British Open: ‘Bad day at the office’ for local favorites

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LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Lee Westwood looked glumly at his ball lodged up against the side of a pot bunker and considered his options. Unfortunately, none of them involved a normal swing in the direction of the hole.

So, he turned around, whacked at the ball left-handed with a right-handed club, and settled for just getting it back into the fairway.

Yep, another bogey.

Westwood, the world’s third-ranked player and generally considered the best golfer never to win a major, limped to the finish with a 3-over 73 Thursday in the opening round of the British Open. What made it even worse was that Royal Lytham & St. Annes was ripe for the taking, the rain largely holding off, the breeze from the Irish Sea barely rippling the flags.

“Just one of those things,” he said with a shrug. “You can’t have great form all the time.”

Westwood wasn’t the only local favorite to disappoint in a year when the home country had high hopes of snapping a 43-year drought in golf’s oldest major.

Ian Poulter plodded to a 71. Paul Casey collapsed on the back nine and signed for a 72. Justin Rose had a miserable day all around, winding up with a 74. The only Englishmen to shoot in the 60s were former cricket player James Morrison (68) and up-and-comer Matthew Baldwin (69), who actually made a point to get Westwood’s autograph during a practice round — then outplayed him when it counted.

Another crowd pleaser, defending champ Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, joined in the misery. After a near-perfect tee shot on the par-3 opening hole, he struck a terrible putt from about 10 feet that never had a chance. It was pretty much all downhill from there on the way to a 76. Only seven players posted a higher score.

“I don’t think you could publish my thoughts right now,” Clarke told reporters when he came off the 18th green. “I played poorly and I putted worse. It was disappointing, because at practice, I hit it really, really well. But what can I do? I tried my best on every shot, but unfortunately it wasn’t there again.

“A bad day at the office.”

Actually, Clarke’s struggles weren’t that much of a surprise. He’s done little since that magical week at Royal St. George’s, following up his first major title by missing the cut at both the PGA Championship and the Masters, sitting out the U.S. Open with an injury, and barely making a dent at the lesser-known events on his schedule.

But players such as Westwood (ranked third in the world) and Rose (No. 9) were expected to shine. Poulter, who was runner-up at Birkdale in 2008 and has played well in the pressure-cooker environment of Ryder Cup, also was rated as a potential challenger by no less than Tony Jacklin, who way back in 1969 won at this very same course.

Jacklin remains the last English golfer to capture an Open title in England (Nick Faldo’s three titles all came in Scotland). Now, barring a major turnaround, it looks as though the streak will continue.

Westwood has little confidence in his game at the moment.

“I’m at a point right now where it goes left or right,” he said. “I’m not often straight.”

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