SANDWICH, England – No respect? No problem, so far as Steve Stricker is concerned.
The highest-ranked American since winning the Memorial in early June, Stricker for a second straight major championship wasn’t part of the pre-tournament interview parade into the media center. Those ahead of him in the world order – Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy – were popular attractions at both the U.S. Open and here at the 140th Open Championship, but not No. 5.
But if you think Stricker is offended, you don’t know the man from Wisconsin, who last Sunday won the John Deere Classic for a third consecutive year. It’s his second win of the PGA Tour season, and he hasn’t missed a cut since the 2009 PGA Championship – his streak of consecutive cuts is at 35 – yet none of that seems to impress folks who consider media attractions.
“I don’t mind it at all,” Stricker said about the apparent slight. “I’m kind of under the radar this way, which is just fine with me.”
While Stricker has been unbeatable at the John Deere in Illinois, he hasn’t quite been able to carry that over into the Open Championship. He finished T-52 at Turnberry in 2009 and T-55 at St. Andrews a year ago, but he vows to change that this time around.
“I wouldn’t trade winning John Deere for coming over here early and trying to prepare,” he said. “I think those have been some great tournaments for me and it gives me a lot of confidence.”
Having never seen Royal St. George’s, Stricker arrived 10:30 Monday morning aboard the charter from the John Deere, and played nine holes in afternoon sunshine. He has slowly gotten a feel for the links, which is imperative.
“You don’t come over here looking for your game,” Stricker said. “You just got to go with it.”
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If the wind and weather dictate it, Angel Cabrera knows he’ll have an advantage with his favorite club – the driver.
Take the wind that enveloped Royal St. George’s Tuesday and Wednesday. It made the 243-yard, par-3 11th virtually impossible and even in this age of massive power, players had to use driver. Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Stewart Cink were among those who failed to reach the green, but Cabrera powered his shot to within 15 feet.
Then, at the 426-yard 17th, Cabrera stepped up and with the wind at his back, the two-time major champion drilled a drive that also got within 15 feet of the hole.
Two great shots, both with the driver, but with different wind directions that meant a difference of 183 yards between the swings.
Cabrera tied for 22nd when he played in the 2003 Open Championship here.
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5 – Amateurs in the field. It includes U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, who has previously played in the Masters and U.S. Open this year.
40 – The number of players making their British Open debut. (That’s not quite as impressive as last month’s U.S. Open, where there were 50 rookies in the field.)
4 – How many Open Championships Tom Watson has played at Royal St. George’s. (He has missed one cut and finished no better than T-18. He has top 10s at seven different venues, but none at Royal Hoylake, Royal Lytham or Royal St. George’s.
10 – Former champions in the field. Besides Watson, there’s Mark Calcavecchia, Stewart Cink, John Daly, Ernie Els, Todd Hamilton, Padraig Harrington, Tom Lehman, Mark O’Meara and Louis Oosthuizen.
23 – Countries represented.
52 – Americans in the field. (Next best is England, with 23.)
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Few things are more comical than the weather forecasts over here. Some snippets from the Wednesday predictions:
• Rather cloudy at times, but some bright or sunny spells developing. (Just about covers all the possibilities, eh?)
• Dry, but rather cloudy. (Talk about finding the silver lining.)
• For the evening, dry, at first, but 60 percent chance of some patchy rain. (As opposed to wet at first, then getting dry.)
As for what players can expect for Thursday’s first round, there is a 50 percent chance of light showers and winds will be 10-15 miles per hour, with gusts up to 30.
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No surprise, given the locale, but it continues to be a big story that each of the last five majors has been won by a European or a player who honed his game on the European PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen and Graeme McDowell are the players in question, and when you toss in the fact that Nos. 1 and 2 in the world are Englishmen Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, it’s surely a good time for golf fans on this side of the pond.
American players definitely can’t deny that, but perspective is called for.
“I think it’s cyclical,” said Nick Watney. “Tiger (Woods) and Phil (Mickelson) were winning multiple majors there for a long time.”
Watney could have added that it wasn’t that long ago when Americans dominated this summer classic. In the 1970s, American players won eight of the 10 Claret Jugs. From 1995-2009, 11 of the 15 times an American copped this championship.
No question, the tide has turned, but Watney doesn’t agree with critics who point to the American college program as a source of the problem, that it’s better to turn pro as a teenager like McIlroy.
“Graeme McDowell (from Northern Ireland) went to school in the States,” Watney said. “I think Rory McIlroy is a very special player. I mean, you can’t grow players like that. They come around once in a great while.”
Asked if he thought an American felt pressure to stop the slide, Watney seemed to agree, with a disclaimer.
“You never want to hear that you’re inferior or something like that,” he said. “But at the same time, with all due respect to America, I don’t think anybody is trying to win one for America. Golf is an individual game.”
– Alex Miceli contributed to this report.