Countdown to Carnoustie:
I have been told on good authority not to expect Carnasty in three weeks time when the focus of attention in our sport turns to the old links on Scotlands east coast. In fact, the mere mention of the term makes the locals cringe. How dare we refer to their dear golf course in such a derogatory way! Since 1999 some slight adjustments have been made -- a few mounds added there, a bunker changed here -- but in general the lay-out remains the same. Thomas Bjorn, Colin Montgomerie and Luke Donald have all made trips to take a look at the course ahead of the tournament which tees off on July 19. Apparently, all three were impressed, but remember Bjorn and Montgomerie have been regular visitors for the Dunhill Links Championship.
Carnoustie makes-up one of the three courses used in the pro-am format event. Played in much the same way as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, all the competitors play one round at Carnoustie and Kingsbarns and then two at St. Andrews, including the final round. Montgomerie even has a victory to his credit in that event, winning in 2005 when he shot 70 at Carnoustie. How this years Open Championship course will play depends a lot on the weather over the next few weeks, but one thing is for certain: the fairways will not be as narrow as in 1999. The R&A enjoys the fast running links style we saw at Hoylake last year, but that will only be possible at Carnoustie with the cooperation of Mother Nature.
Baker is Back?
Peter Baker quietly went about his business on the Challenge Tour last week capturing victory at the Credit Suisse Challenge in Luterback, Switzerland. Some of you may remember the name, but maybe not the face. Baker was a member of the 1993 European Ryder Cup side, and back then he was a rising British star. But greatness didnt materialize for the man from Staffordshire. Failing to finish inside the top 10 on the Order of Merit after his seventh place in 1993, his form began to dwindle, until the beginning of this season when he found himself without a European Tour card having used his all-time leading money winner exemption.
Full credit to him for swallowing his pride and returning to a tour which doesnt have anywhere near the money and prestige of the European Tour and doesnt carry the same attention as its contemporary in the States, the Nationwide Tour. Not one single Challenge Tour event is televised and the prize money outside of the top 10 wont usually allow players to break even for the week. But getting rich isnt the goal of the Challenge Tour; its an invaluable experience designed to allow up-and-coming players the chance to develop and earn their way to the main tour. Except now we're seeing players like Baker use it as a way to make their way back to the main tour, which I think is great.
I wasnt far wrong with Justin Rose, and Lee Westwood had his moments at Oakmont. Time now for me to make some picks for Pine Needles. Three Euros to watch at the US Womens Open:
Gwladys Nocera: A Solheim Cupper who won four times in Europe last season, and in her last four starts in Europe hasnt finished outside the top 10, with one victory at the KLM Ladies Open. Shes struggled to bring the form from Europe to the United States, but I think its only a matter of time before she competes for a major on US soil.
Suzann Pettersen: As long as she avoids slow play -- she received a two-shot penalty last week in New York -- the big hitting Norwegian could make it two in a row for major victories. Theres nothing to stop the 25-year-old as long as she hasnt been too burned-out by her win at the McDonalds LPGA Championship a few weeks ago.
Laura Davies: Although I like Becky Morgan, my British pick would be Laura, who needs a win to enter the Hall of Fame. This season in the States, Davies has struggled to put four good rounds together, but theres been low numbers -- a 65 at Kingsmill and a couple of 66s at the Ginn Open. My main concern is whether she can control her game enough to keep it in the fairway at Pine Needles.
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