Byrd, meanwhile, are listed at 200-1.
Sure, the odds are in favor of McIlroy. But the omens are aligned with J.B. That means my pocket containing those heavy pound coins just got a little lighter – until Sunday anyway.