In Depth

The Open: The tale of four golfers all praying for glory

How the veteran, the comeback kid, the local lad and the amatuer plan to conquer Royal Birkdale

The Open begins on Thursday at Royal Birkdale, Southport, with 150 golfers ready to test themselves on the Lancashire links. 

There is no stand-out favourite for this year's tournament, which could pave the way for a surprise winner. Among the field are four British golfers without a Major title between them, all of whom are hoping for a miracle.

Lee Westwood - The wily veteran:

The 44-year-old Nottinghamshire golfer tells the BBC he plans to use plans to use "cunning and guile" to plot his way to a first Major victory this weekend.

Westwood has finished in the top three at Majors nine times - a record for a player yet to win one. Three of those near misses have come at The Open, most recently at Muirfield in 2013.

But he says his experience will be an advantage this weekend. "I'm 44 and you think a little bit differently as you get older, but hopefully I can think a bit more wisely and use a bit of cunning and guile on the golf course," he tells the Beeb. 

"One of the times I've come close to winning was Turnberry and Tom Watson lost in a play-off at 59… Last time it was held around here [in 2008], Greg Norman made a run at it at 53.

"The US Open course [in June at Erin Hills] was a bomber's style course where they had a big advantage, but this course brings a lot more players into it." 

Ian Poulter - The comeback kid:

The last time The Open was held at Royal Birkdale, in 2008, Ian Poulter finished second to Padraig Harrington. It was the closest he has come to a Major title and his chances this year look slim after he was forced to go through final qualifying at Woburn to make it on to the card.

But he is happy to be taking part, he tells The Guardian: "Whatever happens this week, wherever I finish, it would have been horrible to sit there and watch on TV.

"I had no problems at all stepping down a level, to muck in and get my hands dirty. Nobody is going to give you anything, are they? Nobody is going to hand you an invite for the Open."

Don't rule him out, says the paper: "Poulter's 2017 has already proved quite the story. After a period beset by injury and loss of form, he looked certain to lose PGA Tour playing status before ranking points were recalculated. Buoyed in part by that escape, he finished second in the Players Championship… Given history, recent and otherwise, it would be unwise to bet against Poulter fulfilling another dream."

Tommy Fleetwood - The local lad:

Expectations are high for the 26-year-old from Southport, one of the form players of 2017 who'll be playing on his local course, says the Daily Express.

His comeback "has carried with it the air of a conquering hero’s return", adds the paper. "There is a surreal element to this billing for a player who has not yet cracked the world’s top ten, let alone lifted a Major… But he is revelling in it." 

Fleetwood says it is "very cool" to be playing The Open on a course he "crept on to" as a youngster and where his father still walks the family dog.

He is also unfazed by the pressure. "I’ll have the most support I’ve ever had in my life, from people I’ve grown up with, friends, family, you name it," he tells the Express.

“I don’t feel extra pressure from it… This week it's going to be an experience I'll never forget. It's a massive privilege to be playing at a tournament so close to home and it being the Open as well."

Harry Ellis - The amateur

He may not yet have turned professional, but that might not count for much at Royal Birkdale, says the Daily Telegraph.

"History should also encourage Ellis," says the paper. "When Birkdale last hosted the Open, fellow Englishman Chris Wood finished tied-fifth as an amateur. At the same venue in 1998, Justin Rose holed a 50-yard pitch on the final hole to claim tied-fourth.."

It is five years since Ellis won the English Amateur at the age of 16, only for his career to be knocked off course by the death of his mother. But now he is on an even keel and is tipped to win the Silver Medal, which is awarded to the top amateur.

Losing his mother gave him "perspective", he tells the Telegraph, adding: "Weeks like this on one side are truly incredible, but on the other side I know I’m mentally strong enough to perform well here."

He is also confident of mixing it with the pros. "Making the cut in my head is not really a thing, because I feel if I play how I know I can play, I don’t think the cut is going to be a problem at all. I would love to be there for the presentation on Sunday collecting the Silver Medal."

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