As Hoylake champion Rory McIlroy rises to the top of the world rankings again, Derek Lawrenson looks forward to The Open at Royal Liverpool next year

By The Editor

25th Oct 2022 | Local News

The unmistakable silhouette of Tiger Woods at Hoylake in 2014
The unmistakable silhouette of Tiger Woods at Hoylake in 2014

By Derek Lawrenson

Given the sport has spent much of the past 12 months in turmoil, there's something reassuring about the fact the two golfers who will undoubtedly attract the most attention heading into the 151st Open just happen to be the winners of the past two editions at Royal Liverpool.

Whatever else has altered in the rapidly moving landscape of the Royal and Ancient game, the men who claimed their titles on the cherished links in 2006 and 2014 remain the two players who dominate the headlines.

Nothing will change over the next few months as Tiger Woods continues his rehabilitation from his near-fatal car accident in February, 2021 and Rory McIlroy will look to end his drought in the majors ahead of July next year, and what would be the ninth anniversary since his last victory.

Such was the special nature of those two triumphs, it will surely dispel any possible sense of anti-climax about this Open, following all the excitement of the landmark 150th at St Andrews.

Just the opposite, in fact, for it will lead to a feverish sense of anticipation as the big week draws ever closer.

Heatwave Hoylake - Tiger Woods and caddy Steve Williams in 2006

Only Woods and his inner circle know exactly how much it took for the great man to be ready to play at the Old Course but it's hard to imagine he would baulk on making a similar Herculean effort to return to Hoylake.

This, of course, was the scene of one of his most emotional triumphs, his vision clouded as he made his way down the 18th hole on Sunday before dissolving into full-blown tears on the completion of his 11th major win, as he remembered his late father, who had passed away just a few short weeks before.

As it happens, I was one of the first people to greet Woods as he arrived at Hoylake on the Saturday before the championship began.

"Where's the first tee, bud?" he said cheerfully, emerging from the locker room in the company of caddy Steve Williams and coach, Hank Haney.

On the first hole he took a wood and promptly found a fairway bunker on the right. On the second hole he took a wood and ended up in a bunker on the left.

That was all it needed for him to learn the famous maxim at Royal Liverpool that you never mess with such hazards, and the creation of the strategy that would see him use the driver just once over the course of his fabled 72 holes.

Never mind that he would sometimes find himself 60 or 70 yards behind his playing partners. He knew that was better than playing from the sand, and demonstrated as much owing to his incomparable long iron play to complete a two stroke victory for a success that confirmed his prowess at links golf.

Green and pheasant land - Rory in his way to victory in 2014

Like Tiger, McIlroy was at the height of his powers when he arrived in 2014 and underlined his intent with a sparkling first round 66. It gave him a lead that he would never relinquish, as he became only the sixth player to win The Open while leading from first to last, or wire-to-wire.

It followed his victories in the US Open in 2011 and PGA in 2012, as he became the first European golfer to win three different majors. A fortnight later he would win the PGA again. He was just 25 and appeared destined for a Tiger-like career, with no worlds he wouldn't conquer.

Certainly, if you'd said to any of the many thousands who followed his every stride that week that, nine years later, he'd still be on the same majors total of four, they would have laughed contemptuously at the notion.

Yet here we are, on the cusp of that anniversary with Rory still looking to add to his total. The good news is that he appears to have finally cast aside the mental demons that have plainly been plaguing him for much of that period.

Drawing inspiration from his stunning final round 64 at the Masters last April that appeared to release him from his burden, Rory did everything bar win a major in 2022, finishing in order: 2nd-5th-T8th-3rd.

It has given him momentum, and he can surely count on an incredible groundswell of support when he finally returns to the scene of his last triumph. Let's hope by then he might even have ended the drought, preferably at the Masters to achieve the sport's Holy Grail and complete the career Grand Slam.

Cam Smith, Champion Golfer of the Year, 2022

There is probably one other player who will be as popular as Tiger and Rory when he steps on to the grounds at Hoylake. Whatever the financial inducements of the rival LIV tour - and we've learned over the past few months they have been considerable, snaring even the current champion, Cam Smith - Tommy Fleetwood made it clear last summer they were inconsequential when placed alongside an Open taking place a short distance from his home. He was never going to do anything that might jeopardize his place in the line-up.

Fleetwood has never made any secret of the fact this particular major stands way above any other as far as he is concerned, and never more so than when it's at either Royal Birkdale, a stone's throw from where he grew up, or at Hoylake.

Like Tiger all those years ago, the popular Merseysider will be playing on emotion, following the recent loss of his mother. What a story it would be if he were to improve on his runner-up showing in 2019 and tied fourth place finish in 2022, and end up holding aloft the Claret Jug.

There is, of course, one other player who will be every bit as keen to make the starting line-up. Having established himself on the DP World Tour, Royal Liverpool's very own Matthew Jordan will not want to miss out on this, of all weeks.

As for the winner, chances are that he will be someone firmly established as one of the top ten players in the world. If the wins for Tiger and Rory taught us anything, it is that Royal Liverpool is not a venue where champions are born but one where they embellish their legacy.


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