OK, 143rd Open Championship. You've got your work cut out for you.
Starting Thursday at Royal Liverpool, or Hoylake if you prefer, the best men's players in the world will vie for the Claret Jug, one of the sweetest pieces of hardware in sports. I say that mostly because you can drink booze from it. In that respect, only the Stanley Cup rivals the Claret Jug. Like, for example, I didn't see Bastian Schweinsteiger or Manuel Neuer pouring German lager out of the World Cup trophy on Sunday down in Brazil. They can't.
Anyway, your Phil Mickelsons and your Adam Scotts and your red-hot Justin Roses – they have a lot to answer to. They have to try to match the Women's British Open, which produced one of the greatest clutch shots in the history of majors, men's game or women's game.
Step right up, Melissa (Mo) Martin, a 31-year-old Southern Californian, a national champion at UCLA and a journeyman LPGA member who had never won on the LPGA Tour, had never led after any rounds of her LPGA career, and certainly had never sniffed a major championship before.
That is, until she locked and loaded a 3-wood on the par-5 18th hole at Royal Birkdale on Sunday. Little Mo Martin assessed a left-to-right wind, aimed far left, made the best golf swing of her life and knew it was true. Like a proper links player, she made sure to land her golf ball short of the green and let the rumpled earth of Birkdale guide it.
This one was meant to be.
It tracked onto the green, sought the flagstick as if magnetized, banged off the flagstick and rolled 6 feet away. Mo Martin, so sturdy she was nicknamed for the battleship USS Missouri by her late father, at 5-foot-2 one of the shortest-hitting players on the LPGA, had her moment. She'd make the eagle putt, sign for a 72 when everyone else was bleeding strokes all over a rugged and windy Birkdale, wait an hour for the leaders to finish, and win the Women's British Open by one stroke.
To recap: an absolute Cinderella story, a player ranked 99th in the world, a player not mentioned among the Stacy Lewis/Michelle Wie/Lexi Thompson era the LPGA has bequeathed us this year, hit a 3-wood off the flagstick to set up eagle and win the Women's British Open by one stroke. You can't make that up.
Somewhere, Ben Curtis and Hilary Lunke – two other major champions of the 21st century whose championships gobsmacked the golfing public – applauded.
Immediately, on social media, golf pundits wondered: Was Mo Martin's 3-wood off the flagstick one of the greatest shots in major championship history? Immediately, golf pundits agreed: Yes.
It joins a pantheon that includes Tom Watson's chip-in at Pebble Beach in the 1982 U.S. Open, Tiger Woods' chip-in on No. 16 in the 2005 Masters, and Shaun Micheel's 7-iron to win the 2003 PGA Championship. Perhaps it isn't as epic as Brittany Lincicome's eagle on the 72nd hole of the Kraft Nabisco at Rancho Mirage to win by one stroke– Lincicome gets the edge because she played in the final group, maximizing the drama – but if you're in the conversation with that, you're in good company.
Plus, Martin's back story touched anybody who took the time to hear her tell it. The daughter of a father who coached her straight from Hogan's "Five Lessons," Martin never knew her grandfather because of a falling-out between her father and grandfather. But when Mo's father tragically died when Mo was 19, she went to her grandfather's Porterville, Calif. ranch to try and bond with her father's father. When she entered the ranch, she saw her grandfather, Lincoln Martin, had dedicated a room entirely to his granddaughter's golf success, walls decorated with articles and photos of her junior triumphs. Mo had no idea her grandfather had done this. The love overwhelmed her, and she wept.
From there, Lincoln Martin became a regular in LPGA Tour galleries. Even though Mo never won on the tour for her grandfather, when he died in March at the age of 102, she knew he passed after bequeathing her a lifetime of support and emotional strength. Naturally, she thought of him Sunday when she won.
Who knows? Maybe that golf ball that left her 3-wood and soared through that English wind, on its way to the flagstick and women's golf history, was guided by more than just Mo Martin's rock-solid golf swing.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
69-68-66-65 – 16-under 268, Justin Rose, winner, European Tour Scottish Open, Royal Aberdeen Golf Course, Aberdeen, Scotland.
Use oven mitts when handling Justin Rose's scorecards these days.
Two weeks after winning at difficult and testy Congressional, Rose winged it to the home of golf and threw down four rounds in the 60s, including a 66-65 weekend that left no doubt as to his intentions heading into Hoylake's Open Championship.
(Digression: Has the "Open Championship" moniker, led by a respectful ESPN in its coverage, which seems to bend over backward to show the R&A love, now officially replaced "British Open" as the American golf fan's description of choice?
In the U.K. and around the world, "Open Championship" means only one thing. It means the thing we've been calling the "British Open" for decades. But I sense a tide-turning. Not sure how to feel about this. Respect and all for the "Open Championship," but the R&A isn't the only organization that runs an Open Championship. There's this thing called the "U.S. Open," and the USGA doesn't try to force "Open Championship" on us. Yes, the R&A has scoreboard on us with history and all that, but still … just saying, is all.)
Back to Justin Rose. He started the day tied for the lead, then flipped on the afterburners. He made five birdies on his outward nine, posting a 31. He essentially strolled home for a two-stroke win over Sweden's Kristoffer Broberg.
And this is a big-time win for Rose. The field included pretty much all of your contenders for Hoylake – Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald all finished in the top-20 at Aberdeen – and even though Tiger Woods didn't play, while he practiced at Hoylake, let's be honest. Who's taking a rusty Tiger to win the British Open? I see no hands raised.
While Rose has won five straight years in America, this was his first win in his native continent in seven years, which means something for a 33-year-old who is peaking. He already owns a U.S. Open, and he's won two straight starts. He couldn't make it three-for-three with another win in his home country's championship, could he?
It's almost a whammy, of sorts, to win your two starts prior to a major championship. It's, like, there's no way the golf gods will grant you a hat trick. That's just nuts to think so. Rose himself alluded to that when he said he's in "uncharted territory … I've put the pressure on myself. I've got nobody to blame but myself. I'll try to keep the run going."
Onward, Justin. Onward.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Oh, my. What a story Gene Sauers nearly gave us.
At the U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National in Edmund, Okla.. – on behalf of the gallery, we say, thanks, USGA, for the heat stroke – Sauers almost authored one of the great wins in Champions Tour history. A three-time PGA Tour winner, Sauers saw his career derailed and life threatened by Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare skin disorder. This thing is no joke. By clogging blood vessels, the disorder caused Sauers' skin to burn from the inside out. Sounds unbelievably bad. Doctors gave Sauers a 1 in 4 chance to survive.
He didn't come close to making a golf swing from 2006 to 2010, and then, incredibly, beat the disorder. He got back on the course in 2011, and here he was at the U.S. Senior Open, teeing off with a three-stroke lead on Sunday afternoon.
Sauers wobbled, and came to the 18th hole having been caught by Colin Montgomerie. Monty, who won his first major earlier this year at the Senior PGA Championship, had pulled into a tie with Sauers by carding a final-round 69, despite a tomato-red face and insufferable heat. But Sauers stood on the precipice of a great story when his approach to the 18th landed 10 feet from the cup.
Sauers had 10 feet for the U.S. Senior Open championship.
And … his putt lipped out.
Miss. No U.S. Senior Open. No amazing story.
Tap-in for par. Playoff with Monty. Lost the playoff. Monty won his second Champions Tour major this year. Sauers won our hearts, and respect.
So let's go back out to that 18th green at Oak Tree National, ignore that heat and humidity, rally the golf gods for a great moment, let Sauer re-address that 10-footer for the win and … give that man a mulligan!
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"You all understand the game better than anybody. There's no better place to play golf." – Justin Rose, NBC, after winning Scottish Open, addressing gallery.
Everyone who's ever been to a rock concert or heard their favorite athlete talk in the media knows the deal. You will be pandered to. A lead singer will shout: "Houston is the best audience yet! Give it up for yourselves, H-Town!" And an athlete will invariably say, many times a year: "We have the best fans in the world," fully understanding that if he goes 0-for-20 in baseball, or throws three fourth-quarter interceptions, or misses two free throws with the game on the line, those same fans would boo the bejesus out of him.
All that said, Rose may well have been pandering to the crowd, but I'm going to go ahead and say he's right. Many of you reading have played golf in Scotland. Hell, some of you are living in Scotland as you read this. And the bottom line is, no one appreciates golf more than Scotland. Scotland is to golf as Brazil is to soccer. Wait. Too soon?
Anyway, he's right. There is no better place to play. Whether it's the sunlight until 10 p.m. in the summer, or the sight of families putting balls on the town putting green, or the sweet, rich sound of applause – no "MASHED POTATOES!" or "GET IN THE HOLE!" – just sweet, rich applause at an Open Championship, there is no more soulful experience than Scotland.
Pander away, Justin. Pander away.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Let's do this, Open Championship style.
Gosh, to think that the last time we went to Hoylake, a pre-Escalade-into-a-hydrant Tiger won his 11th major championship at the tender age of 30. Woods put on that unforgettable display of ball-striking, using his driver only once in 72 holes. Poignantly, he unleashed a storm of tears when the last putt dropped, noting the first major championship since his father's death. It was the most human moment of Tiger's career.
Who do you like? Justin Rose has put a huge bull's-eye on his back, as he even admits. Adam Scott is still the world's No. 1-ranked player. A player like Henrik Stenson, world No. 2, has never won a major and is screaming for one. Phil Mickelson won last year. He can't repeat, can he? Rickie Fowler has played well at majors and played well at Aberdeen. So has Jimmie Walker. Hell, links golf is so unpredictably beautiful, we're only five years removed from Tom Watson, at age 59, coming one stroke away from one of the greatest wins in golf history. And we're only three years removed from Darren Clarke stunning the golf world with his Open Championship. Anything can happen, golf fans.
Let the Claret Jug pursuit begin.
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