Six Scots have an appetite for Sandwich

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland at Royal St George's
Sandy Lyle
Sandy Lyle won his first major at Royal St George's in 1985

Tony Jacklin's victory at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Anne's in 1969 is an interesting one.

Firstly, it was the last win by a Brit until 1985.

Secondly, an 11-year-old in the crowd that day by the name of Sandy Lyle, would be the man to end that long sequence, right here at Royal St George's.

Legend has it, Lyle almost caught Jacklin's ball at the 18th green in 69 as it was tossed into the crowd as the Scot surely dreamt of one day doing similar.

Sure enough, 16 years later it happened on a course that I can tell you is as exposed as any famous links in the UK.

Situated in the medieval town of Sandwich, Kent, this week's Open will be an interesting affair with conditions unforgiving.

Indeed, on a blustery 21 July 1985, Lyle prevailed when others would fall.

Much is made of his famous bunker shot that won him his Masters title three years later, but an unlikely birdie at the 14th on his final round here almost 26 years ago was equally crucial.

That saw him drive into heavy rough with his next shot clearing just 80 yards, yet somehow he was one-under par for that hole.

He would go on to win by a single stroke from American Payne Stewart on two-over par, having been three behind overnight ahead of the final round.

Of course, Lyle's chances of a repeat victory here this year are similar to irate Menie Estate resident Michael Forbes and Donald Trump performing a slow waltz at the opening of the American billionaire's new links near Balmedie.

But he will tee off on Thursday afternoon at 1226 BST with a sense of nostalgia at the very least.

There are six Scots in the field hoping to follow in Lyle's footsteps and become the first Scottish winner since Paul Lawrie 12 years ago at Carnoustie, including the Aberdonian himself.

The other four being Stephen Gallacher, Martin Laird and debutants Scott Jamieson and Peter Whiteford.

Jamieson, in particular, arrives in fine fettle having superbly birdied the 18th at Castle Stuart to seal his place at his maiden major. Indeed, he says he is here to win it.

He must be confident.

"I think it's going to be a big ask [for Jamieson to win it]," former European Ryder Cup player and Scot Andrew Coltart told BBC Scotland.

"Major championships are different from any other tour event.

"But, I've certainly got to congratulate Scott on a wonderful start to his professional career on the European Tour.

"I thought he was fantastic last week. Again, it's a learning process but he's growing in confidence and there's certainly no reason why he can't have a fantastic Open championship down here at Sandwich."

For the Scottsdale-based world 26 Martin Laird, the wild weather is thousands of miles from home where temperatures are due to reach a baking 39C today.

That, along with the facts that links golf remains a different kind of proposition for him, it is his debut at Royal St George's and his early year form has deserted him at the wrong time, point to a struggle this week.

"If you were to ask Martin, I don't think he's on top form, I think he's just struggling a bit at the minute," Coltart said.

"But, he's also a wonderful talent, as his world ranking would suggest. He started the season fairly well and won a tournament on the US Tour at the beginning of the year.

"I just think at this particular time of the season, he'd like to be going along in sixth gear, but he's in about third or fourth at the minute, which is frustrating for Martin.

"Anything can happen. He's certainly got the weapons in his armoury to contend with Sandwich, I think it's just a question of whether he's got the confidence for it."

Coltart himself believes former US Open champion Graeme McDowell will be in possession of the Claret Jug come Sunday night.

"McDowell seems to have come on to a bit of form over the last couple of weeks," he said.

"I was speaking to his caddie and he was saying he's been playing really well. Graeme's grown-up playing Portrush over in Ireland and he knows how to play in these conditions.

"He's got a golf swing that was brought up in windy conditions. He knows the shots, knows how to win a major, I think he's got every opportunity to win this week.

"He just needs to watch out for his putting as it's not where he'd like it to be, so that may be his undoing."

Lyle himself has described Royal St George's as a "mean course" - it will be an unpredictable four days ahead.

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