We are in the middle of a great spell of major championship golf but the best achievement in the game this season could take place at St Andrews on Sunday. The ‘Home of Golf’ is hosting this year’s Women’s British Open and Inbee Park is looking to achieve the Grand Slam by winning each of the majors in the same season.
The last individual World Golf Championship event of the season, the Bridgestone Invitational, takes place at the Firestone Country Club in Ohio but it is the east coast of Scotland that could see one of the greatest achievements in the history of the game. Park is as low as 5/1 to win the tournament and thus complete the set of majors in 2013.
Park could do what no other golfer has ever done, male or female, in winning four major professional championships in a single season. She arrives in Scotland going for the calendar year Grand Slam on the most historic golf course in the world. St Andrews has witnessed many Opens but never the completion of the Grand Slam in the same season.
Even Jack Nicklaus at his best never won the first three majors of the season in the men’s game. Tiger Woods held the four majors at the same time but his wins spanned two seasons. It could be argued that Woods achieved the Grand Slam but winning all four in the same season was beyond arguably the second best player in the history of the sport.
In the women’s game Mickey Wright won four consecutive professional major championships but that was over the 1961 and 1962 seasons. In 1930 Bobby Jones won four major championships but that included two amateur events, which were then classed as majors. If Park wins the Women’s Open her achievement will be unique and unprecedented.
Park has already won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, LPGA Championship and US Open this season to date which leaves just the British Open to complete the set. The US Open is the toughest event in women’s golf but Park recorded a comfortable four shot victory. It would be apt if she made history in the country where the game was invented and on the course that is the sport’s most well known and historic.
Women’s professional golf is a relatively new concept for the Old Course. It will be interesting to see if Park is allowed to celebrate in the iconic clubhouse that still has strict rules with regards female players. The all male members rule caused some controversy at Muirfield but surely Park would be made welcome in the clubhouse at St Andrews if she made history.
Park won the LPGA Money List in 2012 and is ranked at number one in the world. If she is not to create history Stacy Lewis could be the main beneficiary. The former world number one has built a solid bank of form on the links courses that have hosted the Women’s Open in the last three years. However, it could be Inbee Park’s destiny to create history on the most famous course in the world.
With the men’s Open still fresh in the mind we now embark on a huge fortnight of golf for the men which culminates next week in the PGA Championship, the final major championship of the season. Before the event known as ‘Glory’s Last Shot’ we have the WGC Bridgestone Invitational which has attracted the strongest field of the year beside the majors.
The traditional tournament is again being played on the South Course at Firestone. As usual there is a small field and without a halfway cut every player receives a handsome cheque. The South Course is above average in length for a par 70 track. Six of the twelve par 4s are over 450 yards and only one of the two par 5s is reachable is in two shots.
Long may it be but the course is forgiving off the tee and that puts a premium on good approach play to the small, bentgrass greens. Firestone is a tight track and demands consistent iron play. Accuracy more than distance is the key to decent scoring and course experience is useful here. Mental letdown is less of an issue since the tournament moved in the schedule from after to before the PGA Championship.
As always in recent majors and WGC events Tiger Woods is the clear favourite for a tournament that he has won seven times in the past. Woods won the first three renewals as a WGC event from 1999 to 2001 but his most recent win was in 2009 when he won by four shots. In its 14 year history with World Championship status only twice has the winner not been an existing or future major champion.
A measure of his longevity at the top of the game is Phil Mickelson’s win in 1996 when the event was known as the World Series of Golf. For the last five years in that guise the event was won by a player who had already won or would win in the future a major championship. It is testimony to Mickelson’s sustained ability that it would be another 17 years before his greatest achievement in golf.
For many years Mickelson turned up at the famous links courses in England and Scotland with no chance of winning the Open Championship. It took him years to adapt his game to coastal golf and all the effort finally paid off when he won the Open at Muirfield, playing one of the best rounds of his career to clinch the title and take home the Claret Jug for the first time.
Mickelson and Woods would be worthy winners and Justin Rose a fitting champion if he could find the type of form that helped him win the US Open in June. However, whoever wins in Ohio this weekend will be overshadowed in terms of sporting history if Inbee Park wins the Women’s Open at St Andrews.