Wednesday 14 July 2021 2:46 pm

Sam Torrance's Open Championship preview 2021: I'd love to see Lee Westwood emulate best mate Darren Clarke at Royal St George's

It’s the Open Championship this week: one of the best tournaments you’ll ever play, with history that is second to none.

I have so many great memories of The Open, from scaling a lamppost on the last fairway of the Old Course at St Andrews, aged 10, to watch “Champagne” Tony Lema win the Claret Jug in 1964 to competing in the event 28 times myself.

I didn’t think anything could match the Duel in the Sun between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977, which I could watch forever. But Henrik Stenson’s epic battle with Phil Mickelson at Troon in 2016 was equally good. Both occasions produced amazing golf.

As a player, my best Open came in 1981, when I finished fifth. While playing alongside Lee Trevino in the third round I made a hole in one at the 16th. Lee’s a great friend and I lifted him up to celebrate while he screamed: “Sammy, watch my back!”.

That tournament took place at Royal St George’s in Kent, the venue for this 149th edition of The Open.

It’s a fantastic design but a very difficult one, especially if it’s windy. It’s not a case of the front nine going out and the back nine out; the holes zig-zag all over the course. 

Why Westwood would be fairytale Open winner

Jon Rahm will be the man to beat; despite losing the No1 ranking to Dustin Johnson he is playing the best golf on the planet right now.

He looked rested, strong and set to run away with the abrdn Scottish Open last week after picking up where he left off his US Open victory. He missed too many putts in the end but has arrived at Royal St George’s in a good frame of mind.

None of this year’s majors seem to have come at the right time for Rory McIlroy, who is in the middle of adapting his swing. He missed the cut in Scotland and this will be an even bigger test.

If there is to be a feel-good winner to match Darren Clarke the last time The Open was held here a decade ago, then it’s probably his good mate Lee Westwood.

US Open winner Jon Rahm is aiming for back-to-back majors at The Open this week in Kent
US Open winner Jon Rahm is aiming for back-to-back majors at The Open this week in Kent (Getty Images)

Westwood too is still chasing that elusive major but has aged like a fine wine, played well last week and has great heart. It would be a fairytale result and end the 29-year wait for an English winner.

Other home hopefuls include Tyrrell Hatton, who readers will know is one my favourite players. He has the game but he’ll also need the right temperament this week. 

Matthew Fitzpatrick is another of the strongest English candidates at The Open. He made the play-off at the Scottish Open and, although he didn’t win, he has the game for these conditions and a great caddie in Billy Foster on his bag.

Difficult to back Johnson and DeChambeau

Ian Poulter also had a terrific time in North Berwick and can carry that into form into this week. His round of 63 on Sunday sent a message to European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington. Even at 45, he’s still a great man to have on the team.    

Paul Casey is a fabulous player who is having a fantastic season and has to have a chance here. Don’t forget about Richard Bland, who waited so long for his first European Tour and has really run with it. Tommy Fleetwood is a great player in wind, even if his form isn’t brilliant.

Justin Rose, meanwhile, is a former major winner but in a lull. It’s hard to pinpoint why but he’s a great competitor and I wouldn’t want him to miss the Ryder Cup.

Only four Americans have won The Open since Tiger Woods in 2006 and, although he is back at No1, Dustin Johnson is not in good form. 

Xander Schauffele, runner-up in 2018, has proven he can perform at The Open; Brooks Koepka looks like he can handle the wind and adversity; and Collin Morikawa has the game, no question.

I don’t think Bryson DeChambeau’s “gouging” approach to playing out of the rough will work at Royal St George’s, while his big drives could also be a problem. He only needs to be 20-30 yards off line to be in big trouble. 

Shane Lowry had to hand back the Claret Jug this week, following his memorable victory at Portrush in 2019. How he’d love to take it home again. 

abrdn Scottish Open lives up to all-star billing

The field for the abrdn Scottish Open last week was the strangest ever assembled and it produced a terrific advertisement for the tournament.

Min Woo Lee handled the pressure beautifully to win the three-man play-off with a birdie at the first extra hole.

Thomas Detry was unlucky that the hooter for thunder and lightning sounded as he putted to save par. He missed, had to wait 90 minutes to resume play and finished tied at the top, but earned the consolation of a place at The Open.

Lucas Herbert, who won the Irish Open a week earlier, deserves a mention too. He was one shot off the play-off and is a player to keep an eye on. 

Finally, Richie Ramsey claimed the Jock McVicar Award for the leading home player. It was great to see the doyen of Scottish golf writing and a good friend of mine, who sadly passed away this year, remembered.

Sam Torrance OBE is a former Ryder Cup-winning golfer and captain who is now a media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam.