PGA Tour Confidential: The 2011 Open Championship

PGA Tour Confidential: The 2011 Open Championship

Darren Clarke shot an even-par 70 on Sunday to win his first major championship.
Robert Beck/SI

Every week of the 2011 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Darren Clarke, whose career seemed to have gone off the boil some years ago, has won the 2011 British Open by three strokes over Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson. Is the five-time Ryder Cupper’s first major victory a triumph of will, or did Clarke simply regain his form?

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I’ll go with a triumph of will along with a bit of good fortune. The guy hasn’t been a threat in a major in years. Don’t know how many players regain their form at that age. Even Clarke admitted that he got lucky with the draw on Thursday and Friday. He got a couple of nice bounces on Sunday, but he was also the most solid. Very deserving.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Seemed like right guy, right time, right course. Lots of solid shots, good bounces and clutch putts, but I don’t think he gets those everywhere. Great win, but I don’t see him becoming any sort of force.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Clearly a return to form, but nonetheless a complete stunner. I thought Clarke was through years ago. A very popular win in Europe, and among tour pros on all continents. Clarke is one of the good guys in the game.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Clarke had the lowest score this week on a very tough golf course. In the final round, he made fewer mistakes than others on the leader board.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Clarke had to play in some tough weather and with pressure for the better part of two days, and he held together wonderfully. Every major winner has to combine good play with a little good fortune. Clarke was rock-solid and will be a really popular winner. I’m happy for him.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: It was a return to form by Clarke, who was as cool as could be on Sunday, and there’s no question that these Irish guys are feeding off each other’s major wins. Harrington, Harrington, Harrington, McDowell, McIlroy, Clarke isn’t a coincidence.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Was just out listening to Dustin Johnson, who mentioned Clarke’s succession of made 6-to-10 foot putts early in the round. The guy looked so shaky with the putter early in his round Saturday, but he really buckled down Sunday. D.J. and Phil both said they tried to start making things happen because they didn’t think Clarke would waver, and that’s when the Americans began to fall apart.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: He’s a classic case of his kids getting old enough to get interested in golf and rekindling his own interest in playing because they drag Dad to the course. Maybe now he will, or has, realized his potential. He seemed pretty satisfied to live a good life of cigars and wine and expensive cars, and now he’s got the biggest win of all.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: A magical one-off. No one will ever enjoy an Open triumph more, which is good, because the form won’t last.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, The BBC announcer had a great line as Darren walked off with the jug to pose for pictures: “That trophy is going to take a hammering.” I expect it’ll be filled all night for the after-party.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I think it was his will and a return to form. I didn’t have much faith in his stroke going into today, but his putting was impressive, and he hit the ball beautifully in the wind. His form was there. I saw him on the practice green working with mental-game coach Bob Rotella earlier in the week, and he said later that really helped. His attitude seems to have been right as well.

Tell us what you think: Is Clarke, a Ryder Cup veteran, about to make a run of more wins, or was this simply his week?

Garrity: Philly Mick went out in 30 to grab a share of the final-round lead, but he spit the bit down the stretch and finished tied for second. Am I crazy to think that Mickelson still has a couple of heart-stopping, head-scratching, did-he-really-do-that major victories left in him?

Morfit: This was a near exact replica of what he did in the final round of the 2009 Masters, only then it was 30-37. He has so much talent it’s scary, so yes, I think it’s reasonable to expect he’ll win another major somewhere. Maybe next month at Atlanta Athletic Club. He seems to like the place.

Godich: I don’t see why not. This week’s showing will only embolden him. Majors are what Phil has left to play for. He’ll win one or two more, as long as he doesn’t outthink himself.

Herre: I’m troubled by all the short putts Mickelson missed. That can be a sign of deterioration. I think he can win more majors, but he’s on the downside now and probably can’t be counted on to regularly contend.

Hanger: I agree. He’s so prone to missing short putts now that it seems unlikely. Maybe another Masters or two since he’s so comfortable there, but both the Opens just seem to require too sustained an effort.

Van Sickle: I also don’t see Phil winning another major until he fixes his short putting, if he’s able to. He says he hasn’t been himself for a few years, is just starting to feel like the old Phil again, and the putting is the last thing to come back. However, he’s also in the over-40 age group, where putting skills tend to diminish. Phil lost this Open because of five missed short putts. He proved his tee-to-green game is good enough to win anywhere. I think he’ll win again.

Shipnuck: A career Grand Slam is still in play. He found something this fortnight in how to prepare and how to navigate the linksland. I can’t wait to watch him in the next few Opens.

Evans: Phil can win into his early 50s. He’s that good.

Godich: His ball-striking is so good that he might lap the field at one of these majors. Then those four-footers won’t be so critical.

Garrity: How does he fix his putting? Hire a third coach?

Hanger: Shave about 10 years off his age.

Van Sickle: He’s already got Dave Pelz and Dave Stockton. The big question is whether there’s a bigger issue behind his short misses, like the Y-word, or if it’s just some technical error that can be corrected. Not many guys putt great into their 40s. That’s just a fact.

Gorant: The thing about a lot of those misses is that they didn’t look like pushes or pulls, just misreads. Starting them too far outside the hole.

Dusek: In other words, over analyzing. Has Phil ever been accused of doing that?

Godich: How many of those putts is Bones helping to read? The only thing worse than having one guy overanalyze is having two guys overanalyze.

Shipnuck: He actually made more putts than he has at previous Opens. In these winds a lot of guys were shaky over the ball.

Van Sickle: Obviously, Phil’s long putting was pretty good. He lit up the front nine, and in fact lipped out putts at 8 and 9 that would have given him a 28. But the short ones are dogging him. He also could’ve won in Phoenix this year but kept missing short ones.

Herre: The wind does make it tough to putt, but we’re talking about three-footers here. Phil’s not in Ernie Els territory yet, but he’s headed there. And I don’t think there’s anything he can do about it.

Van Sickle: I think The Claw comes in a lefty version.

Tell us what you think: Can Mickelson win any more majors? If so, how many?

Garrity: Clarke got a break when his running shot from the rough on No. 9 skimmed right over a greenside bunker and onto the green. Two holes later he hit one in the fairway that took a look around before diving into the sand. Does luck play too big a part at Open Championships?

Shipnuck: Luck is a huge part of the tourney — how the ball bounces, what draw you get. It’s an outdoor sport. Embrace it.

Garrity: I embrace it, I really do. I’m just playing devil’s advocate for the pros who didn’t get the bounces.

Hanger: Luck breaks both ways. You’re equally likely to get good and bad breaks in links golf, so it all comes out in the wash, doesn’t it? As a fan, it sure is fun to watch. And of course luck plays a role on all golf courses and in all sports. So no, the Open is just fine.

Godich: Every player gets a lucky bounce here and there. The bounces of the guys at the top of the leaderboard are magnified because we see almost every shot they hit.

Dusek: Any major winner has to have a few breaks go his way, and Clarke got a couple, but he was a solid all week.

Van Sickle: The rub of the green has always been part of golf, but in the modern age, with slow-motion and instant replay, not everyone wants to accept it. So you hit into a divot? Awww. Play it.

Godich: Good point. See David Toms at the 72nd hole of the Players this year.

Van Sickle: Give Tom Watson the lucky side of the draw, and I’m not so sure he wouldn’t have been in the mix today. He shot a pair of 72s in the worst of the weather on the weekend. Impressive as hell. Links golf is sort of like match play: it’s a different type of examination and doesn’t always necessarily identify the best golfer, just the champion golfer. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Once a year, I love it.

Evans: Luck plays a big part in any golf tournament. Even Rory McIlroy had a couple of breaks in his domination at Congressional. Especially on a course like Royal St. George’s, where there are so many humps and bumps, a little luck is always in play.

Tell us what you think: Does luck play too big a role in Open Championships?

Garrity: We’ve spent the summer bemoaning the state of American golf, but most of the chaps chasing Clarke were Yanks: Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Chad Campbell, Anthony Kim, Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker. Davis Love III, our current Ryder Cup captain, finished T9! Have we underestimated our domestic brand?

Herre: Yes, we have underestimated the Americans. These things go in cycles. International players dominated for a period in the ’90s. We may have lost sight of the fact that we’re just coming off one of the most dominating eras, by one American, that we’ll ever see.

Van Sickle: Let’s see. Who, besides Phil, mounted anything resembling a charge on Sunday? Or even a little gallop? No, our guys were just as good as Thomas Bjorn and Raphael Jacquelin and Simon Dyson. They’re still major Ryder Cup underdogs at this point in time.

Shipnuck: I disagree, Gary. The three most talented young Yanks are Dustin, A.K. and Rickie, in that order. To have them all on the same leaderboard, with Phil leading the way, bodes very well for American golf.

Van Sickle: Great. How’d they play on the final nine? Oops.

Evans: In the U.S., we have the most good players. The very top players, right now, may be from Europe, but we have the depth.

Godich: Maybe so, but the U.S. had the most players in the field by far. A.K. and Dustin had been missing in action for much of the year. Fowler followed up arguably the best round of the day on Saturday with a ho-hum 72. Watney and Kuchar missed the cut. The problem is that we keep seeing flashes from these guys, but nobody is getting to the next level.

Herre: It was good to see A.K. finally do something. He could be a key player for the U.S. In next year’s Ryder Cup.

Godich: I need to see somebody do it over an extended period. Webb Simpson is one of the young guns who got overlooked this week. He picked up another top 20. The guy is having a solid year. Now he needs to break through.

Hanger: I think it was very encouraging. We all thought Phil was hopeless on the links. Kim and Johnson had fallen off the radar this year. Young Fowler and old Captain Love were in the mix. Stricker was right there and steady all week. Top to bottom, they excelled, and that certainly seems encouraging for their chances in a team event like the Ryder Cup.

Herre: Love has been playing remarkably well all year. Clearly he wants to play his way onto his own RC team. Wouldn’t that be something?

Hanger: We talked about that over here in Sandwich this week. A playing captain would be very cool. Shoot, he might even want to consider Watson for a captain’s pick! (I know, I’m a homer.)

Dusek: It was encouraging to see all the Stars & Stripes on the leaderboard, and sure, plenty of those names like Mickelson and Love and Stricker are veterans, but Johnson, Kim and Rickie played too well to write off their accomplishment. I was especially impressed with Fowler. Coming into this event, I thought it would be his worst of the four majors. He showed guts and patience in some nasty weather.

Herre: We forget how inexperienced Fowler really is. After Saturday’s round he was asked how often he had played in rain and wind, and he could remember only one other occasion, at Prairie Dunes when he was in college. How often do you think Clarke has played in that kind of weather?

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, It was a nice week for the U.S., but it’s still hard to feel great about our Ryder Cup chances when you look at the current standings.

Godich: Long way to go, Jeff. Don’t forget that more points are at stake in 2012 than this year.

Tell us what you think: Have we all underestimated the state of American golf?

Garrity: Rory McIlroy, playing his first tournament since winning the U.S. Open at Congressional, finished at seven over, a stroke behind 61-year-old Tom Watson. Should we, or Rory, draw any lessons from his lackluster showing?

Shipnuck: I think the expectation got to him a bit. Also, he was very sloppy with his scoring clubs. He kept air-mailing greens with short irons and hardly holed a putt. Maybe next year he should play a tourney between the U.S. and British Opens.

Van Sickle: Rory got the lousy end of the draw (like a lot of players). I like his high-ball power game better at Augusta and the U.S. Open than at the British, just like Rickie Fowler appears to be better suited for links golf over here than the U.S. Open. I don’t think the layoff affected him. Staying home, in fact, was a far better option than slogging through the mud at the Scottish Open. Rory will be fine.

Evans: Rory should not have taken a three-week break between majors. He wasn’t competition sharp, and it showed around the greens.

Hanger: The hype was out of hand, which must have been tough to handle, but I think he simply didn’t have it this week. A guy has one killer week at a major and everyone anoints him the next Tiger and expects him to win every time out. The only lesson here is that majors are hard to win, and no one can contend in all of them.

Godich: Good point. Let’s not forget that Rory was in the hunt at four consecutive majors. He was due for a letdown at some point. And if my math is correct, Rory remains five claret jugs behind Watson. And I’m sure Jack will sleep a little easier tonight.

Gorant: I don’t think he plays that well in bad conditions. Everyone assumes he will because he’s Irish, but he hasn’t really shown that he can do it. In fact, he’s shown the opposite.

Dusek: Sort of like people assume that Europeans are better links golfers than Americans. I’m not buying that one either.

Herre: Amazingly, Rory admitted that he doesn’t like playing in the wind and rain. Who’d a thunk it? Suddenly Chubby Chandler’s prediction that Rory would do better in the PGA than he would at the British Open makes sense.

Dusek: Rory didn’t hit fairways and couldn’t make any putts. I don’t think it was rust or lack of talent; he just had an off week. If Rory were a stock, I’d still be buying shares left and right.

Tell us what you think: What can McIlroy take away from a disappointing week at Sandwich?

Garrity: If you weren’t already aware that the world’s first- and second-ranked golfers have won zero majors between them, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood drove the point home by missing the cut at Royal St. George’s. Is it the world ranking that screwed up? Or do we place too much emphasis on the so-called majors?

Shipnuck: The world ranking is about consistency over a long period of time, not necessarily the majors. The ranking’s fine. But clearly those English lads fizzled in front of the home folks. Both need a big showing at the PGA.

Herre: If they played baseball, Donald and Westwood would be called compilers. These two are a weak 1-2 in my opinion.

Gorant: I’ve never been impressed by either of those guys. Great all-around players, but not winners. Even with their rise to the top, I never believe they’re going to win, and I feel a little surprised when they do.

Dusek: In the age of highlight-driven coverage, the biggest events are emphasized a lot more than week-to-week consistency. But as Alan points out, the ranking system rewards guys who compile lots of points by playing well all the time.

Hanger: The ranking isn’t screwed up because it’s about consistency, but the majors cannot be overemphasized. I’m sure Westy and Luke are gutted for missing the cut in an Open held in England, and I’m sure they’d both gladly trade 50 spots in the ranking for the claret jug.

Godich: At least Westwood has had some close calls on the game’s biggest stage. Donald was a couple of shots under the cut line on Friday and then bogeyed his last four holes. Not a good sign.

Van Sickle: They’re definitely No. 1 and No. 2… on the Best Players Who Haven’t Won a Major list.

Tell us what you think: Are the world rankings simply screwed up? Who’s the real No. 1 right now?

Garrity: Irishmen have now won three of the last six majors, and that’s after Paddy Harrington went 3-for-6 in 2007-08. Can any of you explain this sudden manifestation of Celtic dominance?

Dusek: Guinness … the breakfast of champions.

Wei: I think it’s Guinness and Jagermeister (Rory’s drink when he goes big, according to Twitter) and Heineken (never seen G-Mac with a different bottle in his hand).

Shipnuck: Three majors for the Ulstermen in 13 months is mind-blowing. The country has a population roughly that of Columbus, Ohio. Great courses and challenging weather will produce good golfers. Paddy’s wins inspired all of the other Euros. But it really comes down to them grabbing the opportunities that have presented themselves.

Van Sickle: I think we’ve had this same conversation about England and also South Africa. And once upon a time, maybe Australia. Hey, all of these guys are good. Northern Ireland is clearly the story of the year in golf.

Walker: The fact that they’re pretty close friends matters, especially Clarke, McDowell and McIlroy. If a guy in your Saturday foursome, who you get the best of sometimes, started wining majors, you’d think you could, too.

Hanger: The stars just aligned. Clarke was born in ’68, McDowell in ’79, and McIlroy in ’89. Three guys, three decades, three majors in a little more than a year. What are the chances?

Van Sickle: The Celtics have a long history of domination. Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Larry Bird, Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett. No surprise.

Walker: Van Sickle stole the ball!

Tell us what you think: Can you explain the sudden Irish dominance in pro golf?

Garrity: Tethered as I was to Peter Alliss and the BBC feed, I’m totally in the dark about the American TV coverage. How did the ESPN gang perform?

Gorant: Van Pelt and North are great. Gannon solid. Curtis Strange and Tirico get on my nerves. Tom Rinaldi came up blank trying to make Clarke cry in the post-round interview. D.C. is no Stricker.

Evans: Less is more, especially for the history-obsessed Open Championship, and I think ESPN did a good job of showing a lot of golf and giving just enough commentary and history. Mike Tirico knows a lot more golf than he is given credit for.

Walker: ESPN created a nice mix of shot tracker and hole/wind graphics with the classic links feel of the views from St. George’s. But there sure were a lot of commercials. Since the players themselves are walking billboards and product placements, are all the ads even necessary? Couldn’t NYSE just pay for an extra 30 seconds of Stricker on the screen? Or Nike could pay for some extra Anthony Kim time.

Godich: Azinger was on his game. They could stand to cut down the roster a bit, but if you’re going to go with 11-hour telecasts, I suppose you need the bodies to fill the air time.

Herre: I’m a big Paul Azinger fan, so I enjoyed the ESPN coverage. I also liked the length of the telecasts. We could see the changing conditions as play progressed. Overall, it was much better than the old ABC-BBC days, when the show was terribly disjointed and the graphics almost nonexistent. There was a nice sense of continuity to the ESPN production.

Hanger: After seeing the ads before leaving home, I was looking forward to ESPN’s special effects where they made the bunkers move and grow in guys’ backswings. Did they not deliver on that?

Herre: If they did, I missed it.

Dusek: It was very interesting to hear Jim Nantz on the BBC coverage and NEVER see him, or any of the other announcers. I certainly didn’t miss the commercials either.

Wei: I’m a big fan of the BBC telecast, but I discovered BBC radio golf coverage this week on the way to the course every morning. I’ve never listened to golf on the radio, and I could see myself being a regular listener. The commentators were clever, entertaining and knowledgeable.

Tell us what you think: What did you think of ESPN’s broadcast of the Open Championship?