McIlroy targets US/British Open double
Sandwich: The 140th British Open sees the oldest major return to Royal St George`s in the southeast of England next week with Rory McIlroy aiming to add the title to the US Open he won last month.
If he succeeds he would be the first player to achieve that rare feat since Tiger Woods in 2000 when he won the US Open by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach and took the British Open by eight at St Andrews a month later.
Sadly, Woods will not be on hand to challenge golf`s new superstar as he continues to battle the serious leg injuries that have cast doubts on the rest of the 35-year-old`s career.
And with Phil Mickelson seldom a serious contender on links courses, the US threat looks distinctly threadbare with the world`s top three players - Englishmen Luke Donald and Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer of Germany - all joining McIlroy atop the betting charts.
Both Donald and Westwood seek overdue first major wins and both have been in fine form of late, proof of which came at the Scottish Open this week.
Despite his frustrating failure to win one of the big four, Westwood has the best overall record of any player in the majors over the last three years and he believes that is down to his own planning and priority list.
"Certainly, the last three, four years I`ve tried to peak for the major championships and I`ve done that fairly successfully, he said.
"But it`s The Open Championship because it`s very `Open`. You get people that you don`t expect to win winning and you get the favourites winning.”
"That`s the great thing about the Open championship is there`s so many variables that come into effect.”
"The weather is a bigger variable than at most other tournaments because the tide changes and things like that. But that`s part of the joys of an Open Championship."
Westwood has come desperately close at The Open with a runner-up spot behind Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa at St Andrew`s last year and a third place at Turnberry the previous year when he three-putted the last to miss out on a four-hole playoff with Tom Watson and eventual winner Stewart Cink.
Donald on the other hand has a dreadful record in the tournament with a tie for fifth at Turnberry his only top 10 finish in 10 previous campaigns, but he feels he is getting closer.
"My Open record has not been very good until the last couple of years," he admitted.
"I think the preparation I`ve been doing leading up to the Opens has really helped, and with a fifth two years ago and an 11th, I wasn`t really contending but certainly moving in the right direction and feeling more comfortable on links golf."
Also looking to figure in Kent is last year`s US Open champion and current world No.9, Graeme McDowell, who, like McIlroy, hails from Northern Ireland.
He believes that with the defence of his US crown now firmly behind him he can get on with the rest of his career which he hopes will bring him more major triumphs.
"My confidence is growing all the time," he said at Castle Stuart during the Scottish Open.
"When a task gets tougher and tougher, I feel like my game is ready for that and my preparation and my mental approach to the major championships is right there.”
"So I`ll have hopefully a lot of opportunities, hopefully 40, 50 goes at these majors before I`m 40 years old, and I feel like I can certainly win more of them."
Outside of the European contingent, the South African challenge looks strong with defending champion Oosthuizen, Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and 2002 champion Ernie Els all lining up, while Australian youngster Jason Day will attract the galleries having finished second in the year`s first two majors.
And then there will be Ben Curtis the American who stunningly won the last time Royal St George`s staged The Open in 2003 in what was his first appearance in a major tournament.
Curtis will once again be a rank outsider, but he will look to nourish his hopes from his memories of what he calls a "unique place", warning his fellow professionals not to underestimate the course.
"I think it is a very tough finishing course," he said.
"The last six, seven holes are very difficult and anything can happen. A lot of good and bad can happen."