HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - Former British Open champion Tony Jacklin took a leaf out of the great Muhammad Ali’s book on Wednesday by declaring that Tiger Woods could be ready to shock the golfing world at this week’s British Open.
Many pundits have written off the 38-year-old American’s hopes of landing his 15th major victory at Hoylake, largely because he has only played two competitive rounds since undergoing back surgery in March.
Ali famously “shook up the world” when he beat the fearsome Sonny Liston in a world heavyweight title fight in Miami 50 years ago and Jacklin believes Woods is capable of doing the same.
“Tiger hasn’t been around much lately but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him do very well here,” the 1969 Open champion told Reuters in an interview on the eve of the tournament.
“The same things affect him as affect everybody else of course, tee times, different weather conditions etc, but I would think he’d relish this.
“We might get a shock from him this week and that would be great because it would resurrect the record talk again,” said the 70-year-old Jacklin in reference to Woods’s pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s mark of 18 major triumphs.
“It would be a very popular win if he could get it done this week.”
Jacklin ended an 18-year wait for an English victory in the British Open, at Lytham in 1969, before romping to a seven-shot win at the U.S. Open 11 months later.
He said Woods, who won golf’s oldest major at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005 and at Hoylake in 2006, has proved that he knows what it takes to plot the way to victory on a seaside layout.
“He understands very well how to play links courses, he understands what it’s all about,” added Jacklin.
“It’s not about length, it’s about strategy, keeping the ball on the ground. These fairways here are running at six, seven or eight on the stimpmeter.
“If you hit a fairway with a stinger of a two-iron it’s going to run 70 yards every time,” said Jacklin who is an ambassador for Glenmorangie, the spirit of the Open.
“It’s all about position off the tee and staying out of the fairway bunkers and nobody is more disciplined than Tiger. He’s also going to be mentally very strong and fresh.”
Jacklin, the most successful European Ryder Cup captain of all time having won two and tied one of his four matches in charge between 1983-89, said the key to success at Hoylake was to drill the ball under the sea breezes.
“I have played with lots of American golfers here in our Open and they just don’t get it,” he explained. “It’s about keeping the ball low.
“I played with Jeff Maggert at Lytham once and he used his driver off every tee. I wanted to tell him, ‘What are you doing? Don’t you want to be here at the weekend?’.
“You either get it or you don’t. Multiple Open champions like Peter Thomson, Bobby Locke, Tom Watson - they all got it. It’s about strategy here and patience.
“Tiger is a strategist. He knows what it takes to get round these links courses. Eighty-five percent of Americans I’ve seen play here don’t know.”
The Florida-based Jacklin believes the two-iron will be the most important club in the bag at the third major championship of the season.
“Forget about the modern equipment like the rescue clubs that advertise how you hit them to get the ball up,” he said.
“You don’t want to get the ball up here, you want to get it down. The players this week will be getting their two-irons out.
“You’ve got to stay out of the bunkers. This form of golf is the same as it was 150 years ago,” explained Jacklin.
“If you drill a two-iron no more than 15 yards off the ground no top pro is going to be far off line. It will absolutely be the most important club this week.”
Editing by Toby Davis