LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -– With rain continuing to fall here this week, it’s hard to believe that the fairways at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club will run, but they are expected to be firm. Because of that reality, many of the players in the 141st Open Championship are taking hybrids or 5-woods out of their bags and replacing them with long irons.
During the past two months, Callaway has been working on putting an X Utility Prototype iron in players’ bags, with a focus toward this week’s Open.
The iron, which comes in 18-, 21- and 24-degree lofts, has been in demand this week on the range. In fact, it has been so much in demand that Roger Cleveland, the father of the new iron, had to bring the last five heads in North America in his luggage.
Of the 17 players planning on using the clubs this week at Royal Lytham, Ernie Els and Pablo Larrazabal are expected to put all three lofts in the bag.
Because the club performs like a hybrid, many players are using different shafts than in their irons, with the most popular being the Project Xi shaft.
Many other players are looking to substitute a 2-iron this week, with Ping, Titleist and TaylorMade’s vans busy making that happen.
But Ping has been asked by Brendan Grace, Daniel Chopra and Greg Owen for 1-irons. The company has been meeting the request by taking a 2-iron and bending it from 18 degrees to 16 degrees and adding metal to the sole of the club.
Of course, there are always exceptions. Bill Haas always carries a 2-iron in the bag, but this week he is seriously looking to add an 18-degree hybrid instead. Haas says he never liked the 2-iron and wanted to see about making the switch this week.
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PRODGER’S LAST SHOT?: Andy Prodger hasn’t been on K.J. Choi’s bag since the U.S. Open. The sixtysomething caddie is slowing down. When asked if he was going to follow Choi back to the U.S., he seemed uncertain. “It’s up in the air,” Prodger said, but his facial expression really tells the story.
The Scot wanted to retire after last year’s Presidents Cup in Australia, but Choi asked him to come back on the bag in the middle of the year, and Prodger gave him his best for about a two-month span. However, it’s clear that he has little left in the tank and wants to retire permanently.
One change that Choi will not be making this week is his bag. The Korean is a perfectionist, and according to Prodger has gone through 11 sets of irons since the U.S. Open.
Choi had worked with Ping, Titleist, TaylorMade and Callaway irons during the past three weeks. After some unofficial tryouts, Choi decided on the Callaways last week at the John Deere Classic, where he tied for 13th. Those clubs likely will be in the bag again this week because Choi brought only the Callaways across the Atlantic, but Prodger stopped short of ruling out a late change.
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LYTHAM’S ‘OTHER’ TROPHY: The Lytham Trophy, which debuted in 1965, has evolved into a significant amateur tournament each May.
Of all the past winners, none has won a major championship. Contrast that history with that of Rory McIlroy, who has won a major championship but did not win as an amateur at Lytham.
In 2006, McIlroy had a chance to win the Lytham Trophy, but a three-putt on the final hole left the young Ulsterman out of a playoff. The next year, McIlroy found himself in contention in the final round but faded over the closing holes.
On the professional level, few of those who contended in the past two Open Championships at Lytham are in this year’s field.
In 2002, the top 10 included these 2012 entrants: winner David Duval, Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sergio Garcia.
Of those in the top 10 in 1996 when Tom Lehman won, only Lehman and Els are entered this year.
Els has played in 17 Open Championships, winning in 2002 in a playoff. Of his 12 top 10s, two came at Lytham: a T-3 in 2001 and a T-2 in 1996.
In those eight rounds, Els has never shot over par and posting a scoring average of 68.88 that included five rounds in the 60s, with the lowest being 67, which he shot three times.
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HE’S NOT GREEN WITH ENVY: Damon Green is back on the bag for Zach Johnson after tying for 17th at last week’s U.S. Senior Open. Despite having earned $38,142 for his play, Green lost out on about $70,000 by not having looped at the John Deere, where Johnson won in a playoff over Troy Matteson.
Nonetheless, Green was heartened by Johnson’s second victory of the year and ninth in his Tour career. Johnson, who also won at Colonial this year, likely solidified his position on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He is fifth in the standings, with only four events remaining – Open Championship, RBC Canadian Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship – before the top eight qualify for the Sept. 28-30 matches at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club.
“He sent me a nice text,” Johnson said of U.S. captain Davis Love III.
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AND THEN THERE WERE TWO: When amateur Patrick Cantlay turned professional this year, he was scratched from the Open Championship field. That left Alan Dunbar of Northern Ireland and Manuel Trappel of Austria as the only amateurs in the field. Though two would seem to be a low number of amateurs, it is not unprecedented. As recently as 2009, Matteo Manaserro of Italy and Stephan Gross of Germany were the only amateurs. Manaserro finished T-13 to win the silver medal as low amateur.